Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

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.]

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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.]

Review: A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr

A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. CarrA Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2013)

The kingdom of Illustra has a mediaeval feel to it, with horses, knights and magic. The story opens with Errol, a homeless youth, seizing the opportunity to deliver a message to a reclusive priest. The money will buy him more ale, which will push back the memories he can’t face.

Errol is the most unlikely of heroes: scrawny, hopeless and addicted to drink. Yet as he’s dragged unwillingly along with the others on a desperate journey, he develops skills and a sense of worth. Something about the lad engaged my interest from page one, before I realized he was the novel’s protagonist. (He wouldn’t like me to use the word “hero.”)

There are plenty of allegorical references to the Christian faith, but not in a way that should limit this book’s appeal to a wider audience. Readers will find the corrupt as well as the pure within Illustra’s church leaders. Indeed, the pure seems the exception rather than the rule.

The magic element comes from those who can cast and read hand-carved lots. To anyone but a reader, the lots look like balls made of wood or stone. To a reader who asks the right question, the lots can reveal truth—and the future.

The novel’s magic and religious systems are well-thought-out, the world feels believably real, and the characters come alive. Errol’s perpetual danger on his journey (and once he reaches his destination) and his transformation along the way, make for a deeply satisfying fantasy read.

Favourite line:

“I am Brother Fenn,” the man in the cowl said. His voice sounded dry, dusty—as if he’d forsaken water when he’d taken the rest of his vows. [Kindle location 1616]

A Cast of Stones is book one in The Staff & The Sword trilogy, and I was happy to discover that books two and three are already available. For more about the author and his books, visit patrickwcarr.com. You can watch a brief trailer for A Cast of Stones, complete with original music: [Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Emissary, by Thomas Locke

Emissary, by Thomas LockeEmissary, by Thomas Locke (Revell, 2014)

Hyam is an honest and unremarkable farmer in a world where magic is only permitted within the confines of  Long Halls: places of training for wizards. He was a Long Hall acolyte for a time, until the wizards threw him out. Not that he wanted to stay. To be an acolyte was much like being a prisoner.

Now, as Hyam reaches his coming-of-age birthday (21), his mother’s deathbed request sends him back to the Long Hall with a message. The unwelcome news he receives there, plus the sudden onset of what seems to be magical ability, thrusts him from his home and into a life of adventure.

Emissary is mainstream fantasy fiction, in the classic reluctant hero’s journey style. It’s been called epic, but I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a fun read with plenty of action and struggle, enjoyable characters and a well-developed world and magic system, but epic fantasy has a weight to it. Emissary, for all the great danger Hyam faces, is a lighter read.

The dangers are huge and at times spectacular, but he always comes through them with ease – even when survival looks impossible at first. [I’m excluding the ending from this comment, because I don’t want to give any spoilers. Perhaps they all die. You’ll have to read the book to find out!]

Thomas Locke is a pseudonym for Davis Bunn, a well-known, award-winning novelist. I understand the choice to use a pen name for this series. It’s an entirely different genre (fantasy instead of suspense) and it’s also a clean mainstream story instead of Davis Bunn’s overtly Christian novels. This way, readers know not to have the same expectations they’d have of his other work.

If you want to know more about Emissary, there’s a free ebook excerpt called The Captive available through the author’s site: The Captive. This may be only available in Kindle format. It’s Joelle’s story (she’s one of the key characters in Emissary). There’s also a book trailer for Emissary and a sample chapter on the Thomas Locke website.

Emissary is book 1 in the Legends of the Realm series, and book 2 is scheduled to release in 2016. Also to come from Thomas Locke is Trial Run, book 1 in the Fault Lines series. This one looks more like science fiction from the brief description at the end of Emissary, and I’m eager to learn more about it.

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

Review: Majai’s Fury, by Valerie Comer

Majai's Fury, by Valerie ComerMajai’s Fury, by Valerie Comer (GreenWords Media, 2014)

In a culture where the water goddess Majai requires every woman’s firstborn as a sacrifice, Taifa has used forbidden herbs to prevent conception. If she’s discovered—or if she’s labelled barren—her own life could be forfeit. Taifa’s one chance to survive comes in the form of a stranger from another land.

The foreigner Shanh brings a message of doom to Taifa’s people—unless they will renounce Majai and follow the true god, Azhvah. Azhvah’s power proves stronger than Majai’s and stronger than the king’s soldiers assigned to kill Shanh. But Azhvah stops intervening when Shanh encounters Taifa.

Could this god mean for them to meet? More troubling still for Shanh, is it possible that Azhvah could really have spoken to Taifa and to her grandmother? Despite the prophetic writings that reject the idea, and without these women undergoing the painful repentance ritual? Especially after Shanh himself has sinned and lost the closeness with his god?

Taifa is out of choices and flees with Shanh, despite their many differences. Majai’s Fury is a novel filled with the danger of pursuit, the clash of religions, values and beliefs, and the forbidden attraction between Taifa and Shanh.

Rich descriptions bring this world to life and draw the reader into the scenes. I found it especially interesting that Taifa’s people, ruled by the water goddess, use water to measure time. The water clock marks time in cylinders, and the citizens use expressions like “a trickle more time” and “mere drops of time.”

Author Valerie Comer is known for her Farm Fresh Romance series, which has a lighter, sweeter tone, but she delivers this intense fantasy novel with equal skill. Her farm lit fans need to know that Majai’s Fury includes more sexual tension (Taifa’s people thrive on promiscuity), but this is still a clean read. We know what’s happening “off-stage” without “seeing” all the details.

For a good idea of the content, preview chapter 1 or use Amazon.com’s Look Inside feature. To learn more about Valerie Comer’s other writing, visit her website.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: One Realm Beyond, by Donita K. Paul

One Realm Beyond, by Donita K. PaulOne Realm Beyond, by Donita K. Paul (Zondervan, 2014)

At 20 years old, Cantor is ready to step from apprenticeship into his role as a realm walker. His first solo assignment? Travel in another realm until he finds the mor dragon who will be his partner.

Cantor knows better than to accept the first dragon he meets, especially since the dragon manages to set himself on fire (while disguised as a haystack). But the dragon, Bridger, keeps following him.

Soon Cantor joins up with two other strangers to this realm and the three humans, plus the dragon and his cat, mount a daring attempt to rescue some imprisoned villagers.

Isn’t the cover art great?

Donita K. Paul’s worlds and cultures are always richly imagined and filled with lifelike details, and here she’s working with a number of different worlds—the different realms which the walkers access through portals.

One Realm Beyond is a good read for the YA market and for adults. The characters are engaging and they take on what looks like an impossible task in their desire to challenge the Realm Walkers Guild’s corruption. The book sets the scene for the series to follow. To me, it feels like two short episodes combined to reach novel length, and I found the transition between them a bit abrupt.

Within the story, the characters face issues and questions common to us here on earth: a ruling council corrupted by greed, places of worship with declining attendance, and the question of why a good deity would allow evil to flourish. For the characters, as for us, there are no easy answers, but Cantor and his friends will fight for justice and not accept the lie of “what can so few do against so many?”

Donita K. Paul is known for her young adult fantasy novels and the dragons she brings to life in them. I didn’t realize she’s also the author of a number of romances, under the names Kathleen Paul and Donita Kathleen Paul. Visit donitakpaul.com for more about the author, or click here to read a sample chapter of One Realm Beyond.

[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]