Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

A Circus in Space?

A girl in hiding. A boy on the run.
The fate of the galaxy between them.

And only 4 days left for you to get in on the early action!

After March 31, 2023, you’ll have to wait for the standard book release instead of getting the early release and potentially some very cool swag (depending on the level you choose). Read on…

Remember the cover reveal I shared earlier this month? Suspended in the Stars is book 1 in what author E. A. Hendryx describes as “a fast-paced and swoony YA science fantasy trilogy about a circus in space.”

I’m in! Even if that sounds too “out there” for you, do check out the book’s Kickstarter page. Have you ever seen sprayed books? Or books with handpainted edges? The art is beautiful.

Click for Kickstarter details

If you’re not familiar with crowdfunding like this: there are various tiers of sponsorship. The lower ones will get you early access to the ebook, while the higher ones will get you more. This project originates in the US and most options requiring shipping are US-only, but there are some fun digital benefits as well for the rest of us.

This Kickstarter runs from March 10th-31st and met its initial funding goal in less than 24 hours. That’s amazing, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still join in. Emilie has built in a number of additional stretch goals which unlock further treats for supporters. Crowdfunding will enable Emilie to put out her book as an early release ebook, paperback, audiobook, and Kickstarter limited edition hardcover (with bonus content) all with fun swag *before* the book releases at the end of the year. See the Kickstarter page for more details!

Suspended in the Stars is the first book in the Xerus Galaxy Saga. It is the story of a girl in hiding who teams up with a rogue soldier to save a galaxy ruled by a corrupt governing council. It’s “The Greatest Showman” meets “Star Wars” and is a soft sci-fi with fantasy elements and no spice sizzling romance. 

About the book:

In the Xerus Galaxy, Soaring Staress Talie Zarna is hiding her true identity on the circus spaceship Midway. When she’s forced to shelter rogue soldier, Renner Cartha, it’s easy to see he has secrets of his own. Secrets like evidence of a political assassination he must deliver to the high council. But his former captain, Jas Uli-Tai, is intent on putting an end to him. 

With Jas closing in at every turn, Renner faces the decision to abandon his mission—and Talie—or risk widespread fallout from his failure, but the weight of the galaxy rests on Talie’s shoulders. Is she willing to sacrifice everything—even if that means giving up the boy she loves? 

Here’s the Kickstarter link one more time, to save you scrolling up. It costs you nothing to look, and you (or a science fiction / fantasy lover in your life) may find a new favourite book!

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Cover Reveal! Suspended in the Stars by E. A. Hendryx

I’m excited to take part in the cover reveal and Kickstarter launch for Suspended in the Stars by E. A. Hendryx @createexploreread.

Suspended in the Stars is Emilie’s debut young adult novel and is the first book in a YA science fantasy trilogy. More details below.

A girl in hiding. A boy on the run. The fate of the galaxy between them.

The Kickstarter runs from March 10th-31st and, should it fund, will enable Emilie to put out her book as an early release eBook, paperback, audiobook, and Kickstarter limited edition hardcover (with bonus content) all with fun swag *before* the book releases at the end of the year. See the Kickstarter page for more details!

About the book:

Suspended in the Stars is the first book in the Xerus Galaxy Saga. It is the story of a girl in hiding who teams up with a rogue soldier to save a galaxy ruled by a corrupt governing council. It’s “The Greatest Showman” meets “Star Wars” and is a soft sci-fi with fantasy elements and no-spice sizzling romance. 

Book Review: The Defenders of Practavia, by J. A. Menzies

The Defenders of Practavia, by J. A. Menzies (That’s Life! Communications, second edition 2021)

Two twelve-year-old friends—and a Talking Camel—may be the only hope for a kingdom in danger in this middle-grade epic fantasy novel from author J. A. Menzies.

We have a princess who’s so strong-willed even her mother calls her Princess Persnickety. And we have her unlikely friend, Stefan the stable boy. Soon, they’re joined by Creed the Talking Camel (in a kingdom where Talking Animals are the stuff of fairytales) and the adventure begins.

This book would be ideal for a child who’s an avid reader and isn’t afraid of adult-level words like “persnickety,” or for adults who enjoy reading to children. The narrative has a definite read-aloud feel, with perhaps more description than I expect most kids to want to tackle. Having said that, I heartily encourage them to tackle it—it won’t take long for the story to hook them.

There’s plenty to appeal to kids—and kid-like adults—with the children taking front stage in the action despite the adults’ attempts to keep them out of danger. There are satisfying moments of bad guys being conked by frying pans or running into just-shut doors. There are the previously mentioned Talking Animals, along with a secret history of the kingdom.

For the map-lovers among us, there’s also a map. And for the series-lovers, book 2 is in the works. This story finishes with this book, but there’s definitely scope for more. There’s still a potential threat to the realm, and Stefan, an adopted son of loving parents, finishes book 1 with a growing desire to discover his family history.

J. A. Menzies is the alter-ego of author N. J. Lindquist. Between the two names, this Canadian author has produced mysteries for adults, contemporary coming-of-age stories for young adults, nonfiction material, and now a middle-grade epic fantasy. For more about the author and her books, visit jamenzies.com and njlindquist.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert

The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert

The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert (2021)

Anyone who’s ever asked why bad things happen to innocent people will relate to orphaned teenaged Briar Bishop. While the rich in the kingdom get richer, she’s raising her younger brother in the worst of the slums.

When she receives a mysterious invitation to a contest promising to grant the winner’s deepest wish, she ignores it—until desperation leaves her no choice.

The thing is, she gave up wishing long ago. Then gave up believing in the Wish Keeper (her world’s most powerful magic figure).

The contest will pit her against 11 others, all equally determined. One of them is High Prince Leopold Davenbrook. Leo’s public persona is a daredevil thrill-seeker, but Briar remembers him as a grieving 8-year-old watching the execution of Briar’s mother—for the murder of his.

The characters and their interconnections are richly developed, as are the events of the contest and its settings. The world itself has more technology than I often find in a fantasy novel. They have underground transport and personal communication devices, antibiotics (for the rich), and a form of television. Magic, while still a part of the world, is forbidden due to a past disaster.

One thing that might save you the confusion I had: some chapter titles include a date. That date only applies to that past timeline. Anything without a date at the beginning is the story’s present.

Favourite lines:

Iris screamed—louder this time, as if they all knew the answer but were withholding it from her and if she just raised her voce to the right decibel, they might finally explain. [Kindle page 142]

Good would win. Good had to win. And if good wasn’t winning, then it wasn’t the end. [Briar’s papa’s philosophy. Kindle pages 362-363]

Author K.E. Ganshert describers herself as “an award-winning author torn between two genres.” She writes YA fantasy and contemporary inspirational fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit katieganshert.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Worlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson

Worlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson #Christianfiction #fantasyWorlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson (Little Dozen Press, 2007)

A richly-imagined fantasy set in a vaguely British Isles world, in a time where the weapons are sword and spears, and transportation is by horse, boat, or train.

Maggie Sheffield’s world is upended when she takes on a simple quest that makes her a target for evil beyond her imagination. Along the way, she befriends a boy who can hear what animals say, meets Gypsies and revolutionaries, and learns that there’s more to see than the world around her.

Maggie’s world is the Seventh World, and the other worlds seem to be spiritual realms. There are various types of spirits, some good, some evil. Ruler of all is the King, who loves humans greatly and who left the Seventh World when human rebellion broke His heart. But promise and prophecy say He will return.

Framing Maggie’s adventures are occasional entries from an ancient book written by one who calls himself the Poet, the Prophet. He remained behind when the other spiritual beings left, to leave a record for those whose hearts would one day seek the truth.

On one level, this is a classic fantasy with an oppressive regime and a handful of humans who want a better way. On another, it’s a spiritual allegory I found encouraging for living in my own world, where the key to courage is to remember the King and trust Him.

Worlds Unseen is a clean read with a bit of a C.S. Lewis feel, and although the evil beings and deeds are dark, the author doesn’t stray from fantasy into horror. This is a book both adults and young adults can enjoy. Highly recommended!

The novel is book 1 in the Seventh World series. It’s free in ebook form (also available in print), and well worth reading. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Rachel Starr Thomson writes both fiction and non-fiction, both from a Christian perspective. She’s also a speaker. For more about the author and her work, visit rachelstarrthomson.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr

The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. CarrThe Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2016)

Willet Dura is one of the most interesting characters I’ve “met” in a long time. He may be insane, and he definitely has something nasty locked up in his mind that at times takes control of his actions. But as a reader, I’m on his side and I know he’s one of the good guys. Even though the other “good guys” in the Vigil don’t trust him.

He treats even the lowest with dignity and compassion, he fights for justice, and he loves God. In the world of this series, God is called Aer, and is a triune deity Christians will recognize. There are recognizable spiritual parallels between Willet’s world and ours, but readers of any (or no) faith can enjoy this epic fantasy series with its depth of characters, plot, and setting.

The series is dark in places and heartwarming in others. I did not expect the “aww” moment in this book. (It was a side note, really, but I won’t spoil it. Just watch for Willet to yell at Jeb.) On the other hand, I didn’t expect to be concerned about nightmares over something that happened later, even though it was “off-camera.” I trust the author enough to wait for the next book in the series to find out why he allowed it to happen.

Another thing to appreciate in these books is the occasional bits of humour. Bolt, Willet’s protector, has an endless supply of pithy one-liners that often bring a smile. My favourite from this book:

You look like something the cook should have thrown away.” [Kindle location 1428]

Point of view alternates between first person (Willet’s scenes) and third person for everyone else. The storytelling is immersive, the settings and world-building convincing and complex, and the characters compelling.

The Shattered Vigil is book 2 in The Darkwater Saga, and new readers are strongly urged to pick up the novella By Divine Right as a free ebook to introduce themselves to Willet and his world.

Patrick W. Carr has also written The Staff & The Sword series. For more about the author and his work, visit patrickwcarr.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]


Review: The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr

The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. CarrThe Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2015)

Willett Dura is a member of the local constabulary while in personal service to the King. He’s compassionate to the poor, loyal in his duties, and out of place in the King’s court.

There’s a vault in his mind, a place even he can’t go, linked with his wartime trauma. He’s also a nightwalker, waking in the morning with no memory of leaving his room… but sometimes with bloodstains on his clothes. And always on the night of a murder.

Willett has investigated the killings, found some of the culprits, and he’s mostly sure his own hands haven’t done the deeds. He’s learning to live with the uncertainty, and with the discomfort of being made a minor lord, and anticipating his upcoming marriage.

An encounter with a dying man changes everything. Burdened with an unexpected – and rare – spiritual gift, Willett’s life is upended. He’s thrust into membership in an unseen group called the Vigil, and expected to trust their half-truths about a danger larger than he can imagine.

He didn’t want this gift, and it may cost him everything. But if it’s true that the gift came to him by God’s will, then he may be the Vigil’s best hope of succeeding – even with that vault in his mind.

Patrick W. Carr has imagined a richly-textured world and culture, with enough similarities to mediaeval towns and forests to allow readers to connect. These people’s faith resembles Christianity in the sense that there’s a trinity, one member of whom came to earth to bring salvation. Their worship began with a central church organization, which has split into four Divisions, each emphasizing a key point of doctrine.

Their spiritual gifts, unlike ours, are limited in number and given by God, to be passed down in the family. If someone dies unexpectedly, their gift will go free, and be directed to a new recipient. Killing a Gifted to steal a gift is a major crime.

The Shock of Night is an excellent read. I took a few chapters to be fully immersed, likely acclimatizing to the culture, but I’m happy to say the Darkwater Saga series is starting off every bit as strong as the author’s previous series, The Staff & the Sword. This is a book you can read and re-read, think about and discuss. It has enough meat to satisfy a literature class, while delivering a smoothly-flowing and enjoyable read for people who just want a really good tale.

Amid the action and intrigue, one subtle thread I appreciated was the illustration of how long-term mindsets of bitterness or complaining could destroy even the most outwardly-upright individuals. Willett’s surname, Dura, speaks of his strength and endurance. In a world of ease and suffering, he tries to make a difference.

I also appreciated the writing itself, and the occasional sparks of humour. Some of my favourite lines:

His face had taken on the stillness men wear when they’ve no choice but to swallow their anger. [p. 47]

The familiar ache of what I’d lost in the last war pulled at my insides like scar tissue covering a wound in my soul. [p. 55]

The part of my brain where I kept my common sense rebelled at the idea. As usual it lost almost immediately. [p. 357]

The novel is mostly written in the first person, from Willett’s point of view. Other scenes in third person let readers learn what’s happening when he’s not in the room, and this is integral to the story. I didn’t find it jarring like I usually do.

This is a clean fantasy novel with elements of Christian allegory, suitable for believers and non-believers. At around 460 pages, it’s heavy, so an ebook version might be a plus despite the high price. (It’s my review, I can say it: pricing an ebook over $10 offends me, and only books of this high a calibre deserve the $10 price.)

Do take advantage of the free ebook novella prequel, By Divine Right (find it at your favourite online bookstore). Even if you don’t like ebooks, grab this one and read it on your computer, tablet or phone. The apps for Kindle, Kobo, Nook etc are all free. The prequel isn’t required reading for the series, but it gives helpful background, lets you get to know Willett, and it’s a good story in its own right.

Award-winning author Patrick W. Carr’s characters and worlds are nuanced and satisfying, and I highly recommend The Shock of Night and his first series, The Staff & the Sword. For more about the author and his books, visit patrickwcarr.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: A Draw of Kings, by Patrick W. Carr

A Draw of Kings, by Patrick W. CarrA Draw of Kings, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2014)

This review contains spoilers for the previous novels in the series. If you haven’t read them but enjoy clean, epic fantasy and Christian allegory where it’s all story and no preaching, grab an ebook copy of book 1, A Cast of Stones, from your favourite online bookstore (it’s a free download) and check it out. If you’re interested, my review is here: A Cast of Stones.

A Draw of Kings is a satisfying conclusion to a series I fully enjoyed. The world-building is rich and detailed, the characters are people I care about, and despite an honest, realistic feel, nothing was upsetting to me as a reader. From the first book, A Cast of Stones, these stories pulled me in, and I wanted to spend more time with the characters.

In this story, the kingdom of Illustra faces attack on multiple fronts. King Rodran has died without an heir, and the protective barrier will fall. The main characters from the previous books split up on various desperate missions, still not knowing whether it’s Errol or Liam who will die to save them all.

None of these characters are perfect or heroic (except, perhaps, Liam) but they fight for their kingdom the best they can. Those who survive come out stronger. And face more challenges.

We need more Christian fantasy fiction of this calibre. For more about the author and his books, including new material releasing this fall, visit his website: patrickwcarr.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dreamlander, by K.M. Weiland

Dreamlander, by K.M. WeilandDreamlander, by K.M. Weiland (PenForASword, 2012)

Dreams weren’t supposed to be able to kill you. But this one was sure trying its best. [Kindle location 91]

What if… when you fell asleep, your dreams were real in another world?

Chris is a Gifted, one of very few who can cross the boundary between our world and the other. Each Gifted is brought to the other world to help in time of need, although the nature of that help isn’t immediately apparent.

We first meet Chris in present-day Chicago, where he’s a journalist afraid of commitment, avoiding his down-and-out father and basically drifting through life. Lately he’s been having strange dreams, and when he falls asleep and catapults into the Kingdom of Lael, all he wants to do is go home and make the dreams stop.

Princess Allara Katadin of Lael is a Searcher. Her role is to locate a Gifted when he or she crosses over, and to help the Gifted acclimatize and fulfill his or her role as that becomes clear. She was a child when her first Gifted arrived, and that episode of her life was a failure. A second Gifted in the same Searcher’s lifetime is practically unheard-of, and it’s the last thing Allara wants.

Lael is a mediaeval-type kingdom, with horses and swords. They do have guns, powered by hydraulics, and cable-cars which connect distant towns. They’re also under threat from a neighbouring country and from a dissenting faction within their own.

The world has different plant and animal life than Earth, including two other bipedal species and a guardian-angel type of being called the Garowai, a wise, mythic-looking creature who only tells Allara as much as she needs to know.

The world-building is thorough and intriguing, different enough to be fun but not deliberately strange to keep readers off balance. The characters and culture are richly-developed and relatable. This is another of those stories I didn’t want to see end. Happily, it’s a long one.

My favourite line:

Chris’s breath, trapped in the back of his throat, seeped free. [Kindle location 2709]

The narrative slips between Lael, where Chris, who doesn’t believe in second chances, desperately needs a way to right the wrong he does in the beginning – and stop a war – and Chicago, where he’s trying to evade a hit-man. Between the two worlds, Chris may gain the wisdom needed to make his life count.

Dreamlander is a satisfying novel, the sort that leaves me mulling it over for a while before I can open another book. K.M. Weiland has two other novels, Behold the Dawn (historical) and A Man Called Outlaw (western), as well as a collection of resources for writers. She has a page on her website with extras and bonus features for Dreamlander, and her Helping Writers Become Authors site has a wealth of writing resources.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Hero’s Lot, by Patrick W. Carr

The Heros LotThe Hero’s Lot, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2013)

The Staff & The Sword series needs to be read in order. And it’s worth reading without seeing the spoilers for book 1 that will appear in the following review of book 2. If you haven’t read book 1, A Cast of Stones, you can see my review here. If it appeals, pop over to your favourite internet bookstore and download the book for free in Kindle, Nook or Kobo format.

I have so many books in my to-read stash that I’d forgotten I had A Cast of Stones until a review caught my interest. It took great self-control not to immediately buy The Hero’s Lot when I finished, and this time I went ahead and bought book 3, A Draw of Kings, to read immediately after book 2. Book 3 is $9.99 Canadian. I’ll only pay that much for an exceptional ebook. This series is worth it.

Enough rambling. Here’s my review of book 2, with the aforementioned spoilers for book 1:

The Hero’s Lot continues the saga of Errol Stone, a reluctant hero who somehow survived the first book. Naturally (for Errol) just when life is looking good, he’s thrown back into danger. This time he’s sent on an impossible quest. His friends Martin and Luis are sent on another path that turns out nearly as dangerous.

The world of Illustra bears a striking similarity to a mediaeval type of Earth, and its religion echoes key elements of Christianity. Illustra’s deity is a Trinity: Deas, Eleison and the “unknowable” spirit, Aurae. Except that the healers, rejected by the official Church (definitely a capital C for this institution) say Aurae communes with them.

Illustra’s Church has many devout priests, as well as others who have done untold harm in its name. Errol knows this better than most, and his pain is almost his undoing. The characters take an honest look at the problem of hypocrisy and abuse of power within the Church, and I think readers who’ve had their own negative experiences with Christians and/or the church will find this series a safe place to be. No pat answers, no denial, but perhaps a gradual presentation of hope.

Lovers of epic fantasy, whether they’re people of faith or not, can appreciate the sweeping nature of the series, with its intricately-crafted world and cultures, characters who inspire loyalty (or enmity), chases, combat scenes, plus threads of romance and the occasional funny line.

Some of my favourite lines:

Questions chased each other through his mind like unruly acolytes playing tag before vespers. [Martin, a priest. Kindle page 58]

“I always think better when I hold a cup of tea,” Karele said. “It keeps my hands from running away with my thoughts.” [Kindle page 75]

Naaman Ru moved through opposition like a phantom, and the touch of his shadow brought death. [Part of a fight scene. Kindle page 423]

I read a lot of books, most of them very good. Sometimes it starts to feel like work. With A Cast of Stones and The Hero’s Lot, I wanted to keep reading and see what happened, but I also wanted to take it slowly so the story wouldn’t end too soon. For me, that’s rare.

It’s also worth noting that the covers for this series are amazing.

Patrick W. Carr is an award-winning author of character-driven fantasy. His new series, The Darkwater Saga, releases this fall. For more about the author or to sign up for his newsletter, visit patrickwcarr.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]