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The Outlaw King #1

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree

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Ross Brigham comes home from Afghanistan to discover his father Ed, a notable fantasy author, has died. When Ross begins to investigate his father's death after the nearly 200-attendee funeral, he and two loyal fans discover a key that leads them to the parallel world in his father's gunslinger novels -- and a secret war that's been raging since the beginning of time. Rebelling against the pact they made with the gods for immortality, the muses have turned from inspiring art to inspiring atrocities -- and it's up to Ross, Sawyer, and Noreen to put a stop to it before every dimension goes up in flames.

Inspired by the wainscot and portal classics he grew up with, S. A. Hunt's The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is the visionary beginning of a series that will dive into the metaphysical center of what it means to create...and what it means to destroy. Join our protagonists as they go from modern-day Earth to the sands of an exotic parallel world, where a climactic battle will take place on the shores of consciousness...and challenge the rules of the written word itself.

484 pages, ebook

First published February 21, 2013

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About the author

S.A. Hunt

22 books285 followers
Samara Abigail Hunt is the Georgia-born author of the Amazon Top 10 Horror Malus Domestica series, and the Outlaw King fantasy series, winner of Reddit.com's /r/Fantasy "Independent Novel of the Year" 2014 Stabby Award. She is also a "Mentor of Poetry, Prose, & Performance" with the National Creative Society.

​In 2005 she joined the Army and after an ill-advised stint in the military police (ACAB), she went back to school to be a transportation coordinator in order to deploy to Afghanistan.

Stationed in Camp Arena, Herat, Samara was promoted to Specialist and placed in a Lieutenant position in a joint Italian-Spanish command room, where she coordinated and recorded hundreds of convoys and outreach missions into far-flung parts of RC West, the western quadrant of the Afghanistan theater. She was awarded a Joint Services Achievement Medal for her efforts.

She currently lives in Petoskey, Michigan.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 128 reviews
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,004 reviews10.6k followers
January 14, 2016
When Ross Brigham returns from a stint in the army, his life is a shambles. His wife has left him and his father, Hugo Award-winner Ed Brigham is dead with Ross tapped to finish his last novel in his western-fantasy series, the Fire and Fiddle. But what will Ross do when he finds out his father has been murdered and the world he has been writing about for years is real?

Two disclosures before we get down to business.
1. I got this book in exchange for a review. And it's pretty damn sweet.
2. I'm never in a hurry to read self-published books since they are usually not well written or edited to any visible degree. However, this one's name is a line from a Johnny Cash song.

Confession Time: Sometime during the gap between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, I was so enamored with the Dark Tower that I took a number of stabs at writing my own Dark Tower-inspired fantasy western. I got about 30-40k in before I decided I was just rewriting the Dark Tower and put it on the shelf. I'm glad S.A. Hunt didn't shelf his Dark Tower homage.

Like it says on the back cover, The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is a love letter to the Dark Tower, 80's fantasy, and spaghetti westerns. Even still, I accepted this book with reluctance. I mean, first off, it's from Createspace. Why don't I just get out my red pen and start clenching my jaw right now? And it's an homage to the Dark Tower? Did Hunt just change a some things around and regurgitate the sacred texts like so many Tolkien imitators have done before him?

He did not.

While the Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree may have been inspired by the Dark Tower in some degrees, like Stephen King being a character in the later books and the fact that there are Gunslingers running around, it stands on its own. It actually reminds me more of the second half of Lev Grossman's The Magicians, where Quentin finds out that the Narnia-analog Fillory is real.

Ross and friends Sawyer and Noreen find themselves on Destin, the world Ross's father had been writing up until his untimely death. A mysterious black figure stalks them as they struggle to get acclimated to their new world. Hunt makes the world-building fairly painless. I love that aspiring gunslingers have to eat some fungus as their final test. Those that survive have their brains reconfigured by the fungus to be awesome killing machines. Those that don't end up dead or irreparably insane. Good stuff.

My fears about the writing were unfounded. There were some editing hiccups but it was head and shoulders above most self-published books I've ever read. I loved references to the Dark Tower, the Simpsons, and lots of 80's fantasy and sf movies.

Any complaints? Just that there wasn't as much gunslinging action as I was hoping. It feels like the first volume of a series, which it is. When's the next one coming out, Hunt?

Read my interview with S.A. Hunt! He seems like a cool guy so feel free to give him the contents of your wallet.
Profile Image for Joel.
638 reviews233 followers
June 26, 2016
The Whirlwind In The Thorn Tree has been kicking around my 'to read' list for quite a while. I learned of the book, and it's author, largely on r/fantasy, where he tirelessly promoted it, and it garnered quite a few recommendations from others. I'd actually bought the ebook while it was on sale, but opted to pick up the self-produced audio edition for easier listening. In general, the book came fairly highly acclaimed from many readers, though some folks I trust weren't particularly high.

Unfortunately, it didn't always work for me. Whirlwind is, essentially, an 80's-style portal fantasy through and through. Kid goes through random modern day life things, kid discovers object (in this case, a mirror - original) is a portal to another world he never knew existed, and gets wrapped up in the events happening in aforementioned world. Stop me if you've heard this one...namely like, a billion times. However, in a genre like fantasy, I'm not overly quick to begrudge folks for a bit of "been there, done that", being as there's only *so many* ideas to go with, and after a while everything gets a bit incestuous.

However, Whirlwind isn't a particularly *good* portal fantasy, in my opinion. Hunt's writing is, at times, quite good - engaging, economical, and free flowing. However, he at times suffers from the trap which many self-pub authors find themselves locked in - over exposition. Sentence after sentence of adjectives and metaphors, in an effort to sound sophisticated or talented as a writer. In my opinion, Hunt's writing, when it's not in this trap, is good enough that he doesn't need the over-writing in areas, but it comes and goes in cycles, with a paragraph you have to trudge through that is completely unnecessary.

The actual world created is pretty interesting, and I enjoy the concept of author-writing-what-he-experiences-in-alternate-world, however everything is just a bit too *convenient*, almost lazy. Everyone in the alternate world all but immediately accept Ross and his friends as allies, believing their outlandish story with very little prodding. Ross and co, for their part, seem to take to this much much less futuristic world very easily, not struggling at all without their modern amenities, and adapting to everything with very little issue. It all felt too..easy. It left me saying to myself "...really?" quite often.

Overall, the novel was not *bad*, I just found nothing really original here, and periods of dodgy writing that could have used a bit more polishing up. I can tell that Hunt has talent, has some vision of where he wants this book and his writing to go, but the pieces aren't all put together here. I can totally understand why some people would love this and immediately engage in it, however for me, I've just read this same thing too many times, and done with better execution, to really give it a big endorsement.
Profile Image for Shandra.
259 reviews83 followers
June 10, 2014
Initial thoughts: Interesting...different...don't really know what I think at this point. Review to come...eventually...I'm behind on too many right now!!

Actual rating: 3.75 stars. No spoilers!!


Why the funky rating? Well, I don't feel about it how I would a 4 star read, but it was better than a 3.5 star rating. I'm a wee bit torn on this rating, that's for sure!

I loved the concept of this story! Ross comes home from deployment. His welcome home isn't what any American hero should encounter. As the book opened, I was so pissed for how his wife treated him that I fell right in love with Ross. He already had me in his corner from just pages into the story. Not only does his welcome home suck, but he's greeted with the news of his father's death.

Ross travels to be with his mother, and attend his father's funeral. Ross was never too terribly close with his father, and I picked up on the resentment issues pretty quickly. Ross is shocked to find the funeral packed with his father's fans. See, his father was a very popular high fantasy author. The series was one of those that many people had followed for years, and grew up loving. The series wasn't complete, so it's only natural that the fans asked Ross (also an author and artist) to pick up the final book and finish the story. The events that start taking place are quite literally out of this world.

Book inside book photo: Lost Inside a book 11.jpg

This was about the point that I went, "Wow, this is a first for me!" This story was a book inside a book. Ross and his new friends find themselves inside another dimension. Lots of crazy events start transpiring, and we bond more and more with Ross. I had fun with this book! I spent some areas scratching my head, kind of lost. Some transitions weren't well hashed out, in my opinion. All in all, an enjoyable read. I definitely plan to continue this series!!
Profile Image for Jeff Beesler.
Author 19 books39 followers
April 22, 2013
We’re immersed in a time where the boundaries between genres have grown blurred. Often these days, there’s not just straight on science fiction, horror, mystery, western, fantasy, etc. Many times, a mesh of genres is painted on the literary canvas, giving us the kinds of stories that are not easily classified. For me, it opens up a whole wide range of new categories. One size does not fit all anymore, at least when it comes to books.

S. A. Hunt’s The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree embraces such meshing with the genres of fantasy and western. Ordinarily, I would not find myself reading a western as a top choice. However, when I heard of this book, the fantasy element intrigued me. Delving into it, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of an adventure I might enjoy along the way.

And was it ever an adventure. There were times when I felt I was reading a literary classic. The characters felt very real to me, and I endured a slight loss towards the end when I finished the final page and could read no more (at least for now). That’s one of the marks of an awesome book, to leave you longing for more, to make you want to come back to the world you've just visited and want to spend more time with the characters you've grown to love. Sure, the characters are fictional, but the emotions you experience along the way are quite real.

And blast it, this author had me hooked from the very first page. My favorite part comes about a fifth of the way through, when the main character, Ross Brigham, and his newfound friend Sawyer, are in the process of moving a mirror somewhere. In the midst of this, they both start acting off-the-wall bonkers, like someone had dosed them with nitrous oxide or something. There are far more bizarre events that happen to the characters later on, but this is the first time where I truly come to realize how much this author loves telling this story. It is this passion for his tale that will drive me to revisit all future works of his.

Lastly, the author incorporates excerpts from another “book”, in that there is this one character, Ed Brigham, who has written and published a series called the Fiddle and the Fire. These glimpses into a fictional world within a fictional world add another layer of depth to the Whirlwind, making it seem all the more real in the reader’s mind. I expect to see more of these excerpts as the Outlaw King series continues.

All in all, this is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s itching to read something involving gunslingers.
Profile Image for Harley.
129 reviews4 followers
April 5, 2013
A truly enjoyable experience!
While I've never read much pure fantasy, I consider Whirlwind sort of a hybrid.
It's a lot easier to say "... It was a hard book to put down...." than it was to actually do so with Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree.
I literally had to force myself to stop reading, just to get more pressing things done around the house.
The characters are interesting and loads of fun to watch how Mr. Hunt brings them and their world to life. And by the end of the book, the main characters almost seem like your friends.
From the very beginning,the imagery the author paints with his words and writing style flowed into my minds eye like an artist with a brush and canvas.
My available time for "pleasure" reading is highly treasured, so I don't re-read many novels.
But "Whirlwind" is already back on my "To Read" list, simply because I want to enjoy the journey once again.
Very much looking forward to his next installment in the (Outlaw King) series "The Wolves of Sleep".
Hop to it S.A...... your fans await
Profile Image for Mike.
Author 45 books160 followers
September 30, 2013
Let's start with the disclaimers. I know the author on Google+, which is why I read the book. I'd picked it up on a free promotion, and when I realised I didn't have the up-to-date version, he kindly sent me his latest build. We've corresponded about some questions I had (which he cleared up, so they won't appear in this review), and I'll be sending him some more notes too. Based on his response to me so far, many of the issues I identify may well be fixed soon, so there may be things I mention below that are no longer problems in the later version that you buy (because I hope you do buy it).

I actually started reading this book twice. The first time, I got through the part where the protagonist/narrator gets back from deployment in Afghanistan, and his wife has left him, and then the phone rings and his mother tells him his father's died... and I stopped, because I thought it was going to be too dark and tragic for my taste.

Then I kept reading Sam's posts on G+, and realised that he's a very accomplished writer, and decided that I did want to read it after all. And, in fact, after that second shoe drops, apart from the scene where people are being dragged down to be consumed by an evil god it's mostly not that distressing, despite the "dark fantasy" label.

When I say "very accomplished writer", I mean that he has a feel and a skill for language that's unusual in the indie writers I read. His prose is not without flaws, though. He's over-fond of the semicolon, his imagery can shade towards the purple and, sometimes, the incoherent, and he does the Steven Donaldson thing of dropping vocabulary words every few pages, which, taken all together, comes across to me as maybe trying too hard.

Unfortunately, too, the words don't always mean what he seems to think they mean, and occasionally mean the opposite. He describes two characters as having "reedy" voices, for example. From context, he means big, booming voices, but "reedy" means thin and weak. "Sojourn" is twice used to mean "journey", but it means staying in one place (that's a common error).

Then there are the florid descriptions which leave me unable to imagine what's being described, like "a black frock coat swarthy with curly pinstriping". If it's black, it's already swarthy, and what on earth would "curly pinstriping" look like?

Very few people have the vocabulary to pull this kind of writing off, and even those who do, I think probably shouldn't attempt it. I know it's a classic way of writing fantasy, but I find it distancing even when done well, and annoying when done badly. Here, it's not done terribly, but it could be done better. It's possible (though difficult) to write lucid, straightforward prose that's also beautiful and evocative. Emma Bull does it, Ursula Le Guin does it, and I wish more genre writers did.

When we come to characters, there's some good news. The protagonist/narrator is based on the author, but he is definitely not Gary Stu. He's in poor physical and emotional shape, he gets scared, he freaks out. Things don't fall into his lap; he struggles, he suffers. He makes meaningful decisions, he's loyal to his friends. I'm happy with him as a character.

The secondary characters are not as clearly drawn. In particular, the minor characters in the other world I found difficult to separate in some cases, or remember who was who, perhaps because a lot of them are introduced in a short span of time. I'm sure they'll gain depth in the second book.

The premise is interesting. The main character's father is a well-known fantasy author, and it turns out that he wasn't making up his other world; he'd lived there, and was more a biographer than a novelist. The protagonist goes to the other world and becomes involved in defending it, and by extension our world, from other-dimensional villains.

It's a good premise. Portal fantasy is out of fashion, for some odd reason, but I've always liked it, and of course the fictional-worlds-are-real trope is a popular one (see Jasper Fforde for perhaps the best-known of many examples). I think the author does it justice, though with a couple of reservations which I'll mention next. He also does a nice job of including quotations from the father's books, which are in a subtly different style, though I didn't always see the relevance of them to the chapters they preceded.

I wasn't that happy with the worldbuilding. The narrator says that "there are very few analogs between Earth and Destin when it comes to culture", but there totally are. Destin is basically a mashup of classic swords-and-sorcery fantasy with the Old West, and the two elements don't blend well. Shields and sixguns. Characters who wear doublets and jeans. Yes, those are actual examples. It didn't work that well for me, technologically or historically. Or linguistically; I have a degree in English language, so I know how contingent and random the development of the English language was, and having another world in which people speak a version of it is unlikely on the face of it (though I'm willing to give it the Trope Pass, reluctantly, so that we don't have to struggle with language learning and translation to the detriment of the story).

The big, all-too-common worldbuilding gaffe, though, is this. One of the characters, an Earth person who's familiar with the other world from reading the books, says at one point, "There's no Christ. No Bible. Why would there be a Christmas?" And then roughly a thousand words later there's a minor character called Joshua. I understand why authors don't want the Christian religion in their books, but if you're going to take it out, take it all out. (The thing is, it's so entwined in our culture, to a degree that most people are unconscious of, that unless you base your books on a non-Western culture, you can't take it all out. This is an enduring problem of fantasy worldbuilding.)

Anyway, so much for the world. What about the plot? This is the first of an epic fantasy series, and as is often the case with such series, it's not a complete story in itself but an introduction to the world and the characters and the situation. That's not to say that nothing happens, by any means, but there's more a sense of beginning at the end than there is a sense of ending, if that makes any sense. Thinking back on my experience of reading it, I remember more explanation and exploration than I do action, though there are certainly several well-written action sequences, spaced well throughout.

One of the important questions to ask, when talking about plot, is "What do the characters want? Do they strive for it?" What the characters want is reasonably clear. The main character, Ross, wants to investigate the mystery, possibly avenge his father's death, and rescue and defend his friends. His friends want to visit the world of the books they loved growing up - and this weaker motivation leaves them as weaker, less interesting characters in this book, though they'll no doubt strengthen in future books thanks to the revelations towards the end of this one. Stakes are both cosmic and personal, which is a strong combination, and shows promise for the series.

Overall, this is definitely an above-average first novel, though for me it has some (non-fatal) issues. With more discipline applied to the language, and better integration of the different elements of the worldbuilding, I can see this becoming a classic series in the future.
Profile Image for Tim.
66 reviews15 followers
August 26, 2022
Ah, S.A. Hunt you magnificent bastard. This has gone straight to the favourites shelf - I had tried it once before and got side-tracked with my Wheel of Time reading. I decided to give it another shot and boy, am I glad I did.

What we have here is the amalgamation of weird western/portal/cosmic horror/gunslinger steampunk/high epic fantasy and although you might wonder how all that fits together, it works. Deft characterisation; fecundity of imagination; emotionally charged major scenes; craaaaaaaazy set-pieces and some major revelations all make this a massive breath of fresh air in the current fantasy market. Hunt's writing is of a professional standard and let's be honest, 99% of self-published work is not. It has been a long time since a writer has so captured my heart and my imagination so fully. The interactions between Ross, Sawyer, Noreen and Co. are incredibly well done and give that feeling of true friendship and camaraderie.

The world-building is astounding. We see some really interesting peoples, cultures, cities and Hunt paints them with just the right amount of colour and vibrancy to bring them to life. The festival in Maplenesse was a major highlight of the book for me and I was really swept up in the atmosphere of the place; not something that happens in many books. Hunt takes us on a thrilling journey throughout Destin and it is also a mind-bending one, too. The tension level ramps up once the aspects of cosmic horror begin to creep up in the background and before you know it, Hunt has you by the throat - and he ain't gunna let go.

I could say a million things more about this wonderful book, but I honestly believe that you need to experience as much of it fresh as you can. I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started. Hunt manages to make everything seem slightly off kilter from the very beginning and then when you are in the thick of things he brings that disorientation right to the forefront in an absolutely nail-biting sequence.

I am going to leave this with a few quotes that I thought really show how good a writer Hunt is. If you do yourself one good deed this year, it should be buying this book!

The chapter Noreen & the King is probably one of the most emotional chapters I have read in any novel. Absolutely amazing stuff.

Someone who had once lived here had scrawled, This was a very happy home. 11/26/88. My throat closed up and I held the top of the dryer like a little kid on a boogie board because I could feel it coming. I knew it was there lurking in the dark, cold house, when I saw the blinds. But when I quite literally saw the writing on the wall, I felt the top of my heart crack- and as I slouched there gripping the dryer for dear life, the entire thing broke into a thousand pieces.

I hesitated for a moment in consideration and doubt, just long enough to see the gold catch the light, glittering, and then I let the ring slide out of my hand. A hundred memories hung in the air, spilling through my mind, dragging regret, panic, relief behind them like a needle and thread as I watched my old wedding band slip away.


So I finished my reread of this last night in a frenzied marathon. My love for this novel has deepened and this time I really got to enjoy and appreciate what the book does thematically: It's all about stories. Personal stories, histories. The grand stage on which Whirlwind is told; the connecting tissue by which all stories are bound together.

Then you have the friendships. It is so nice to read a book that contains such great characters and their relationships with each other. Also it is great to read a novel where women are not just breasts that talk. Admittedly at this stage there is a small number of female characters, which I hope will change, but the characters that are here are extremely well written and three dimensional.

You have all this wrapped into that cosmic horror/weird/trippy/west style setting. It just works for me.

Noreen & The King was a chapter I was greatly looking forward to and like the first time it literally took my breath away. It is my favourite chapter in any book. Ever. Actually this book, I think now, is my favourite book. It grips me in a way that few other books have and it hits all the emotional and thematic notes that I look for in fiction.

I have about 50 passages highlighted this time through and there are a million things I could say. There might be a few minor things another editing pass could fix, but who cares! This book is perfect.
Profile Image for Johnzsmith.
7 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2013
The author recently announced that this book would be available for free for a limited time. I decided to check it out because of this. I must say, I am glad that I did. While the book starts off a little stilted and awkward in its delivery, you can see the grandness of the underlying story. As the book moves along, it becomes clear that the author is getting more comfortable with himself and with his characters. By the time I was halfway through the book, I knew that I was locked in for the rest of the ride, and what a ride it was. From what I have heard, this is part one of a trilogy, and I can hardly wait for the other two books. I was not ready for this one to end when it did. The author does a great job of keeping his story believable and epic at the same time. While there are occasional lulls in the action, I felt that they were necessary in order to add more character development and give the reader a chance to catch their breath. Overall I would say that this is a very strong showing for a first time author and I was glad that I took a chance on it.

I think this book gets points for having interesting, realistic characters, an engaging epic plotline, and an interesting premise that has been cobbled together from a variety of sources, yet stays fresh and original.

I think this book loses some points due to the stilted awkwardness of the dialogue in the first part of the book.

I feel that this book rates a solid 4 stars and that fantasy, western, and steampunk fans should all be able to find something about this book that they will enjoy.
Profile Image for Monica.
8 reviews
August 17, 2013
There's some books that completely sweep you away from the real world and this was one of them. I actually downloaded this book after hearing about it on a group here somewhere. The title was what caught my eye mostly...sounds so romantic ( and the song..)...anyway, it languished in my Kindle until a few weeks ago I decided to pick it up again.
I wrote somewhere else that Whirlwind will forever remind me of barbequing with Dad, because those memories are priceless. I'd sit there flipping the meat and reading and discussing various subjects with Dad, he asked what I was so engrossed in and I kinda sketched out the plot. I was at the part where Ross is in his father's house..I won't say anymore about that but its a great book. I couldn't put it down and I constantly schemed to make time to come back to it. I even took the Kindle to work with me but of course those days I got slammed.
I can't wait for the sequel!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm your number one fan!!!!!!! (kennit?!)
Profile Image for SeeJennyRead.
16 reviews4 followers
January 25, 2016
If you tell me you haven’t read The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree by S.A. Hunt yet, I will tell you to shut your whore mouth. In fact, I might just tell you to shut your pirate whore mouth because I feel that emphatically about it.

Malus Domestica was my introduction to Hunts work. It is, hands down, one of my favorite books of the last year. I had high hopes for the first installment of The Outlaw King series. Those hopes were obliterated. Obliterated in the best possible way.

While the novel The Whirlwind In The Thorn Tree is fast paced, Hunt manages to create characters that have great emotional depth. One of my favorite aspects of Hunts writing style is the attention to detail. His ability to drop wee descriptions into a sentence that pop the story to life is uncanny. This is a well woven tale that leaves the reader wondering what comes next.

I do not understand how this author is not better known. There is a tremendous amount of talent percolating in S.A. Hunt that demands an audience.
I look forward to reading the next couple of books in The Outlaw King series. I almost feel like I have to pace myself because I don’t want them to be over too soon.
That, my darling little monsters, is one mark of a gifted writer.

I leave you with a quote from the book that made me laugh out loud and peer around for someone to share it with.

“This is the weirdest thing I have ever done,” said Sawyer in a deadpan tone. “I’m wearing a diaper, I can see at least seven pairs of breasts, and I am drinking coffee out of an urn with the milk of an animal that I’ve never actually seen.”

If that doesn’t sound like a good time, dearhearts, you need your heads checked.
Profile Image for Benjamin Spurlock.
149 reviews8 followers
August 14, 2015
((Full disclosure: I've spoken a bit with the author, though I didn't get this book from him.))

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is a... bit of a difficult book to review, I'll be honest. In basic terms, this is a 'magic portal' story. People from the real world go to another, fantastical world, there to have adventures and the like. In this one, three people from our world find the 'real' world that the main character's father's steampunk novels are based on, and yes, they have adventures there.

But it's not a typical kind of magic portal story. If you go into this story looking for the plotline of "Normal people go to a steampunk world and be awesomely steampunk," you will be disappointed. It's honestly not that kind of story. Rather, in an oddly satisfying way, S.A. Hunt uses the basic structure of the magic portal to tell something that's more like a... metastory. It's a story about stories. About the power of creating worlds, of sustaining them, and in a powerfully moving way, what it means to tell a story.

All woven together in a memorable, truly enjoyable read. I don't want to spoil anything, but suffice to say that this is a book that manages to strike a balance between providing entertainment and provoking thought, and certainly does a fine job of both. On a more personal note, S.A. Hunt also earned the distinction of being one of very few authors that forced me to check a dictionary, which is a testament to his grasp of writing.

So, if you're in the mood for an enjoyable read that expands your mind a bit, I'd definitely recommend this book.
Profile Image for Eric Bahle.
Author 6 books16 followers
July 9, 2013
Disclosure: I have an internet acquaintance with this author and he did the cover art for one of my books.

The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree is inspired by The Dark Tower series from Stephen King. That inspiration is obvious, but this isn't fan fiction set in King's Mid-World. Hunt tells his own story and creates his own universe. He takes the notion of gunslingers and pushes it toward High Fantasy set in a parallel world that touches our own (and perhaps others.)

We meet Ross on what appears to be the worst day of his life, and follow him as he tries to find his place in the world...any world. Once Ross and his friends are in the alternate reality of Destin, the story moves into full adventure mode. Gunplay, strange languages and customs, non-human races, and malevolent supernatural forces...all in the first half!

There were a few point of view shifts that were a bit jarring. Most of the story is first person from Ross's POV, but occasionally that shifts to another character. Why became clear as the story went on, so that's a minor complaint. Destin's lands and peoples are brought to vibrant life. The book is seeded throughout with excerpts from a fictional book series that add a brilliant layer. It's an engaging read, quick paced and fun. I'll be reading the next installment.

Profile Image for Ashe Armstrong.
Author 7 books41 followers
May 26, 2015
The first thing you need to know is that this book is better than you think it'll be. The second thing you need to know is that things get meta-fictional quick. And it's awesome. Hunt creates such a vivid, beautiful landscape that you cannot HELP but get sucked in. And it's filled with everything you could want. Sci-fi? Fantasy? Gunslingers? Sea monsters? New cultures and races? You'll find it and you'll love it.

Ross is an easy narrator to follow and you really cheer for him. There are definite similarities to the Dark Tower but it's not pastiche or copying. There is a cliffhanger ending but thankfully, there's no need to wait for book 2 to come out (and it picks up immediately where this one ends). I'd talk more about the plot but beyond "Man ends up in another world," there's too much going on to share a whole lot. Read this book.
Profile Image for Ralph Smith.
325 reviews8 followers
July 18, 2013
I found this one through Amazon.com when it was listed for free. The story description sounded interesting enough, especially considering the price. I felt just a bit let-down however. The idea of the parallel universe travel has been done several times over, and the author does doe a fine job of it, but I just felt like I was reading a copy of Stephen King's 'Dark Tower' series. In this alternate world there are 'gunslingers' with a special skill in being able to shoot. There's a 'dark man' that they are 'chasing'. Three main characters, plus the King, whom the author in the story had written about. It is all just a bit too much for me. This is the first book of this series, but I don't think I will be revisiting it anytime soon.
Profile Image for Franck Rabeson.
37 reviews7 followers
March 7, 2013
A few editing errors in the last chapter and a few parts that confused me a bit in the middle, but all in all it was a nice read that left me asking for more (you know, that feeling when you reach the book’s end and let out an anguished “NOOOO!” because you realize you’ll have to wait for the next book to know the next part). And I say that as someone who doesn’t even usually like the genre.
Profile Image for Melinda.
602 reviews10 followers
May 31, 2014
Oh My! What a Surreal, Mysterious, Epic Tale

I don't know how I missed S.A. Hunt until now. It seems virtually impossible that he isn't a household name on bestseller lists. The Whirlwind and the Thorn Tree could stand up or surpass anything written by Goodkind, Brooks, Moorcock, Weeks, Jordan, both Herberts and all the others that write big, published epic fantasy series.
What is so incredible about this novel is that S. A. Hunt has created something original out of existing tropes and morphed them into a world that is new, complex and sublime. I mention gunslinger, you think King and the Dark Tower. I mention mutiverse, and you think of Moorcock. I mention writing characters that come to life and you think of Funk and Inkheart. None of these are true for Hunt. While there are gunslingers, fictional characters that come to life and multiple worlds, this barely scrapes the surface of the sheer goodness waiting for you in the Whirlwind.

The story revolves around three main characters: Ross, retired army veteran, whose wife has left him and his father has been murdered. Sawyer, a rabid fan of the epic fantasy books Ross's father wrote and a erudite film school student. Noreen, also a rabid fan of the fantasy series, she has had a hard life, but it made her a strong individual. They all meet at the author's body viewing prior to the funeral, where a group of fans led by Sawyer petition Ross to continue to write the series that his father left incomplete. After much pressure, Ross agrees, and then the fun begins.

It is so hard to explain anything about this book without giving anything away, and spoilers would be a crime because discovering the wonders of the book on your own is priceless. I can tell you that the characters are unexpected and fully developed. Hunt has an eye for detail and knows just what it will take to make that character come alive. This is true for human as well as alien species. Hunt's worldbuilding is masterclass. He uses his beautifully stylized prose to ease you into foreign landscapes, culture, food, politics, flora and fauna. Using the characters own curiosity, he uses dialogue as well as description in his bag of tools to bring the world into being. I can't wait to see more in book two.

The plot was minutely crafted and you will find many times during your reading where everything you thought you knew just went out the window. These plot twists were so clean, it is clear that Hunt is a plotting ninja, able to strike at any time.

Just to give you some idea how incredible this novel is, I will mention a few of the types of people that populate some of the other worlds. There are the Sileni- creatures who look like pink skinned demons, but are actually muses with mind control powers. There are the Kingsmen, who are a cross between the FBI, gunslingers and Templars. There are swordwives, who are war widows that are trained to the sword, forge their own blade, then fight injustice. There is the Feaster who can eat reality. There are also No Men who are electromechanical behemoths of evil. There are many other characters that are good, evil, or more likely both in the book. There is quite a bit of action as these g

The only regret I have about the book is that it is over. I now have to get book two, but at least it's available.

Bottom Line: If you like epic fantasy, Buy This Now! Hunt should be on every bestseller list everywhere. If you haven't heard about him, Read This Now! It is the best epic fantasy I've read all year. Thank you Mr. Hunt for writing such an excellent novel. I enjoyed it immensely.
Profile Image for Chris Williams.
Author 9 books13 followers
January 8, 2015
This review will be necessarily brief, but I want to touch on just a few things.

I expected, once I found out early on that the book was about a writer, to be a bit annoyed at cliche and overuse. Much like theatre about theatre, and indie movies about making indie movies, authors using writers as their main characters sometimes works, but often becomes an exercise in wish fulfillment. Absolutely not the case here. Hunt's protagonist is likable, flawed, lost, but possessed of a reserve of inner strength that both inspires and is believable all the way through. Despite the strange turn events in his life takes, he remains flexible and adaptable without becoming somehow the god-hero of the land. We don't get any of the persistent refusal to believe what is happening around him or lack of willingness to embrace the journey he is on when such reactions are long past their expiration date. Here is an author who knows how to tell a good story without picking up a copy of Campbell as a writing guide instead of an analytic tool.

Hunt pulls back the camera of his world at a nice pace. Events grow from small to large with a greater sense of scale and significance at each new reveal.

His imagery is beautiful, with very specific word choices to evoke a very specific texture to the world itself, not only in regards to the literal visuals, but also in the way the words wrap and coil themselves around the mind of the reader, adding a layer of oil and soot to the train windows that a less skilled author may have only hinted at in a piece of description by directly mentioning it.

The protagonist's companions are a joy to read about. I would like to know a little more about them personally, though I suspect that is coming in the remaining two books of the trilogy (which I certainly intend upon reading)

The one thing I will say is that, at the end, this book is quite clearly the introduction to a trilogy, and while is more or less an adventure in its own right, I had trouble realizing when I had passed the climax because the denouement went on for so long, setting up the next major encounter. I believe it necessary and will confirm this as I gleefully read the second book in the series.

The long and short of it is that I happened across this book because the author was a friend of a friend on Twitter and I saw him mentioning it, and I am absolutely not sorry I picked it up. If you like western inspired fantasy with some hints of steampunk flair, do not hesitate to pick up the first two books via Amazon. As of this writing they are in one volume for 3.99 and well worth your time.

Profile Image for Jose Caldwell.
37 reviews
April 25, 2014
Let's get one thing straight - SA. Hunt is a VERY talented writer. Compared to the vast majority of self-published authors, this guy is in another category. While reading this book it didn't take long for me to realize he has the tools with which to tackle any writing endeavor. It may sound obvious, but in this case it's worth pointing out anyhow; this book's greatest strength is the writing itself. Now, you might think I'm exaggerating, but this is the honest truth. His overall skill, especially descriptively, is very close, if not on par with Stephen King and other current literary giants of similar genres who have their books sitting on shelves in bookstores throughout the country. Not only is Hunt's vocabulary impressive, it is well studied in its application so as to enhance and not disrupt from the prose.

If I had to compare Whirlwind in the Thorntree to other books, the first that comes to mind is the Dark Tower series. Another would be Narnia, only because of the inter-dimensional travel thing, but this is much darker than C.S. Lewis. The story is about a small group of regular people thrown into the unforeseeable and extraordinary. It deals with the fate of the universe, approached from the unique aspect of what it means to create. There is an old western element suffused throughout the world of Destin, as well as a medieval flavor, not to mention a dystopian post-apocalyptic feel. Interwoven throughout from start to finish is a dimension of horror and ominousness that keeps you on edge at the same time it intrigues you.

My complaints are meager. One is that Hunt perhaps overuses his descriptive abilities a bit. He might do better to rein this skill in slightly, and let the story stand more on its own. However, I think most readers will appreciate the detail, as I did more often than not. There were also a few structural elements during certain stretches of the story that I thought kept this book from fulfilling its potential of being a five star achievement of genius, instead of being just a very good book. I would have rated it a few tenths over 4 stars if the goodreads' rating system allowed it. These slight flaws fade to the back because the writing itself rises above with its voice and style.

To conclude, let me say that if you are a fan of the Dark Tower series, or any weird westerns, or inter-dimensional travel, then you should definitely give this a try. And if the second book is better than the first, as rumor has it, then I have no doubt SA Hunt will attain the success he deserves
Profile Image for Laura Agnella.
265 reviews9 followers
February 18, 2014
If you are a lover of fantasy books such as the Dark Tower series by Stephen King or The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where other worlds are discovered and mysteries are abundant, than this is a book you will easily fall into, entering the fantasy with the characters and joining them on their adventure.
This book even mentions authors King and Lewis and comments on their stories, sometimes with a humorous edge. The main character, Ross, is given the overwhelming job of finishing his father's book series, a series that has a huge following, all looking to him for closure. He isn't sure how he feels about this project, especially since his relationship with his father was less than perfect and he hasn't even read the books! Noreen and Sawyer are dedicated fans who join him early on in the story and are thrown into the other world with him. The three form a quick friendship.
There are a lot of characters in this story and I found myself having to go back a few times to review who was who but it was worth the time. I think that this is common in this type of fantasy and I'm just not used to it. The story, however, was immensely interesting once I got a handle on the names and style of language used. I loved the idea of the world of Ross's father's books being a real place. What better way for him to finish the series than to live it!
I think what I liked most was the originality of the story. Sure, there are a lot of books that have characters traveling to another world or dimension but I felt that this one stood out. It was perfectly paced and clever, and it even made me laugh at times. The details in the story were so well phrased that they allowed me to really picture what was happening and see both the humans and non humans to a point where I felt I knew them and could feel their highs and lows. It amazes me how authors can create such an immense fantasy realm with unique characters and make it seem so real, as if it really exists. The amount of work and talent that go into such a creation are admirable. The pages kept turning and I was consistently impressed with the fact that I couldn't predict how it would end. This author is truly gifted. I look forward to the next book!
Profile Image for Jarrad.
27 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2013
Picked this book up on an Amazon deal not knowing anything about it other than I liked the name, and the cover art was cool. The book starts on a few slow sad notes, watching a man's life unravel. Ross returns home from active duty to find his father has suddenly died. His father had never been close, so Ross goes about doing his family duty without much emotion. His father had been the author of a very popular Fantasy series, and had died suddenly before completing it, leaving behind legions of dedicated fans who would never hear the stories they loved resolve themselves. Sounds familiar, or like a fear many of us in the fantasy book world already have. From there the story take a few chapters establishing Ross as not only distant from his father, but not a fan of his either, having never read any of his books at all. Then our story takes a very unforeseen turn, and once it has its hooks in you, you're just along for the ride.

A bunch of interesting characters fill the pages, and the writer describes locales, events in a very visual manner, but sometimes the characters are rushed (somewhat understandably, this being the first part of a series), and I had trouble keeping them separate, or visualizing them in my head. I realized once I finished the book I actually had no mental picture of many of the main cast. The book is very entertaining, and I have suggested it to many friends looking for a new fantasy series to delve into. My one major gripe is the book is left on the type of cliff hanger I expect from prime time television serials, or comic books, not serial literature. I very much believe each book should be able to stand on its own, and while this one has me in heavy anticipation for the followup, its not completely for reasons I appreciate.

Hunt is an excellent wordsmith, building a land of fantasy that is both new and familiar, and I look forward to following the adventures of Ross and the Outlaw King for years to come.
Profile Image for Cordell Falk.
Author 6 books2 followers
May 4, 2015
I made this purchase with a touch of fear as the first Dark Tower novel is one of the only books I could never struggle through.

Author Hunt has built a varied and deep universe with a vocabulary that puts most other writers to shame. The first person narrative is flowing with modern pop culture references that seemed too casual at first, but (after finishing both Volumes one and two) may hold an actual purpose or underlying meaning later. Similes and metaphors lurk behind every other page or so - so be warned if that's not your cup of tea. Hunt also makes creative use of 'excerpts' that appear between chapters to give some context and history to the other world - true, most do not directly relate to plot points in the novel, but they are more fun than a vanilla info dump / flashback.

First half of Volume One has a few growing pains - A press event that erupts during the funeral for Ross's father is an inappropriate scene that the characters take pretty much in stride. There is a "secret key fixation" sequence that drives itself with vague purpose (ends awesome, though) and it also took time to shake the preconception that ROSS THE ARMY GUY should be a gunslinging badass at the start - he shows a lot of fear and hesitation that I didn't think should slow an 'Army Guy'. Darned stereotypes...

Still, this is a good read with LOTS to take in - and it sets the stage for a hell of a ride in the next edition.
Profile Image for Natty.
731 reviews5 followers
February 24, 2014
This is another truly excellent fantasy novel, albeit in an unconventional direction than the usual. Gunslingers, invisible muses, elements of a post-apocalyptic world, yeah I'm really looking forward to the next book in the series. The author was clearly a fan of some of the greats, there are elements of Stephen King, Tolkien, L'Amour, Gaiman, and some very dry wit here, though mixed up and forged into something completely new. Definitely worth the time to read though I warn you, you'll be annoyed when it ends because then you have to wait for the next book.
Profile Image for Chantelle Griffin.
Author 7 books37 followers
February 27, 2016
Initially I was not sure what to expect however the wonderful imagination of the author pulled me in with such delight that I finished the book in just over a day. The personalities of the characters kept me glued to the page and I cannot wait to read the second book in the series.
The story moves from the real world into the fantasy realm with a hint Narnia, only this time the characters are grown up and the consequences are harder to face. I was hooked from beginning to end.
Profile Image for Ryan Toxopeus.
Author 13 books19 followers
August 14, 2015
I enjoyed the characters and a lot of the unique ideas. I didn’t like the slow pacing, and this story hit a few of my major pet peeves (timing that doesn’t make sense, and no ending being the big ones).
Profile Image for Karen Robinson.
17 reviews
June 2, 2014
Very good book! I read the second installment also. Just waiting for the final installment to be released!
Profile Image for Dava Stewart.
400 reviews1 follower
May 15, 2014
I quite liked the first book in this series, and must say, this one is better. The writing is tighter, and we get to learn a little more about the characters.

Looking forward to the third one.
Profile Image for Kate.
44 reviews
May 7, 2019
Here's my review from Amazon.

My only problem with this book is my own personal quirk, and not necessarily a mark against the story. I hate not knowing, and this story plunks you right down into the middle of a fantasy epic. I suppose the nice thing is that the protagonist is as unknowing as the reader, which makes any exposition simply part of catching the protagonist up to speed. It's exciting to learn about the new world alongside the protagonist, but part of me was constantly scared we would frustratingly be transported back to Ross' regular life; a very real threat since it happened once already. I really like Hunt's writing style, and they have an amazing way with building action. The story ties up neatly enough at the end that I am not agonizing (should the next book not have been available yet) but it was left hanging so that I am also very eager to read on. Hunt's characters are easy to imagine as real, even as they bring to life characters that are not human. My one criticism there would be that Hunt uses food descriptions for different skin tones. The world building with this story was intense and overwhelming, but made for a more authentic feeling of being competely lost and out-of-this-world (which was good!) I am very excited to read the next one and would highly recommend this to any fan of JK Rowling's Harry Potter (as Hunt is able to reference our reality in their storytelling), or Garth Nix's Abhorsen series, as the worldbuilding is equally fantastic and compelling.
Profile Image for Geoff Lichy.
Author 5 books4 followers
June 12, 2017
I haven't read The Dark Tower (yes, I know) so I can't say how The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree compares. But I thought this was a decent fantasy story overall. More Narnia vibes than expected (although darker, more along the lines of The Magicians) without disappointments.

I picked this up after reading S.A. Hunt's Malus Domestica (which is equally interesting). In some ways, I think Whirlwind is better, but I'm not going to do a comparison here. Suffice to say I like how Hunt does things.

My primary complaints with Whirlwind:
- The ending feels rushed. The book moves along nicely, things get weird, and suddenly it's all wrapped up at once.
- Overuse of pop culture references. Some references can be good, and this does help to illustrate some of Hunt's points, but Whirlwind is going to feel dated within a few years.
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