Launch Day – Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl


You’ve seen the cover already. Now you have a chance to buy the book or ebook. Award-winning Christian fantasy author Anne Elisabeth Stengl released Golden Daughter today, the latest in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

She held a Facebook Launch Party chat tonight, with the promise of some nice prizes for those participating and sharing about her book (I already bought a copy, so I’m not actually posting this for prize points). The reason I mention this is because points for sharing are good for twenty-four hours, so anyone can still jump in and get their name in the mix to win free books.

And now a little bit about the book. Published by Rooglewood Press, this young adult novel is 584 pages long (so you get your money’s worth), and has already garnered some nice reviews. Here’s the intro:

BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS
IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED.

Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.

But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?

For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.

Golden Daughter excerpt

The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 1


Illustration by Andrew Peterson

Illustration by Andrew Peterson

The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson is the fourth and final installment in the Wingfeather Saga. It’s a worthy conclusion to this wonderful series. Coming in at over 500 pages, you might even say it’s an epic ending. Not that length alone makes something epic, but that’s a discussion for another day.

First I want to offer an alternative title to this young adult fantasy—one I’d be surprised if Andrew Peterson didn’t consider. Half way through the book, which picks up the Wingfeather Saga right where The Monster In The Hollows left off, I thought, Shouldn’t the Song Maiden be in the title? I mean, it seemed at that point that the Song Maiden played as significant a part in the unfolding events as did the Warden and the Wolf King.

I eventually dismissed the idea, thinking The Warden, The Song Maiden, And The Wolf King might be too cumbersome a title. (Although, it would be right in line with book 1, On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness. ;-) )

Since then, however, I thought, why not keep it simple? Why not The Jewels Of Anniera, the jewels being none other than the Song Maiden, the Warden, and the Wolf King. But alas, Andrew didn’t ask my advice, so I’m left, of necessity, to devote at least one post to song and the Song Maiden.

Since Andrew Peterson is a singer and song writer by day and a novelist in his “spare time,” it’s really no surprise that Song takes a prominent place in the story, starting with the inside of the book jacket which displays what I conclude to be the words of a song, since they are ascribed to Armulyn the Bard:

The world is whispering—listen child!—
The world is telling a tale.
When the seafoam froths in the water wild
Or the fendril flies in the gale.

When the sky is mad with the swirling storm
And thunder shakes the hall,
Child, keep watch for the passing form
Of the one who made it all.

Listen, child, to the hollish wind,
To the hush of heather down,
To the voice of the brook of the stony bend
And the Bells of Rysentown.

The dark of the heart is a darkness deep
And the sweep of the night is wide
And the pain of the heart when the people weep
Is an overwhelming tide. . .

The Bard himself played a part early in the Saga. According to the Encyclopedia of terms at the Wingfeather Saga website, the Bard is

a songwriter and singer known throughout Skree for his soul-stirring songs about Anniera. He claimed to have been there once in his youth, and sang about it ever since. Armulyn was famous for his bare feet, his raspy voice, his kindness, his rascally disposition toward Fangs and oppressors, and his sharp odor.

You’ve heard of fan fiction, I’m sure. But what about fan music? Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, and particularly Armulyn the Bard inspired a soulful piece you may wish to hear.

The song inside the dust jacket is only a hint of what is to come inside the book. As it happens, music is a major aspect of the plot, and of course the star of much of it is the Song Maiden—Janner’s little sister, Leeli.

I’ll take this opportunity to mention that tomorrow, July 22, 2014, the official release party for The Warden And The Wolf King will take place in Nashville. I mention this because, among all the delightful happenings in this party that sounds like it really is a party, Andrew’s daughter Skye (the inspiration for Leeli Wingfeather) will be on hand to sing “My Love Has Gone Across the Sea” (from The Monster in the Hollows) with none other than the author himself. (You can see all the details for the party at the Wingfeather Saga site, and those in the Nashville area would be remiss if they didn’t attend.)

I’ll be honest. I’m trying to discuss song in The Warden And The Wolf King without giving any spoilers. The problem is, at every turn it seems impossible to discuss the use of music without saying too much.

In the end, the music of the book is much the same as the music of real life. It defeats doubt and darkness and the evil that would come against us. It summons beauty and power. It opens doors and heals hearts. It’s simply one of the greatest weapons a child of the true King has over the Evil One. And yet it takes a person of courage and conviction and perseverance to continue giving the music in the face of discouragement and exhaustion and fear, sometimes even despair.

Perhaps I should stop trying to explain what music means to this story and let the epigraph by George MacDonald say it for me:

“I dreamed of a song—I heard it sung;
In the ear of my soul its strange notes rung.
What were its words I could not tell,
Only the voice I heard right well,

A voice with a wild melodious cry
Reaching and longing afar and high.
Sorrowful triumph, and hopeful strife,
Gainful death, and new-born life. . .”

I’ll add one more tidbit. The use of song in this story reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses:

He put a new song in my mouth,
A song of praise to our God;
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:3)

For me, the new song is actually a story, but how cool that for Andrew Peterson, his is a song and a story.

See what other participants in the CSFF Blog Tour for The Warden And The Wolf King are saying.

CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 2


SafeLandslogo

Second Books

Most fantasy series are actually one story told in multiple books. The Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson is no different. The story opened with Captives, continues with Outcasts, and concludes with Rebels, due out this summer. Which makes the January CSFF Blog Tour feature the second book in the series.

More often than not readers find second books to be a bit of a let down. In writer parlance, some suffer from “sagging middle” syndrome. Often times the pace seems slower, with nothing of particular note taking place, and/or a “been there, done that” feel to the plot.

For example, the second book in the Hunger Games series, once again threw the heroine, Katniss, back into the games she had just conquered.

None of this is so for Jill’s Outcasts. This book two is a different story while still moving toward a resolution of the greater question.

For one thing, the protagonist is a different character. Yes, there are multiple points of view and the same characters that appeared in Captives are also in Outcasts, but this is predominantly the story of a different individual than was the first book.

In addition, there isn’t any territory covered in the first book that’s repeated in this one. Sure there are similarities. After all, the story is about escape, and there are many people who need to get away. But the circumstances are different, the people are different, the methods are different, the dangers are different.

In short, rather than sagging, this second installment of the Safe Lands series ramps up the tension. I haven’t gone back to compare ratings or comments with the reviews CSFF participants gave Captives, but the comparatives I’m reading would indicate that Outcasts is an even stronger book than Captives.

Here’s a sampling:
* “Outcasts is a first-class dystopia – realistic characters in a riveting but believable world that brings all sorts of ideas into play against each other. I am planning to continue with the Safe Lands series; this is a world still to be explored – beginning with what, exactly, it means to be liberated.” Shannon McDermott

* “If Outcasts is any example, this series should end in a fantabulous manner. . .” – Meagan @ Blooming with Books

* “I actually really like Mason, Shaylinn, and even Omar, as well as the rebel Zane–so much that I actually very much care what happens to them, something I don’t feel at all in maybe half the books I read.” – Julie Bihn

Clearly, there’s no drop off with Jill Williamson’s book two. Readers are in safe hands!

But again, don’t take my word for it. Check out what the other tour participants are saying. You might want to read Nissa’s insightful comparison between The Safe Lands series and Hunger Games.

Or how about Julie Bihn’s revelation of Safe Land SimTag technology, or something quite similar, in existence today.

There are others (see all links at the bottom of my Day 1 post) you won’t want to miss.

You also might enjoy exploring the Safe Lands site. Lots to see and do.

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 7:01 pm  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Shadow, Day 1


Sandys,_Frederick_-_Morgan_le_FayRobert Treskillard‘s Merlin’s Shadow, book 2 of the Merlin’s Spiral trilogy is this month’s CSFF feature. Personally I’m quite happy about this because it is in these short days of winter that I so often have a craving for epic fantasy. Merlin’s Shadow has been the perfect remedy.

In the first installment of the series, Merlin is a blind son of the local blacksmith, hardly the wizard we associate as King Arthur’s close adviser. In Merlin’s Shadow, however, some of the pieces of the well-known Arthurian legend begin to fall in place.

Merlin’s Blade already introduced readers to the mysterious Lady of the Lake and to the sword Excalibur and showed the connection to Arthur.

In book 2, readers learn how Merlin became the target of his great enemy and Arthur’s nemesis, Morgana, also known as Morgan le Fey. In Treskillard’s imaginary take on the story, Merlin has a younger sister who he tries to care for and protect. In fact, he lost his eyesight in an attempt to save her from a pack of wolves.

But all changed at the end of Merlin’s Blade, including Merlin’s blindness and his ability to watch over his sister. Left to her grief and the wiles of her druid grandfather, little Ganieda discovers a connection with an ancient dark power.

What do the legends say of Morgana? Of all the characters connected to the Arthurian legend, she seems to have the most checkered reputation. Until more recently she was known as the offspring of a fairy or a demon and a human; an enchantress; the ruler and patroness of an area of Britain; a close relative of King Arthur.

Her traits reportedly resemble those of many supernatural women in Welsh and Irish tradition. She’s often associated with the supernatural ability to heal but also with various promiscuous relationships. One legend has Lady Guinevere expelling her from the court because of her “string of lovers.”

The stereotypical image of Morgan is often that of a villainess: usually a seductive, megalomaniacal sorceress who wishes to overthrow Arthur (from “Morgan le Fey”).

More recently, however, she’s been re-imaged by feminists as an example of feminine strength and spirituality in line with the beliefs of the ancient Celtic people.

Certainly her development in Treskillard’s The Merlin Spiral trilogy is one of the intriguing story threads. She plays an integral part in Merlin’s Shadow as an antagonist but also is a sympathetic figure at times, a wayward child in need of a guide.

In essence, Merlin chooses to care for and guard Arthur instead of Merlin’s sister. How different would these fictitious events have been if Merlin had chosen otherwise? It’s interesting to consider.

In addition to Morgana, Merlin’s Shadow also brings us the beginning of the Knights who would form the heart of King Arthur’s court–those of his famous Round Table. Piece by piece, Treskillard’s story is setting up the traditional Arthurian tale.

The CSFF tour is well underway and those participating have much to say about this outstanding addition to the lore of King Arthur. Click on the links below to read their thoughts.

(Check marks link directly to a blog tour post).

Remembering C. S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters


lewis_Screwtape_Letters_coverThis year marks the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death. He, like President John F. Kennedy and author Aldous Huxley, died November 22, 1963. As part of the tribute (over at Spec Faith I’ve already written this post and this commemorating his life and writing) to this man who has influenced so many Christian writers, I thought it appropriate to let his writing speak for him.

So here is a flavor of The Screwtape Letters, one of my favorites of C. S. Lewis’s fiction.

My Dear Wormwood,

I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naif? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the daily press, radio, television and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous–that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awaken the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real.”

Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh, that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s) you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the Metropolitan Library. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact, much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true. He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about “that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberration of mere logic.” He is now safe in Our Father’s house.

You begin to see the point? Thanks to the processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things. Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch or see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life.” But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modern investigation.” Do remember, Wormwood, you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

(pp 21-23, The Screwtape Letters)

Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour-Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 3


merlinsbladeAs I have of late, I’ve reserved this third day of the CSFF Blog Tour for my review of our feature–this month, Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard.

The Story. Merlin is near-blind, with facial scars–hard circumstances for a teen. What’s worse, he becomes the subject of bullying by the Magister’s n’er-do-well sons. His one friend, an orphaned boy living with the monks in the abbey, opens the door to trouble when he “borrows” a wagon to help them complete their errands. On the way home, he stops to investigate who might be roasting chicken in the woods. Soon the whole village learns what the two boys encountered—a druid priest and a rock of mysterious power capable of seducing or harming those who look into the glow shining from within.

Strengths. Merlin is the first strength of this story. He is a winsome character, in part because of his selfless qualities. When protecting his little step-sister from a pack of wolves, he ended up with scars that cover his face and with the loss of most of his vision. He’s not a whiner though, and works hard to do his share to help his blacksmith father. He’s also loyal and sacrificial. When his friend is condemned to be whipped for stealing the wagon, Merlin steps in and takes the punishment for him.

The other characters in the story are well drawn and believable, as is Merlin, but I connected with him right away and therefore cared what happened to him from the start.

The second great strength of the book is that it weaves in a familiar myth without calling attention to it. For most of the book it was easy to think I was simply reading a story about a teen boy set in Medieval England, not a story about the wizard of the Arthurian legend. At the same time, the history and setting seemed so true. I wasn’t ever weighed down with facts or description, but I felt as if I was transported to a time in England when political unrest was married to spiritual confusion.

The third great strength in Merlin’s Blade is the exciting story. The central conflict is a power struggle between a druidic priest and the followers of Jesu. Each person in Merlin’s village must take a stand. And when the high king arrives, it becomes clear that the druids plan to take back all of England for the ancient gods they serve. Merlin, of course, takes a central role in the events.

The fourth great strength arises naturally from who Merlin is and from the conflict driving the story. I’m thinking of the many truths embedded within the story–never preached, but lived out by the characters. One such truth is shown in Merlin’s near-blindness which actually protects him from the lure of the stone. God’s Word teaches us that when we are weak, then we are strong.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Whether this was an intentional truth woven into the story, I don’t know because it wasn’t one preached by any of the characters. Merlin simply had a weakness that became the saving strength. Other themes are handled in the same way.

I’ll add one more strength. The story is well written. I marveled at how well I could “see” the world despite the fact that for the most part the story was told from half-blind Merlin’s point of view. There was the richness of other sensory details, but Robert also found ways of including visual description that felt innovative and yet completely true to the character and the circumstances.

Now that you’ve read the long version, here’s my opinion in short: Merlin’s Blade is a masterful story, well told. Robert completely disarmed me of my prejudices against reading another story derived from the Arthurian legend. Fantasy–not just Christian fantasy–is richer because of this book. Which, I’m happy to say, is the first in a trilogy. Book two, Merlin’s Shadow, is due out this fall.

Weaknesses. I’m pretty much bypassing “weaknesses.” Anything I put would be picky and forced. Some people thought the book started slow. I didn’t. Some people thought the prologue was confusing. I did too, until I remembered that prologues are either about a different character or a different time. This prologue was vital, as it turns out, and makes complete sense later–just not at first. A plot point or two might have had some small weakness, but they aren’t worth mentioning. I doubt most readers would consider anything amiss, or care, if they did. (I’m in the latter group).

Recommendation. Merlin’s Blade is a must read for fans of the Arthurian legend and for fantasy fans of all stripes. This trilogy could be considered an important contribution to the historical/myth fantasy genre. I also highly recommend this one to any readers who love a good story. The target audience is young adult, but the book easily spans the gap between twelve and adult.

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book as part of the CSFF Blog Tour in exchange for my honest review.

Fantasy Friday – New Books On The Horizon


It’s always fun to get a sneak peak at books that have just release or that will come out shortly. Here are the newest Christian speculative novels I know of.

a hero's throne cover

A Hero’s Throne by Ross Lawhead, Thomas Nelson (January 2013)
YA fantasy
Ancient Earth Trilogy, Book 2

Deep beneath the streets of England lies another realm . . . one few in our modern world know exists. Daniel and Freya, however, know it all too well. Eight years ago, these friends first journeyed through portals into the hidden land of Niðergeard—discovering a city filled with stones, secrets, and sleeping knights that serve to protect the world they call home.

But Niðergeard has fallen to dark forces, overrun by its enemies. Gates are being opened between the worlds that should have been kept closed. The battle lines for the war at the end of time have been drawn, and opposing forces are starting to gather.

Having served for centuries as the first and last outpost at the borders to other worlds, Niðergeard must be reclaimed and the mystery of its fall discovered. Daniel and Freya, along with an ancient knight and a Scottish police officer, must return to the legendary city, rally the surviving citizens, and awaken the sleeping knights—knights who are being killed, one by one, as they sleep.

But time is running out faster than they know.

the crystal scepter coverThe Crystal Scepter by C. S. Lakin, Living Ink Books/AMG (Jan 2013)
Fifth in the Gates of Heaven series
YA Fairytale

When Pythius, the wicked young king of Paladya, learns of the hidden realm of Elysiel and the crystal scepter that protects that northern land, he journeys to kill the Keeper and steal the scepter. But his defiant act unleashes a terrible curse, and the Seer foretells his death one day at the hand of his son, now a newborn babe. To thwart the prophecy, he attempts to murder his child, but the queen escapes and sends the babe off in a trunk across the sea, where he is found and raised by a humble fisherman.

Years later, Perthin, the cast-off babe now grown, hears his call of destiny, and is visited by a specter who tells him of the land of Elysiel and of the Gorgon—the evil creature fomenting war in the Northern Wastes. Perthin’s village of Tolpuddle is being ravaged by a monstrous sea beast sent by this enemy, and Perthin accepts the challenge to kill the creature by cutting off its head—although anyone who looks upon it turns to stone. Armed with magical shoes and a legendary sword, Perthin arrives in Elysiel, where the trolls lead him to the ice cavern where the sacred site made of crystal slabs awaits him to show him his future. Perthin feels a strange connection to this land, unaware that he is the heir to Elysiel’s throne.

With the help of heaven’s army, Perthin bests the enemy and returns to stop the sea monster as the beast is ravaging the kingdom of Paladya. He rescues the princess, who has been set out in the harbor as a sacrifice for the beast, and then stops the sea monster by exposing it to the Gorgon’s head, yet through his heroic efforts he unknowingly fulfills the prophecy foretold by the Seer. He returns to Tolpuddle a hero, where many surprising revelations await him as to his heritage and legacy, for he learns he is not truly a fisherman’s son but a king foretold.

the darker road coverThe Darker Road by L. B. Graham, Living Ink/AMG (February 2013)
Wandering Series
YA fantasy

The empire of Eirmon Omiir, king of Barra-Dohn, couldn’t be stronger. He rules all Aralyn with an iron hand. Meridium, the metal alloy that is both the source and currency of power throughout the world was discovered in Barra-Dohn and Barra-Dohn remains dominant because of it.

The family of Eirmon Omiir couldn’t be more fractured. Eirmon cares for little beyond the power of his throne and his own personal pleasure, and the sins of the father have had generational consequences. Eirmon’s son, Kaden, has reaped their bitter harvest. His marriage is in shambles, a deep divide separating him from both his wife and his son.

A series of mysterious visitors begin to converge on Barra-Dohn, each with their own secrets and motives. There is the elderly Devoted, with his impossible prophesy that the mighty Barra-Dohn will fall within 40 days, the pair of Amhuru, legendary wanderers, who have come to take back what was stolen, and the Jin Dara, who brings an army and an ancient thirst for vengeance.

The events that follow and the crisis that emerges offer both Eirmon and Kaden a chance at restoration, to rise above their past failures, even as the world around them falls apart. Kaden seizes this chance, a small mercy in the midst of a greater judgement. Eirmon does not, and his fate is sealed. And so is the fate of the world, for the end of Barra-Dohn is the beginning of The Wandering, and everything hangs in the balance.

broken-wings-coverBroken Wings by Shannon Dittemore, Thomas Nelson (February 2013)
YA supernatural
Book Two of the Angel Eyes Trilogy

Angels with wings of blade. Demons with renewed sight. And a girl who has never been more broken.

Brielle has begun to see the world as it really is, a place where angels intermingle with humans. But just when she thinks she’s got things under control, the life she’s pieced together begins to crumble.

Her boyfriend, Jake, is keeping something from her. Something important.
And her overprotective father has turned downright hostile toward Jake. Brielle fears she’ll have to choose between the man who’s always loved her and the one who’s captured her heart.
Then she unearths the truth about her mother’s death and the nightmare starts. Brielle begins seeing visions of mysterious and horrible things.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s been targeted. The Prince of Darkness himself has heard of the boy with healing in his hands and of the girl who saw through the Terrestrial veil. When he pulls the demon Damien from the fiery chasm and sends him back to Earth with new eyes, the stage is set for the ultimate battle of good versus evil.

Brielle has no choice. She must master the weapons she’s been given. She must fight.
But can she fly with broken wings?

A-Cast-of-StonesA Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr, Bethany House (February 2013)
Adult epic fantasy
The Staff and the Sword, Book 1

The Fate of the Kingdom Awaits the Cast of Stones

In the backwater village of Callowford, roustabout Errol Stone is enlisted by a church messenger arriving with urgent missives for the hermit priest in the hills. Eager for coin, Errol agrees to what he thinks will be an easy task, but soon finds himself hunted by deadly assassins. Forced to flee with the priest and a small band of travelers, Errol soon learns he’s joined a quest that could change the fate of his kingdom.

Protected for millennia by the heirs of the first king, the kingdom’s dynasty nears its end and the selection of the new king begins–but in secret and shadow. As danger mounts, Errol must leave behind the stains and griefs of the past, learn to fight, and discover who is hunting him and his companions and how far they will go to stop the reading of the stones.

the ravaged realm coverThe Ravaged Realm by D. Barkley Briggs, AMG/Living Ink (February 2013)
YA fantasy
The Legends of Karac Tor, Book 4

With the Nine Worlds facing a judgment of fire, Karac Tor stands on the brink of civil war and despair. A true prophet must be found, but he’s lost…somewhere in North America.

Determined to fight for the land, Arthur and Corus take their case all the way to the White Abbey, hoping to receive a blessing for their efforts. But time is of the essence, and Cassock, having delivered the deceptive gift of the Lost Oracle to the High Synod, has cleverly begun sowing the Devourer’s lies and confusion into the fabric of the Three Holy Orders. Has the sacred Book of Law really been expanded, or annulled? And if the Nine Gifts are to be abandoned, does the White Abbey finally reign supreme above all others?

Gabe, dramatically increasing his power to communicate with animals, ventures into the forbidding Highlands to find and rescue Flogg from the dreaded Stone Moot. Little does he understand the series of events this will unleash. Meanwhile, Arthur, refusing to play politics, discover that a small army has been secretly waiting for him to finally take charge. Setting out to make trouble for Kr’Nunos, Arthur and Corus finally confront the strange, beastly Ravers that are wreaking havoc across the land. Driven by enemies within and without, the Royal Kingdom of Karac Tor is swiftly unravelling, standing on the brink of civil war.

Meanwhile, back on earth, Reggie, Odessa and her children find themselves thrown across the Nine Worlds on a desperate quest to find and rescue the mysterious Lost Prophet, a great bird whose legendary power is woven into the history of our own world. Forced into hiding among the Native tribes of pre-Columbian America, Rianor is the last messenger and signal-bearer, whose final cry will usher in the War of Swords, and hopefully, summon Aion to return and save his people. But first they must find him and free him, before the Devourer brings ruin to all.

CaptivesSafeLandscoverCaptives by Jill Williamson, Zondervan (April 2013)
YA Dystopian Science fiction
The Safe Lands, Book 1

One choice could destroy them all. When eighteen-year-old Levi returned from Denver City with his latest scavenged finds, he never imagined he’d find his village of Glenrock decimated, loved ones killed by enforcers, and many—including his fiancee, Jem–taken captive. Now alone, Levi is determined to rescue what remains of his people, even if it means entering the Safe Land, a walled city that seems anything but safe.

Omar knows he betrayed his brother by sending him away to Denver City, but helping the enforcers was necessary. Living off the land like nomads and clinging to an outdated religion holds his village back. The Safe Land has protected people since the plague decimated the world generations ago … and its rulers have promised power and wealth beyond Omar’s dreams. Meanwhile, Jem is locked in a cell, awaiting the Safe Landers’ plan to protect their future by seizing her own. Can Levi uncover the truth hidden behind the Safe Land’s facade before it’s too late?

Fantasy Friday – A Review: The Sword Of Six Worlds


sword of six worlds coverMatt Mikalatos, known for his humorous quasi-autobiographical contemporary adult fantasies, Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christians, has shifted gears, proving yet again how talented he is. His latest book, released last December in paper, is a middle grade fantasy entitled The Sword of Six Worlds, Book One in the Adventures of Validus Smith series.

The Story. Validus Smith and her best friend Alex Shields know something is seriously wrong when their substitute teacher takes the side of the class bully. When he changes into a creature with fangs and tries to attack Validus, they escape by following two new students through a hole into a different world–one in which animals talk.

The “new students,” in fact, are animals–a tiger and a horse–who only took human form to bring Validus back to their world. They have been informed that she is the new paladin, and they desperately need her help in fighting the Blight which is bent on turning a series of worlds into dead planets. And so the adventure begins.

Evaluation. The Sword of Six Worlds is a delightful story. Both Validus and Alex are well painted. In their own world they are smart, obedient, polite, and survivors of the constant torture Jeremy Lane inflicts upon them with his words and his fists. In other words, they are sympathetic characters.

They aren’t perfect, and they have quirks. For example, Alex doesn’t text Validus to let her know he’s coming over, or even ring the doorbell. He tosses rocks at her window. Validus’s mother is always checking her temperature, worried she has a fever, and her dad is constantly reminding her not to lose her temper at school.

While Validus discovers she is the paladin, Alex discovers he is unique as well. They both have larger-than-life callings and they grow into their roles as events demand. They’re also fiercely loyal to one another, in spite of fears, and end up making other friends that are just as faithful.

The plot moves at a quick pace, with lots of tension. The story is not predictable, until perhaps towards the end–but then, it’s the end, so you can hardly say the story is unsurprising. As a matter of fact, I thought there were several unforeseen events.

I also like the cool fantasy elements. The talking animals worked, and Mikalatos played with them at times to give the story a bit of his humor.

The armadillo settled his monocle onto his needle nose, giving him an enormously magnified right eye. He twiddled his claws together in a nervous gesture, then motioned for the rat to climb back up with the scroll. Just as the rat reached the top, Benjamin [the tiger] cleared her throat and said, Yorrick.” The armadillo was so startled he knocked the poor rat to the ground again. The rat squeaked his displeasure and then lay on the ground, wrapped in the scroll like a toga. The armadillo slowly peeled his fingers from his eyes and peered out at Benjamin. “Ah,” he said. “You must learn not to use someone’s name without warning him.”

Better still was the Rock of Many Names and the things the rock mage could do. In all, the setting adds to the enjoyment of the story.

The plot certainly held my attention, but there were a couple places where I could see a need for improvement.

One is a situation that arose because Validus didn’t speak up. She was asked to speak up and she gave an answer, but when it became apparent she’d been misunderstood (and it should have been apparent right away), she did nothing to correct the mistake. This not speaking up continued for several chapters and actually led to a major plot point. Characters that don’t speak up generally irritate me, and I was feeling frustrated with Validus because a major dangerous situation could have been avoided if she’d answered the questions clearly, or at all.

The other point I thought could be strengthened was the climax. Up to that point, I had abandoned myself to the story and it proved to be as believable as discovering a world inside a wardrobe or having tea with a Faun. I loved it. The end, however, seemed a tad rushed, which made some of the elements seem not as believable as those at the beginning.

Recommendation. I’m excited to find this wonderful story that introduces the Architect who created the passageways between worlds and who guides the paladin. It’s a delightful tale middle grade children will enjoy, whether they read the book themselves or whether an adult is reading it to them. I highly recommend The Sword of Six Worlds to parents who want a fast-paced fantasy for their middle grader. This one will hold their interest and entertain from start to finish.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher free of cost.

Gettin’ To Be THAT Time Of Year


I can feel it coming on. I’ve noticed it more the last few years, but no doubt it’s been part of my makeup for some time. Call it the Fantasy Itch.

Yep, for some reason as the “holiday season”–usually defined here in the US as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day–approaches, I begin to have an urge to snuggle in with one of the great fantasies. In recent years I’ve used the occasion to reread the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, much of the Narnia series, and a couple of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books. I even reread the one Harry Potter book I own–which made me realize, I definitely want to visit the library and get a couple more to satisfy this year’s fantasy itch.

The odd thing is, I read fantasy all the time–part of the job now, so to speak. I recently finished Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, a general market young adult story, and the beginning of a series touted as “ideal for fans of George R. R. Martin and Kristin Cashore.” Then there was Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, another general market YA. Before that was Shannon Hale’s sequel to Princess Academy, Palace of Stone.

Of course I also read all the books the CSFF Blog Tour features and some I judge for contests and others friends send me. With all this speculative fiction coming out of my ears, why would I want to settle down with a fantasy as a special holiday season activity?

I don’t really have an answer. I think I’ve mentioned this propensity before, either here or at Spec Faith, and kindly commenters have tried to help me make sense of it. It’s still a mystery to me.

Somehow, with shorter days and cooler weather (I realize we here in SoCal aren’t allowed by our Eastern friends to say “cold weather” :lol: ), reading becomes a greater pleasure. But more than that, getting lost in a different world, one so rich it feels real, is pure delight.

Which probably explains why I gravitate to certain books–those classics that have a level of worldbuilding that is a grade above most other fantasies.

Some of these more recent fantasies–not the urban kind or the dystopians–seem to me to be a weak imitation of the medieval world, with different countries, and of course some magic or supernatural power. In other words, I don’t feel transported to somewhere else.

Tolkien’s stories, though supposedly happening on “middle earth,” feel Other. Not unfamiliar or strange, mind you. There are familiar things like inns and ponies and roads and a comfortable fire and birthday parties. But peopling this familiar place are hobbits and trolls and dwarfs and orcs and wizards and dragons and elves. What’s more, there are frightening forests and abandoned dwarf mines that once held an entire city and mountains that turn malevolent and secret stairways and deadly marshes. In other words, along with the familiar are places that enchant and intrigue and even frighten.

Harry Potter is similar. Nothing could be more familiar to most of us than a school, though fewer of us have experienced a boarding school, unless you lived in a dorm during college. But mixed in with what seems so normal–homework and tests and boring lectures and athletic contests–is the special world of wizardry with its hierarchy and governance, games and tradition. And history. A dark history in which a wizard utilizing the dark arts ruled.

Ah, yes, I’m definitely ready to settle down with a good fantasy. It’s that time of year!

Fantasy Friday – The Fall Writers’ Challenge



Technically this Fall Writers’ Challenge isn’t strictly for fantasy. In fact, we’ve already had some entries that would best be described as science fiction or post-apocalyptic. Very creative. But let me back up.

The Challenge I’m referring to is over at Spec Faith. And before those of you who are not writers or who do not favor speculative literature stop reading, let me mention that we especially need readers. But first things first.

We have just two more days for writers to enter a 100-200 word piece into the Fall Challenge. I wrote a first line as a prompt, then your job, should you choose to accept it, is to write what comes next.

Already readers have weighed in, either with comments or the plus side vote–the thumbs up. But starting Monday the Challenge will be all about readers. Then the following week we’ll take the top three and put the challenge to a vote, letting readers pick the best entry and thus the winner of the Spec Faith Fall Challenge.

So, you see why we need both writers and readers. Both are welcome for two more days, then writers will be forced to the sidelines (well, as readers, of course, they can still play. ;-) )

Just to pique your interest a tad more, here’s the first line prompt:

    If dragon hopping was safe, then I wouldn’t have any interest in it, but of course it’s not, so guess where I’m heading.

Now it’s your turn. Why don’t you hop (dragon or otherwise) on over to Spec Faith and join in the fun. :-D

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off  
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