Monday, September 15, 2014

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells is what 2001: A Space Odyssey would’ve been if the monolith had actually talked to the crew.

NASA has known about an alien spaceship parked in the Asteroid Belt since the 1960s but has kept the information from the public.  All efforts to establish radio contact have been met with silence.  In the early 21st century, NASA finally develops the technology required to send six astronauts to the ship to discover its secrets. 

Dr. Jane Holloway is a linguist and a reluctant astronaut recruited by NASA to communicate with any possible aliens.  As soon as their capsule docks with the mysterious ship, she begins to hear voices.  She not only has a hard time convincing herself they are real, but most of her crew as well. 

When the mission takes a disturbing turn that not even the highly trained astronauts are prepared for, it’s Jane’s connection to the ship that becomes their only hope for survival.

Fluency was a finely written derelict spaceship story.  Wells’ style and language are beautiful and descriptive without relying on clichĂ©.  Wells does not overly explain the science behind the ship's gadgets, but gives us just enough to make them all seem plausible without bogging the story down. 

I liked how the alien cultures that the ship reveals to Jane Holloway sounded very different from one another, even among individuals within a species.  Too many sci-fi stories depict aliens as one monolithic culture where all individuals share the same values.  I prefer my aliens to be, well, more human and unique between individuals.  Besides drone-like insectoid aliens, that just seems more realistic to me and Wells does a fine job of it in this book.

I only had some minor nit-picks.  The main characters ruminated too much for my taste, making me skip pages at a time to get back to the action.  I also thought the ending was too abrupt; I got the feeling I had just read the opening chapter of a longer work rather than a complete work in itself.  Fluency's sub-title is "Confluence Book 1," so this was obviously by design, but I'm not a fan of the style.

Fluency is Wells' debut novel and an impressive effort that I enjoyed.  It hit all the right notes that a derelict spaceship story should hit.  The novel only hints at the strange galaxy awaiting humanity, so I look forward to the alien wonders that Wells introduces us to in the sequel.

Fluency is available on Amazon as an ebook and paperback.

[Note: Fluency was purchased by the reviewer.]

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Numbers 16:32 by Brady Koch

Joseph's Sunday morning routine of church, beer and solitude is interrupted by a ragged screaming coming from the far side of his farm land. What he finds there will challenge his resolve in ways he hasn't faced since losing his wife or facing the horrors of the Korean War.

Numbers 16:32 is a long short story (25 pages), which makes it a novelette. It gets off to a slow start as Koch focuses on character building. I stuck with it as Koch successfully forged a connection between this reader and Joseph, the protagonist. Once Joseph sets out to find the source of the screaming, the pace of the story picks up and stays steady right up to the end.

Joseph's actions and dialogue ring true. As a Korean War veteran and widower living out his remaining years on a farm out in the Midwest, you really get a sense for the loneliness that he keeps bottled up. There's no self-pity with this man. He's seen far too much to bother with any of that.

Once the reader's connection with Joseph is made, Koch leads Joseph out into the fields to face the peril. I can't say too much more without spoiling it. Joseph's military training kicks in. No, I'm not talking about his combat skills. He assesses the problem, comes up with a plan, and acts on it. He's the "cool under fire" type. As the situation changes and the stakes escalate, Joseph adapts.

Unfortunately, the story is marred—for me—by typos: many missing commas, some capitalization issues, and several misspelled words. If Mr. Koch had sent the manuscript to a proofreader before publishing, 95% of these would've been caught (A cheaper alternative would be to have had it peer reviewed in a writer's group). It takes away from the experience for me. To be fair, even traditionally published books have typos. I'm also reading Moving Mars by Greg Bear. There's a scene where they talk about eating cheesecake for dessert, but it's misspelled as "desert".

Numbers 16:32 is a finely crafted story. The plot and characterization are solid. Despite my grumblings over typos, I enjoyed Numbers 16:32 and would recommend it for the character of Joseph alone. I hope that Mr. Koch will continue to hone his craft.

Stop by the author's website to find out where you can get a copy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In The Clear by Ayami Tyndall

In The ClearArne was content with her career as a hydrogen rigger, harvesting fuel from Saturn's clouds for use across the solar system, until two prospectors offered her a job that kindled old desires. She used to be an angel, a guide through the lightless sky beneath Saturn's clouds, but abandoned that deadly wasteland years ago. Now she returns, taking flight again on cybernetic wings to guide a new prototype through the invisible gale of the liquid sky. She used to know Saturn's depths well, but returning ignites old scars, and there is something new and unnatural waiting in the burning air.

When the wind comes for her and her wings fail her, will she remember why she calls herself an angel?


This is one of those sci-fi novels that dares to dream big. I got hooked on the concept of "angels", humans with artificial wings, flying through the depths of Saturn to assist in hydrogen mining. Tyndall evokes colorful language to describe Arne's flights through Saturn's atmosphere. She relies on her suit's sensors and the flutter of eddies as they play across the metallic feathers of her wings. There's a grace to her swift acrobatics and deft maneuvers that is reminiscent of a well-choreographed ballet.

The story also deals with obsession. Tyndall's main characters each have something they're obsessed with and can't let go. Arne is obsessed with her past failures as an angel, while the Drakes, Arne's employers, are obsessed with their mission. Neither seems willing to let go when confronted by the other, and the story becomes a race against time to see if anyone will come to their senses before facing disaster.

So it is with reluctance that I have to dredge up the flaws in this work. First off, there are problems with commas. There aren't enough of them, and there are many more that are misplaced. These—and other typos—would've been easy to repair with a proper proofreader.

A more serious problem lies with the layout of the story. There is the current story where our intrepid heroine guides her employers down to the depths of Saturn, and then there are the flashbacks to her days as a full-time angel. The placement of the flashbacks within the overall story confused me. The book starts with Arne in the middle of her current job, and then flashes back to the day when she met the Drakes. At the start of chapter two, I realized that this was the new current setting. But in chapter three, we get another flashback that goes back even further to her angel days before returning to the current story. As there are similar action sequences in Arne's past and present, it was too easy to get lost. It was only when Arne interacted with other characters that I could place when we are at. I'm not sure that all of them were necessary or in the right sequence.

The other major problem I had was with the characters. The present day story and the flashbacks are told from Arne's POV. While she walked a fine line between reliable and unreliable narrator, I was more concerned by her interaction with other characters. When told by her employers that an angel had died on their previous foray into Saturn's depths, she seemed a bit too unmoved about it. This was supposedly an organization with close ties among its members—a brotherhood. She was more concerned about bad intel from the Drakes than the death of a fellow angel. But as soon as she found out it was someone she knew, she flipped out.

I found too much inconsistency with the Drakes' behavior. They could be remorseful one moment, and then snippy and insensitive in the next. I couldn't figure out if the remorse for dead angels was sincere or not. There is also one point where Mel seems like she's near death, and then in the next chapter she's up and around going about her business. No explanation was given for her miraculous turnaround.

Ok, I've spent way too much time being critical. Despite these flaws, In The Clear is a good read. Besides inspiring us with humans flying through the reaches of Saturn, there are also matters of exploration. Tyndall draws parallels to deep sea diving here on Earth. What lies waiting for Arne and the Drakes in the depths of Saturn? What effect does Saturn's magnetosphere have on the human mind? While the underlying theme of the destructive consequences of obsession is a familiar one, Tyndall demonstrates that there's a way out if you're willing to recognize it for what it is.

In The Clear is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Letter from Hell by William Presley

A Letter from HellIn a desperate attempt to save his soul before he dies, southern aristocrat William Virgil Hollingsmore writes the world a cautionary letter on the last of his twelve days in a personalized Hell. In it, through the haze of his own mental deterioration, he chronicles the horrors and agony that befell him at the hands of Satan, as well as the sad events leading up to this unfortunate climax.

When Hollingsmore was a younger man, he was an alcoholic and did as he pleased when drunk. He's older now and full of regret. Upon returning home, he finds that Satan is chomping at the bit to claim him and drag him on down to Hell for his eternal punishment. This is a man desperately trying to find a way to avoid his fate. There is no excusing his past behavior, so it is difficult to sympathize with him. But does he deserve to burn in Hell? His "letter from Hell" is his attempt to find redemption by warning others.

Hollingsmore serves as protagonist and narrator. As such, we only get to see the other characters when he interacts with them. There is a chapter where Hollingsmore is put through out of body flashbacks in order to learn what suffering he has inflicted upon the people in his life. Satan is obviously the antagonist, but his character only sees development when he shows up to torment Hollingsmore. I wouldn't say that he's two-dimensional, but he doesn't stray from what we expect of him.

A Letter from Hell reminds me of old fashioned horror—more concerned with chills and suspense than gross outs and visceral gore. The writing style Presley uses reads like something out of the Romantic movement of the 19th century, which produced such notable greats as Poe and Coleridge. Presley forgoes the purple prose but retains the suffocating imagery and puts it to use at all the appropriate times. While in the midst of Hollingsmore's recounting of his ordeals, I was often reminded of Vincent Price horror movies from the 60's.

A Letter from Hell is William Presley's first novel. There are times when I felt it could've used another round of proofreading to remove extraneous commas and freshen up the dusty writing style he chose. However, it should be noted that when it was published earlier this year Presley was only a junior in high school. I could not have written something this good back when I was his age. I have no doubt that if Presley sticks to it and continues to work at his craft, we will see great things from him in the years ahead.

I don't have an author's website to point you to, so I'll just state that A Letter from Hell is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and even Google.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

First Stone by Gary Ballard

First StoneForensic psychologist Dr. Jack Carter wakes from a semi-catatonic state in a mental hospital with no memory of the previous year. His wife, Sarah, has disappeared, and as the last human being to see her alive, Jack is the prime suspect in her disappearance. Without a body and with no physical evidence to prove foul play, the lead investigator and Jack's friend, Bill West, must continue to search for the truth even if it means fingering Jack for the crime. When a serial killer in West Virginia's coal country claims to have killed Sarah Carter, Bill and Jack rush to the crime scene. What they find is a deeply disturbed man with no memory of his crimes or of taking credit for Sarah's death. As Jack tries to decipher the mysterious series of runic symbols the killer carved into his slaughter house, he unlocks a deeper cosmic mystery that goes beyond anything he could imagine.

First Stone is the first novella in Gary Ballard's Stepping Stone Cycle, a "modern interpretation of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos." Naturally, I'm curious about all things Lovecraft, including new tales by authors playing in the Master's non-Euclidean sandbox. Of course, should anyone defile that sandbox, I would feel compelled to warn everyone to stay away. Fortunately, that isn't the case here.

The novella opens with Carter waking from his semi-catatonic state. As a nice touch, Ballard has Carter re-discovering his senses and the world around him. He questions the words we attach to objects, the length of time, and his own body. There are elements of knowledge still functioning within his brain, but we don't know if these are all a priori nuggets or the undisturbed bedrock of memory. Either way, slipping back into one's body isn't as simple as getting back on a bike after years away.

A good chunk of Lovecraft's work involved the protagonist setting off on an investigation to uncover the truth to a bizarre circumstance. In this regard, Ballard follows a similar path. His protagonist is a forensic psychologist, a solid choice for going out to crime scenes and dealing with those whose minds may have been damaged by things that dwell in the dark.

Ballard invests a good deal of time developing his characters, and it pays off. You really get to know Carter and root for him to find the answers to Sarah's disappearance. His friendship with Bill plays easy. And Ballard develops the small town West Virginia characters, too. It would've been easy to let them be two-dimensional stereotypes, but Ballard invests in their backgrounds to make their personal stories real.

While Ballard is playing in Lovecraft's sandbox, he doesn't play with his toys in quite the same way. Ballard sticks with his own writing style. Yes, he teases you with a survivor's testimony, has you listen to some preaching about the unfathomable darkness, and flaunts mysterious objects. The obligatory fhtagn and R'lyeh utterances are thrown in, too, but the story flows like a crime drama rather than cosmic horror. It's an interesting twist on presenting Cthulhu Mythos fiction and might serve as a bridge for psychological thriller fans to get a glimpse of the Old Ones.

Like quest fantasies and space opera epics, this isn't a tale that will be wrapped up right away. Patience is the key here. Ballard explains that he's writing the novellas like episodes in a TV series. Short-term mysteries are solved in each novella and clues to the overarching plot (What happened to Sarah Carter?) will be provided as the mystery deepens, but to get it all you'll have to read all of season one (Episode Two was recently released).

All in all, it's an entertaining and quick read. I'm left wondering just how far Ballard intends to go with this series and if he'll deliver the goods at the end of the season. I got the feeling that he was holding back, not wanting to give too much away so soon. But like many a good writer, he dangles the line out far enough to hook you in.

For more information (including sample chapters, series concept, and where to buy the books), visit the author's website.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cover Critics

Over the last couple of years, I've written about how important it is for an indie author to have a good cover for their book. I've invited several indie authors here to talk about the process they went through to get their covers, whether doing it themselves or hiring a professional. M. Terry Green pointed me in the direction of affordable, professional designers who offer pre-designed and customizable covers—the growing list can be found by clicking on our "Book Cover Designers" tab.

While we've seen a decrease in the number of bad covers submitted here, there seems to be no shortage of lousy covers out there.

So I'm going to throw another resource at you:

Cover Critics

CoverCritics offers a snark-free environment (the host, Nathan Shumate, prohibits it) where indie authors can receive constructive criticism of their book covers before they go to press. I'm heartily recommending that any indie author who designs their own covers, isn't sure about a cover they purchased, or just wants some feedback submit it there (it's free) before publication. When you visit the site, you'll see from the comments what's good or bad about the designs. And actual graphic designers are among the commenters. Even if you're not at that stage yet, you'll learn a lot from what's discussed there.

\_/
DED

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Justice, Inc. by Dale Bridges

Justice, Inc.Imagine a future where orphan children are adopted by international corporations and forced into indentured servitude, where zombie viruses are spread through heterosexual intercourse, where Osama bin Laden is cloned by the thousands for public execution. Welcome to the world of JUSTICE, INC. No one is safe. Nothing is sacred. And all sales are final.

Justice, Inc. is a collection of short stories written by Dale Bridges and published by Monkey Puzzle Press. It is due to be released on June 20th.

All in all, this is a solid collection of 21st century American satire.

"In the Beginning: An Introduction" sets the tone for the collection with Bridges explaining how he came to write these stories. If it's divine inspiration, there's certainly a bit of playful smirking—and possibly spirits—involved.

There are bits of flash fiction that serve as appetizers for the normal length stories. While "Texting the Apocalypse" doesn't have any direct links to "Life After Men", its sniping characters would fit right into the latter story. Shallow, materialistic mean girls maintain their 21st century valley girl identity until the bitter end and would likely commiserate with the protagonist as she bemoans the loss of her purse more than her zombified ex-boyfriend.

"The Villain", another short piece, imagines how a pair of bros who have acquired super powers figure out who the hero is and which guy gets to be the sidekick. It isn't anything you see on the big screen.

Generational discord is an underlying theme in "The Generation Gap", "The Other Ones", and "The Time Warp Café" and each story explores it differently. "The Generation Gap" is playful. "The Other Ones" is sinister. "The Time Warp Café" adds in the dilemmas of immortality. How do you explain youthful rebellion to a new generation of immortals?

In "The Girlfriend™", socially awkward Derrick buys an artificial companion to combat his loneliness. Assembly required.
At first, it felt bizarre to be handling body parts in this manner, like a remorseful psychopath who had chopped up his lover and was now trying to undo the crime.
Bridges deftly manipulates our feelings towards Derrick. Having a girlfriend, even a robotic one, changes him. But as Derrick's outer personality undergoes a transformation, his inner self betrays him.

"Welcome to Omni-Mart" is another story where a man's relationship with artificial life transforms him. Leonard, one of those aforementioned orphans forced into indentured servitude, inherits Peter, an InstaBaby, which is an artificial life form that grows from infant to adult in a single day. Leonard is meek and obedient after growing up at Omni-Mart, not to mention terrified of the world outside (he actually lives in the store). He lives in fear of his bullying boss, Barry, and he pines for fellow orphan, Cynthia. Peter forces Leonard into confronting elements of his self that he's been too afraid to face.

The collection's namesake piece, "Justice, Inc.", is the kernel of Bridges' work. James Hamilton and his wife, Sarah, are struggling to have a child. She lost her brother in 9/11 and sees having a child as the only way to cure her depression. The longer it takes, the worse it becomes, and it's putting a tremendous strain on their marriage. James works for Justice, Inc., a company that provides a unique way for Americans to deal with the sort of grief that comes from national tragedies induced by evil men. And in Dubya's America, it totally makes sense. James uses his job to formulate a solution to his wife's dilemma.

Justice, Inc. lives up to its billing. Dale Bridges has channeled his acerbic vision of American corporate dystopia into enjoyable satire. Of course, it is advised that readers share a similar perspective in order to appreciate Bridges' wit. Those readers bearing any similarity to the characters skewered in these stories will chafe at his spot on portrayals.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Magic’s Heart by Thomas Oliver

If you write about a quest to deliver a magical object to a far-flung destination and thereby save the world from evil, you had better be up to the challenge, for your brave travelers unwittingly toil in the shadows of Frodo and Sam. Thomas Oliver makes a credible foray into this formidable subgenre with Magic’s Heart. This novel’s would-be heroes are a close-knit family whose members each possess a distinct magical talent. Seventeen-year-old Aliya has an affinity for bodies of water and the creatures that inhabit them. Her twin brother Crick has highly developed outdoor skills honed through years of exploring. Their brother Yori, 11, has the most advanced abilities of anyone in the family – he can detect magic and read the thoughts and feelings of others. The remaining family members, including parents Orlando and Siu and grandmother Abetta, each have their own magical specialties.

Yet they live in a region in which magic has come to be suspect. The Darkness is gathering strength, and the leaders in the nearby city of Immelus rely on military might to protect the people of the region. Url, an elderly friend of the family who has dedicated his life to studying the origin of magic, believes that the only way to combat the Darkness is to find the Heart of Magic. After an arduous search of a subterranean cave, Url and the family members find the Heart, which turns out to be a gemstone approximately five feet in diameter. The group formulates a plan to deliver it to a legendary stronghold of magic, the city of Iala. There it would be incorporated into a magical torch on the Tower of Elliad. This torch, in theory, would be a weapon sufficient to defeat the Darkness. As Url explains,

“When the Heart brought Magic into our world, it also, unintentionally I believe – brought something else. Something far worse.  A darkness from beyond our world and our understanding, attracted through the stars to the Magic of the Heart like a terrible moth to the light of a distant flame… it brought the horror around which the Black Wind exists. The true Darkness itself; ever hidden, ever unknown, ever terrible… Sometime after the first Magic was found, the first breaths of the Wind appeared. They started small and isolated, hovering around the borders of our world like wolves around a flock, picking off the weak and unwary. But over the years these breaths grew and came together in one vast storm, engulfing horizons and destroying towns and cities and their peoples within as quick as sound. And all the time it looked inwards, in towards the light. In towards the Heart, seeking it, craving it… The Heart is the key – the only key, beneath us this whole time – to ending the Black Wind! It is the one and only thing which can bring to us the peace our world has lived without for so long! The Heart is our freedom!”

But the group must brave hundreds of miles of wilderness, the Black Wind, and an assortment of other threats to reach their destination. They are joined on their quest by Tarryn, a young guardsman from Immelus, and Aulan, a mysterious, otherworldly outcast.

A quest can be a tedious thing, fraught with empty miles, bad weather, hunger, exhaustion, and often a growing tendency among the travelers (and sometimes the readers) to ask, “Are we there yet?” Magic’s Heart tames the inherent tedium of a long journey by revealing a fully realized world with its own geography, politics, and bestiary. The travelers encounter friends and foes along the way. They enter and quickly retreat from the dead city of Irraigon, devasted by the Black Wind years ago. They sojourn for a time in the Undervalleys, where an entire society dwells underground to avoid the perils of the encroaching Darkness. They meet up with waterfaeries, scarravers (ants the size of wolves, with deadly pincers), and stalkers, which are alchemically altered humans whose wailing paralyzes its hearers with terror.

Throughout their journey, the group struggles to understand the Heart’s capabilities and the role of magic in their world. Magic is not without its pitfalls. A recurring theme is corruption resulting from the lure of magic’s power. Tarryn describes to the others how the leaders of Immelus hoard information about magic: “Any knowledge that’s ever been passed down to the main of the City and the rest of the Heartlands has been sieved and corrupted a hundred times over by the Council… Anything which may benefit them in some way, either then or sometime in the future, they hold back for themselves. There’s so many centuries of history and secrets hidden within the City, they’ve probably forgotten half of it themselves…”

This novel is intended to be the first in a series called The NĂșminway Chronicles. There is much to admire in this ambitious opening installment. The author has clearly lived and breathed the world he describes for a very long time, imagining it down to the smallest detail. There are grand concepts and epic struggles, and it’s apparent that much more remains to be revealed about this world in the coming volumes.

The execution, however, is not flawless. Parts of the novel dragged. The chapters describing the search for and retrieval of the Heart of Magic from the cavern are a prime example of this. Another quibble I have is with the character of Yori. He is characterized as possessing the greatest magical talent of anyone in the family, yet he spends significant stretches of time withdrawn and afraid, brooding silently on the growing danger instead of making himself useful. To put it bluntly, I found him annoying. Finally, some of the prose was a bit challenging because of word choice, punctuation, and sentence construction. I think a good editor could make a profound difference.

When the travelers finally reach Iala, the novel really takes off. These final chapters are the strongest in the book. They introduce the most memorable secondary characters, culminate in a satisfyingly cataclysmic conclusion, and effectively set the stage for the sequel.

For more information on Magic's Heart, visit the author's website.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Shadowcursed by Gelo Fleisher

Bolen is a thief, plying his trade under the spires of an ancient and sprawling city. Worried that he's growing too old, Bolen has lined up a risky job, just to prove that he can still pull one off.

Tonight, he's going to break into a nobleman's vault and help himself to its contents. What he doesn't know is that inside is the key to a secret as old as the city itself.

Kings have killed for it, demons have coveted it, priests have prayed for it, and in a few moments it will be in his hands. And when it is, the adventure of his life will begin.


I was drawn in by the protagonist, Bolen. He's a guy in his 40's who realizes that he doesn't have the dexterity or strength that he once had. As a guy in his 40's, I can totally relate to that. Screw all these fantasy novels with young men at the peak of physical shape; let's hear it for the middle-aged guys whose bodies have succumbed to time and gravity!

Credit Fleisher for capturing a man stuck at the moment in his life where he realizes his mortality. Except for a few stints down at the docks, he's been a thief his whole life, an occupation for the young and nimble. He looks around and realizes he has nothing to show for it, save his reputation. While he's been successful enough to still be alive and have all his limbs, he hasn't accrued any kind of savings to cover old age. That assumes he doesn't die in the gutter, penniless and alone. He should move on to something less risky, but the irresistible lure of one more job, one more big payday, beckons him.

And it is this predicament that tears him up inside. After a life of thievery, Bolen is full of regret. Having survived the hubris of youth, he acknowledges that what he does is wrong, but feels powerless to change. He seeks forgiveness from the local church and a way out of the only life he's ever known. He soon discovers that he has become a pawn in the city's power struggle. But even pawns can play a decisive role in the game.

Fleisher skillfully details Bolen's city, paying attention to the places that the common folk inhabit: wharves, churches, taverns, nobles' houses. It is a fully realized world, and apparently there's a video game, too.

Bolen's fate is settled before the end of Shadowcursed. There's no endless series of books to slog through. In fact, Shadowcursed is a novella. Fleisher advances the story at about the right pace, with an appropriate amount of action and intrigue. It isn't all soul searching, though that is the underlying story.

All in all, Shadowcursed is a seldom seen (in fantasy) excellent character study of a middle-aged thief stuck at the crossroads of life. Fleisher constructs a easy to visualize setting with a very real protagonist who must choose between one of the fates dealt to him or craft one of his own.

For more information, including where to buy it, visit the author's blog. Or you can just go straight to Amazon.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chained by Fear by Jim Melvin

Chained by Fear, book two in Jim Melvin’s Death Wizard Chronicles, begins the story of Laylah, the beautiful sister of the evil sorcerer Invictus.  Invictus has imprisoned Laylah in a magical tower, hoping that she’ll one day become his queen and rule the world of Triken with him. 

Laylah, however, happens to be the sane one in the family.  She’s repulsed at the thought of marrying her own brother, let alone spending her life with a depraved lunatic with god-like powers.  She’s locked away for seventy years—her demon blood gives her long life—before finally escaping with the help of Invictus’s former allies.

While on the run, she meets Torg the Death-Knower, a powerful wizard in his own right.  We last saw Torg in Forged in Death, after he had escaped Invictus’s vile prison and made some roguish friends.  When Laylah and Torg meet, sparks fly.  Literally.  They are drawn to each other in a supernatural passion that neither can explain.  They only know that their fates are entwined and that they will live or die together.

But Invictus has something to say about this.  He unleashes his hideous minions to retrieve Laylah and finally destroy the Death-Knower, the one being in all of Triken that can oppose him.

When you pick up a Jim Melvin novel, you know you’re in for two things:

(1) Melvin excels at world-building.  Triken’s cultures, magic, and monsters all resonate with real-world mythologies.  But Melvin adds unique twists that make them at once familiar and alien. 

(2) Melvin’s Death Wizard Chronicles are adult fantasy.  Make no mistake, this series is far more G.R.R. Martin than J.R.R. Tolkien due to its sexual content and violence.  However, I did not think the sex and violence were gratuitous, and I thought it helped illustrate either the depravity or kindness of the characters. 

Chained by Fear resolves a minor quibble I had with Forged in Death.  Torg was too powerful in book one, and nothing could hurt him unless he allowed it.  It’s the challenge that Superman's writers have dealt with for decades: how do you make readers worry about a character who can’t be hurt? 

Melvin solved this by giving Torg cherished friends.  He may not die if he fails, but his friends surely will, and in gruesome ways.  Torg’s adventures were far more harrowing this time around, and gave him the chance to demonstrate his honor and strength while he protected the people he loves.  Melvin nicely sets up a character in Torg who is the polar opposite of the wicked Invictus.  

And the fact they love the same woman will make their inevitable battle viciously personal.  I’m looking forward to it.

Highly recommended.

Chained by Fear, and the Death Wizard Chronicles, are available on Amazon.


[Note:  Chained by Fear was purchased by the reviewer.]