Collateral Damage Review

Collateral Damage by Adam Furman Book Cover

Collateral Damage Publisher Description:

Destructive Battles Rage Between Hellish Kaiju and Giant Mech Protectors

A desperate father must rescue his son when a deadly kaiju rampages across his city.

When opportunists lurk and buildings crumble around him, the battle might be the least of his worries. Each minute means more destruction, and the clock is ticking.

The first in a new kaiju series where the ordinary collides with the oversized, Collateral Damage is based on a short story of the same title originally published in Broadswords & Blasters Magazine. Experience the first taste of this series with a punch to the gut. Mind the shadows — you could be crushed.

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Review: Collateral Damage by Adam Furman

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Collateral Damage. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Collateral Damage is a high-speed science fiction thriller about a father’s battle to save his son, underfoot of a kaiju/mech battle for humanity’s survival. This first installment of the series is a wild ride of paternal determination and an intense mashup of the ordinary and the fantastic!

Aggressive Pacing

While Collateral Damage begins with a simple premise: a father of a broken family doing whatever he has to in order to be with his young son. Initially, the goal is to pass an apartment inspection in order to get visitation rights. The common situation provides a moderate amount of tension, stemming from the relatability of the father-son relationship.

The initial obstacles are likewise of the everyday sort, but the situation quickly goes off the rails. When a kaiju attacks the city and his son is unaccounted for, DeShawn hurdles into an epic quest to find him and keep him safe. He meets with one problem after another, but never gives up.

Furman does an exemplary job of utilizing the “yes, but / no, and” storytelling technique. The consistent complications deny the release of tension, pushing the drive of the story even harder with every event. Furthermore, DeShawn is impacted physically at every turn – a tactic reminiscent of Jim Butcher – which continues to amplify the suspense.

Present Tense

Reading a story told in present tense can take some mental adjusting if you aren’t used to it (generally, it is more common in short stories than genre fiction), but in Collateral Damage, the style is used to further emphasize the immediacy and build the suspense.

The effect is one of careening into the unknown. It is not unlike a Crash Bandicoot game in which the character runs full-tilt towards the screen; the player is perched on the edge of his seat, reacting to problems seconds after they appear and trusting that there is a way through to the finish line and to victory.

Biting Visuals

The fast pace and intense emotional investment do not prevent the setting from making an undeniable impression. Images, such as driving a blue convertible through a mech’s legs as it battles a giant monster overhead, stick with you.

Some of the descriptions are quite graphic, emphasizing the “collateral damage” occurring while the battle rages above. The destruction, violence, and even gore further contribute to the rising tension by reducing the control the reader perceives the main character as having.

But it also casts some thematic threads.

Timely Theme

The story works off a simple premise, and the central theme reflects that. The importance of a father figure and the desire for a whole and loving family are threads that lead to the payoff, the feel-good ending the reader craves like water after a gut-wrenching race.

However, there is another theme, more timely than timeless.

There are political events occurring in the world that are intriguingly similar to our own current events. Zenith, a communist group of zealots works to overthrow the mechs, the force established by the government to defend the people.

Zenith has occupied part of the city, obstruct roadways, accost ordinary people on their way home from work, steal and kill, and take advantage of a bad situation to further their own goals. However, they have some valid concerns, including the blasé acceptance of the damage caused and lives lost as a result of the mechs’ battles, and the impunity of the mech pilots for their behavior. Most people seem to love them, though, and watch their battles as a kind of entertainment.

In this situation, DeShawn is once again painfully relatable. He does not mindlessly embrace the mechs, forgiving the carnage and rejecting all criticism of them, and so he is himself rejected by others as “anti-government.” One character even goes as far to call him a monster for his mere opinion. However, he also cannot accept Zenith who stole his wallet, appropriated his apartment, and killed the people he approached for help. As a result, he is labeled a “patriot” by them.

Collateral Damage

He, like so many people in the Western world today, finds himself in a no-man’s land, disavowed by opposite ends of the spectrum as the enemy, and denied the opportunity to find common ground with either of them due to the labels they are so quick to brand him with. He represents the “collateral damage” in this political and cultural war.

The thematic arc resolves with DeShawn’s conclusion that he is happy that the mechs exist. This is not a surrender of his inhibitions regarding them, nor an inconsistent, emotional response to his rescue. It is a nuanced discernment of the good and the bad, one that has been denied to him throughout the story.

I am reluctant to pin any particular, deeper message onto this thread, any call to action regarding our own world’s politics. But the story clearly cautions against the adoption of an “us vs them” mentality, and the satisfying ending is really only possible because DeShawn lets go of some of his own judgement towards his ex and his father, enabling them to become a whole family instead of one divided against itself.

Check Out Collateral Damage!

Collateral Damage is an exciting kaiju thriller with a breakneck pace that will keep you up late reading it and thought-provoking themes to mull over for days afterwards! I am looking forward to seeing where Furman takes this series.

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The Amazing Labor Day $0.99 Book Sale

The Amazing Labor Day $0.99 Book Sale 2020

Many of the books for sale this labor day weekend (2020) have been reviewed here on Periapsis Press!

The Amazing Labor Day $0.99 Book Sale, hosted by Hans G. Schantz, contains lots of great books for sale for $0.99 (and some for free)!

Below are a few that we have reviewed here on Periapsis Press.

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L. Jagi Lamplighter Book Cover

A delightful magic school tale of fast friendships, secrets, and parallel worlds!

A fun, heavy metal romp following a band of warriors through epic battles to defend against an invasion of Underworld monsters!

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves by Fenton Wood Book Cover

A story of youthful ingenuity set in a flavorful science fiction, alternate history world!

The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene Book Cover

A dynamic sword and planet romp of faith and daring!

Combat Frame XSeed by Brian Niemeier Book Cover

A gritty action novel that blends mecha anime and military science fiction to deliver high-energy combat alongside thrilling intrigue!

A streamlined tale of steampunk-flavored adventure told from the perspective of a young farm girl who inherits an airship. Air battles, heroic rescues, explosions, and dramatic outfits ensue!

Uriel's Revenge has an excerpt available on our website, also participating in this sale!

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The Last Ancestor Review

The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene Book Cover

The Last Ancestor Publisher Description:

They killed his father, oppress his people, and threaten them with extinction . . . and one of them is his best friend.

The Growlers rule their corner of the planet Yxakh with an iron fist, intent on driving the human refugees from their land. They almost did eight years ago, killing Garrett’s father in the process. Only their guns, and lots of them, keep the Growlers at bay. Now a young man, Garrett burns for revenge, but finds it hard to reconcile this hatred given that his best friend is a Growler youth named Ghryxa.

Desperate to cleanse his land of the invaders, the Growlers’ High Lord dispatches his trusted heir on a mission to acquire the humans’ superior weaponry. The Earthlings barely won the last war . . . but this time the High Lord will leave nothing up to chance.

Garrett and Ghryxa run headlong into the High Lord’s conspiracy and find themselves the only thing standing between their two peoples and all-out war. Now Garrett must participate in an ancient rite with the fate of humanity on his shoulders. It’s a chance to be a hero like his father . . . but only if he makes it out of the Growlers’ forbidden city alive.

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Review: The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Last Ancestor. I encourage you to check it out!

The Last Ancestor is a dynamic sword and planet romp of faith and daring. Alien-dog people, the ruins of a crashed spaceship, and a secret church populate this exciting first installment in The Swordbringer series.

Raising the Stakes

Hellene does a great job of ratcheting up the tension throughout this story. The beginning is a bit slow, taking time to introduce the main character Garret’s family and do a bit of exposition, but the events of the story consistently build upon one another from standing up to bullies on a playground, to foiling a kidnapping, to fighting to prevent a war.

Even during the final conflict, a duel to the death with humanity’s survival on the line, the stakes were raised!

The only element that slows down the action is the multiple point of view characters, particularly the politicians. I didn’t find that they contributed much; in fact, they tended to deflate the suspense at certain points.

Strong Theme

The Last Ancestor is built consistently around “doing the right thing,” despite the consequences. This begins with the opening scene in which Garret saves a potential enemy, who becomes his best friend Ghryxa, and ends with the choice of martyrdom over renouncing his faith. In fact, almost each event of the story involves Garret choosing to put his well-being on the line in order to do what he believes is right, usually help someone else.

This theme would be wholesome enough on its own, but it is underscored by two parallel themes.

The first is perhaps less glamorous, or at least less lauded, than being willing to die for a cause, but it is no easier: embracing weakness and any accompanying humiliation in order to do the right thing. While Garret faces death and injury, his friend Ghryxa confronts his desire for his people’s acceptance and chooses to do the right thing at the expense of his reputation.

The other theme that contributes to both of these is the importance of a father’s role in teaching morality to his children and to others through them. Garret’s father died in the war, sacrificing his life to save others. Garret remembers him throughout the story, usually when he is considering what action to take. It is clear that his father continues to have a great impact on his conception of right and wrong and his role in society. Furthermore, Ghryxa’s understanding of these things is largely based on his relationship with Garret.

Honestly, I would love to see a story about this man, who left Earth with his family in a shoddy spaceship, fought to make a home for them, and died to protect others!

Kind Character

Garret is a unique character, and one that I enjoyed following on this adventure. He behaves consistently with kindness and honesty, and while he is not necessarily slow to anger, he is slow to act out of anger. His affection for his younger sister is endearing and refreshing for a youthful lead character, especially a teenage boy.

I appreciated how Hellene built his themes out of Garret’s consistency as a character, rather than a repentance. Cringe in the beginning of a story may set up a character for development over its course, and portray an important moral lesson, but I rarely enjoy it. The Last Ancestor presents another important lesson, one that is not overrepresented in fiction: Garret’s journey is all about persistent diligence, rather than changing behavior.

Planet

I cannot go without mentioning the setting in this review! Hellene has done an excellent job crafting a tangible world with geography, monsters, and alien culture.

The alure of exploring caves for a crashed spaceship filled with treasures of a bygone world, the exhilaration of sneaking into a forbidden city, the resolve of holding firm in your beliefs against fearful pressure – all of these can be attributed to the deliberate worldbuilding and intriguing setting, and they contribute to the plot’s emotional payoff.

Check Out The Last Ancestor!

The Last Ancestor is an entertaining adventure on a distant alien planet that does not relegate the Christian faith to a footnote of history, but incorporates its young character’s convictions into the plot in a satisfying way. I look forward to reading the rest of The Swordbringer series!

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The Heights of Perdition Review

The Heights of Perdition by C.S. Johnson Book Cover

The Heights of Perdition Publisher Description:

Falling in love was out of the question … until it was the answer. 

There is nothing Aeris St. Cloud wants more than to win her father’s love and the acceptance of her family unit by joining the Military Academy at New Hope. But after she is captured by the fearsome space pirate, Captain Chainsword, Aerie is certain falling in love with her nation’s arch enemy is the last possible way to earn their coveted esteem.

Driven by vengeance, Exton Shepherd never set out to save anyone. As he circles the war-torn world in his pirated starship, the Perdition, he only sees his father’s ghost lurking around every corner and the looming darkness on the horizon. When Aerie unexpectedly tumbles into his life, he finds he cannot trust her, anymore than he can ignore her. But just like the raging war down on Earth, it’s tempting to think he can … 

When the war ascends to the heights of the Perdition, Aerie’s loyalty, and Exton’s heart, are put to the test. But will love be enough to save them — and others — from certain destruction?

The Heights of Perdition is the first book in the Divine Space Pirates trilogy, a futuristic romance series where family, faith, and freedom take center stage. 

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Review: The Heights of Perdition by C. S. Johnson

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Heights of Perdition. I encourage you to check it out!

The Heights of Perdition is an engaging science fiction romance that is as much about exploring thematic ideas of freedom and the role of government as it is about blossoming love. Filled with space pirates, futuristic tech, a world reeling from nuclear fallout, and—of course—romance, this first installment of The Devine Space Pirates trilogy rises to the challenge of realizing the expectations of both the science fiction and romance genres!

Romance

It should first be said that The Heights of Perdition is a classic romance novel, and the science fiction elements are definitive of the setting and external conflict, not the romance. That is to say, there isn’t any weird alien sex. In fact, the story could more narrowly be described as deriving from the Christian romance genre, so, while sexual tension is present, actual sex is held in reserve. This is important to acknowledge because I believe audience expectations when it comes to romance novels is diverse and easy to disappoint.  

The romantic tropes in this story—kidnapped, enemies to lovers, forbidden love, revenge, etc.—are pulled off admirably without treading into too cliché. Some might argue that the romance proceeds a bit quickly from enemies to acknowledged attraction, but I prefer that to a drawn-out interpersonal conflict founded only on the characters’ mutual resistance to their relationship. It works in Pride and Prejudice because pride and prejudice are the characteristics that define the hero and heroine, but not all lovers are those two characters.

Aerie and Exton are genuine people who quickly establish that truth and honesty are important to them as individuals, and it is realistic that they apply that to the expression of their feelings. This shifts the focus of the Problem that Threatens to Keep Them Apart away from the two of them and onto the external conflict. As their relationship progresses, the stakes are raised and the tension builds in the action.

Cliff Hanger

The one expectation of the romance novel that The Heights of Perdition declines to meet is the “happily ever after” ending. Aerie is kidnapped accidentally by Exton and his crew when they steal a tree she had climbed. The plot turns around the question of what to do with her, correlating with the subplot of Aerie’s desire for acceptance and belonging.

The external conflict that threatens their relationship is big, too big for a single novel to resolve satisfactorily. It becomes clear that the oppressive government of the URS will need to be brought down. This means that, although all the story beats of a romance novel are present, including realization that each is “the one” for the other and a stated commitment that they will always love one another, their romance does not conclude with the emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

However, it does end with the plot’s central question answered. Aerie belongs with Exton, but the conflict succeeds in tearing them apart right at the end. This results in a cliff hanger ending that is unusual for romance, and may rub the unexpectant reader the wrong way.

I liked it. I felt that the story had me invested enough in the characters and the conflict to carry me through the rest of the trilogy, and leaving the romance unresolved meant that there would be room for romantic tension in books two and three without betraying the happily-ever-after down the line (one of my pet-peeves).

Science Fiction

The setting is nicely realized. Descriptions of the pirated spaceship create a vision that captures the wonder of the night sky and man’s ingenuity without the bland professionalism of USS Enterprise or the dirty penny smell of the Death Star. It is easy to believe that Aerie feels at home there.

Likewise, the URS capital city New Hope feels down trodden and oppressive merely by its situation underground, out of sight of the sky.

All the world-building, the history of how the URS came to be, the laws and regulations that citizens must adhere to, the prevalence of punishments, the existence of resistance, make possible some intriguing thematic discussions worthy of the sci-fi genre.

I felt particularly drawn to the character’s frustrations resulting from the government’s actions in the name of “survival,” as COVID19 has brought similar discussions to the forefront of everyone’s minds. This story plays with the ideals of freedom and safety, the morality of acting for someone’s “own good,” and the regulation of ethics. It also really brought home to me the impact of the Christian heritage (religion, family, and love) on how we view the government’s role in our lives.

Check Out The Heights of Perdition!

The Heights of Perdition is an engaging romance story set in a thought-provoking science fiction setting. I am keen to see how the love story and the setting develop in the rest of the Divine Space Pirates trilogy!

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Vatican Championship Wrestling Excerpt

Vatican Championship Wrestling by William Hastings Book Cover

This Vatican Championship Wrestling excerpt is shared with the permission of the author.

If you enjoy, please consider supporting the publication of this work through the indiegogo campaign (ends Aug 31, 2020): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/vatican-championship-wrestling-fantasy-pulp-novel/#/

Vatican Championship Wrestling Publisher's Description:

Dropkicks, Demons, and DDTs!

A Vatican exorcist fighting for survival in the world of Pro-Wrestling.

After a potentially demonic incident at the largest wrestling event of the year, the Vatican sends exorcist Gabriel Blackwell to infiltrate the company. Blackwell has a complicated history with the wrestling business and must adapt or die while fighting for his very soul on pay-per-view.

The first 100% Kayfabe novel. VCW is bringing professional wrestling and pulp fiction together, a fantastic and entertaining read for both wrestling fans and readers.

 

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Excerpt: Vatican Championship Wrestling by William Hastings

Unibrawl

It was the opening sting of his music that always set his heart aflame. Standing back in gorilla position waiting to hit the ramp and hear the roar of the crowd. There was no feeling on this earth like it. Jack Blines burst out from behind that curtain with all the energy he had in his body.

The screams met his ears, bringing that same energy back inside of him. That noise that made him feel as though he could do anything. Whether they loved him or they hated him, and Jack had plenty of both over his career. He’d wrestled so many matches it was impossible for him to even ballpark it anymore. Over the course of his twenty year career, that ring, the squared circle, had been his home.

He had changed a lot over those years, but it never had. Three ropes, twelve turnbuckles, twenty feet by twenty feet of canvas and pine. He was always happy to see it.

Rings like that hadn’t changed since the sport began, at least not in Voltare Championship Wrestling. VCW was the oldest and largest company in the business. Only they could put on a show like this.

A sold out capacity crowd for the biggest show of the year, Unibrawl XXXI. Even if someone didn’t know what wrestling was all about, they would’ve heard of Unibrawl. In his career, Jack had the privilege of main eventing the legendary pay-per-view five times. Not counting tonight.

As he strode down the ramp to the ring, a sign caught his eye. Jack stopped halfway through his entrance, cutting a path over to the barricade and shaking the sign holders hand. The man had his son with him. It was the little guy’s first show. Jack could always tell, you could always see the wonder in their eyes. Jack removed his wristband and tossed it to the kid, giving him a toothy smile and a fist bump to the delight of the crowd, before returning to the ring at a sprint and sliding under the bottom rope.

The canvas was already worn and tired from the twelve matches that had gone before them, but Jack kissed it all the same. He always did, before springing to his feet to another burst of noise from the crowd. He met the thousands of eyes on him. He was invincible.

As his music at last began to die down, Jack retreated into his corner. And the lights dimmed all throughout the arena. Jack didn’t know much about his opponent. He’d seen the guy in the locker room dozens of times but they’d never really spoken. He was one of the newer talents, from the independent circuit. He’d arrived at VCW a little over a year ago and just tore through everything in his way.

A low piece of classical music began to play throughout the darkened arena, it fluttered up and down on the keys of the piano until suddenly transforming into a deafening guitar riff. As it changed, so did the lights. Bright red filled every corner of the stadium. As if it has been smeared with blood.

Fire erupted on stage as his opponent emerged from gorilla position. He was a smaller man, in the ring he didn’t stand out, but his entrances were a thing to behold. He wore a black cloak with spiked pauldrons over his gear, striding down past the fire as the crowd recoiled in excited fear.

He didn’t slide under the bottom rope like Jack. He took the stairs, one at a time as if he was relishing every moment the crowd spent under his spell. When he stepped between the ropes, the lights returned to normal and George Ruthaford the ring announcer hurried into the spotlight, microphone in hand.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your main event for this evening.” An overweight man in his sixties with a low booming voice, George had been with the company almost as long as the owners.

“The following contest is scheduled for one fall” Ruthaford continued.

“One fall!” The crowd screamed back.

Jack smiled. That was his favorite part about this sport. The fans were a part of the show, it wasn’t like football or hockey, the fans controlled the pace and flow of the matches. Their cheers spurring on the competitors, their apathy bringing out frustration. They had more power than even they realized.

“And it is for the Kingmaker Glove!”

More cheers. It was the first time a match for the Kingmaker Glove would be main eventing Unibrawl. Ordinarily the VCW World Championship held this spot. But, in another indication of the audience’s power, the championship matches, more specifically the champion, had been getting less and less of a reaction over the past few months. They were losing interest in him, and so the decision had been made to slide him down the card to prevent fans from leaving early.

“The competitor in possession of the Kingmaker Glove, is entitled to a world championship match at the time of his choosing, anytime over the next year.”

Cheers again. True to it’s name, if you won the glove, it didn’t matter how low you were on the card, next day you could be world champion. Jack had won it twice before. Once it had sent him to a six-month long reign as champion. The other . . . Well he didn’t like to remember the other.

“In this corner, weighing two hundred and ninety-five pounds, from East Rutherford, New Jersey. Jack Blines!” Jack posed for the crowd again, bathing the cheers.

“And his opponent. Weighing one hundred and ninety eight pounds, from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Victor Hernandez!”

Boos from the crowd came spilling into the ring but Victor paid them no mind. He tossed his cloak over the top rope and began to stretch. He has the simplest gear, just black trunks, kneepads and boots, nothing fancy. And Jack could respect that. He’d wrestled in something similar back at the start of his career.

The referee was muttering something to both of them Jack had stopped listening to them on his second or third week in the business. He knew the rules and so did Victor. Pin the man or make him submit. Ropes break pinfalls and submissions. No grabbing hair if they had it. If you’re out of the ring for a count of ten you lose. And they weren’t technically supposed to be on or in the ropes while they were fighting but that rule wasn’t really enforced anymore. It was a relic from a previous age, when closed fists were illegal.

Better days, thought Jack with a smile as the referee called for the bell.

It had barely started ringing before Victor launched himself at Jack, nearly knocking the referee over. Those old closed fist rules would’ve helped against someone like Victor. He was a striker, trained in Brazilian Jujitsu before traveling to Japan and learning the hard hitting and legendary Japanese Strong-Style. This was not a man who was going to use wrist-locks or hip-tosses. Victor Hernadez would beat you until he got bored, and then pin what was left.

Jack sidestepped the charge and Victor went crashing into the turn buckle. Stumbling back, dazed from the impact. Those buckles were steel, pad or not you were gonna get a little dizzy.

Jack didn’t waste the opportunity, he darted forward and locked his arms around Victor’s waist. Heaving the smaller man up over his head, Jack delivered a perfect german suplex.

As he hit the move and felt Victor crumble, Jack extended his toes, bridging into a cover. He didn’t expect to win here, but Victor would have to expel more energy to kick out of the pin attempt. And the more energy Victor expelled the closer Jack came to winning. Jack wasn’t the greatest technician in the sport, nor the greatest striker. But his stamina was unrivaled. His longest singles match clocking in a record fifty-five minutes and fifty-three seconds. That was admittedly ten years ago, but Jack still had gas in the tank.

The ref slid in to count the fall. And Jack listened to the roaring fans count along with him.

“One!”

“Two!”

Victor kicked out, throwing Jack off his feet. Victor was hurting, and was slow to get to his base, Jack was up and locking his arms around Victor’s waist for another suplex when he spun around, sweeping Jack’s legs out from under him.

Jack crashed to the canvas, feeling the shock run through his entire body, it never got any softer. Victor leapt onto the second rope and attempted a springboard moonsault. Jack rolled away, and Victor smashed into the ring.

Taking advantage of his opponents momentary dazed state, Jack locked in his famous hold. A variation on the crossface, he wrapped his hands around Victor’s face and pulled, putting as much weight on the smaller man’s back as he could. He’d won more matches with this move than he could count, it had been the signature of his trainer Buddy Blackwell, who had passed it on to him as well as given it it’s new name. The Blineside. 

In any other position this might have been the end of the match. The pressure on Victor’s neck and lower back were almost unbearable and if Jack kept it up it could do serious damage.

But it seemed he’d barely even gotten the hold synched in before the referee was beside him ordering him to break it. Victor has grabbed the bottom rope.

Jack swore under his breath and broke the hold, backing up to the opposite corner. The commentators would call it a rookie mistake, even question his ring IQ, but Jack had been taught that even if you couldn’t win him the match now, every move drained more and more energy from his opponent.

He glanced up at the lights.

Hope you’re watching this old man.

Victor Hernandez was on his feet again, his breathing more labored than it had been. Even these indie guys had their breaking point. Jack flashed another toothy smile at the crowd, prompting a barrage of new cheers.

This seemed to incense Victor and he met Jack in the middle of the ring, locking up once more. He tried to use his power to bring Victor to the ground but the smaller man broke the hold and darted back, hitting the ropes. Jack grabbed him on the rebound and irish whipped him to the opposite side of the ring. Going in for a clothesline, Jack swung but Victor slipped under his legs. An explosion of pain erupted in Jack’s ankle, the chop-block bringing him to his knees.

Victor kicked him in the side of the head so loudly that it drew gasps and screams from the crowd. All the lights in the stadium seemed to go out for Jack in that moment, replaced by a barrage of incomprehensible color and sound. Somewhere through this haze, he felt the weight on his chest, the familiar vibration of the ring resounding with every count of the referee.

“One!”

“Two!”

Jack kicked out, rolling through the pinfall and locking his arms around Victor. Hoisting him over his head Jack spun into a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, bringing Victor spine first onto his knee.

Jack floated over into a cover. The referee was in the perfect position to count the fall.

“One!”

“Two!”

Victor kicked out with such incredible force that Jack was thrown back into the ropes. Momentarily stunned at the display of strength, Jack was in prime position for the clothesline.

Victor hit him with such force that he felt his head snap back. He flipped over the ropes and off the ring apron to the floor. Gasping for breath, Jack fought his way back to his feet, looking from the ring to the crowd in astonishment. If the ropes hadn’t been there, he might’ve wound up in the third row. Where was Victor getting this new strength from?

Not finding his opponent in the ring, Jack looked up to see Victor soaring through the air in a perfect moonsault. No time to dodge this one. Jack gritted his teeth, planting himself as Victor came crashing down upon him.

The force of the fall was immense, but somehow he was able to stay on his feet, locking his arms around Victors waist, Jack slammed him with all his might into the apron, the hardest part of the ring.

Victor bounced off with a thud, crashing to the ground in a heap. Letting himself fall back against the barricade, Jack took a moment to catch his breath. The fans weren’t used to that kind of brutality from him, and some of them seemed shocked, even angry that he would use a move like that. But that hardly mattered now, Victor wasn’t going to afford him the same luxury.

Jack seized his unmoving opponent and rolled him back into the ring. He made sure that Victor was in the absolute center of the ring before locking in the Blineside once again.

The referee was beside them now, Jack could hear him asking Victor if he wanted to quit. If a person didn’t have the energy to tap, they could verbally submit. Or, if it came to it, the referee could stop the match if they were unresponsive.

This was precisely what Victor was. He didn’t answer the referee’s questions, didn’t say a word. So the referee needed to determine if he could continue.

Taking Victor’s hand, the referee lifted it up. If it fell back to the canvas, that was it. Jack had won the match. The referee let the hand go. But it didn’t fall, instead Victor’s head turned around  one hundred and eighty degrees to look Jack in the eyes.

There were screams and gasps from the crowd and Jack broke the hold, stumbling back in horror. For a moment he thought something had gone wrong, that he’d somehow broken Victor’s neck. But nobody’s neck could be broken like that.

Victor got to his feet as well. He spun around, his head sliding back into place as he leered at the frightened crowd.

 Jack looked at the ref but the ref had scuttled back out of the ring in a panic. Jack had only turned away for a second but when his eyes flashed back to the ring, Victor was nose to nose with him.

“Hoc autem regnum meum.” He snarled in a voice that was not his own. He seized Jack by the throat and lifted him up with one hand.

Then the ring burst into flame.

Fire erupted from the turnbuckles, from the apron the ropes, everything, sealing Victor and Jack within a cage of white hot flame. Jack struggled for air, Victor’s grip was like a vise. What was happening? Had something gone wrong with the pyro?

Bathed in the firelight strange markings began to appear all over Victor’s body, runes and symbols Jack had never seen before. Save for the one on his chest, a gigantic pentagram.

 He smiled, revealing pointed teeth. “Et hic est tuum.”

Victor slammed Jack down with such force that Jack felt the canvas and the boards give way, but it didn’t stop there, he was falling, falling into a pit of endless darkness. The sliver of light he’d crashed through growing smaller and smaller. The last thing Jack Blinds heard before he lost consciousness was Rothaford’s voice.

“Your winner! And new holder of the Kingmaker Glove! Victor Hernandez!”

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The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin Review

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L. Jagi Lamplighter Book Cover

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. I encourage you to check it out!

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin Publisher Description:

Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts – A magic school like no other!

Nestled amidst the beauty of New York’s Hudson Highlands and hidden from the eyes of the Unwary, Roanoke Academy is a place of magic and wonder. It offers everything a young sorceress could desire—enchantments, flying brooms, and the promise of new friendships.

On her first day of school, Rachel Griffin discovers her perfect memory gives her an unexpected advantage. With it, she can see through the spell sorcerers use to hide their secrets. Very soon, she discovers that there is a far-vaster secret world hiding from the Wise, precisely the same way that the magical folk hide from the mundane folk.

When someone tries to kill a fellow student, she investigates. Rushing forward where others fear to tread, Rachel bravely faces wraiths, embarrassing magical pranks, mysterious older boys, a Raven that brings the doom of worlds, and at least one fire-breathing teacher.

“Supernatural meets Narnia at Hogwarts”, The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a tale of wonder and danger, romance and heartbreak, and, most of all, of magic and of a girl who refuses to be daunted.

Curiosity may kill a cat, but nothing stops Rachel Griffin!

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Review: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L. Jagi Lamplighter

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a delightful magic school tale of fast friendships, secrets, and parallel worlds. Rachel sets out on a quest for knowledge and ends up getting more than she bargained for in this first installment of the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment series.

This review contains minor spoilers.

The Wizarding World of Rachel Griffin

Any book in the magic school genre will inevitably be compared to Harry Potter, and in this case I feel that it is appropriate. Rachel Griffin is a young, enthusiastic protagonist who must apply her limited practical skills against older opponents intent on destroying her world.

Rachel must face bullies, true baddies, and, of course, school work with courage and determination. The magical academy is divided into groups defined ostensively by scholarly interests, but practically they have many of the usual prejudices, conventions, and legacies. This includes Drake Hall, the “bad” group full of uppity rich kids and conniving schemers.

However, Lamplighter’s execution of the genre’s expectations is faithful without becoming tiresome or predictable. The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin delivers all of the wonder of the early Harry Potter books, while presenting something enticingly unique.

Deeper Characters

The young characters in this story are well-developed and possess a pleasant level of depth that goes beyond the simple “smart,” “looney,” “forgetful,” “funny,” or “bully” descriptors. Instead, their motivations and aspirations differentiate them. Rachel wants to know and share secrets. Nastasia desires to meet others’ expectations of her, particularly by following the rules. Siggy wants to perform great (and awesome!) deeds of heroism. Valerie Hunt, girl reporter, wants her friends to be able to rely on her as she uncovers the truth. Vladimir Von Dread wants to be able to protect others through his own power.

This emphasis on motivations gives particular complexity to the students in the “bad” group that was never quite fully realized in Harry Potter. Power is a means to an end, and those who seek power are not by necessity evil.

And this point in not merely flavor, but inserts uncertainty into Rachel’s relationships, thus impacting the plot. It results in greater tension surrounding the mysteries she is trying to solve, since it is unclear who can be trusted, even when there are underlying assumptions about their loyalties, friend or foe. This is much more satisfying than a bully (student or teacher) who merely wants to embarrass the main character due to a personal grudge and who is otherwise relatively flat. Of course, the latter is always good for schadenfreude and is also employed to good effect.

Consistent Protagonist

The main character Rachel is particularly well-crafted. I really appreciated her clear thinking and believable emotions. She is by no means a robot, but she exerts more self-control than your typical lead, male or female, reigning in emotional urges to lash out, gloat, and fall in love in a way that made her both sympathetic and worthy of my respect as a reader. I can trust this kind of character to behave in consistent ways, making plot twists so much more satisfying when they flip my predictions and exceed my expectations.

Well-delivered Plot

The storyline of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a bit typical. Rachel must use her knowledge and skills to identify the source of a threat—one that easily outstrips any student-level conflict—and face it with courage and a determination to protect her friends.

As in most magic school stories, adults are necessarily too busy, stupid, prejudiced, or evil to be relied upon. It is unfortunate that Rachel’s inner conflict pivoted around the issue of obeying adults, closing in a thematic climax of suboptimal conclusions. Still, that has always been a weakness of the genre.

More positive is the shift away from an epic fate that casts Rachel in a dichotomy of good vs. evil. I’ve always been a fan of stories that depict people holding the line against evil through diligent choices to do the right thing. Rachel consistently chooses to help and protect her friends.

She accomplishes this through thoughtful contributions within her means. The climax of the story does not have her facing off alone against a villain, but rather applying what she has learned to provide timely and vital assistance to more skilled allies, including older students and adults. The resulting conclusion was satisfying and meaningful without imposing on my suspension of disbelief.

Setting and Sci-fi

The setting of this story also has a crafted feel, with enough details about the world of the Wise to provide context, but not so many that the plot becomes bogged down with worldbuilding. The location of the school is beautifully described and gives it a more concrete sense of place.

There are some really intriguing sci-fi elements, too, including strange, parallel worlds or dimensions and a little alternate history. I am interested to know more about how and why Christianity has been removed from the public’s conscious, leaving only traces in the lexicon such as the word “steeple.”

Check Out The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin!

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a fun magic school adventure that delivers on the expectations of the genre in unique ways. I am eager to read more about the exploits of Rachel Griffin and her friends in the rest of the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment!

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Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves Review

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves by Fenton Wood Book Cover

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves Publisher Description:

A young radio engineer travels across an alt-history America, encountering primeval gods, mythical beasts, and tall tales come to life, in a quest to build a radio transmitter that can reach the stars.

It all starts in the mountain town of Porterville. Twelve-year-old Philo starts a pirate radio station with his friends, and learns that the world is a stranger place than he ever imagined. The Ancient Marauder, the Bright and Terrible Birds, the Mishipeshu, and other creatures of myth and legend populate this enchanting mixture of science and fantasy.

YANKEE REPUBLIC is an old-school adventure series with traditional values and down-to-earth heroes. Escape from the pessimism and propaganda of modern fiction, and take a journey through a mythic America that might have been.

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Review: Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves by Fenton Wood

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves. I encourage you to check it out!

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves is a story of youthful ingenuity set in a flavorful science fiction, alternate history world. This enchanting first book in the Yankee Republic series introduces a tone of wonder in discovery and success in diligent work through the application of the timeless boyhood adventure to the science fiction genre.

This review contains minor spoilers.

Realistic Adventure

In a narrative style reminiscent of Mark Twain, Fenton Wood captures a sense of imaginative wonder. Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves utilizes the best of “children’s literature” realistic fiction, before realism came to mean pessimism. Rather, it means that the events of the story could happen, however improbable they may seem to someone determined to see the worst in the world.

The entertainment value is delivered in the manner of a realistic adventure story: through second-hand pleasure in discovery, the building of something constructive, and success in the pursuit of a clear goal.

In addition to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I was reminded of The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss and Hatchet by Gary Paulson, particularly the enthusiasm of building something from bits and pieces. Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows also came to mind, but more due to the rich sense of place in nature and in community.

Alternate History

Of course, Pirates is adventure fiction, but not actually realistic children’s literature. It is a science fiction blend of weird fiction, folklore, and alternate history.

The alternate history aspect contributes greatly to the overall tone of the work, but little to the plot in this first story. It functions as a switch that allows the reader, whatever their age, to share in the thrill of discovery and imagination led by the enthusiastic boys.

How much reflects reality and how much is true only within the story? How much is tall tale or misconception either by the youthful heroes or the isolated mountain people? All of the questions spurred by casually dropped details help to capture that sense of wonder and infinite possibility characteristic of the boyhood adventure.

The strong adherence to the expectations of the adventure fiction genre suggest a slight variation in my interpretation of the ending, when Philo stumbles into another world/dimension and the first real sci-fi situation of the story. This, rather than the setting of the story, is the true “alternate history.”

In keeping with the established tone, it isn’t our “real” world, either. The reader can anticipate more interesting things to experience and learn, not the pseudo-entertainment of watching someone else be exposed to our own, all-too-familiar world.

Heroic Simplicity

Delivering the delight of discovery is a cast of eager, genuine boys. Their antics in the pursuit of a pure goal require no convoluted life lessons or interpersonal drama to provide thematic commentary on the importance of friendship, hard work, and their own potential.

The themes are developed organically through the events of the story. Representative of this pattern is a scene in which the boys attempt to cross a high bridge via the catwalk beneath and find a section has been removed to prevent people from doing just that. Rather than giving up, the boys devise a solution using the materials they have with them. This solution is daring. It forces the boys to show courage, determination, ingenuity, and camaraderie. When these are diligently applied, they succeed.

Coming-of-age stories too often become mired in the character’s head, over-indulging in the emotions and thoughts that accompany any period of transition. Change is difficult and can be a great catalyst for a story, but it is not entertaining in and of itself. Pirates focuses on the pleasure of the moment for these boys, keeping the story moving with a positive tone even as time passes and friends move away.

Check Out Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves!

Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves is an engaging tale of nostalgic adventure in a fantastic world. It sets the expectations for the rest of the Yankee Republic series to continue the exploration with sincerity and excitement!

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Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast Crowdfund

Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast Crowdfund

The third novel in Adam Lane Smith's heavy metal Christian series Gideon Ira begins its Kickstarter Campaign.

On July 16th, Adam Lane Smith announced his Kickstarter for Gideon Ira in Castle Bloodghast. This book will be the third in the Gideon Ira series and the fourth in the overarching Deus Vult Wastelanders series.

It broke through the initial funding goal within 5 hours, and Smith has already released the first stretch goal, with more fun to come if that is also met.

Adam announced at the same time that Ivan Tao would be returning as the cover artist, and Brian Niemeier as the editor for the series.

On the campaign page, Smith says,

“Crusaders in power armor invade an ancient evil castle. This heavy metal Christian gothic horror novel will melt your face right off.”

This campaign ends August 14th.

Ghostblade by Adam Lane Smith Book Cover

Check out our positive, long-form review of Adam Lane Smith's Ghostblade!

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The Crimson Spark Review

The Crimson Spark by William Hastings Book Cover

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Crimson Spark. I encourage you to check it out!

The Crimson Spark Publisher Description:

Break the shackles of the mind.

Leo is a boy grieving his twin. Nea is a girl living as a boy to escape her past. Two slaves, carrying the scars of abuse. They form a connection, only to be split apart when their ship arrives in a mysterious and fragmented land, cut off from the rest of the world.

Leo becomes apprentice to a vagabond swordsman and together the two set out to find a stolen weapon locked away in a catacomb city. But what is his new teacher hiding? Tormented by a crippling injury and an anxious heart, Leo must find the strength within himself to keep going despite all that he has lost.

Meanwhile, Nea is conscripted by the Captain of the Royal Guard, who ropes her into the search for a group of men hunting a boy matching Leo’s description. But to Nea’s dismay, the Captain is a woman and Nea must fight past her hateful and damaged mind if she ever hopes to earn her freedom.

When a former child soldier threatens to spark a revolution, Leo and Nea will choose sides. Will they fight to save this cruel land, or punish it? To find the answer, they must confront the horror of the past and fight for the greatest freedom of all, freedom from the fear that rules their hearts.

The Crimson Spark is an emotional and captivating fantasy adventure. A story about innocence lost and righteousness found. A story about how even the most broken souls can be whole together.

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Review: The Crimson Spark by William Hastings

The Crimson Spark is a dark fantasy adventure following young characters on their quest for freedom, hope, and healing. Filled with suspense, vivid action scenes, and rich themes, this first installment of the Vagabond Legacy series is an intense coming-of-age story.

This review contains minor spoilers.

Suspenseful Pacing

The Crimson Spark is paced by secrets and discovery. It doesn’t take long to discover that the main characters Leo and Nea have dark pasts that are influencing their decisions and behaviors, but their specifics are obscured by their traumatic nature that disinclines the characters to confront them. This not only creates interest, but also sympathy for the kids, who clearly need relational safety and healing.

But they are not the only mysterious characters. When Leo and Nea escape from the slavers, the initial antagonists, three individuals representing three different groups come forward to offer help. It is clear to any reader that this is a situation that cannot be taken at face value; someone must have ulterior motives!

The potential for the young characters to fall in with people who don’t really have their best interests at heart and people who can hurt them physical or emotionally deepens with every step of their journey.

Vivid Action

When action explodes on the scene it is detailed and fully realized. The edge-of-your-seat situations are varied and frequent, taking full advantage of the story’s fantasy setting with monsters, moving forests, and magic.

A particular favorite of mine is Leo’s flight from a giant centipede through a maze of catacombs full of people like living dead!

Complex Characters

I ached for Leo and Nea, who have been so hurt and victimized by the people they should have been able to trust. Their pasts make them pitiable, but it is their desire to do the right thing that makes them sympathetic and their resolution to fight for both themselves and others that makes them heroic.

The antagonists are fairly nuanced. The king who used child soldiers in the last war and who allows child slavery and other horrors to perpetuate in his county is not without love and value. Likewise, the people hurt by this state have plenty of reason to rise up against him.

This leads to what I believe is one failing of the story. The primary antagonist Belijhar was a child soldier who survived and has gathered similarly victimized people to overthrow the government and the society that turns a blind eye. I find it unfortunate that this stance is given no reasoned response thematically.

Instead, Belijhar is made more traditionally “evil” by expressing ambitions for world domination via conquest and using illusions to try to manipulate others. Once he is defeated and his illusions broken, his followers lose their revolutionary drive and most surrender, as if none of them cared anymore about the evil they believed they were fighting.

In this way, the story neatly sidestepped confronting their worldview. Since the main characters stood in their opposition, alongside the king, I feel that some kind of statement regarding it was warranted.

Rich Themes

Even acknowledging that, however, The Crimson Spark has a well-developed theme centered around the predation of children. I like to reserve the term “dark” to describe stories that present hopeless situations where good people find themselves trapped and often forced to do bad things. This story certainly has elements of that, but they are woven into a greater tale of hope and healing.

There are three specific situations enacted, allowed, or enabled by the government where children are victimized: child soldiers, child slavery, and sexual abuse of children. the society at large also turns a blind eye to these evils. The scene of the slave market, with people going about their day around it, is a powerful one.

Hastings has managed to craft a really smooth theme around this that appears to be more a consequence of the plot as opposed to artificially injected into the story. It certainly isn’t preachy, but succeeds in drawing forward these topics for consideration.

Personal Responsibility

The story avoids a solution at a government level. Instead, Leo and Nea settle on personal responsibility. Leo asks the king to tell the truth about the child soldiers and accept the consequences that come with that. He and Nea resolve to help free the children in slavery where they can rather than following their original plan to flee to a country without slavery.

They both begin the healing process by refusing to be defined by the horrible things that happened to them. Instead of  clinging to their bitterness and (self-) hatred, they look to see themselves in the people who need their help. Leo, in particular, is able to see himself in the antagonist and to feel pity for him.

Discussing the presence of theme makes the story sound heavier than it is. Honestly, it boils down to the tried-and-true fantasy motif of good against evil. Hasting’s characters resolve not to back down and to keep doing the right thing!

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The Crimson Spark is an exciting and thought-provoking read. I look forward to seeing where the rest of the Vagabond Legacy series takes me, both in plot and themes!

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The Brand of the Warlock Review

The Brand of the Warlock by Robert Kroese Book Cover

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Brand of the Warlock. I encourage you to check it out!

The Brand of the Warlock Publisher Description:

A hooded man, his face marred by a mysterious black brand, walks the Plain of Savlos. Some say he has the power to summon demons. Others say he is the only one who can vanquish them. His name is Konrad, and he has a secret….

Once an ordinary soldier, his life was forever changed by a fateful meeting with a dying sorcerer. Now he is all that stands between civilization and the creeping evil of the shadow world. The Brand of the Warlock is the first book in the fast-paced sword & sorcery series THE COUNTERFEIT SORCERER.

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Review: The Brand of the Warlock by Robert Kroese

The Brand of the Warlock is a clever and compelling fantasy novel, thick with mystery and suspense, dark magic and demons! A unique dilemma afflicts the main character, who persists through wit and sheer moxie, capturing the reader’s curiosity for what he will do next. This entertaining sword and sorcery story kicks off The Counterfeit Sorcerer series with both magic and intrigue.

This review contains minor spoilers.

Suspense

The pacing of this story is fantastically executed. While I would hesitate to call it “fast-paced,” it certainly never felt plodding. Each event starts with a steady build of tension and pays off with concise, intense action.

The story begins with a simple question: how did the main character end up in prison?

The initial scene creates interest through well-crafted dialogue between the prisoner and the chief prosecutor. They each attempt to manipulate the other in order to get what they want, but their back-and-forth is not without risk. The chief prosecutor has been forced to release this prisoner and fears retribution from the powerful sorcerer he locked up. Likewise, the prisoner fears miscalculating the situation and being returned to his cell. They each are trying to get what they want without tipping their own hand.

At the end of the chapter, the prisoner Konrad is free, but it is revealed that he is not the sorcerer. This revelation deepens the mystery, raising additional questions.

The novel continues in this manner. Dialogue is compelling and never lacks some kind of conflict to create interest. The twisty revelations cause the reader to re-evaluate the information previously revealed. The question of Konrad’s past is slowly answered, but his desire to reunite with the girl he loves continues to draw him into the greater conflict around his mistaken identity until he is fighting demons in their own world!

Wit and Moxie

Konrad’s character delivers a lot of the entertainment value for this story. He is clever and resourceful, and fate seems out to get him. However, no matter the setback, he maintains his stalwart focus on his goals, finds allies to help him, and does the right thing.

His greatest talent is his wit. He devises clever plans and convinces others to participate. While he can certainly formulate a good smart-alecky comeback, Konrad’s character is genuine. He lacks the sarcasm and rude manner popularized by Marvel and Sherlock, whose characters insult their friends just as smoothly as their enemies.

These qualities make him both entertaining and sympathetic. His trials can be attributed to bad luck and not a bad attitude. This is the kind of character I can cheer for!

Setting

The Brand of the Warlock’s setting is not necessarily unique for the sword and sorcery genre. I do not mean to fault this setting in any way, but rather to point out that it, like every element of this story, is carefully constructed without being overbuilt. Veszedelem, the demon world, is interesting in its mechanics, partly because there is no tedious explanations of minor details.

One set that I particularly enjoyed was the haunted ruins. When they were first introduced, I thought it they were simply part of a generic fetch quest – part of developing Konrad’s reputation in his mistaken persona. I was pleasantly surprised to find it return as the stage for the larger conflict!

Every scene, character, and event contributes to this story in a meaningful way. There didn’t appear to be a single element of worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. There was enough description to create a clear picture in my mind, but it never weighed down the plot.

Everything served the story, and the story was entertaining!

The End

This story did have one weakness that I feel must be addressed. The story laid the groundwork, established settings, built the tension, developed characters, and brought them together. Everything was primed for the climax. Then the book ended.

There had certainly been some big confrontations prior to the end, and Konrad’s quest to be reunited with his love is completed. However, there wasn’t the payoff that the rhythm of the story had led me to expect.

Part of this is due to the presence of too many antagonists, all of which entered the story too close to the ending. There wasn’t time to build the sense of necessity to their conflicts that would provide resolution. So much of the story was driven by the mystery of Konrad’s predicament of a false identity that the information about his antagonists’ characters came too late.

This situation does put the same pressure on a reader as a cliff-hanger, and the rest of the series is available and may provide resolution and live up to the promises this story made. That said, this story certainly has you reaching for the next book in the series!

Check Out The Brand of the Warlock!

The Brand of the Warlock is a well-crafted story, with every element contributing to the driving suspense, and a tone of sincerity. While the abrupt ending is disappointing, it is preceded by a tightly woven tale and promises even more entertainment in the rest of The Counterfeit Sorcerer series!

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