The Sandman Episode 1 Deep Dive Review

Dream is captured in episode 1 of the Netflix series The Sandman

Hello dreamers, day dreamers, and nightmare watchers! It’s Slick Dungeon here and I am back to review the first of The Sandman episodes. This one is titled Sleep of the Just. Before we get too far into this review, it’s my duty to warn you there will be heavy spoilers for the episode and some spoilers for the early issues of The Sandman comics. If you can’t stand spoilers then go watch and read and come back here for the review. I do plan on going pretty deep into the material so tread cautiously if you are not into that sort of thing.

In order for me to go as in-depth into this series as I want to, we need to take a little trip back in time to 1988 when the first issue of The Sandman comic book began. Back then, Neil Gaiman, the author and co-creator of the series was trying to revive a series about a character called The Sandman which was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Neil pitched the idea to his editor Karen Berger but she had one change to it. She wanted the series to be about a brand new character. This decision proved pivotal, allowing Gaiman to take a ton of creative license with how he handled his series.

It’s important to remember that this series, at the beginning especially, was tied to DC comics. While it was printed under a line meant for mature readers called Vertigo, DC characters do walk in these pages. I mention this because in the show, there are some things that absolutely had to be changed from the comics due to licensing issues and copyright problems.

While I may point out adaptive changes in the series, I don’t necessarily think one version is superior to the other. They were made in different times and much like the character Morpheus himself, the world has changed since the comics came out. Each telling of the story is what it needs to be. There are definitely things that would be changed in the comic if it were made now (there truly was not enough diverse representation in the comics) and if the show was made at the time of the comics it would be much different than what we have (and probably not a very good adaptation as Neil Gaiman himself would likely tell you). I’m absolutely not going to dwell on casting choices that certain portions of the internet have raged about. Gender swapping or casting actors who are a different race than what they were in the comics makes absolutely no difference in how well the story is told. And both the comics and the show tell a great story.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox now. After all that setup, let’s talk about the episode itself.

Much like the comic, this first episode is what you might consider the closest to conventional horror. It deals with old men in creepy old houses doing magic to gain power for themselves. If that was all this series was, I could recommend any number of shows exactly like it. It will take some time but both the show and the comic transcend the horror theme eventually.

The episode starts off with a bit of exposition from Morpheus, who declares himself, “the king of dreams” and we see a raven fly over a car and into the world of the dreaming. This is where Morpheus lives and it’s as fantastic as the real world is mundane. This immediately sets up Morpheus as other than ourselves and he seems to know something we don’t as he dismisses our notion as mortals that dreams make no difference in the choices we make.

We really only get the briefest of glimpses into this world of the dreaming but we are introduced to some key characters and the villain of the season is immediately established. The librarian of the dreaming, Lucienne, has a conversation with Dream, while Dream is looking at a stained glass representation of a nightmare of his own creation. This is a character called The Corinthian. In the comics we don’t even get a hint of him for quite a long time. I do think this change was smart because it shows Morpheus will have an adversary. Lucienne also tells Morpheus she has a feeling Morpheus won’t be coming back because in the real world, dreams don’t survive long, but nightmares seem to thrive.

I’d say that’s a rather pessimistic worldview but of course, it might not be wrong either. The story gets going with a group of people who seem to run a cult of some sort and their goal is to trap the angel of death. The time period is 1916 and the location is Wychcross England. In other words, war is breaking out and the world does indeed look bleak at this time. At this point in the show the timeline matches what we see in the comics but it won’t stay that way for long.

In the comic series we don’t find out much about this cult. But in the show we get a little window into what is going on. There’s a man who calls himself the Magus (meaning sorcerer) who will go to any length to bring his eldest son back from the dead. We also see his second born son, Alex, who seems to have a kinder heart than his father.

As Dream is about to confront the Corinthian and bring him back to the dreaming, a spell is performed by the cult. Instead of trapping Death like the Magus hoped, he has Morpheus, also known as Dream. But the Magus really has no idea what it is he’s captured.

There is another interesting change here. In the comics we essentially see the Magus flail about trying to figure out who he has. But in the show, the Corinthian shows up almost immediately to tell the Magus what he has and how to keep Dream from escaping. This gives the Corinthian a whole lot more power and reason to be there than the comic does.

One consequence of Morpheus being locked up is a “sleepy sickness” breaks out. There are a bunch of people who can’t sleep, always sleepwalk, or simply will no longer wake up. One of the most interesting things about this is this incident actually reflects a real illness that did break out at the time. If you ever wonder if Neil Gaiman did his homework for this story, that’s all you need to know.

We are also very briefly introduced to a character suffering from this sleepy sickness named, Unity. She’s an incredibly important character but we won’t know more about her until future episodes.

While the Magus may not have captured who he wanted, he does take what are called Morpheus’ vestments. A ruby, a bag of sand, and what amounts to a gas mask but is referred to as a “helm.” These items are exceedingly powerful so you know there will be trouble with them down the line.

One bit of kudos to the show runners here is the way they make Tom Sturridge look as Morpheus while he is trapped. He’s thin and weakened but also looks otherworldly. I’m guessing there was a good amount of CGI and a lot of messing around with lighting to get the look just right but they nailed it.

Dream is more than a god. He’s one of “The Endless” so Morpheus is able to play the long game against his captors. This allows us to move the story past the Magus and a simple revenge plot. While there are hints of Alex being kind and even potentially letting Morpheus out, he never does, either from fear of his father, or fear of what Dream might do.

Before the Magus dies, a woman named Ethel Cripps who is pregnant with his child absconds with Dream’s vestments and a small fortune in cash. This event is probably the most significant event in this first season. It leaves Morpheus with no knowledge of where his tools are. Ethel does escape the Magus and has the baby. This baby will also be a huge part of the series in episodes to come.

There’s also a moment where it almost seems Dream will escape with the help of his raven but the bird is shot by Alex. This gives Morpheus a strong reason to distrust Alex once the Magus is dead. And Morpheus still has all the time in the world to wait. All he needs is for someone to fall asleep near him.

Things were probably not easy for Alex as an out gay man in the 1920’s but that’s no excuse for keeping someone locked up in your basement. Ultimately, once Alex is old and no longer mobile, it’s his partner Paul who allows for Morpheus to escape. He pushes Alex’s wheelchair across the magic circle which traps Dream. This is all the opportunity one of the Endless needs to escape.

Morpheus is soon able to walk through the guards dreams and right out of his magic cage. Dream confronts Alex and as punishment grants him the gift of, “eternal sleep.” Presumably he’s given Alex the Sleepy Sickness.

If there was a single thing I could change from this episode it would be this adaptive change. In the comics Morpheus also gives Ales a gift. But this gift is the gift of eternal waking. Have you ever had a nightmare and when the worst thing you can imagine is about to strike you wake up and then you feel relief but then another nightmare comes and you realize you haven’t actually woken up? Take that feeling and imagine having it forever. Always a brief moment of relief before being once more terrified in an endless loop. That’s severe punishment.

While I understand why they made the change, I still think the original idea from the comic would have been better. They changed it because as the viewer we do get to know Alex a little bit and understand he has some kindness to him. He really does sympathize with Morpheus, even though he doesn’t allow Morpheus to escape.

My problem with the change is it humanizes Morpheus too much. Morpheus is Endless and in the comic series he certainly does have a character arc but his change is slow. Centuries spanning slow. To have Morpheus show any bit of kindness to his captors shows him identifying with humans too much at this point in the series.

Here is also where the timeline diverges between the comics and the show. In the show we advance all the way to our time. The comic advanced to its present time of 1989. I think there are a lot of reasons for this change, not the least of which would be having to film a period piece with only stuff from the 1980’s and 1990’s would bring the cost up on the whole production and it’s already an expensive show.

The episode ends with a very murder-y Corinthian realizing Morpheus is out of his cage. Morpheus goes back to the Dreaming where Lucienne finds him. But the realm of the king of dreams has changed. It’s a mere shadow of what it had been at the beginning of the episode and it’s clear Morpheus is going to need his stuff back in order to fix anything. Apparently, this disarray and decay is what happens when Morpheus is away for too long. There’s also a very small hint of something having happened to another one of the Endless in the past. If we find out what all that is about, it won’t be until later seasons.

Oddly, the end of the episode is a preview for what’s going to happen this season on The Sandman. It really feels out of place and I’m not exactly sure why they put it there but you can skip it if you’re watching the show because, well, you’re already watching the show.

All in all, this episode is probably the weakest of the series but it’s essential to have it so we can really get into the story. I think it was well told, superbly acted, and brought us into a world full of a lot of complex things going on rather seemlessly.

My biggest regret for the episode is this is the only episode we get to see Charles Dance who plays Roger Buress, aka, the Magus. You’ll likely recognize him as Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. And just like in that show, every minute he is on screen, he is fascinating to watch. But we’ll have lots of other star power and phenomenal performances in future episodes so I can’t complain too much.

Well, that’s my take on the first episode. I’ll have plenty more to say about future episodes (and hopefully future seasons). Until then, did you watch this show or read the comics? If so, let me know what you thought about it in the comments below. If you could change anything about the adaptation what would it be? Or do you think it is perfect as is?

Dreamily yours,

Slick Dungeon

The Sandman (Netflix) Flash Review

The Sandman. (L to R) Tom Sturridge as Dream, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in episode 106 of The Sandman. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hello internet, it’s Slick Dungeon here. I’m going to give my initial impressions of the screen adaptation of the comic book series The Sandman. This review will be for what I think of the series overall but in future posts I will do an in-depth review of each individual episode and talk about how the show relates to the comic book series.

I have to be honest to start here. This was a review I dreaded doing. A lot of people who are into comic books had the experience I did with Sandman. When I was a kid I absolutely loved comic books, especially super heroes. But when I went to high school these books dropped off my radar for the most part. Until I started to hear about a series called The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It had a horror feel to it with some amazing art, a bit of a connection to the DC heroes, but still stood all on its own as a story. And, upon reading the series, it felt like this was one of the series that would help the medium of comics to grow up and be taken seriously. In a phrase, I loved The Sandman and I probably wouldn’t still be reading comic books now without it.

In my mind, the only thing worse than having no adaptation of the series would be to have a bad adaptation of it. It’s the one series I’ve always wanted to see but been much too afraid it would get screwed up. If that happened, I knew people would come to dislike the comic series and we’d never get another good Neil Gaiman story adapted. So, with all that in mind, I was very hesitant to watch this series. I would not be able to take it if it was done poorly.

I’m beyond happy to report this series turned out to be utterly phenomenal. That’s not to say there are no things I would change if I could, but there are so few that this is a nearly perfect series. And there is one episode which I think is maybe the best episode of television I have ever seen.

What’s more, this series is not only grand for those of us who love the comics, but also works exceedingly well for those not at all versed in the lore of The Sandman comics. I think the show will makes comics readers out of a good portion of the audience.

For this review, I really don’t want to get into spoilers in case anyone is wanting to watch but has not. The basic premise is that Dream, played by Tom Sturridge, is captured by mortal man and, let’s just say he is not happy about it. To say much more in this review would either be confusing or lead to spoilers.

The series is by turns dramatic, horrifying, fantastical, and brilliant. The acting performances here are knocked completely out of the park by everyone involved and I just felt like I was living in the world of Dream and his siblings the whole time I was watching it. Some episodes are more terrifying than others and some are slower paced than others but never did I feel bored while watching. There’s too much story here for there to be down time and I guarantee this is a series which will live in your mind long after you have finished watching.

What I want you to take away here is that the series is extremely watchable and a much better adaptation of a brilliant work than I could have hoped for. If you have not yet watched this show, put it at the top of your queue because it’s going to be better than anything else out there.

Next time I will get into the first episode with a deeper review, full of spoilers, but for now, if you watch the show, enjoy the ride because you are in for a fantastic time.

Dreamily yours,

Slick Dungeon

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone – Book Review

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone by J.T. Michaels

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

The Great War ended a century ago. Peace reigns across the eight countries. Epic tales of heroic men and women of those times are recounted in song and story. Yet, history seems to have forgotten a young battlefield healer, Tessa Marlise…

Sixteen-year-old Jimmy Chartron has just enrolled at the Navale Academy of Eagleon, his mind set on becoming an electrician. A chance magical encounter binds him to the trapped soul of Tessa Marlise. As Jimmy struggles to deal with this shocking development, murder and mystery unravel in the academy. Caught in the middle of everything, Jimmy realizes that a larger evil is afoot and that only two things can stop it: himself and the ghost in his head…

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Jimmy Chartron is a hard working, sixteen year old, boy. He’s been accepted to the Navale Academy where he wants to learn to be an electrician. He also works on the docs. But a chance encounter with a bit of magic pairs him with a ghost named Tessa. Tessa is stuck in Jimmy’s mind and the two of them have to find a way to work together to keep Jimmy safe, unravel a mystery, and quite possibly save the world.

The book is a bit of a mix of Harry Potter and futuristic technology. At the same time, it’s got a unique feel to it and manages to tell an original story. While the relationship between Jimmy and Tessa is the main narrative there is a wide cast of supporting characters and J.T. Michaels does a good job of balancing the action with the characters.

Parts of the story do feel like something you may have read before but there is enough of an original spin here to keep the reader interested. It would have been nice to have just a little more of the background of the war which ended a century ago. But I believe this could easily be expanded upon in future installments of the series.

There is also a well thought out magic system in use here that feels like a good blend of traditional ideas of magic with a bit of technology thrown in for good measure. And there are some unique creatures populating the landscape as well.

This definitely feels like a book with good series potential where the stakes and action can rise in the future.

If you like fast paced adventure books starring adolescents such as Harry Potter, Septimus Heap or Rick Riordan books you will enjoy Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone.

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Book Review – The Scepter of Amon

The Scepter of Amon

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

Kill the treasure-hoarding monster, find the ancient artifact, and deliver it to the wizard. Every adventurer knows the drill. But what if that adventurer is a troll?

The wizard has run out of heroes to send after the Scepter of Amon, so he picks Kevrin, a troll who desires to be human. He is powerful, resilient, and just a little bit scared of fire. A simple magical disguise allows Kevrin to interact with other humans, but can Kevrin fit in? He can’t read. He doesn’t understand sarcasm. And he has no idea what a scepter even looks like. But since the wizard promised to turn him into a human if he is successful, he has all the motivation in the world.

Can Kevrin trust his new friends if they find out what he really is? Can he trust the wizard? Will he find what he is really looking for? Or will he eat his horse the next time he gets too hungry?

The Scepter of Amon is told in a classic fantasy setting and is the first book in the Hero’s Path trilogy.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Most adventuring stories, and most adventurers have something in common. They go on a quest to kill a monster, get some treasure and come back for a reward. Kevrin has set out to do these things as well. But he’s no common adventurer. He may look human but he’s actually a troll, more comfortable eating raw meat from a fresh kill than dining on cooked steak, stronger than most men, and unsure of what a scepter looks like even though he knows he is supposed to bring one back. Kevrin never fit in with the other trolls and he wants more than anything to be human. If he can complete his quest he may just get his wish.

The Scepter of Amon is a fantasy adventure with pretty intriguing twist. What if the adventurer was a monster? The story puts a lot of the standard fantasy tropes on their heads and makes for a fun read. The adventure has a fair amount of action, a smattering of romance, and a bit of a murder mystery in it as well. Kevrin is most certainly a memorable character who lives in the readers heart long after the story has been read.

While the story itself is well written and full of adventure it would have been nice to see more female characters in the story. The woman who is in the story is well developed and doesn’t just belong in the background, it just would have been better if there were more female characters at all here.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it comes to a nice conclusion while still leaving the reader eager for the next installment.

If you play Dungeons & Dragons you will especially relate to this book. Even if you don’t but like fantasy adventure books like Lord of the Rings, The Crystal Shard or even the Discworld series you’re going to find something here you like. It’s definitely worth reading.

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Book Review – Reflection

Reflection by Brandon Hargraves

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

After witnessing the tragic death of her closest friends and family, Dawn travels across the country with a weathered vagabond in search of her aunt. On the way, she discovers that the world is a much scarier place than she had initially imagined, and that she might have some darkness lingering within herself as well.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dawn lives a quiet, happy life in a small village. She has a family who loves her and close friends to keep her company. She hasn’t traveled outside of her village but she hasn’t minded because she’s happy. Everything changes when her little village and family are attacked and left for dead. Dawn is now on her own and will need to make friends and allies in order to navigate her way through a world she has yet to truly experience.

She meets up with Cain and Ragnar who are what is known as Reavers. These are people who uphold justice and protect the land. Dawn sets off on an adventure with the two of them as she tries to connect with her only remaining relative, her aunt who lives in a far away city. On the way she will have to face danger, enemies, and most of all, herself.

Reflection is a high fantasy adventure full of magic, interesting creatures, and compelling action. What is most interesting is that the characters in the story don’t automatically resort to violence to solve their troubles and there are some characters who really think about what it means to take a life. That’s refreshing to see in a fantasy book as oftentimes there is action without consequences in these kinds of stories.

There was room for a bit more character growth for some of the characters and there were times when the world didn’t feel as fully built as it could have been. But the story is satisfying to the reader and there is a lot of potential for this as a series. The characters are enjoyable to read about and there is a sense of fun in this world.

If you like fantasy books with lots of magic in it like Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time series, you’ll find this an enjoyable book worth reading.

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Book Review – Death Rider: A Dark Fantasy Epic (Gunmetal Gods Saga)

Death Rider by Zamil Akhtar

SUMMARY

A disgraced warrior seeks an honorable death on the battlefield, but an eldritch god has other plans for her.

REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

You may be wondering why the summary for this book is so short. Just to put this in context, this is a free novella that is a sort of prequel for the Gunmetal Gods series and having a much longer summary would likely give away spoilers of not only Death Rider but also other books in the series. Like the rest of Gunmetal Gods, this is fantasy combined with cosmic horror. If you like that style of story, the whole series is a must read. It’s inventive and interesting and full of epic battles, heartbreaking emotion, and unimaginably horrible gods.

Zamil Akhtar proves with this novella that he can make an impact with a shorter form of story just as well as he can with full length novels. I’ll not go too much into the plot here because I do not want to spoil the story for any new readers. This novella is a good place to start if you have not read any of the Gunmetal Gods series and for those of us who are already fans of the books, this is a wonderful supplement to the main story.

Darya is what is known as a Death Rider. She has made a mistake and is at death’s door because of her actions. She has one last chance to survive. One last hope at living, for even one more day. With the horrors she will encounter, she may well wish she had chosen death instead.

The novella has a relatable main character, an enjoyable amount of action, and one hell of an ending that needs to be read to be believed. If you are a fan at all of cosmic horror or epic fantasy and you have not read Gunmetal Gods, I can’t recommend it enough. You can purchase Death Rider in paperback at the link above, or you can get a free digital copy by joining Zamil Akhtar’s mailing list at ZamilAkhtar.com. He’s also working on a new progression fantasy series and I’m excited to see where that leads.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

Movie Review – Pan’s Labyrinth

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hey movie fanatics, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I’m still working on my 2021 movie challenges and I watched one that hit two categories for me. Pan’s Labyrinth is a film set in a fantasy world as well as a movie that was made in a country I do not live in. There will be mild spoilers for the movie below so consider yourself warned.

Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark fairy tale set against the backdrop of the start of Franco’s reign after the Spanish civil war. It was a very bleak time for the country. The film focuses on Ofelia, a young girl who is thrown into a new and unsettling world when her pregnant mother marries a captain in Franco’s army. They move to the countryside where Ofelia discovers a magical land of bizarre creatures and strange events.

Unlike most fairy tale films, the creatures in this film do not look friendly and inviting. The faun of Pan’s Labyrinth is no cute faun from Narnia. These creatures can be quick to anger and one gets the impression they are capable of great violence.

Just as gripping is the story of Ofelia and her mother who are simply caught up in events they cannot control. The film is very emotional and the ending is one the viewer will certainly remember.

I have not been a great fan of Guillermo Del Toro films but I can see why this would be considered one of his best works. There is a fair amount of death and gore in this movie and there were moments that made me cringe watching it. Toro does not shy away from the darkness in this film and it’s shockingly refreshing to see a film maker do that.

My only small complaints about the film are that at times the pacing is a little slow and the motivations of the creatures in the fantasy land are not very clear. But those complaints are not enough to make this anything less than a brilliant film.

Fantastically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Book Review – A Sea of Cinders

A Sea of Cinders by Adam R. Bishop

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

In Cellagor—a land segregated between humans and Elves—fear, manipulation and war are inevitable. Nearly one hundred years have passed since the War of the Fallen, a cataclysmic battle between human and Elf which left both races teetering on the brink of extinction. Now, the Age of Tranquility is finally nearing its end, and the northern King of Havelmir is hungry for power and revenge.

The Elven peace of mind remains unchanged—that is, until the Kingdom of Rhan is threatened by unknown forces. Soon it becomes clear that the tranquil Elven existence is once again at risk of crumbling. However, even with the element of surprise, the road to victory is not as smooth as it may seem. Ulterior motives are afoot, ancient magic is resurfacing, and an unlikely friendship between two young men may just pose the biggest threat of them all.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Will is a sailor who has been imprisoned in the dungeons of a king who is on the brink of starting a war. He has a chance at freedom if he and his newfound friend Baldric can outsmart a hostile army and survive long enough to bring vital news to the remaining Elf kingdoms.

King Dadro will stop at nothing to obtain an item that can give him ultimate power in the world but to do it he must ally himself with warring factions of humans and lean on the power of a pyromancer whose intentions are not always clear.

Meanwhile the elves must decide who is responsible for an attack on their brethren while making sure to take action before all is lost.

A Sea of Cinders is an epic fantasy tale that gives us several perspectives on events going on in the story. There is a large but not unwieldy cast of characters for the reader to follow. The scenes of action and battle are well structured and engaging and it feels like there is a true threat to the realm of men and elves.

At times it seems as if the author may be a bit too protective of some of the protagonists as there were sections where the danger does not quite come across to the reader.

On the whole there story is well thought out and a solid fantasy tale. It would have been nice if the end felt a little more conclusive but as this is the first in a series of books having some plot points unresolved still works.

Will and Baldric are particularly enjoyable characters and the dynamic between them stands out as a highlight of the book.

The world feels very lived in and like it has a long history that comes through in the reading. The politics between humans and elves seem complex and intriguing as well.

If you like big, sweeping epic fantasy tales with the beauty of Elven culture and the brutality of humanity featured heavily A Sea of Cinders is worth reading.

Book Review – The Ravenstones: Gains and Losses

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

The alliances in Aeronbed and Vigmar have shifted, the battle lines redrawn. Old enemies become friends of convenience, former confederates hunted down. Can bears and lions become true allies? Can old prejudices be overcome? Is true reconciliation possible?

Eirwen and Fridis have been reunited, but their lives are filled with conflict and challenge. Eirwen must lead the Heimborn bears against their panther overlords. Fridis embarks on her quest to unearth the truth about the Ravenstones, starting with her former bodyguard Raicho, the peregrine falcon, and then to uncover the mysteries of Manaris.

Ammarich begins to doubt Adarix, who has abandoned the wolf pack’s ambitions and committed his life to supporting the polar bear. The lioness Olwen seeks to rejoin her kin in their northern sanctuary. Her panther friend and confidant, Eisa, chooses to stay with Eirwen and Heimborn’s bears, but he must prove himself to the suspicious clan chiefs — or die. And Vigmar’s security chief, Vulpé, the fox, is on the hunt once more, but now it’s the magic gemstones he’s after.

In Volume 4 our heroes face new trials. The stakes are higher, the challenges bolder, the treachery more outrageous and the threats to survival even graver.

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Eirwen and Fridis have come a long way since the events of the first book in this series. Fridis continues to discover secrets about the magic gems she and Eirwen discovered. Eirwen continues to grow and understand his role as a leader. All the while the world is at war and plots, complications and battles are changing the political landscape at every turn.

As always in these books there are alliances, betrayals, surprises and plenty of action to keep the reader interested. At times it can be difficult to keep track of all the characters as there are so many in the story. There is a handy dramatis animalium to help the reader keep everyone in mind at the beginning of the book.

The work here by C.S. Watts is extremely ambitious and impressive on a large scale. The different factions vying for rule or supremacy or in some cases simply to survive are reminiscent of the politics in the Game of Thrones series. The Ravenstones books are certainly more suitable for children but that does not make this story any less complex.

It’s been a great ride so far to see how the characters grow and change, constantly needing to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. And while Eirwen and Fridis are the stars of the series there are plenty of other characters Watts is able to make the reader care about. In particular Olwen and Eisa who were featured in the last book are enjoyable and interesting to read about.

There are still more books in this series to come and they are all great reads. If you want a story with a focus on not just fighting but politics behind fighting and plenty of character growth and development, do yourself a favor and pick up the Ravenstones books.

If you are an epic fantasy fan and have read The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time or if you love Watership Down these books are for you.