REM- #BookReview

REM by J.D. Valentine

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.

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SUMMARY

Former LAPD officer and recovering alcoholic, Danny Etter, has been working hard to redeem himself. His marriage is barely hanging on by a string, and he knows if he slips up again, it could mean saying goodbye to his wife and the kids.

When Maria and the kids take off to Lake Tahoe for a vacation, Danny expects life to be pretty uneventful as he stays back in Orange County to work. As Danny continues therapy and AA meetings, he is on the road to redemption. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth as a pandemic begins to unhinge the world around him. Danny is left fighting for his life to get back to his family.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Danny Etter wants to be a good man, husband, and father. He is having trouble in his marriage and his wife has taken their kids away for a vacation. Danny is a recovering alcoholic and realizes he is one mistake away from losing everything he cares most about. He figures that he can work on his situation while his family is away and can become the man that they need him to be. Unfortunately for Danny, the world is descending into chaos all around him. There is a sickness that is spreading which causes people to become violent and do unspeakable things that are far out of their typical character. As an ex-police officer, Danny sees the signs of trouble early on. Now it is going to take all his skill, resources, and teamwork with his friends to make it out of Orange County and to Lake Tahoe where his family went. He can only hope that he can make it there in one piece and that his family will stay safe until he gets there.

REM isfull of action and the creatures in the story are an interesting take on vicious zombie-like creatures. The reader cheers for Danny to find his family and for him to overcome his addictions. While not a completely original take on a post-apocalyptic story, there are moments that surprise. There are also times at which the story feels somewhat repetitive but overall holds interest, especially for fans of horror who don’t mind a bit of blood and gore.

Fans of stories like The Stand, The Walking Dead, or Cell will most likely enjoy the book. While REM is a single, contained story, the author does have plans to expand it into a series and it will be interesting to see where it goes after the first volume. If you are looking for a book about the end of the world and can handle some pretty strong violence and blood, REM is worth a read.

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Through a Forest of Stars – #BookReview

Through a Forest of Stars by David C. Jeffrey

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.

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SUMMARY

Year 2217. Earth’s biosphere is dying, Mars’s terraforming projects are in ruin, resource wars are brewing, and even the voidoids—eerie portals into nearby star systems—have failed to yield new Earth-like worlds. But that’s about to change with the miraculous discovery in the Chara system. United Earth Domain and the Allied Republics of Mars, rival powers within Bound Space, each want it for themselves, and a cataclysmic war is about to erupt.

Aiden Macallan, Terra Corp’s planetary geologist aboard the survey ship Argo, a man with a troubled past, finds himself pulled into the center of the conflict and into the heart of a profound mystery where the key to humanity’s future lies hidden. To find it, he must trek alone across a living landscape, guided only by a recurring dream that grows more real—and more deeply personal—with each step. It’s the only way to save an extraordinary world from certain destruction and to give the human race its last chance for survival.

REVIEW

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s the year 2217 and humanity is almost out of chances. Earth is dying and while there are colonies on other planets, humans have yet to find a planet as habitable as their own home. However, the discovery of what may be a suitable, Earth-like planet may change everything. As governments, scientists, and private companies all vying for the first stakes in the planet collide, Aidan Macallan finds himself wrapped up in the center of things, perhaps the only person in a position to understand the new planet and with the ability to avoid a war that would lead to the utter destruction of all of humankind.

Reminiscent of the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, Through a Forest of Stars, takes the reader on a journey into the future based on sound scientific principles. There are several competing interests who all want to be the first to understand, and in some cases possess, the resources on a newly discovered planet. What this planet is and just how similar to Earth it is, remains in question. Aidan works on a survey team and is used to the isolation of space but this new planet is something else entirely. When he becomes the first human with the chance to experience and understand it, he is going to need all the help he can get. Unfortunately, he is cut off from most contact, other than with the Artificial Intelligence that helps him to run his ship.

The book is fascinating and holds the reader’s interest, although there are times when the science can be a bit overwhelming. If you are a fan of hard science fiction though, this will not bother you. The cosmic politics involved in the competing interests for the planet are well developed and complex and add urgency to the story. The fantastical is here as well, as Aidan is guided by recurring dreams and nightmares that seem to be urging him to act before it is too late.

If you love space fiction, especially with a good dose of science in it, this book is well worth reading. If you love Arthur C. Clarke or To Be Taught if Fortunate by Becky Chambers, you should add Through a Forest of Stars to your read list.

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The Ten-Cent Plague – #BookReview

The Ten-Cent Plague

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon, here back to review another book. This time I am reviewing the book that was on the very bottom of my TBR list. I always meant to read this book but hadn’t gotten around to it. Reading the book at the very bottom of my to be read list was also the first item in my book challenge for the year which you can find here.

The book I read was The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America. That’s quite a mouthful but it was a great read. It’s a non-fiction account of the period in the 1950’s in America when there was rising concern that comic books were contributing to the juvenile delinquency of the country. The idea was that books that depicted horrific acts and showed criminals committing crimes were causing kids to imitate those actions in real life. This was mostly spurned on by a book called Seduction of the Innocent written by a psychiatrist named Frederick Wertham.

There’s a lot more to the story than that but essentially, there was a crusade that was enacted and culminated in not only hundreds of thousands of comic books being burned but also led to legislation that banned the distribution of certain types of comic books (pretty much most of them) and caused the comic book industry to adopt its own censorship organization that nearly destroyed comic books as an art form entirely.

While Wertham had some real credentials and was a leader in many ways in his field, when it came to his book about the link between comics and juvenile delinquency, he only used cases he had come across, and his methods were anything but purely scientific. He excoriated comic books, called nearly all of them crime comics, no matter what the subject actually was and made bold proclamations about how these books were ruining children’s minds.

Interestingly, Wertham also was friends with and highly respected Richard Wright, the author of the fabulous book, Native Son. Somehow, it never seemed to occur to Wertham that if Wright’s book were drawn in comic book form, he would not want children to read that either. In fact, there are plenty of instances of classic literature, right down to nursery rhymes that depicted as much violence as some of the comics that were complained about. The difference? One was drawn and sold for ten cents and the rest was considered classic literature.

If, like me, you are an avid comic book reader, you probably know much of the history found in Ten Cent Plague already, however, it is still worth a read. The author David Hadju gives a brief but somewhat oversimplified history of the early start of comics from the first strips in newspapers, to the popularity of Superman right through the explosion of crime and horror comics that were mostly printed by EC comics.

What’s interesting in this book is just how heroic EC actually comes out in the story. They were blamed for causing the antipathy and hatred of comics by concerned parents but they were also about the only company really fighting back, saying that no one was talking to the actual readers of comic books. Particularly, Bill Gaines who was the head of EC at the time went to testify in front of a senate committee and stated that a comic book that had an ax murderer holding up a severed head was in good taste, “for a horror comic”.

That more or less sealed the deal for censors and then the Comics Code Authority was born. It restricted what could be put in comics and made the whole industry a lot less free. The Ten-Cent Plague only touches on it briefly but the whole industry would have gone under if it had not been for Stan Lee and his cohorts at Marvel for reviving the industry with new and interesting superheroes.

EC basically lost everything, except for Mad Magazine which they kept and used to poke fun at everything and everyone. It’s a magazine, not a comic book because it would not have passed through the Comics Code Authority’s restrictive standards. It has the goofy face of Alfred E. Neuman on it so that censors would think it is just a goofy kids magazine, never realizing that inside the pages of Mad was biting satire that was often more politically relevant than some of the major newspapers of the time.

The most difficult section of The Ten-Cent Plague to get through is the part where Hajdu talks about book burnings. Often times, kids were not told that the comic books would be burned. Most of the adults who were on the crusade of destroying these hadn’t read them and couldn’t articulate why they were bad but obviously seeing these covers with the words CRIME, HORROR and WEIRD in capital block letters must have been doing something to their children. It wasn’t all adults though, there were plenty of kids who thought that these books were no good and organized drives to do so themselves in several towns across the country. These were typically good kids trying to do the right thing because what they were seeing in the news was that comics were bad.

The fact that less than a decade earlier books had been burned in Germany prior to and during the second world war didn’t seem to matter to those who wanted to censor comics. They didn’t see it as the same thing but there are distinct parallels. The same parents that would encourage children to read Hamlet would be horrified by a child reading a comic book titled Crime Does Not Pay. Yet, there is plenty of violence and crime in Hamlet. I guess it’s worse if there are pictures to accompany it?

Anyway, The Ten-Cent Plague is a good read even if you are not that interested in comic books, it’s a strange and unique look at a part of American history that we should probably take the time to learn from.

After reading this book, I want to go out and read some pre-code EC comics. They’re pretty interesting, the horror ones are quite gruesome in fact, and over the top. They did not deserve to be burned though and Bill Gaines didn’t deserve to be chased more or less out of comics but it’s what happened.

If you don’t want to go read The Ten-Cent Plague, then do yourself a favor, go out and find a comic book. Read it and enjoy it and think for a moment about the fact that it very nearly did not exist due to the hysteria of a minority of people who never even read the books in the first place.

Comic-ally yours,

Slick Dungeon

Overworld, The Dragon Mage Saga – Book Review

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.

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SUMMARY

A magic apocalypse. Refugees from Earth. A new world. Elves, orcs, and dragons!

Portals from Overworld have appeared on Earth, and beings intent on conscripting humanity into the mysterious Trials have invaded.

Earth is doomed. Humanity has been exiled. Can Jamie save mankind?

Jamie Sinclair, a young man with unique gifts, must find a way for his family and friends to survive Earth’s destruction and build a new home in Overworld.

The Trials is not a game. Will Jamie survive its challenges?

Join Jamie as he struggles through the brutal Trials while wrestling with his new magics and Overworld’s game-like dynamics.

A fantasy post-apocalyptic survival story of one man’s journey to save humanity.

REVIEW

4/5 STARS

Jamie Sinclair is an avid gamer who loves the challenge of playing online games. When Earth is threatened with extinction and forced onto a new planet called Overworld Jamie will have to put all his skills to use, only this time it is no game. On Overworld there are life and death consequences to your actions and one mistake can mean the end for someone in the Trials. Jamie has a bit of a disadvantage in the Trials because he has a hobbled foot but he doesn’t let that stop him from being as much of a hero as he can. He does have one thing going for him though–he can cast magic and that makes him valuable to his friends and potentially deadly to his foes.

At times there is a bit of overexplaining of how the Trials game system works but if you love playing video games or are really into hard magic systems in fantasy this won’t be an issue. The enemies are deadly and dangerous and make for interesting foes. Jamie’s character develops well in most parts of the book and keeps the reader engaged. The action is fun and frenetic with what feels like real stakes involved. There are some standard fantasy bad guys but there are at least a few enemies that were surprising and fun to read about.

The world is quite well thought out and it’s easy to get an understanding of how it works even if the reader is not a gamer. The author does a good job of setting up the first book while laying the groundwork for a sequel.

For readers who love books like Ready Player One, Warcross, or fantasy books full of orcs, elves, and the like, Overworld, the Dragon Mage Saga is a book that will be thoroughly enjoyable.

Also, as a bonus this book met one of the requirements of my Read, Watch Play challenge, read a book with a dungeon in it! If you want to see the challenge and perhaps participate yourself, check it out here!

The Laeta King – #BookReview

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SUMMARY

Avem is a boy with nothing in the world. He steals for his own survival in the town of North Refuge. His striking yellow eyes are the cause of many whispers and fear. General Topea terrorizes him because of his strange nature, and it’s all Avem can do to stay out of his way.

When he is whisked away from North Refuge by mysterious wizards, he meets the Council of Stesti, and learns of his true nature as a Laeta. He is told of their pursuit in finding the Laeta King, a legendary hero that could help them defeat General Topea, who had been killing Laetas to allow a sinister plan to come to fruition without interruption.

Now Avem must fight to defend the only friends he’s ever known. The Council is quickly running out of time as Avem must push aside his doubts and fears to save a lost Councilman and help put an end to Topea’s plans.

Though, Avem will soon learn, destiny will not define him.

REVIEW

3/5 STARS

Avem is a young boy without a real home or family. He has to steal to survive in the town of North Refuge where he makes his way the best he can. To make matters worse, he does not fit in because he has the yellow eyes of a Laeta, and as a result, many people fear or hate him. General Topea has made it his mission to stamp out all the Laeta and he is after Avem. the Laeta are able to perform magic and could be the downfall of General Topea so he is determined to find and destroy Avem.

Just as Avem is about to face deadly dangers, a group of mysterious wizards takes him under their protection. From then on, Avem’s life will become one of adventure, mystery, empathy, and danger. He finds himself swept up in world events and tries to prove to the wizards that he is as capable as they are. Yet he is young and new to magic, making his journey all the more difficult. Will Avem be able to prove himself, save the world, and maintain compassion for others, or will he let down the only family he has ever known?

Avem’s character is well developed and his journey is an interesting one to the reader. The companions he has in the adventure have moments where they feel a little less than fully fleshed out but the story maintains itself well enough that the book is enjoyable throughout. The magic system is robust but not always well defined. This does provide for some interesting sequences and if you love high magic fantasy this is a book well worth reading.

If you love worlds full of magic, with epic battles and the struggle of good versus evil, and the question of whether someone deserves a second chance at its core, you will enjoy this book to the fullest.

Anoroc – #BookReview

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.

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SUMMARY

From the author of Millennial Millionaire, comes Bryan M. Kuderna’s fiction debut, a coming-of-age fantasy novel you won’t be able to put down! Beeker is trying to find his way in life, no longer a kid, but not yet an adult, when his single mother decides it is time for a change. He and his little brother, Dak, leave the comfort of their home in the Plains to go and live in the Mountains with their beloved Uncle Dobo, a founder of the Militia and renowned war hero. The rapidly growing population of Anoroc leaves their species, Chigidies, scrambling for sparse resources, particularly the most valuable commodity of all– Painite. Beeker, Dak, and their generation can no longer plead ignorance to the tumult overtaking Anoroc. But, at what cost will it come?

REVIEW

3/5 STARS

Anoroc is home to mythical creatures known as Chigidies. These are small furry creatures who live in plains, wetlands or mountains and have advanced technology like vehicles and weapons of war. Their society revolves around a finite resource known as Painite. Beeker and his little brother live in the plains with their mother. Life is good for them in the innocent days of their early childhood.

When events outside of Beeker’s control sweep him and his family up in a potential war between Chgidies who wear white robes and those who wear red robes, his world quickly changes. He has to live and train with his uncle Dobo who has much to teach him about life.

While the story is mostly well constructed there is a bit of frequent head hopping that happens. The politics of Anoroc can also be a bit fuzzy and difficult to follow but not so much that the reader will not enjoy the story. Beeker is the standout character as we are able to understand where he is coming from and are with him through his moments of triumph and struggle. He has to go through intense training with his uncle and learn wisdom there as well as be a key figure in the impending war.

The story comes to a satisfying conclusion even if it is a bit abrupt. There is plenty of action once things get going in the story to keep the reader engaged. Anthropomorphic tales can be difficult to tell well but author Bryan Kuderna does a fine job of making the characters interesting without making them oversimplified.

If you are a fan of coming of age stories, specifically set in a time of strife or conflict, with world events happening around the characters, this is a good book to add to your shelf.

A Castle Awakened – Castle in the Wilde – Novel 1 – #BookReview

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.

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SUMMARY

A foreign usurper. A lady who longs for freedom. Vicious beasts who want to rip them all to shreds. Who wins?

Never one to shy from a challenge, Lord Tristan Petram took possession of a forsaken castle. Only hints remain of the treachery that forced its abandonment. But if he and his followers can forge a life here—and hold out against ravenous vixicats—the castle and this land will be theirs. As for the nearest kingdom, they never venture beyond their border or the mysterious forest of tower trees. Except…

Beth dons a disguise and takes a forbidden ride in Tower Woods. Her fun adventure turns into a nightmare of kidnap and rescue—of sorts. Now she’s trapped in a nameless castle held by a foreign usurper. What will he do with her if he finds out who she really is?

Thus, Lord Petram finds himself the unwilling guardian of an injured lady who won’t give her full name. A crime he didn’t commit may bring retribution from an unknown kingdom. Do they have a claim to this castle that he now calls home? If he survives the vixicats, will an army slaughter him and his followers?

REVIEW

4/5 STARS

Lord Tristan Petram has found the unthinkable. A castle that has been forsaken, in the middle of nowhere that is unguarded. He establishes himself in the castle with a few of his men, not knowing the full extent of the dangers that surround him. They must hole the castle until he can get word back home that the place is safe for the rest of his men and their families to join him.

While out patrolling the nearby woods, Lord Petram’s men come across a woman in need of rescue from some scoundrels. They do the job and bring the injured woman back to the castle where Lord Petram resides. She will not answer his questions and she seems more than eager to leave, despite clearly not being familiar with the dangers of the woods and areas around her. She will only tell Tristan that her name is Beth. Tristan suspects that there is much more to her story than she lets on.

The book is a faced paced read and manages to provide twists and turns without falling into tropes. The setting is well-realized as are the politics surrounding the situation. Tristan and Beth are able to get close to one another without it seeming forced or unrealistic. Beth has good reason for keeping her identity from Tristan just as Tristan is justified in most of the actions he takes making for well-developed characters that are easy to empathize with.

In some ways this book is reminiscent of Outlander although, without time travel components and a little more grounded in reality. If you are a fan of fantasy fiction with a little bit of romance, fights with deadly beasts, and intriguing kingdom politics this book is for you. I look forward to seeing where the series takes us next.

A Single Round – #BookReview

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SUMMARY

A SINGLE ROUND, is a collection of short stories from a HARD PLACE. Stories of moonshine and shotguns, obsession and transcendence, love and darkness, and the blindness of human desire. Each tale follows a painful path to one ultimate realization: the devil’s deal always ends badly, often with a single round.

The head that was found on the blacktop tells a tale in Johnny Fucking Carson.
Tommy watches his dream love become a nightmare in Together Forever.
Fame has a dark side, Becoming Famous echoes the age old warning, ‘Be Careful what you wish for’.
A story of realization, loss, and transformation takes flight in Redwing.
Never judge a book by its cover, even one with fangs, as a surprise awaits in Doc’s Choice.
The Grounded, sometimes the dream of escape should remain a dream.
A tale of a man who fell in love with a woman who forgot him in The Dog Walker.
The Ride will make you second guess what you thought you were sure of.

REVIEW 4/5 STARS

A Single Round is a series of short stories that are tied together with the theme of making a deal with the devil. Every deal is different and they all turn out in interesting ways. Never do they turn out as the characters expect.

At a crossroads, if you go there at midnight, you will meet a man who drives a big black car and calls himself the Judge. You’d be wise to stay away from him except… he can offer you your heart’s desire. He can give you the one thing you want most in the world and all it will cost is your soul. For some people, maybe even a lot of people, that’s a price they are willing to pay.

All of the stories in A Single Round play out with this setup. Some deliver better than others but for the most part the stories are interesting and engaging. While this could get overly repetitive, the book avoids this by making the stories somewhat interrelated and some characters tend to show up more often than others. There is some depth in most, but not all of the stories. On the surface of it, some of the things people sell their souls for might be considered trivial but later in the story the reader is shown that there is more to the story.

R A Jacobson does a fine job of setting the mood and making the reader quickly get to know the characters and feel for their plight. Although, some characters are much easier to sympathize with than others due to some of the choices they make.

Reminiscent of Needful Things by Stephen King or short stories where the buyer should beware such as The Monkey’s Paw by W.W Jacobs, this is a great collection of bite sized terror and tragedy to read through right before bed at night.

Damage Report – #BookReview

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SUMMARY

This is a book about mistakes and possibilities- some that change the lives of a few, and some that change the lives of many. In The Old Man, Bob is two hundred fifty years old, a survivor of the global warming that nearly destroyed humanity. Things have gotten boring lately and his best friend is thinking about ending it all. Their extended lifespans also have a small liability that makes them both wonder if it’s worth it to stick around. In Long Shot, most of the Northern Hemisphere has been destroyed in a global nuclear war. A team of American aviators is assigned to assassinate the Russian marshal who gave the order for a nuclear attack. Only the U.S. Navy has resources remaining that can reach across the globe to complete the mission. In the title story Damage Report, a colony ship of a starfaring people goes into orbit around a planet bearing the remains of an extinct civilization. The ruins are only a thousand years old and are the best chance of the star people to understand why only their species has survived out of hundreds of predecessors within hundreds of light years of their home world.

REVIEW 3/5 STARS

Damage Report is a collection of short stories that involve life and death in some way. The first story, The Old Man, deals with a man who appears old in a civilization that has defeated disease and aging. There are a few others like him but when almost everyone alive is young and beautiful and you have lived far beyond what your expected life span, is there still any purpose to life itself? The second story Long Shot deals with the immediate aftermath of a nuclear war on earth. The Navy has found the man responsible for starting the war and they decide to do something about it even with the limited resources they have. The third and final story, Damage Report is about a colony of space travelers who come upon a planet that has recently destroyed itself through nuclear war. The colony must decide if they should live on the planet but their findings also leave them questioning why their species seems to be the only one who has thrived long enough to conquer other worlds.

While all three stories have their strong points, the best of them is The Old Man. Bob is faced with a quiet existential dilemma. He has few friends left and barring an unexpected violent accident he might live nearly forever. Should he continue on or do as some of his friends have and choose to end his own life. The story confronts the reader with the question of how much life is necessary.

Long Shot is interesting due to the use of drone warfare and the realistic aspect of what would be likely military actions post nuclear war. At times it may give a bit too much information about the weapons and hardware used but if the reader loves to know about those things there is plenty here to stay satisfied.

Damage Report does a fine job of telling what it would be like to be a civilization that has not only survived but thrived because instead of repeating mistakes they learn from them.

All three stories make the reader think about the possibilities for this world and what might or might not bring about the end for us all. It’s a solid meditation on life under the threat of global disasters.

If you enjoy short fiction and like hard science fiction, realistic military fiction and stories that make you think about life, Damage Report is certainly worth a read.

Gunmetal Gods – #BookReview

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.

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SYNOPSIS

They took his daughter, so Micah comes to take their kingdom. Fifty thousand gun-toting paladins march behind him, all baptized in angel blood, thirsty to burn unbelievers.

Only the janissaries can stand against them. Their living legend, Kevah, once beheaded a magus amid a hail of ice daggers. But ever since his wife disappeared, he spends his days in a haze of hashish and poetry.

To save the kingdom, Kevah must conquer his grief and become the legend he once was. But Micah writes his own legend in blood, and his righteous conquest will stop at nothing.

When the gods choose sides, a legend will be etched upon the stars.

REVIEW 5/5 STARS

Kevah was once a hero who did the impossible. He killed a magus and his legend was born. Ten years later he is old and leads a life averse to warfare but his time will come again. Meanwhile, Micah the metal has been on a conquest for his faith. He has conquered much of the world and now he comes for Kostany, the city that Kevah lives in. He will stop at nothing to achieve his victory.

When an author is bold enough to name a book Gunmetal Gods, they better deliver the goods with a huge, epic story that is an absolute page turner full of amazing battles, intense political intrigue, and surprises at every turn. That is exactly what author Zamil Akhtar has done.

The parallel stories of Kevah and Micah intertwine and intersect in surprising ways as the world moves with them and around them. As the book progresses, the reader only becomes more engaged in the story as the cast of characters grows.

Battle scenes are fascinating in this book with the combination of swordplay, magic, and technological advancements in the early development of guns. They are vividly described and utterly thrilling to read.

The book is full of well realized characters, a deep culture that is well thought out, incredible creatures and amazing beings that turn the tide of the story and everything else you would want in a fantasy tale. This book easily stands with the best of epic fantasy fiction.

If you love sweeping epics like the Game of Thrones series or Throne of the Crescent Moon, drop whatever else you are reading and pick up this book. It’s as bold as the title and it delivers on all fronts. Remember Zamil Akhtar’s name because if he keeps writing like this, he will be the next well known epic fantasy author to have a global fanbase.

Fantastically yours,

Slick Dungeon

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