Branches: A Novel of Other Timelines by Adam Peter Johnson

3/5 stars A Multiverse, alternate reality with a pill.

Phew, okay here goes. I picked this up as part of our Indie Book Club monthly read. I like dystopian fiction and the premise of the book intrigued me.

This is the story of a man who is struggling with headaches and finds out that they are a result of him being in the wrong multiverse. He has been drifting for months through hundreds, maybe thousands of an infinite number of multiverses each subtly different but the change so gradual, so close to his own he never really noticed.

By taking a pill each day for a week he can drift back to his ‘own’ multiverse and be where he is meant to be. The thing is he is not sure if that will be better or worse than where he is now – or if indeed there might be a multiverse more appealing than his own. A world where things are more positive and his life better. Maybe it could end up a whole lot worse?

Okay, admit it, that does sound intriguing right? The trouble is I found it a struggle to read and DNF’d it at about 60% in. Now it is unusual that I would review a book I DNF’d but since it is part of my Indie Book Club review I feel I needed to make an exception.

It is a shame the book did not gel for me because it is well written. APJ can write that is for sure. It is told in an over the shoulder kind of first-person narrative. I enjoyed the structure and the language of it, it was just that I found the story dragged. It did not hold my attention and I think that is because I just did not care for the main character. I couldn’t even tell you his name or recall if it is mentioned at all.

The MC is intelligent but is like Joe Mundane. In other words boring. He has an overriding obsession against ‘Him’ Him being Donald Trump and the different multiverses we get to experience him in, from a police state-like oligarch to deposed president. I found it was like a stuck record only every time I unstuck the record it played the same song in a different bar. I didn’t much care for it and found the whole thing one long, never-ending crisis of monotony.

I felt more affinity for Meredith his wife and his young son. His dead mother taught him the values of standing up and choosing aside, of being morally present, yet he displays none of those traits in my view.

Now before I get all doom and gloomy you must remember. This is just how I feel. I don’t like Oreo biscuits but my wife loves them. That is the same as any book. There will be those a story appeals to and those that it does not. So I would urge anyone to make up their own mind. The writing is professional and well constructed so this book may well appeal to you and I would urge you if the premise sounds like your kind of ‘Oreo’ that you to ‘Take a Look Inside’ and decide for yourself.

Pieces of Eight (The Guardian Of Empire City) by Peter Hartog

5 Stars – Dystopian detective story with future tech, magic and paranormal(ish)

This is Peter Hartog’s second novel in the Guardian of Empire City series and takes place several month’s after the climactic end of book one, Bloodlines which I have read, reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, it was my read of 2021.

I guess in musical terms, this is the tricky second album and I was excited to rip into book two and see what new mystery and case file lay in store for Tom ‘Doc’ Holliday and co and whether it could live up to the story delivered in book one.

Yes, is the short answer.

There was a little bit of recap referencing in the opening chapter or two which I didn’t need but once the formalities were over and the case started it grabbed from the off and didn’t relinquish its fast pace until the final page. There is no idling in this book.

I have to say, I was impressed by the narrative. The main characters are all unique and well established, the character dialogue flows seamlessly and each voice is so recognisably distinct. The plot was intricately structured and was a delight reading as its many layers unfolded. The action is full-on and steeped in jeopardy with a sense that no one, especially Doc was safe.

The setting too is expanded upon and I got a real feeling for this immense city and its surroundings the further in the story went. As I referenced in my review of book one, it is reminiscent of Megacity One/Bladerunner and who in their right mind wouldn’t love that imagery!

I like that all of the protagonists are flawed in one way or another yet somehow just seem to fit together to make a whole. A real odd-bunch that just seems to work. As well there are some new characters introduced which could potentially play a wider part in the next book. I guess it is a watch this space to find that out.

There is an underlying ‘bad guy/gal’ carried over from book one and a new villain of the peace revealed but I will say no more. I would say that some of the antagonists were stereotypical and not as deeply threatening as book one but conversely, the final scene shenanigans were if anything more fraught and dangerous….I will say no more since I do not want to give any spoilers.

The production is extremely polished for an Indie author – indeed, I looked at the front to check if it had been through a traditional publishing house it was that good. I did pick up a few grammar issues but I could count these on one hand and actually, is far less than many published authors that I have read. If you have read this far into my review and think this book sounds interesting, then do yourself a favour and pick up a copy. Peter Hartog is fast becoming one of my favourite future-world genre authors of all time.

Dangerous to Know by K. T. Davies

5/5 Stars – A Half-breed, a curse, a prophecy and much skullduggery

I saw this book a while back and even read the Look Inside since the premise intrigued me. It made me smile but I had read plenty of first-person narratives with wise-cracking anti-heroes in them and frankly, I had been there and got the t-shirt. I passed it over. However, for some reason, that early look stayed with me and when the ebook came up on a free promotion I couldn’t say no. A bit of light, fun reading is never a bad thing and boy am I pleased I did.

The story is action-packed and unrelentingly and whilst those early chapters and indeed the story itself trod a well-worn path it was so well imagined and so well composed that it stood out from the rest.

It is told from the POV of Breed, a half-human half-thoasan, the latter being a lizard-like creature called warspawn, a creation of wizards in the ancient fight against demons.  The tale starts with a dragon moves on to a demon and quickly goes downhill from there.

As you might expect from a grimdark tale with an anti-hero at its heart, Breed is a villainous character. Unwanted, unloved and fluent in snark and foul-mouthery. He has a distorted and cruel take on the world and..well…pretty much everyone in it.

I will say nothing of the plot which is both simple and clever but I will say that the world is a well-crafted one and full of colour and character. It is also pretty darn grim seen through the eyes of Breed. He has an exceptional turn of phrase, has the best swear words and as you might expect gets himself into all sorts of trouble through (he would claim) no fault of his own.

The cast of characters are archetypal, well rounded and add depth and context to the story. The history of the world and the many religions is well-wrought and imagined and I was fully immersed in the story, the telling of which is artfully done. You can see the subtle shift and change in Breed as the narrative unfolds, both in reaction to who he meets and the widening plot and his part in it.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I will pick up the next because why not. It was so much fun the first time it would be a crime not to.       

The Curse of the Mistwraith (Wars of Light and Shadow, #1) by Janny Wurts

This is a guest review by the wonderful P.L. Stuart a fellow author from Toronto Canada who specialises in Medieval Literature. You can find him on Amazon and Goodreads and is well worth a follow if you are a book lover. I’d like to thank PL for allowing me to share his review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“The Wars of Light and Shadow were fought during the third age of Athera, the most troubled and strife-filled era recorded in all of history. At that time Arithon, called Master of Shadow, battled the Lord of Light through five centuries of bloody and bitter conflict. If the canons of the religion founded during that period are reliable, the Lord of Light was divinity incarnate, and the Master of Shadow a servant of evil, spinner of dark powers. Temple archives attest with grandiloquent force to be the sole arbiters of truth”…”

“Because the factual account lay hopelessly entangled between legend and theology, sages in the seventh age meditated upon the ancient past, and recalled through visions the events as they happened. Contrary to all expectation, the conflict did not begin on the council stair of Etarra, nor even on the soil of Athera itself; instead the visions started upon the wide oceans of the splinter world, Dascen Elur. This is the chronicle the sages recovered. Let each who reads determine the good and the evil for himself.”…”

And so begins one of the most epic high fantasy books, and the opening entry in one of the greatest epic fantasy series, EVER.

For years, I had planned to read the illustrious Janny Wurts. To be clear, Janny Wurts is often heralded as one of the best fantasy writers of all time, yet somehow I did not get to any of her extensive collection of books. No longer. Now that I have read “The Curse of the Mistwraith”, I understand why Wurts is mentioned in the same breath, in many circles, as Tolkien, Martin, and many of the truly elite fantasy authors.… .

So, without further ado, let me attempt to do justice to the phenomenal “The Curse of the Mistwraith”, Book One of The Wars of Light and Shadow, in my review.


The beauty, for me, of the plot of the book is that, at its heart, it is simple. Some would even consider the plot full of tropes. Yet those tropes are wrapped in immeasurable nuance and complexity. I have never seen tropes meshed and threaded with such skill that one would cease to forget about the tropes themselves, and focus solely on how deftly written the book is. Until I read this book.

In the world of Dascen Elur, a war exists between two rival kings. One king is a flamboyant and notorious pirate king, the other is a cold, ruthless but highly capable monarch. The queen of the latter monarch, has a son (named Lysaer) with that particular king. Lysaer grows into the Master of Light. But the queen absconds on her husband, and runs off to have an affair with the pirate king, and bears him a (illegitimate) son as well, named Arithon. Arithon evolves into the Master of Shadow.

The queen’s husband is obsessed with being a cuckold, and vows to destroy the pirate king, his wife’s bastard son, and the pirate king’s naval forces. While the pirates are indeed a military threat to the rival king, it is the shame and humiliation of his wife’s betrayal that fuels his desire to annihilate the pirate king and his son.

Lysaer grows up to be the perfect prince and heir to the throne: handsome, courageous, intelligent, a natural leader and ruler, with an innate sense of justice. Lysaer also is eager to rule, and prove his worth. Yet Lysaer knows he possessed untapped, untutored magical powers, that he will only truly begin to uncover in another world.

Meanwhile Arithon, a lover of music and gifted musician, is raised as a mage, and trained in the arts of magic by his paternal grandfather. Arithon shuns inheriting the pirate king’s realm, and does not want to be tied to the burdens of sovereignty.

Though the queen eventually dies, the conflict continues to rage between the two rival kings. Finally, the pirate king is slain, and the Master of Shadows is captured by his enemies, eventually winding up in the hands of his half-brother, Crown Prince Lysaer.

Hate simmers between the two siblings, as Lysaer takes Arithon to Lysaer’s father, and Arithon is tortured, humiliated, and eventually banished from Dascen Elur. But Lysaer ends up being inadvertently exiled as well, to the world of Athera, and alternate reality, that can only reached via one-way magical portal.

There, initially, the brothers are forced to put their enmity aside and work together, under the guidance of wizards led by the mysterious Asandir, his apprentice Dakar (called the Mad Prophet) and other sorcerers belonging to the Fellowship of the Seven.

For Athera is clouded in permanent shadow and misery for the past 500 years, cursed by a Mistwraith, a powerful and malevolent being that is a blight upon the universe. No sun or stars can be seen in Athera, while the Mistwraith holds the land under its sway. Only the combined powers of Light (wielded by Lysaer), and Shadow (wielded by Arithon) can vanquish the Mistwraith, and bring an end to the curse.

Yet the curse is only one small part of Arithon and Lysaer’s issues. Another society of female magic-users, the Koriani, scheme against the Fellowship of the Seven, and have their own plans for the brothers. And the Fellowship themselves appear to be manipulative, secretive, and the reader will wonder if they truly have the best interests of the brothers at heart, or if the brothers are merely pawns in their designs.

Additionally, both princes are part of generational dynasties of which they are the heirs to in Athera. They have kingdoms and subjects that await their coming, like some sort of messiahs. Moreover, the blood feud between the two princes transcends into the new world of Athera. Will one prince be destroyed by the mutual hate? Will both? And will the world be destroyed with it?


The sophistication of Wurts’ characterization is truly a thing to behold. There are so many amazing, fascinating secondary characters that surround the two princes, most of whom very much have their own agendas, and are extremely grey in their perspectives and ambitions. There some downright despicable people too, but there are also some very “good” characters, who the reader will root for. But be warned – don’t get too attached. Like GRRM, Wurts has no compunction whatsoever in making noble characters suffer or die, and the final battle scenes of the book are of the tear-jerking variety, as loveable characters fall.

The princes are brilliantly drawn as counterpoint to each other at times, and at times their similarities cannot help but be noticed. Driven by forces beyond their control, played against each other by human and non-human agendas, and unsure of the players and game they are part of, one can’t help but feel sorry for Arithon and Lysaer. Their faults and positive attributes are both to their detriment, and it seems only disaster can await them both, with no pragmatic way to happiness and peace, based on the high destinies that ride on their shoulders.


This book, for me, is nothing if not a character-driven novel. That means the pacing, like many books of this nature, can be very slow-burn. There are plenty of fantastic action sequences, and the beginning and end of the novel are thrilling in terms of excitement. But the middle of the novel takes its time in drawing the reader into the politics, introducing the characters, how the magic works, the history and backstory, the settings, lining up all the chess pieces, then moving them. The book is a tome, coming in around 800 pages, yet I was never bored for one minute despite the length. Still, for those who treasure the sprint, not the marathon, it may not be for you. It is a dense, absorbing read, that requires the reader to proceed carefully, and virtually read every word.


While this book is just the beginning of the journey this series seems destined to take me on, I am hard pressed to recall as immersive world building that is constructed by Wurts ANYWHERE in modern fantasy that I have read thus far. I’m talking Tolkien, Steven Erikson, GRRM. Wurts’ dizzyingly real world is replete with lush ancient history, backstory, lore, a variety of current and defunct kingdoms, ethnicities, races (including centaurs!) and cultures, and complex mythologies clans, magical guilds, complex royal genealogy, prophecy that transcends millennia, unique languages, complex magic systems and mysticism.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I have not read anything like it, and all indications is that the first book merely scratches a bit of the surface of what Wurts has in store for the remainder of what is a huge series. I am flabbergasted by Wurts’ imagination, skill, and depth of research taken to create such an intricate and complex place, featuring a splinter world, main core world, and more. The end product is superlative, and second to none. For someone like me who craves detailed world-building, I have found exactly what I was looking for in a fantasy book.


I understand that for some, Wurts’ prose may be too much of a good thing. For me, simply put, it is a thing of extreme beauty, a revelation. To say it is evocative is a paltry compliment. Her style of writing is classical, lyrical, poetic at times, stuffed full of detail, description, subtleties. You can read and appreciate the writing for its sheer loveliness, but in truth, you would literally be missing out.

That is because Wurts weaves clues to sub-plots or major plot points, innuendoes, sometimes even double-meanings into her words, that if the reader fails to pay attention – either completely mesmerized by the prose itself, or overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of it – things will be missed, and misunderstood. There is such a delight in the way Wurts writes, that I know I will be re-reading “The Curse of the Mistwraith” several times, just for the loveliness of the prose alone.

But I will also be re-reading to capture things that I know I neglected to pick up on the first read – it is that type of book. Wurts is a master at the craft of writing, and I cannot say enough about her abilities in this regard. She will make you work hard to comprehend the full picture, but I feel the payoff is well worth the effort on the part of the reader.


Predestination, the “end justifies the means”, what it means to embrace leadership, the price and consequences of magic, loyalty, family, and lust for power, prestige, and glory are all compelling themes that you will find in “The Curse of the Mistwraith”. Also, the fact that nothing is ever as it seems, and the reliability of all the perspectives in the novel being cast in doubt at various points, makes for highly intriguing and thought-provoking reading.

The prologue holds some of the key to the point of the book – and is reminiscent of GRRMs (to paraphrase) “A villain is a hero of the other side”. This is particularly relevant when we consider the main two characters, the princes. The reader will in one chapter detest and be angry with Arithon, and then next chapter empathise with him, cheer for him and pray for his survival. Then they will turn around and feel the same about Lysaer. At least in this first entry in the series, though readers will likely come to have their favourite brother, I found myself hoping somehow both could co-exist, if not find lost familial bonds of love and harmony.

But this book, make no mistake, is a DARK book overall, and I do not predict any happy endings for either brother in the series. The two brothers are positioned for failure, and seemingly, catastrophic death for themselves, if not also the world around them.

Yet this is part of the genius of Wurts, as she has the reader caring for what happens to both men on opposite sides, and fretting over the fact that – while they seem to race towards inevitable doom – they are being manipulated by sorcerers and sorceresses, evil spirits, ambitious humans, and almost everyone and everything around them.

Perhaps the scariest thing about the book is that Arithon and Lysaer’s fate seems almost completely pre-determined, with only a few alternate probably outcomes. So, as the reader, one is reading the book (and the series, it would seem) for the journey, not the ultimate destination, perhaps. But that journey is so luxuriant, so verdant with artistry, splendour, and magnificence, that I am more than willing to just enjoy the scenery, and keep reading Wurts’ “The War of Light and Shadow” to its conclusion.


This book got me in the feels on EVERY level. The writing is rapturous, the world-building was mind-blowing, the characters were superbly drawn, and the themes were spellbinding. It was a true feast of the senses, and if this book was just the beginning, the series truly promises greatness. “The Curse of the Mistwraith” was breathtaking and has me clamouring for more, much more of Wurts’ craftsmanship.

Wurts is a scintillating writer, one of the best in fantasy, who needs to be heralded in the same class as the Sandersons, Jordans, et all. I will be devouring anything she writes from now on. It won’t be long, I’m sure, until I am reading the next book in the series, “The Ships of Merior”.

Ten Sigma: A Military Science Fiction Adventure by A. W. Wang

4/5 (Adult only) An explosive, gritty military Sci-Fi

Ten Sigma is set in the near future and told from the point of view of Mary, a somewhat reserved and reticent individual who hides within herself a steely resolve and mental toughness. And she needs every ounce of it for Mary is dying from one of the few incurable cancers left in the world. She is offered the chance by a mysterious man of a new life but it would mean leaving everything of herself behind. Her life, her family and loved ones, even her memories. She resists until she is left no choice but to die or try, even though it means losing who she is.

Mary wakes up in a virtual world as Brin, a participant in the Ten Sigma program. To survive and reach the real world she will need to achieve the designation of ten sigmas by winning scenarios. Dying in a scenario means dying in the real, losing in the scenario means going back to zero. Winning means advancing your score. To reach ten sigma she will need to win countless scenarios back to back. The only problem is, the scenarios are packed with other virtual people all trying to achieve the same thing. Her death or defeat.

Ten Sigma however is more than that simple premise. There is something else going on and Brin is determined to find out what. Determined to keep her memories and determined to rejoin the real world and reunite with her family. But, is she willing to pay the price?

The story is wonderfully told and evocatively written. It is an action-packed military romp from the moment Mary/Brin arrives in the ten sigma program until its vicious, bloody conclusion. It is psychologically bruising and physically brutal in the extreme and A.W. Wang doesn’t pull any literary punches.

There is a passing nod to the Matrix with a genuine ‘I know Kungfu’ moment in it and set similarly in a virtual world where there are consequences for every action. There is also a hint of Hunger Games to it as well with its deathmatch style competition but it is neither of those two stories and stands on its own metaphorical legs.

There were a few niggles, and I mean a few. The biggest hole in the story for me was why? Why the ten sigma program? Why was the win condition so draconian and impossible? Its goal was identified but I never really understood the purpose of it. It created a slight disconnect for me because of the sheer attrition rate and the mathematical impossibility of any participant ever reaching ten sigmas, which,  as conveyed in the story meant that no one could reach the end, could they?

There were also a few scenes where I got dragged out of the story because I just could not believe how they unfolded. I was like, ‘Really. That really happened?’ Then I kept right on reading, shelving my disbelief and incredulity and going with the story.

I am not normally that charitable but see, I know something….I know a great storyteller when I read one because it never feels to me like I am reading pages and I believe A W Wang can tell a story. His descriptive narrative is not formulaic or over garnished. It conveys enough to sketch a picture and colour it in whilst leaving plenty that my imagination got drawn in.

There is one other massive, glaring error (he says, tongue-in-cheek). This is not a military adventure. It is a military survival story.

Overall, thoroughly enjoyable. If you love military sci-fi with epic combat then do yourself a favour and pick up a copy.

Path of Ruin: An Epic Fantasy Adventure by Tim Paulson

3.5 Stars – An Interesting Fantasy World

I should have liked this story a lot more than I did. It had an intriguing magic source called veil, a nice blend of magic and technology and an interesting world inhabited by humans, lion children, trolls, weaselmen, ghouls, horrors and with massive stone goliaths brought to life by souls and driven by pilots armed with swords and cannons. I mean I love the sound of all that, it sounds frigging awesome but unfortunately, for me, the story just didn’t deliver on its early promise.

The story starts quite strongly, and the author does a great job of introducing an eclectic cast of characters and I was looking forward to seeing each of them develop as their tales unfolded. The action is fast-paced and the protagonists move relentlessly from one scene to the next and whilst the early chapters held my interest and I was intrigued to see what happened at some point this waned.

Why? Well, after that initial promise, I was not fully invested in the characters. Any of them. I know that sounds a bit harsh and certainly, there was a lot to like about Mia and Henri at the start, but I got more disinclined towards them the more I read. For me, they felt a little bit caricatured and two-dimensional and they did not grow. As well there seemed little cause and effect. When something happens that I would expect to traumatize a character they seem to shrug it off. Or an injury that was debilitating no longer being so hours later, almost as if they never suffered said injury. Some scenes I felt seemed rushed and could have been done with more exposition to create more tension and buildup.

There were a few typos and grammatical errors which for some reason seemed more prevalent in the second half of the book than in the first. This was not a major issue for me, I know this author is an Indie author and overall it was well edited, certainly, there weren’t enough errors to detract too much from the story but it is something that could be tidied up easily with another read through.

There were also elements of the story that just seemed a little contrived and confusing and in some cases unfinished including the ending which I found underwhelming. I know this is just book one and the story will continue in book two so maybe some of those nagging ends will get resolved or explained then but I am not sure this book had enough to hold me.

I would say that whilst this story may not have been for me I suspect many who love this mixed genre of fantasy, adventure and technology might enjoy this book.

Free Book Promotion 12th & 13th November

I am running a free book promotion for Rivers Run Red and I wanted to let you know.

I realise as a subscriber you may already have read my book in which case it is not much use to you but if you haven’t then now is your chance to pick it up for nothing. You can also gift it for free if you have friends or family that like epic fantasy. Go crazy. It can’t hurt. Or forward this email to your friends if you think it may be of use to them.

I would beg ask (beg makes me sound to needy!) if you read or have read my books to please leave a rating – it is literally 2 clicks to do it – or if you really enjoyed the journey why not leave a review. Ratings and Reviews are like gold dust to an author and Christmas is coming – show me some love.

Myths, Legends, & Dreams A Worldsmyths Anthology

3/5 Star Some great new authors to discover

I will start right off and say that I am not a massive fan of anthologies. It’s a taste thing or maybe I have been living in Yorkshire too long! If I go for a five-course meal (which I never do by the way – but if!) then I would like to enjoy all of it. Not just the starter and dessert course. With an anthology,  I usually find 3 or 4 stories that grip me, 3 or 4 that are okay and 3 or 4 that didn’t stay with me past the reading. This Anthology I’m afraid was no different and at £4.36 it is more than I would expect to pay for what was a book for authors to showcase their wares.

I realise that might sound harsh, maybe it is because there were a couple of five-star performers. I will say the writing quality was pretty good generally. There were some mistakes and typos that slipped through the edit on some stories but not enough to detract. Others that had too much descriptive narrative that did detract, some people might like that poetic over description – for me, it didn’t add to the story.

Some of the tales told were unique and will stay with me (no higher praise than that!) which I loved and some were quirky and humorous (which I also loved). For that alone, I would nominally assign a 4 star for this book. However, I took a star off because I simply felt that there were a few of the stories that, whilst well written and of great quality, did not feel like short stories but leaders to a wider story/book. If any of the authors read this and think I am referring to them, then I am and if my feeling is wrong and they are shorts then they didn’t feel satisfyingly complete – take your pick. A shame because at least two of those stories I am referring to were engaging and I wanted to read more. So staying with my food analogies they were a course that tasted delicious but there was not enough on the plate.

For me, the takeaway is that there were several standout stories from authors I never knew but now do. The thing with an anthology I guess is that others will read it and get a different experience and find authors that they resonant with more depending on reading style and taste. I would suggest using Amazon’s wonderful previewer and take a “Look Inside.” The first story will give you a taste of what is in store.

Sorry for all the food analogies – at the time of review I hadn’t eaten yet.

Witchmarked (World’s First Wizard #1) by Aaron D. Schneider and Michael Anderle

4/5 Stars – An alternate history, beautifully dark fantasy

I downloaded this book a while ago on a promotional deal. It is not something that would normally grab my eye but the cover was superb and whilst the ‘World’s First Wizard’ sounded a bit cliched as a series title and felt like a YA fantasy title (in my mind), reading the blurb and the subsequent ‘Look Inside’ that Amazon provides, convinced me this was a book worthy of my time because that is what reading a book is, an investment in time. I am very pleased to say it was worth every second of my investment.

First of all, this book is wonderfully and evocatively written. The execution of storytelling was top draw and the story itself was unlike anything I had read before. I have read steampunk and dark fantasy and a couple of alternate history tales before with varying results – this one sits at the top of the pile for me. I mention steampunk because it had a little flavour of that with the Zeppelin’s but other than that it is not a steampunk novel by any stretch. It is however very much dark fantasy set in an alternate history world.  

The story is set in the 1930s where the war to end all wars is still raging and sucking more of the world into the conflict so that it no longer encompasses just Europe. It is told from the German side of the lines which is a refreshing twist in itself since history has a way of glorifying the victors and painting the losers as being somehow morally bankrupt or bad. That may well be the case but things are never all black or all white, more a dire-grey when it comes to war and the men and women on the front lines that fight them.   

The world’s first wizard is called Milo, only he doesn’t know it yet and this story tells the tale of his awakening if you like. I should warn that it is dark fantasy and it is not YA. There is no ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ wand waving, this is an altogether more earthy and darker magic. See, Milo is gifted but he has to learn from someone or something and that something is nothing human nor very palatable to us. He must learn alchemical necromancy. There is a lot of alchemy but alchemy that does not follow the rules of the natural world, more the supernatural. There is a lot of detail written covering this in the story so that the reader gets a real sense of how the magic is worked and how it is derived.

It is really interesting seeing the fantastical, underworld magics interacting with the real world and it occurred to me that as dreadful as this dark underworld was, humanity itself is pretty bloody grim and more than a match. There is irony and a lot of subtle undertones throughout the story that I picked up on and this made my reading all the more enjoyable.  

I won’t say much more because I do not wish to give any spoilers away, but this is a story you should read if you like dark fantasy. The prose is artfully written, the story wonderfully plotted and our anti-hero very likeable (to me at least) and his side-kick. Even the nasties have a certain appeal to them….after a while.

This first instalment is a self-contained story but with a continuing narrative, meaning there are more adventures to be had with Milo. Books two and three are both out and available and this series is very much on my radar now.

Bloodless Assassin (The Viper and the Urchin #1) by Celine Jeanjean

4.5/5 Stars Great fun, great characters tied in a steampunk bow

The last few steampunk novels I have read left me a little underwhelmed so I picked this up with new hope in my heart but also a little trepidation that it might fall the same way. Well, I needn’t have worried, Celine Jeanjean (great name by the way) delivered and re-injected my love of Steampunk. That said, the steampunk theme is the backdrop to this story and not necessarily central to it. I know some ‘purists’ may have an issue with this, not me. For me, it is always about the story, first and foremost. There are so many genres and sub-genres these days it can all get mighty confusing so I try not to think about it. It is fantasy, there are no rules.

The story grabbed me pretty much from the first page and I kind of held my breath a little hoping its early promise carried through. Well yeah, it did and more. I had so much fun reading this book I found myself actively mapping out in my head when and where I could sit down in a quiet spot and blast through a couple of chapters undisturbed.

The story is set in the city-state of Damsport and is told from the perspective of Rory (our street urchin) and Longinus (an aristocratic assassin). Rory lives on the streets relieving unsuspecting victims of their coin and with Jake, her partner in crime, she is pretty good at it. But Rory has a dream of becoming a master swordswoman and she has found a Sword Preceptor willing to take her on if she can raise the money needed for her training and finally she has done it. The preceptor is in Damsport and she is ready to follow that dream.

I won’t give any spoilers except to say that things don’t go quite to plan (okay maybe just a tiny spoiler) and instead she ends up blackmailing Longinus, an infamous (although famous in his mind) assassin called the Viper with an aversion to blood. Neither much likes the other to begin with but needs must and all that…

The writing is fabulous. Rory is street smart, abrasive and full of guile with a hint (to me) of the artful dodger in her. Longinus is pompous, self-important and egotistical. They don’t know it yet but each of them needs the other. The dialogue between the two protagonists was brilliant and coming from opposite ends of the societal ladder a lot of fun to read. I must confess to enjoying the arrogant pomposity of Longinus a little too much. It outright made me smile and look like a buffoon on more than one occasion.

The writing too is sharp and descriptive without bogging you down with over-detail. I loved the imagery of Damsport, set like a clock face with the Grand bazaar at its centre and the twelve main thoroughfares extending outwards all simply and ingeniously named after each hour.  

For me, the weakest part of the story was the finale. I felt it lacked a little gravitas and held a tiny bit of contrivance. I know, I’m being picky here because all fantasy is contrived but my point is as a reader I didn’t want to feel it. I never got that sense of – this is it, this is the end for our heroes. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish and I liked that the story arc was completed in the whole and left enticingly for their continuing adventures.

I often pick books up from new authors and indie authors (if you have read any of my previous reviews you will know this is true) and it is always a great pleasure to find a gem. This book was a pleasure. Whilst I went into it with little expectation I am happy to say I will be continuing with the adventures of Rory and Longinus.

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