The Demonists by Thomas E. Sniegoski marks the start of a new series. John Fogg and Theodora Knight are paranormal investigators; hosts of a popular tThe Demonists by Thomas E. Sniegoski marks the start of a new series. John Fogg and Theodora Knight are paranormal investigators; hosts of a popular television program. During a Halloween special where the couple and their team investigate a house filled with dark energy, a supposed haunting, things suddenly take a horrific turn as malevolent forces kill John’s team and leave Theodora in a catatonic state; possessed by countless demonic spirits. Confronted by the veil now inhabiting his wife John must face off against threats both worldly and otherworldly in order to save the woman he loves.
The biggest problem with The Demonists is that John Fogg isn’t a very interesting character. Sure being driven by love is a noble thing it didn’t really help John feel like that noteworthy an individual. The novel is saved by its supporting cast. First there is FBI Agent Brenna Isobel, investigating a string of recent child abductions, who has a tragic past that pushes to complete her investigation as fast as she can. Then there is the novel’s sort-of antagonist Barret Winfield, also-known-as The Teacher, who was a bit twisted before being contacted and enlisted by darker powers. However, the most interesting character by and large is Theodora herself; particularly later in the novel. I don’t want to go into details, though what happens to Theodora isn’t a complete surprise, but she remained the most interesting part of the novel from the minute she is re-introduced. I was also particularly enamored with the psychic guardian that looks after both Theodora and John.
With the bond between Theodora and John being so integral to driving the novel’s action there is surprisingly little time spent on their relationship. While the novel’s opening scene reveals how the couple first met it quickly shifts forward to the haunted house element. While we are told, through John’s perspective, about their relationship it isn’t anything that is ever actually scene. As a result there is little to no emotional investment in John’s quest. In truth the novel’s opening, where Theodora openly challenging John’s initial skepticism of psychic abilities, might have made for a more interesting jumping off point that would have allowed Sniegoski to better flesh out the tenuous beginnings of their relationship as well as flesh out the world he has created.
Despite my disinterest in John as a character Sniegoski’s presentation of the supernatural definitely hooked me in. The scenes involving The Teacher and his “students” were particularly horrific and well crafted. Sniegoski also delves into some interesting psychic landscapes with his characters that definitely helped keep me engaged. As a series opener Sniegoski hints at a deeper and more significant looming threat and introduces at least two organizations; one involved in fighting evil and the other in hastening its arrival. Along with those hints of a doom yet to come there is the definite feeling that the world Sniegoski has created has more depth and detail than glimpsed within the pages of The Demonists. We are introduced to several demons in the novel, glimpse some raw and furious elementals, and even catch the brief glimpse of a long forgotten god all with just barest of illuminating brush strokes. While there are moments where this is frustrating, blame the long-time fantasy reader used to complex magic systems, for the most part it works. The action late in the novel is fast and furious and moral and emotional quandaries posed by the closing chapters will definitely have me checking out whatever is next for Theodora and John. Even though it stumbles at the outset fans of horror and urban fantasy should The Demonists a shot....more
A traditional “farm boy” coming-of-age fantasy Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw was exactly the type of book I was looking for at the time. Son of aA traditional “farm boy” coming-of-age fantasy Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw was exactly the type of book I was looking for at the time. Son of a common born forester Aedan is a curious and adventurous boy who is propelled by tragedy early in the novel on a journey of growth, discovery, and vengeance. Renshaw has a light touch when it comes to magic and while elements both magical and monstrous appear in the novel the focus remains firmly focused on Aedan and his growth over the course of his adventures.
Of particular note is that Aedan is the victim of abuse at the hands of his father and the after effects of that abuse are well drawn out over the course of the novel. Aedan’s rage and frustration over that abuse looms throughout the novel and is at war with Aedan’s love for his abuser. Several times throughout the novel Aedan is exposed to triggers that bring about an extreme stress response that cause him to re-live his abuse. I’m not sure I can name any other fantasy novels that attempt to tackle Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in children. Dawn of Wonder’s examination of this aspect works on some levels but there are at least some caveats. By my best guess Aedan’s “treatment” for this in the novel is a compressed form of exposure therapy (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatme...) that I’m not certain realistically reflects the journey victims experience in overcoming abuse. There is also element of faith involved with Aedan’s overcoming his abuser. Though the deities discussed in Dawn of Wonder are ill-defined Aedan’s experience with the one such deity espouses forgiveness in a way that strongly resembles Christian tenets. It isn’t anything too preachy but Aedan’s encounter plays a significant role in his moving past his feelings of anger and his need for vengeance against his father.
Aedan’s anger remains a constant problem throughout the majority of the novel and there are particular moments when that anger causes Aedan to resemble his father quite a bit. It is occasionally frustrating but manages to still feel like a believable aspect of Aedan’s personality. There are times when Aedan’s competence, particularly his ability to survive in the wild, strains credulity but these instances are few and far between. Most of the frustration that comes about with regards Aedan’s characterization over the novel feels like the result of his age more than anything else.
The focus on Aedan is consistent throughout the novel. As a result Dawn of Wonder does not offer the same depth of characterization with regards to the supporting cast. The novel does not delve into the history of characters beyond Aedan and the role of Aedan’s friends seem primarily to serve as foil. That is not to say that the supporting cast is paper thin, it isn’t, and each of Aedan’s friends (and enemies) have a distinct personality but there isn’t much revealed about their motivations and desires. Similarly the world of Dawn of Wonder is only vaguely sketched out. Since Aedan is the conduit through which we learn about the world details are fleshed out only as Aedan becomes aware of them. For the most part this works and it certainly helps the novel avoid any major information dumps.
For a fantasy novel the actual fantastical elements are fairly light. Throughout the novel magical storms rage across the land each one seemingly “wakening” (hence the series title) the land in strange ways as they pass. Mysterious monsters also seem to follow in these storm’s wake; though it only towards the novel’s end where we get a close up glimpse at one of these. There are hints a dire times to come but the specifics are hard to come by. The most fantastic elements don’t show up until the novels final chapters so it will be interesting see how things progress during future novels.
The folks at Podium Publishing have produced a top notch audio version of the novel. Tim Gerard Reynolds is a world-class narrator whose voice easily conveys emotion. It is a testament to the combined skill of Renshaw’s writing and Reynold narration that the novel’s almost thirty hour runtime does not feel nearly that long; despite the novel dragging a bit during the middle section.
Dawn of Wonder is an assured debut novel from Jonathan Renshaw and his love and care in crafting both the world and the character of Aedan is evident throughout the novel. While the Dawn of Wonder does fall in line with traditional fantasy tropes, and meanders a little during the middle chapters, Aedan’s top-notch characterization elevates the proceedings. While the second novel in The Wakening series seems to be ways off I can still wholeheartedly recommend that fans of traditional epic fantasy give Dawn of Wonder a try. This is pure fantasy comfort food at its best....more
Jeff Saylards Bloodsounder’s Arc comes to a close in Chains of the Heretic an entertaining and exciting final entry in series that hearkens back to SwJeff Saylards Bloodsounder’s Arc comes to a close in Chains of the Heretic an entertaining and exciting final entry in series that hearkens back to Sword and Sorcery stories of yesterday. The action in Chains of the Heretics picks up mere moments after the previous book so if you haven’t read any novels in this series watch out for spoilers. Betrayed and on the run Captain Killcoin, Arki, and the soldiers of Jackal Tower must resort to desperate measures in order to make a rendezvous with emperor-in-exile Thumaar. Unfortunately, with the Emperor Cynead’s forces hot on their heels getting away alive isn’t going to be easy. Dire straits lead to dangerous decisions and Captain Killcoin and his Syldoon soldiers have to face a variety of threats, both expected and unexpected, over the course of their journey.
Chains of the Heretic hammers home the role that memory and the past plays in the series. Memory has been an important conceit throughout this series through the presence of the flail Bloodsounder (which burdens its wielder with the memories of those it slays) and a variety of memory witches (Lloi in Scourge of the Betrayer and the Memoridons moving forward from there). The series’ point-of-view character Arki is a custodian of the past. He is a trained scholar hired not only to dig through ancient documents (i.e. the past) for information on Bloodsounder and memory witches but also to document the actions of Captain Killcoin and his company (i.e. record history). In contrast to the burden memory places on our heroes, particularly Captain Killcoin, there has been startlingly little revealed about the world’s past or the motivations that have moved Captain Killcoin to action. There is a certain amount of impenetrability to the past throughout the series; history is a massive shadowy weight that presses the characters forward without ever truly revealing itself.
Influenced by Arki’s findings certain actions taken by Captain Killcoin see the company taking a big leap of faith into uncharted territory. While those actions save the company from pursuit they also reveal the dangers of an unknown past; particularly how time can warp the meaning of events in strange sometimes dangerous ways. Here they mystery of the past throws a dark shadow over the present. The dangers of the past are hammered home as the company finally comes face to face with the deposed Emperor Thumaar. As Captain Killcoin is told just prior to meeting him “the years…have not been generous.” It’s a wonderful twist that I don’t want to completely spoil but one not wholly unsurprising when you lean heavily on the memory of a person rather than the person themselves.
Arki’s growth over the series is fully realized in Chains of the Heretic. An outsider at the start of the series he has slowly gained the acceptance of the Syldoon even as his original naiveté has slowly dwindled away. While he never seems to evince the hardened practicality (or outright cynicism) of the Syldoon he seems to comes to terms with it in a believable manner. Other characters shine throughout the series and particularly in Chains of the Heretic. The addition of the monstrously tall Azmorgan plays counterpoint to the wracked Mulldoos and their constant verbal sparring is always entertaining while Vendurro’s folkish wisdom and love of eggs continues to provide both insight and levity. Captain Killcoin, gruff and jaded, has continuously shown hidden depths below the bedrock of loyalty to his Tower a characterization which is continued here. Despite the animosity between the Captain and his sister their scenes together are typically enjoyable; Soffjian’s wry humor is another welcome addition despite her tendency to obfuscate her own goals.
If you’ve skipped out on reading any of this series you are seriously missing out. The novels in Bloodsounder’s Arc are typically lumped into the category of grimdark fantasy. I think the notion of grimdark is fairly reductive in nature and in Salyard’s work I’ve found that his attention to detail when building both characters and the world they live in a trait that far eclipses any amount of grit and violence (of which there is no small amount). Perhaps more than any other novels in the series Chains of the Heretic underscores some of the nobler aspects of its characters and somehow manages to do so while still staying true to those same characters’ hardcore, badassed natures. It’s an interesting, near contradictory aspect of Salyards’ work that really elevates the story to another level. These were characters that I actually cared about and when the last page finally rolled around I was both satisfied with their growth over three novels and disappointed to see them go. Salyards is an author to watch and I can’t wait to see what he does next....more
Space fantasy is a bizarre and wonderful little sub-genre that isn’t as prolific as it should be (particularly given that certain a series from a galaSpace fantasy is a bizarre and wonderful little sub-genre that isn’t as prolific as it should be (particularly given that certain a series from a galaxy far far away is essentially space fantasy). So, coming across the description of Stewart’s Starship’s Mage: Omnibus, in which jump mages are the essential component to interstellar travel I was rather intrigued. The series of novellas follows the exploits of the recently graduated Jump Mage Damien Montgomery as he takes a position upon the merchant ship the Blue Jay. The Omnibus edition I listened combines them all seamlessly however there are some odd repetitive quirks, typically summarizing events that just occurred, leftover from the book’s original format.
The Starship’s Mage Omnibus does an excellent job a laying the groundwork of the world that Stewart has created wherein the powerful Mage King of Mars has united a multitude of planets under his rule. Bound to the authority of the Mage King the magic-users of these worlds enjoy a privileged position. The book delves a little deeper as it explores the bureaucracy of Mage’s Guild and its treatment of unregulated magic; a fact that is particularly vexing for Damien as his actions early in the series see him on the outs with the Guild. Damien’s outcast status is sort of inherited by the rest of the crew of the Blue Jay and their exile’s journey takes them to hardscrabble worlds who have rejected the rule of mages.
This is a light a breezy book that tends to focus harder on action and adventure over characterization. Most of the heavy lifting in the characterization arena falls on Damien himself and readers will learn quite a bit about the young man’s personality. The rest of the characters don’t get quite as well-rounded a treatment. While Damien often struggles with the feats he pulls off in order to survive there were times when things felt a bit too easy. While there are certainly losses amongst the crew of the Blue Jay during its journey there is little direct loss that seems to impact Damien himself. It would have been nice to see a bit more hardship for our hero.
Starship’s Mage: Omnibus shows a lot of promise and many of its shortcomings can be attributed to Stewart’s relative inexperience and quirks of the novellas original release schedule. It is still an enjoyable read that blends familiar tropes from both science fiction and heroic fantasy into a cohesive whole. Thankfully, Glynn Stewart has expanded on his world with the recent release of Hand of Mars set 3 years after the events of the Starship’s Mage: Omnibus. The audiobook version, procuded by Tantor Media and narrated by Jeffrey Kafer, is quite excellent with a quality performance and top notch production quality. If you are look for a fantasy book that is a little different I high recommend you give Glynn Stewart’s Starship’s Mage Omnibus a chance....more