Thursday, March 16, 2023

BOB THE WIZARD by M.V. PRINDLE


THERE WAS NO TURNING BACK NOW. HE WAS LOST IN A FOREST OF WORLDS CONNECTED BY, AS FAR AS BOB COULD TELL, A MAGICAL HIGHWAY CALLED THE ASTRAVERSE. HE'D FIND AND KILL THE GRAY MAN, OR HE'D DIE TRYING.

Where do I even begin telling you about this lovely little gem? 

We’ll start with the title. How could I NOT purchase a book with such a simple, yet intriguing title? Bob the Wizard? Come on! Sounds like a children’s book, although the cover definitely indicates otherwise. The blurb sucked me in even more. Check it.

 “Bob, a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, shotgun-wielding ex-garbage man, chases his family’s killer—the gray-skinned Galvidon—through the realms of the mysterious Astraverse. The trail leads him to Hub, a world in turmoil populated by wizards, blue elves, faeries, giants, dragons, and unfortunately, plain old humans. Chained by his addictions and haunted by his past, Bob must find a way through this dark, magical realm and uncover its secrets, or lose all hope of ending Galvidon once and for all. See through the haze of smoke. Glimpse the dragon. Follow Bob across the Astraverse.”

Worth noting. If you’ve never tried writing a blurb, you’ve no idea how challenging they are. But this is a good one. Moving on…

If travelling through the Astraverse sounds a little sci-fi to you, well, you aren’t wrong. There’s a nice little touch of science fiction thrown in. However, Prindle does an excellent job of painting any science fiction topics with broad fantasy strokes. 

“Someone from his Earth had once said that any technology, sufficiently advanced, was indistinguishable from magic.”

As with all SFF, suspension of belief is necessary to fully grasp what is happening and how high the stakes really are. And the stakes are much higher for the residents of Hub than Bob’s personal vendetta against Galvidon. Culture wars, unexpected friendships, slavery, self-discovery, greed, altruism, religious fanaticism, all collide in glorious technicolor.

We know Bob is on a mission of vengeance when he arrives via Gatekey to Hub. That much is clear from the get-go. Hot on Galvidon’s trail, he quickly finds himself involved in a skirmish with bandits while hitching a ride with a local to the nearest town. The wagon’s owner, and several of the bandits, are killed in the raid and Bob assumes the wagon’s cargo as his raison d’etre for being in the town in the first place. At the city gates, his sunglasses are questioned. He passes them off as wizard glasses and gifts them to the guards. Things go wildly downhill from here for Bob. He is seized by the city watch, thrown into jail, stripped of his belongings (including his shotgun and Gatekey), and enslaved in an iron ore mine. 

While in the mines, he is eventually befriended by the blue-skinned En’harae, or elves, to use the local pejorative. Understandably mistrustful of anyone who resembles their human oppressors, the En’harae are a resilient, gracious people with a rich cultural history. Bob makes in-roads to gaining their trust when he saves their leader, Torael, from being crushed in a mine collapse. He wins them over with his honesty, frank curiosity, attempts to learn their language, and genuine concern for their welfare. Together, Bob and the En’harae plan their escape, the retrieval of Bob’s Gatekey, and Galvidon’s ultimate demise.

Along the way, Bob makes the acquaintance of a real wizard, Bernard, who helps him understand his role in the greater, cosmic scheme of things. Under Bernard’s tutelage, Bob discovers his kinship with the Earth spirit, Erto, and learns to literally move mountains. He is also adopted by a fairy scientist, Osivia, who is fascinated by human behavior and determined to accompany Bob through any adventure. Bernard, Erto, and Osivia are integral players in the En’harae uprising.

Obviously, there’s more to the story than I’m telling but since I’m not a fan of spoilers, that’s all I’ll say here. Bob spends quite a long time on Hub and while the passage of time can be tricky for authors, Prindle does an excellent job navigating this common pitfall. He lingers in the right places and move quickly when the narrative calls for it. It feels like Prindle was inspired by Native American history in his structure and creation of the En’harae. He is respectful without being obsequious or grasping at tropes. Likewise, his treatment of an En’harae ally, the men of the Nine Peaks, leans into Norse legends without treating the Niners like gregarious buffoons. 

Prindle allows his characters to grow and learn, to celebrate their victories and grieve their losses. He gives his readers space to savor each emotion before charging into the next fray. Don’t take that to mean Bob the Wizard is a slow moving narrative. The pace is fast when it needs to be, more relaxed when it can afford it. Prindle’s timing is impeccable. 

Fortunately, the ending is not only supremely satisfying, but also leaves readers wanting more. Thankfully, it seems another installment of Bob is in the works. I look forward to reading it. 

Et tessat sheerat morae. 

May the spirits guide our journeys.

(Did I mention the glossary and maps? No? Well, now I did.)


Monday, March 13, 2023

Demon's Reign by David Estes and Ben Galley


 I’m not sure why I decided to purchase Demon’s Reign, first of the Bloodwood Saga, but whew, I’m glad I did! Of course the only problem with first-in-series books is waiting for the next installment. Alas. 

Anyway, David Estes and Ben Galley knocked it out of the park with this collaborative effort. Wait! I DO know why I picked this one up! I love Ben’s writing style and world building and figured anything he was part of had to be good. (Sorry David, I’m not as familiar with your work. Although, I can promise I’m adding your books to my cart in a multi-tasking marathon while I write this review.) But I digress…

The Swathe is a strictly structured forest realm where citizens live and die according to the orders of their tribes, determined by birth order. 

The first-born shall be the heir.

The second-born the warrior.

The third-born blessed as workers.

The fourth-born owed to the scholars.

The fifth-born to become a healer.

The sixth-born shall forever wander.

Those with the gods’ gift for the sorcers.

These shall be the seven tribes of the Swathe.

THE BLOODLAWS, FIRST WRITTEN IN 1236


Regardless of tribe, most never set foot on the dark and dangerous forest floor, spending all their days in the soaring branches of their bloodwood tree cities. The bloodwoods are the oldest and strongest trees in the Swathe, towering hundreds of feet above the lesser trees in the forest. Hundreds of miles of canopy highways connect the bloodwood cities, stretching all the way to The Scorch, a vast, smoldering, and desolate memorial to the last demon invasion.

Readers are introduced to the Swathe via Tarkosi Terelta, a third-born worker from a disgraced family in Shal Gara, capital bloodwood city of the Swathe. Tarko isn’t the best worker and has failed at more job assignments than he cares to remember. He knows he failed the sorcer’s test as a child but can’t help feeling as though the results were wrong. He is sure he was meant for more than a lifetime of drudgery, working to support every aspect of Shal Gara’s existence. 

We meet Tarko as a lancewings nesthand. Lancewings are the bird-like steeds of the city’s air force. Tending the persnickety creatures and kowtowing to their arrogant riders is his last step before being demoted to the louse mines. Unfortunately, while tending to the lancewings, Tarko’s presence is noted by Eagleborn Haidak Baran, lancewing captain. Haidak’s father, Sage Baran is an advisor to the Matriarch and the nobleman responsible for the Terelta family’s fall from grace. Tarko loses another job and winds up pulling louse from the bloodwood’s core. 

And then the bloodwood city of Firewatch is destroyed. The sun goddess’s is being swallowed by shadow. Wildfires catch hold along the Loamsedge and greedily burn into the forest.

Shal Gara sends an expedition, led by Haidak Baran, to the determine the cause. Kidnapped by the blind beggar Pel, who has an addictive affinity for the drug known as urka seeds, Tarko finds himself swept up in the war party’s caravan. Pel tells Tarko that he suspects there’s more to the strange omens and events than simple marauders from the Scorch. Pel believes demons have returned to the Swathe. Pel isn’t alone is his belief and he is certain Tarko has a role to play in the coming confrontation with the demon invasion. 

The canopy causeway dumps the expedition directly into the hands of a waiting demon horde. Through luck and stolen magic, Tarko manages to survive. Only, his survival is due to the sudden presence of a demon’s spirit living in his head. Pel and his band of believers, known as the Scions, also managed to escape and eventually meet up with Tarko again. Together, the believers and Tarko (with his unhappy and insulting passenger) race back to Shal Gara to tell the truth of what is happening at the forest’s edge. Tarko doesn’t tell them he’s carrying a demon into their midst. The demon’s presence has ignited abilities and talents Tarko was always sure he possessed. He closely guards his secret.

Demons and wildfire are racing towards Shal Gara while the Scions furiously work to prepare the city for the coming onslaught. 

“I grinned around the circle until I caught the fear-soaked gaze of one of the warriors and remembered that none of them had their own private demons.”

Told primarily from Tarkosi’s point of view, Demon’s Reign is an incredible creation of new world and new magic. Estes and Galley provide a gorgeous map of Shal Gara which is immensely helpful for readers learning their way around. The primary characters, both protagonal and antagonal, are fully fleshed out, complicated and fallible. The supporting cast do their jobs very well. Even the animals and insects are compelling.

Because I’m not martially inclined, I often find myself skimming through the twists and turns of highly descriptive fight scenes. Not so here. I read every single word and caught myself bobbing and weaving my head as I dodged fireballs and mud arrows launched from the opposing sides. Estes and Galley absolutely nailed the fine balance between a well-choreographed battle versus an over-done bloodbath.

I prefer my fantasy to be virtually romance free and Demon’s Reign delivered on that front too. Give me swirling magic! The groans of surprising twists! The suspense of betrayal! The villain’s redemption! Yes, yes, yes!

I can hardly wait to return to Shal Gara and the Swathe. You should read this book and join me in anticipation.


Thursday, December 1, 2022

Too Many Books, Not Enough Time - Here's The Highlight Reel

 


Yes, yes...I've been away for far too long. That doesn't mean I haven't been reading up a storm though - because I have. For the comeback tour, I thought I'd share a few books which stuck with me since we last spoke. You know, the kinds of books you'll read more than once and recommend to your friends. 

As you know, I am one of the judges for SPFBO8 with BeforeWeGoBookBlog. (Shout out to Beth Tabler for putting together an incredible team!) With more than 300 entries in this year's contest, the judging teams have been reading like crazy to find this season's winner. Let me tell you, the competition has been fierce and I have been immersed in some truly fantastic fantasy fiction. Four of the books pictured above, Thrice, We Break Immortals, Envy, and Miss Percy's Pocket Guide To The Care & Feeding of British Dragons, were contestants this go 'round. One of them is a finalist. (I'll tell you which one in a bit.) You can get up to speed on SPFBO, Mark Lawrence's brainchild, here if you are interested. The other two, The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin and Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh come from wildly different genres and heartstrings.

I won't eat up your blog reading time with long-form reviews for each of these books but rather will tell you why I loved them, and why you might love them too. 

Thrice by Andrew Meredith is a fast paced yet heart-warming work of fantasy centering around Jovan, a needle-maker, and Leaf, a young boy left in Jovan's care, as they run from nefarious parties seeking to control the endless potential of Leaf's magic. Meredith manages to capture the innocence of childhood without being saccharine sweet and weaves a cast of characters which are simultaneously both honest and duplicitous. This book surprised the sh*t out of me and the ending was superb. 

Thomas Howard Riley's chonky book, We Break Immortals, is a wonderful entry into the epic fantasy rolls and takes readers on a whirlwind exploration of dangerous rogue magicians, those who hunt them, and those who hate them both. Circumstances force unlikely alliances as our heroes, Aren, Keluwen, and Corrin, traverse the wilds in search of a serial-killer magician who has discovered the source of unlimited magic and immortality. Dangerous is an understatement. Took me two weeks to read this book because I was hanging on Riley's every word while he spun the tale. If you're settling in for a long winter's hibernation, Immortals is an excellent choice for companionship.

Envy. Tim Beeden's Envy, second book in his Seven Deadly and Four series, absolutely tickled me to death. Seriously, I read it three times! Beeden brushes up against all the standard fantasy tropes in this story of a wise-cracking, young fiddle player, Charlie Lightfoot, from the Backstreets of Calver who wants nothing more than to make a peaceful living making music. Charlie sets off to explore the world outside Calver in the company of a level-headed friend who never does anything daring and a strong-willed heiress running from the suffocating confines of an arranged marriage. Throw in an extremely jealous and wealthy jilted groom in hot pursuit of the trio and adventures ensue. This small-focus, fellowship fantasy is hilarious and hopeful with a generous dash of sass in the mix. I will probably read it again. If for no other reason than to brush up on my witty retorts. 

One of two traditionally published books on the list, The Librarian Spy by Madeline Martin brought me back to the world of WWII historical fiction. Martin masterfully tells the tale of two women working against Hitler's European invasion from vastly different perspectives. Ava is a librarian from the Library of Congress sent to Portugal, a neutral country during the war, to help the Allies keep tabs on news from occupied countries. Elaine is part of the French Resistance and working as an apprentice at an absolutely illegal printing press deep in France. When Ava realizes someone is sending coded messages requesting assistance for the most vulnerable people in Europe, she works with the information she receives to help those who need it most. The Librarian Spy is Martin's second historical fiction and I'd say it's her best book yet. 

Miss Percy's Pocket Guide To The Care & Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson is an absolute delight and worthy of it's long, lofty title. This Regency Fantasy work drops readers into the life of Miss Mildred Percy's boring life just in time for things to get exciting. A forty-something year old spinster, Miss Percy has been relegated to the role of unpaid nanny for her overbearing sister's children. She is an unread footnote with a meager room under the eaves of a grand house. And then she inherits a dragon egg from her Great-uncle Forthright. Olson writes in much the same way I think and speak (lots of parentheticals and asides) and it was refreshing to trot happily along with Mildred on her unexpected adventures as she tries to raise and protect her fledgling dragon. Apparently I wasn't the only one who enjoyed this book, Miss Percy earned a well-deserved place among the SPFBO8 finalists! Pick this one up. You'll be glad you did. (The second Miss Percy's Guide just published so you can get them both!)

 And finally, the children's classic Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Yes, this is a young reader's book. Yes, I read it for the first time a very, very long time ago. But, while on vacation, I was thinking about all the books I have loved over the years and Harriet was on that list. I decided to read it again and see if she still made the grade. When I was young, I adored Harriet and wanted to be like her. I wanted to know everything about everybody all the time. I even took to carrying around a notebook and making notes all the time. Now, I lived way out in the country so, unless school was in session, there was no way I could "spy" on anyone other than my family. Made for some pretty boring notes most of the time. The idea of prowling around on my own in a big city was tantalizing. Now? Eh...Harriet herself got on my nerves. She's a selfish little brat who's friends were right to be mad at her. It all works out in the end for Harriet and I think she learns some humility. Still, I've got a copy on my bookshelf for any grandchildren who may come along (no rush offspring-o-mine - for real, take your time). I'll just be available for discussion should any of them start toting around notebooks.

Anyway, I'm glad to be back and hope to see you again soon! Happy reading folks!

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Discovering New Fantasy, New History, and Taking a Break


 

In addition to finishing up coursework for my MFA program, I have been a busy little reading bee!

I'll start with the #SPFBO winner from last season, Reign and Ruin by J.D. Evans. For those of you who don't know, the #SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) contest is open to self-published authors only. Each year there are more entries for the all-volunteer judges to consider. Reign set itself apart from the field because it is an excellent example of fantasy romance. The stakes are high. The characters are compelling - even if they are predictably attractive. The plot and sub-plots are superbly executed. And like all romances, the chemistry between the protagonists is steamy. There's not a lot of sex in this book but what's there is tastefully done and just enough to elevate your heartrate. If you're into fantasy romance, you'll probably enjoy this one. I'm not a romance reader generally so...eh. It's good but some of the other finalists would have been my #1 pick.

The Living Waters by self-published author, Dan Fitzgerald, blew me away. The first installment in the Weirdwaters Confluence duology, Living Waters is a sword-free fantasy featuring unconventional relationships redolent in lush landscapes and gut-wrenchingly sympathetic characters. I can't even begin to tell you how beautiful this book is. When two painted-faces, prized for the paleness of their skin, embark on a journey of discovery before settling into their "rightful" places in high society, they each get more than they bargained for. Float along the river with them as they discover legendary places and civilizations are very real and accepted perceptions aren't always true. If I ever get to teach a writing class, this book will be on the list of required reading. It is simply stunning. I've never read anything like it.

The first two books in P.L. Stuart's Drowned Kingdom Saga were challenging. Beautifully written with excellent plotting, solid power structures, and convincing world building, both A Drowned Kingdom and The Last of the Atalanteans are well worth your reading time. What challenged me was the protagonist, Prince Othrun of Atalantea. Sure, the dude faces some horrific obstacles with bravery and honor but man alive! I have never enjoyed a book this much while simultaneously wanting to throat punch the MC. I kept having to remind myself, "It's fiction! It's a book! He's not real!" Othrun is an immature, arrogant, bigoted, chauvinistic, religious zealot with few redeeming qualities. His growth is slow but all signs point to fundamental change in subsequent books. (I mean, Othrun is so bleh that P.L. acknowledged his general unlikableness in the forward of Book #2!) I am looking forward to the next installment to see if Othrun pulls his head out of his butt. 

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree is a shining example of the little book that could. Originally a selp-published work, L&L was picked up by a traditional publisher and has been making waves ever since. Seriously, I found it in the wilds of B&N last week. Super satisfying! Almost as satisfying as reading this book. Viv is an orc mercenary who dreams of opening her own coffee shop in a town where folks don't even know what coffee is. She buys a store front and hires help to make her dream come true. Of course, there's drama and sketchiness and betrayal to go along with the heart-melting, deliciousness of new friendships and self-realization. If you've never experienced what it's like to be hugged by a book, you should drop what you're doing and read this one. Have some coffee and a cinnamon roll while you're at it. Hug your imagination and your tastebuds at the same time. 

Oh my. I recently discovered Ruta Sepetys and y'all...her books are so good! I love a good historical fiction and these are it. Centering around and in historically significant places and events, Ruta draws you into the lives of her historically insignificant characters and makes you care about the everyday people swept up in what's happening around them. Out of the Easy is set in mid-twentieth century New Orleans and tells the tale of a girl who dreams of education as her ticket to escape the brothel-and-crime centered life she was born to. I Must Betray You drops readers into communist Romania just after the fall of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the struggle for democracy in the former Soviet block. While the protagonists are all young adults, the subject matter and consequences are not. You can bet I have more of Ruta's books lined up on my TBR list.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire

 


Inter-dimensional travel? Check!

Snarky, ironic humor? Check!

Demons and cults? Check and check!

I usually avoid science fiction and crime novels. Not because I think there’s anything wrong or bad with these genres but rather because the science is generally over my head, and I am anti-social enough already. I don’t need to learn any new tricks from literary criminals. That said, I happily admit to faulty research before purchasing the self-published Duckett & Dyer series by G.M. Nair.

Little did in know I was in for a hilarious, universe hopping, interstitial bad-guy hunting, against-all-odds story of lifelong friendship and loyalty. Now, the last bit comes off as a tad schmaltzy but in all honesty, that’s the big takeaway from all three books. Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer, no matter how irritated they get with each other, simply do not know how to NOT be friends. And there’s the charm.

Michael Duckett is a neurotic, anxious, keep-your-head-down, worker drone. He has a pointless job with the city’s largest company, The Future Group, and is pretty sure what he does doesn’t matter to anyone in the organization. His paycheck barely covers the bills in the crappy tenement apartment he shares with Stephanie. Michael just keeps on keeping on.

Stephanie Dyer is a larger than life dreamer, into everything while doing nothing. She is positively unpredictable and keeps Michael on his toes. Stephanie Dyer impulsively forges ahead and damns the consequences.

Both have a talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the results are spectacular.

Please Don’t Drink the Poison Even Though You’re Thirsty

In Dicks For Hire, advertisements for the detective agency “Duckett & Dyer, PI’s For Hire” have been popping up all over the city. Neither Michael nor Steph have any idea why. Nevertheless, Michael’s phone rings constantly with potential business. One particularly insistent ‘client,’ searching for her missing fiancĂ©, drags the bickering duo into an investigation which literally opens up the spaces between universes and drags them into the crosshairs of local police detective, Rex Calhoun.

Thanks, In Advance

The One-Hundred Percent Solution sees Michael fired from The Future Group for not being a team player. Worried about keeping the roof of their less-than-desirable step-down apartment/offices over their heads, Michael and Steph are involuntarily recruited to investigate some shady dealings by his former employer. Recruitment along the lines of, “Do this or we’ll kill you. Don’t worry about the assassin running around killing people associated with the company. No pressure. Oh and by the way, you dodged a multi-verse, demon worshipping, cult-bullet by being fired. Good job.” No big deal.

A Talking, Gender-Fluid, Reverse Werewolf

In case you were wondering if Duckett & Dyer ever take on cases which are less universally threatening, well, they do. Kinda. The Mystery of the Murdered Guy jumps from case to case while Michael and Stephanie grow into their roles as entrepreneurial private investigators. The aforementioned reverse werewolf, a very angry otherverse Santa Clause, performative train-jacking, and a lady who keeps losing her cats all make appearances. If you read the first two books, you’ll see some old friends (acquaintances?) along the way.


The Upshot:

G.M. Nair delivers a weird and supremely entertaining triple-hit with this series. The science isn’t overwhelming and rendered believable to non-science readers like me. The crimes are so far beyond human reality that the bad guys don’t have a chance. The humor is slick and smart. Traipse around the multi-verse with Duckett & Dyer for a few days. Maybe you’ll meet yourself along the way.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

History, Fantasy, and Thrilling Romance - OH MY!



After finishing Legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar last month, I thought I'd explore a couple more SPFBO nominated works and let me tell you, they did NOT disappoint. HL Tinsley's We Men of Ash and Shadow introduces us to John Vanguard, background fader and assassin extraordinaire with a checkered reputation and a mission to unravel why the last war happened. Vanguard becomes the unlikely mentor to an aspiring assassin and discovers a revolution in the making. Vanguard finds himself pitted against his equally talented former pupil. This SPFBO finalist, adult fiction book is engrossing and serves as the jumping off point for a new series, The Vanguard Chronicles. Adult themes and subject matter included so maybe not the best idea for young or sensitive readers.

If you're hankering for a new epic fantasy with dragons, minotaurs, vampires, demons, good vs. evil, and strange magics, SPFBO nominee The Forever King by Ben Galley will be right up your alley. Weaving bits of Norse mythology into a dense, chonky narrative, the 600+ pages of The Forever King will wear you out, make you laugh, piss you off, give you hope, stomp on that hope, and leave you begging for more. Galley creates a world and power structure which should make Tor Publishing angry and jealous they didn't get the chance to add it to their stable. I have no idea if Galley tried to traditionally publish but if so, the trads missed out by passing on this one. Follow the tale of Mithrid, a teenage refugee in the frozen lands of Scalussen, as she discovers the dangerous and valuable magic which resides within. Rebel king, Farden, hopes Mithrid will use her talents to help him overthrow the greedy and corrupt Emperor Malvus, thus freeing Emaneska from his ever-tightening stranglehold. I suffered from extreme book hangover when I finished this one...even so, I need a few days to recuperate before moving on to the sequels. I'm exhausted.

Unknown Number by Anna Grace steps way outside my comfort zone. I don't usually read romance or thrillers and this one serves up both. Packing a super-satisfying twist at the end, this little book rolls along with predictably attractive characters in relatively unchallenging relationships which often border on the schmaltzy. UNTIL THE TWIST! Here I was just bee-bopping along, not bored but not enthralled either, when BOOM! All of a sudden my heart is racing and I am racing myself to the final page.

I love historical fiction but with the glut of WWII works in the field, I'd become a little "meh" and haven't read much in the genre recently. Still, They Went Left by Monica Hesse, caught my attention. So many works which place themselves in the WWII era focus on stories from during the war and life in the camps. While those stories are compelling and interesting, often highlighting true and incredible events, for me, it just felt like there were pieces of history which were being overlooked. Hesse shines her spotlight on camp survivors as they try to piece together themselves, their psyches, and their families after liberation. The guilt of survival, the foreignness of familiarity, the desperation for hope, the agonizing wait for news. All of these are front and center in They Went Left as it tells us of Zofia's search for the only member of her family she believes might have survived, her younger brother, Abek. Hesse does a wonderful job exposing Zofia's strength and frailty without making her seem superhuman or pitiful. I couldn't walk away from Zofia. You shouldn't either. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The 13th Zodiac


 

Once, there were four Titans:

Urth, the mother of Gaea,

Sky, the father of the heavens,

Fate, the overseer of life and death,

And Time, the keeper of the Eternal Clock.

The lovers, Fate and Time, ruled over all.

Together they kept Gaea at peace,

Until one thousand years ago when

Mother Urth and Father sky created mortal man.

And shattered the Eternal Clock.

 

Time hated the children of Urth and Sky.

Thus, the Keepers were born.

Time assigned each to small pieces of Gaea,

Taking parts from Fate, Urth, and Sky.

 

Then, Time turned Urth into the Mother Tree

And dissipated Sky into the clouds.

The Keepers resented Time for what she had done.

For which Time banished them.

 

What her lover had done disgusted Fate.

To trap Time, Fate turned to the Keeper of the Stars.

Who Time shattered into twelve.

Creating the Zodiac – The heroes of mortal men.

 

Beneath the boughs of the Mother Tree,

Fate trapped Time for an eternity.

 

Angry and hurt, Time divided her soul in two.

Thus the 13th Zodiac was born:

Eternity

 

 The 13th Zodiac

By Lacey Krauch

 

Time is fickle and petulant. She is the one ephemeral idea of which we simultaneously have too much and never enough. She promises never-ending tomorrows and warps the memories of our yesterdays. Time traps young hearts in decaying bodies and gifts wretched souls with youthful vigor. She tricks us into believing we are more or less than we are, than we could ever be. Time smiles as she gives with one hand and steals with the other.

In The 13th Zodiac, Lacey Krauch delivers her rendition of Time’s saga. Mortals, the children of Urth and Sky, tell their young the tale of Time’s ill-fated quest to repair the Eternal Clock and undo the creation of men. Time is their elusive boogeyman and her lover, Fate, their stalwart champion. But the Titans are distant, little more than fairy tales told as bedtime stories. The Zodiac are all too real. Twelve individuals bearing the sigils as birthmarks, evidence proving the stories are as real as their skin.

When Liya, the daughter of Aria’s Queen and her husband, Prophet Skylis, is born with the eternity symbol on her delicate newborn shoulder, Eternity, the thirteenth zodiac takes her first breath. Skylis, desperate to know the meaning behind his daughter’s mark, convinces Fate to allow him to see Time. Time, still angry over her lover’s betrayal, is trapped in a cave deep under the Mother Tree, held fast by ancient roots. Against Fate’s warnings, he begs Time to show him Liya’s future. Time grants his request, taking his eyes as payment. After all, one doesn’t truly need eyes to see. She kills Fate and is loosed on Gaea once again, determined to repair the Eternal Clock and erase men from existence.

Time chooses Soren, the cruel and grasping King of Chall, as her puppet, enlisting him to search for Liya, the princess of Aria. She gifts his kingdom with superior armaments and encourages his invasion of the tiny island kingdom to expand his borders and take possession of the princess. The now eight-year-old Liya escapes under the protection of sixteen-year-old Jemi, her sworn protector. They make their way to a Brighton, a small coastal village, and are adopted by a friend of Jemi’s father. There they live as commoners. Liya remembers nothing of her life as a princess. Jemi and the adoptive family are vigilant in hiding Liya’s true identity. Until one day, ten years later when a chance encounter with a man in the market. This man turns out to be the Crown Prince of Chall, Jase, Zodiac Leo. Jase has been searching for Liya for years. For reasons of his own, Jase has no intentions of taking the princess back to his monster of a father.

Alarmed by his sudden appearance, Jemi, Zodiac Aries, and her twin adopted brothers, Jiroo and Tokei, Pisces and Capricorn, with the assistance of a local shopkeeper, June, Sagitarrius, kidnap the prince and escape to Undall with Liya. Along the way, Liya’s zodiac-inherited ability to pause time becomes more and more evident. The group has questions and heads to the Keeper’s Library for answers. The librarians are also Zodiacs and happily assist the group on their quest to keep Time from her realizing destructive plans.

Skirmishes with soldiers from Chall, near-misses, breath-taking escapes, heart-breaking betrayals, and mind-boggling revelations stalk the Zodiac across Gaea from the gates of Chall to the Monastery of Fate Divided in the Dark Forest to the prison fortress of Mount Callous. Love is found and lost, families are created and torn apart. Zodiacs are discovered and scattered. Time is killed and a new Titan takes her place.

This book is a page-turner and threatens readers with losing track of Time. Give in to that impulse, just this once. Surely nothing bad will happen if you do.

BOB THE WIZARD by M.V. PRINDLE

THERE WAS NO TURNING BACK NOW. HE WAS LOST IN A FOREST OF WORLDS CONNECTED BY, AS FAR AS BOB COULD TELL, A MAGICAL HIGHWAY CALLED THE ASTRAV...