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Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Rest To The Gods by Joshua Walker (reviewed by Matthew Higgins)


Official Author Website
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OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Joshua Walker is the author of The Song of the Sleepers series. He was born in Sydney, Australia and was an avid reader from the age of five, when he first read The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien ‘all by himself’. Josh currently lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and BFD (Big Fluffy Dog). In between spending time with his family and friends, he sticks to a regimented writing routine, and is also a primary teacher. He also makes his own beer, and likes to think it’s pretty good.
OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: On the peak of the Mountain Pass, the Four-Front War takes its final breaths.
The walls are closing in.
The allies are dwindling.
The last front is on its knees.
OVERVIEW: Joshua Walker’s ‘The Rest To The Gods’ is a promising display of word building prowess sure to keep your fingers eagerly turning those metaphysical kindle pages. Wholly original and action packed, by the time you finish you’ll be left questioning the nature of time since it cannot have possibly traveled so quickly in the space it takes to peruse this nifty novella.
Whilst the character development did feel constrained within the minimal novella size, and the lore fed in by the mouthful it was fun and ultimately, that’s a fantastic measure of a good book.
“Do not think that by heartening your heart you can accomplish your every goal in this life, child”
I start this review by being honest...
This book was 100% a mood read. I’d seen the cover going around on social media and being the whimsical plank that I am, I decided to blow up the TBR…
But, as readers will find when they spend time in Joshua’s world, this was not without good reason. For Joshua invites into a Redwall-esque world in the midst of a grand war, and he certainly does not hang about!
 We start in media res with our protagonist Nischia who is one of the eponymous Sleepers. Caught in a battle high up in the peaks, Nischia and the Aobians face overwhelming odds in a last stand for their kingdom.
A sleeper is essentially Joshua’s in-world mage, and they use a magic system known as Luminosity to power their cism (aka magic). It was inventive and refreshing and I was certainly  intrigued to learn more, even if the terminology at times could be a little overwhelming.
Alongside the present day, Joshua also delves into Nischia’s past and her initiation into the order of the Sleepers, which is where most of the emotional heft of this novella comes from. Nischia certainly has what one could deem a ‘troubled’ past, although it is usually Nischia caught in the midst of these troubles, and I found I could really admire her strength and tenacity through all she suffered.
The dual narrative allows Joshua to expand on the present via the past and vice versa, which adds a nice sense of progression to the novella, each chapter revealing a new aspect of character. Furthermore, it kept me on the hook, finding myself eager to return to the next piece of the story regardless of timeline, and never left me wanting!
Surprisingly the present narrative was my personal favourite, despite the more character driven nature of Nischia’s past. Personally, I found that there simply wasn’t enough page time available to devote to Nischia’s past to show the depths that I would personally find fully compelling. The broad themes on display in Nischia’s past, of overcoming adversity and emotional turmoil are certainly very respectable, however there is a lot to unpack and I think being a novella hindered its ability to really delve as deep as I would've liked.
Accordingly the underlying political plot occuring didn’t have the impact I believe Joshua was aiming for. For me the surprises that came in this section felt underwhelming because we hadn’t had the time to fully connect to the cast of characters before things turn on their head. This undermined the impact of those twists which for me developed rather too quickly. Whilst this is certainly an ambitious novella, broad in scale, yet intimate in character, I do think with more page time it could’ve been more impactful.
To speak of my favourite section though, we go to the present day, where most of the creative world building is on display. I really loved the feel of these anthropomorphic characters in the vein of Brian JaquesRedwall series; they were endearing and incredibly easy to root for. Who doesn’t love a good last stand after all! There *was* a lot of new terminology introduced rather quickly, and this may potentially put off new readers, however I think as readers it's important to understand that we don’t need to grasp every concept to enjoy a fun new tale. Joshua does an admirable job of centering us through the character of Nischia, so one can always ground themselves with her character in the midst of the unfolding chaos.
I do think again that the small page count did hinder some aspects of the suspense and action, but this is surely a promising aspect too, as I trust with a wider page count that Joshua will find a suitable rhythm. The fast pace certainly aided in turning the pages, despite somewhat undermining the suspense of the piece.
Despite being an almost singularly located novella, we do learn a lot about the wider world, and the culture of the Aobians with their great tree was a great example of inventive worldbuilding. Especially in today’s age of climate change it's always welcome to see a culture rooted (no pun intended!!) in the beauty and majesty of nature. This makes the world feel as if a living character itself, similar to Pandora in the Avatar movies. I certainly appreciate how much we could learn from worlds such as this and their connection to nature.
CONCLUSION: Overall, a very promising debut which has certainly left me ready to delve into Joshua’s subsequent works. Pacy and punchy, grounded characters in an inventive world, despite the page count undermining some aspects, i couldn’t turn those pages fast enough! Watch out world, the Aussie author squad is coming for us!! (Seriously, Mark Timmony, Luke Schulz, now Joshua, it’s fantastic!)

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Review: Lore of the Wilds by Analeigh Sbrana


OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Analeigh Sbrana is a writer and visual artist. She lives in Delaware with her husband, daughter, and chonky kitty named Rey. You can often find her either writing books, reading books, or taking elaborate photos of books.

FORMAT/INFO: Lore of the Wilds was published on February 27th, 2024 by Harper Voyager. It is 352 pages and told in third person from Lore's POV. It is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: For centuries, the humans of Lore's village have lived trapped in a dark forest. Any attempts to leave are met with a swift death at the hands of the fae sentries that surround the town. But shortly after a disaster befalls the town, a fae lord approaches Lore with a deal: if she will enter a library warded against fae and catalogue its contents, he will ensure the town gets the aid it needs to recover. Lore accepts out of necessity but also because she's hoping to discover something in the library that could change her town's fortune's forever: magic.

Lore of the Wilds is a tale that is absolutely charming when it tries to be a cozy fantasy, but tonal swerves prevent it from truly being one. The cozier aspects of the story are where it shines. From the moment Lore steps inside the warded library, the focus changes from survival to the soothing process of cataloguing books and cleaning shelves. As the story expands, we're treated with cooking, herb craft, and moonlit rituals, all of which make you want to snuggle under blankets as you read. This does mean the story begins to meander, especially in the back half of the book when it leans into the "low stakes" plotting, with urgency largely lost until the final 15% of the story.

But I have to stop short of calling this a true cozy fantasy because of the darker elements that intrude on the story. That includes not only some violence (mostly in the form of combat that results in some gruesome deaths) but some particularly horrifying reveals late in the story. In another book, I don't think I would have made a note of such things, but it was a jarring juxtaposition in a story that largely spent its time embracing cottagecore vibes.

(And if you're wondering about the fantasy romance aspect, there is one explicit spice scene).

Lore of the Wilds is also a bit rough around the edges in its writing style, particularly when it comes to dialogue. The dialogue at the beginning of the book felt a bit clunky, and while it seemed to smooth out as the story went on, that might also have been because the cozy elements were enchanting me so thoroughly that I forgave some of the odd phrasing.

CONCLUSION: Lore of the Wilds honestly makes me wish the book had whole-heartedly pursued its cozy aspirations. There were a lot of elements that charmed me, making me forgive the other elements that grated a bit. But the unevenness of tone makes it a bit hard to know exactly who to recommend this to (and also made me feel like the book didn't truly know what it wanted to be). It's cozy-ish, but one plot line in particular really makes this impossible to call a true cozy fantasy. But if cozy-adjacent is something you enjoy, there's enough here to make a pleasant read.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Review: That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon


Official Author Website
Buy That Time I Got Drunk and Saved A Demon

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Kimberly Lemming is on an eternal quest to avoid her calling as a main character. She can be found giving the slip to that new werewolf that just blew into town and refusing to make eye contact with a prince of a far-off land. Dodging aliens looking for Earth booty can really take up a girl's time.

But when she’s not running from fate, she can be found writing diverse fantasy romance. Or just shoveling chocolate in her maw until she passes out on the couch.
Monday, February 26, 2024

Interview: Robert Jackson Bennett, author of The Tainted Cup

Interview: Robert Jackson Bennett, author of The Tainted Cup

robert jackson bennett author photo

Read Caitlin's review of The Tainted Cup here
Read Mihir and Shazzie's review of The Tainted Cup here

Buy The Tainted Cup here - U.K. | U.S.
Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Review: Fathomfolk by Eliza Chan


OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Eliza Chan is a Scottish-born Chinese-diaspora author who writes about East Asian mythology, British folklore and madwomen in the attic, but preferably all three at once. Eliza’s work has been published in The Dark, Podcastle, Fantasy Magazine and The Best of British Fantasy 2019. Fathomfolk is her first novel..
Tuesday, February 20, 2024

SPFBO 9 Finalist review: The Fall is All There Is by C.M. Caplan


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: C.M. Caplan is the author of the SPFBO7 semifinalist The Sword in the Street, SPFBO9 FINALIST The Fall Is All There Is. He's a quadruplet (yes, really), autistic, and has a degree in creative writing. He was awarded his university's highest honor in the arts for his work.

Find Connor online: Facebook

The Fall is All There Is links: AmazonGoodreads

SPFBO Finalist Interview: C.M. Caplan, The Author of The Fall Is All There is

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: C.M. Caplan is the author of the SPFBO7 semifinalist The Sword in the Street, SPFBO9 FINALIST The Fall Is All There Is. He's a quadruplet (yes, really), autistic, and has a degree in creative writing. He was awarded his university's highest honor in the arts for his work.

Find Connor online: Facebook

The Fall is All There Is links: Amazon, Goodreads
Friday, February 16, 2024

Review: An Education in Malice by S.T. Gibson


Official Author Website
Buy An Education in Malice

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Saint is a literary agent, author, and village wise woman in training. A graduate of the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the theological studies program at Princeton Seminary, she currently lives in Boston with her partner, spoiled Persian cat, and vintage blazer collection. She is represented by Tara Gilbert of the Jennifer De Chiara literary agency
Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett (Reviewed by Shazzie & Mihir Wanchoo)

Book Review: The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

Official Author Website

Buy The Tainted Cup here - U.K. | U.S.

Read Caitlin's review here

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Robert is the author of American Elsewhere, The Troupe, The Company Man, Mr. Shivers, as well as The Divine Cities trilogy and The Founders Trilogy. 

His work has received the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Phillip K. Dick Citation of Excellence, and he has been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Locus Awards.

He lives in Austin with his wife and two sons, one of whom is very large and one of whom is very loud, and he focuses on writing and not maintaining his website.
Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Exclusive Map Reveal: Neo Kinoko Map by Adrian M. Gibson


Like many people, I’m a sucker for maps in books. I was the kid who’d spend hours poring through my dad’s worn-out atlas, absorbing all of the continents, borders, capital cities, rivers, mountain ranges, and more. I loved it, and, thinking back, it was a natural extension of my father being a professional cartographer for his day job.


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