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Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Mini-Reviews: No Gods, Only Monsters by Steve McHugh & The Hand That Casts The Bone by H. L. Tinsley

 


Official Author Website
Order The Hand That Casts The Bone over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of We Men Of Ash And Shadow
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s interview with H. L. Tinsley
 
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Hand That Casts The Bone is the sequel to recent SPFBO finalist We Men Of Ash And Shadow and a book that I very much enjoyed. This sequel book focusses on events set immediately after the tragic events of WMOAAS, the city of D'orsee is in absolute chaos and has a power vacuum. We all know the maxim about nature and vacuums and it is no surprise when different criminal elements rush in to take advantage of this all. Captain Felix Sanquain however has his plans for the city and when a political seat opens up, he will leave no stone unturned to make sure that his cup overfloweth. There are things moving and once again it will be upto John Vanguard and a few others to survive it all.

The story’s main focus this time around shared between John Vanguard, Tarryn Leersac and Carmen and the story is richer for it. Vanguard is recuperating from his climatic fight in WMOAAS and now finds himself on the thin and narrow road of redemption. It will be a hard road and made harder by the fact that his former protégé and new criminal gangs are now openly hunting him. Tarryn finds himself in the ambivalent graces on John Sanquain and he tries his hardest to understand and control his powers. Carmen travels along with a new found family (of sorts) in Cooke, Kosic & Henriette. They will have learn of each other’s foibles and strengths while also surviving everything.  There’s this all and to add to the mix, the author brings to the fore Hector Mandego (whom we have met before in the preceding title).

This book is a solid improvement on the plus-points that Holly Tinsley brilliant displayed in WMOAAS. Her debut was a dark one and it highlighted a city caught up in crime and chaos. Here she expands on the world while having her characters push back and make shining examples of themselves. None better exemplified by the new (& increased) POV role given to Carmen. There has been a legitimate air of mystery about her and we get some crucial answers within. The side characters of Cooke and Henriette also share some of the spotlight. Lastly, I have to highlight how brilliantly the author portrays the Machiavellian villains in Sanquain and Mandego. Both of them are charismatic bastards who are scene-stealers and yet have no qualms of killing people (by the score) to further their plans and schemes.

H. L. Tinsley has a real knack for writing such dastardly and brilliant characters and this is seen solidly in this book with Carmen, Tarryn, Sanquain & Mandego. The action is also of the brutal kind, as there are both individualistic and massive action pieces. Overall there’s a big mystery centered around the identity of a certain individual and it keeps the plot streamlined and the readers guessing throughout. Lastly for me, the only complaint I had was that in a sea of brilliant characterization, John Vanguard seems to be the only left behind.

For me this book played on the strengths showcased in its predecessors and diluted the drawbacks brilliantly. Therefore, I didn’t have any major issues about it but I must say objectively this is another dark book full of murder, double crosses, & plenty of horrible things happening to all sorts of people. Therefore, if you do not enjoy the darker side of fantasy, this is definitely NOT the book for you. Another point I must raise is that the author certainly has a way with titles and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

CONCLUSION: The Hand That Casts The Bone is a terrific sequel in a series that has become a must read for me. If you love terrific characters, darker settings and political-crime machinations, then H. L. Tinsley’s Vanguard Chronicles should be an insta-buy for you.  DO NOT MISS IT!




Official Author Website

Order No Gods, Only Monsters over HERE

Read chapter one over HERE

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Crimes Against Magic

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Steve McHugh

 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: No Gods, Only Monsters is a very intriguing novel that I found out when the cover was revealed by one of my favourite cover designers Shawn T. King. Having previously read a Hellequin book and a couple of novellas. I was very intrigued to jump in to this book as it focused on the Roman Goddess Diana and because it was set in the past, prior knowledge of the series was not a big requirement. This worked perfectly for me and I dived in.

No Gods, Only Monsters begins with Diana living off the land in a remote corner of the Roman Empire and she’s content with what she has become. However as with any western, we soon learn that such placid conditions are only temporary and trouble soon arrives. Forced to help Artemis with some divine trouble (and without knowing what it is), Diana is forced to set off and dig up some painful past events and confront all of it. That is the basic gist of the plot but there’s a lot more underneath and courtesy of Steve McHugh, we get an action packed story that absolutely rockets off the pages.

Firstly here’s why I enjoyed this book so much, Diana as a main character is terrifically written. Yes she’s inhuman because of her divinity but that doesn’t preclude from experiencing some very human emotions. She is also a character who is a flawed but strong hero. She doesn’t shy away from doing what’s right but she’s also smart enough to not always depend on her strength. Her tactical acumen & personal knowledge are what make her dangerous. This book is set around 1800 years ago and features a fast-paced plot that is very characteristic of Steve McHugh. The story not only features Greco-Roman mythology but also has quite a few elements of Scandinavian and Arthurian mythos. I loved this approach as it showed a magically chaotic world as possibly was the case of Europe pre-circa 200 AD. The author does his best to set up these elements fluidly and while I didn’t have much knowledge about the characters, I had no problems following the plot.

The book is also on the shorter side (around 220-pages in paperback) and after reading more and more doorstoppers in the fantasy genre. I loved that the author was able to pack so much story in such a short page count. This book very much is and behaves like an action thriller (if you ignore the historical settings, the magical creatures and mythological beings.). There are some elements of a spaghetti western with regards to Diana and her past and it plays out in a slightly predictable but ultimately fulfilling manner. Lastly I want to highlight the action sequences within this book, for those readers who like battles and magic will get plenty of both.

This book isn’t without its minor drawbacks, for one even though the settings are of ancient Rome, we don’t get to dwell on them much. Even though this is a historical fantasy, the world descriptions aren’t of the Christian Cameron kind. So readers expecting that will be sorely disappointed. Secondarily the plot while being an ingenious one has a bit of predictability to it. For new readers, this might not be easily apparent but older readers might catch on a plot twist or two. I must reiterate these are minor quibbles and would totally depend on the reader.

CONCLUSION: No Gods, Only Monsters is a wild ride and one that certainly fulfills all of its promises. Steve McHugh has succeeded in giving us an action packed, historical fantasy that is entertaining and emotionally fulfilling. As far as stories set within the action-thriller genre go, it sets itself up as a prime example of what authors should do. Jump in with both feet and find out why so many urban fantasy readers consider Steve McHugh to be one of the best storytellers writing currently.

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