Review: Darkmage by M.L. Spencer

Darien Lauchlin has already lost everything. Now the only thing he has left to lose is his soul.

When his own brother unseals the Well of Tears, Darien is the last Sentinel left alive to defend his homeland. Now he is faced with an impossible decision: either watch everything he knows shatter—or forsake his oath of peace to become an instrument of pure destruction. Accompanied by Naia, a priestess of Death, Darien embarks on a harrowing journey to save the people of the Rhen. But will he lose his own soul in the process?

5 of 5 stars!

Darkmage starts off strong, with an intricate society and an immense level of destruction. The pacing slows down while the main characters regroup. The scope feels too broad at first. It takes awhile for all the pieces to get into position, but once they do, this book becomes nearly impossible to put down. Halfway through, I was enjoying the read, thinking, "Yes, I see why people are excited about this series." Still, I was unprepared for how excellent it would be. The intensity that commands the latter portion of the book is nearly crippling. I felt like the story took me hostage.

The Sentinels are a magical order with the purpose of preserving and protecting their homeland. When Darien becomes the last surviving Sentinel, he has to break their laws in order to fulfill their purpose during an epic war. In an effort to continue the magical legacy, he manages to find an apprentice and tries to squeeze in magic lessons amidst the growing tension of their battle plans. Darien has to make terrible decisions, over and over again. He doesn't do the honorable thing, or the ethical thing, but it's still somehow the right thing. He sacrifices so much of himself, with very little hope or indication of redemption.

The writing encompasses a careful attention to detail that speaks of the author's love of the craft. It's set in an original fantasy world with a vast history, various religions, and old adversaries. The author gives us nothing from the viewpoint of the Enemy, which adds to their ominous reputation and leaves a lot of open questions. Although the included bonus chapter from the sequel, Darklands, indicates the next book delves fully into the Enemy's side of the war. I am excited to read that, and plan to read the series prequel as well.  

I recommend this book to fantasy fans who enjoy sprawling war stories with epic magic, the challenges of a new master-apprentice experience, and tragic characters with intense emotional struggles.

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads.

Cover Reveal: HEMLOCK (The Manhunters Book Two)

I think it's fair for me to proclaim my favorite fantasy author is my husband, Jesse Teller. I've been a fan of his storytelling for many, many years and seeing his work released upon the world is always thrilling for me. Song, his opening novel to The Manhunters trilogy, has been gaining more and more attention over these last few months, in part due to its stunning cover.

For Hemlock, the second book in The Manhunters, we wanted to make sure the cover would hold up well next to Song, and also carry its own unyielding energy. It's a darker book, more heartbreak, tougher odds, and with vampires as the main enemy, it's understandably bloodier.

It's always a challenge to make sure the cover represents the story in quality, depth, and tone. In this case, Hemlock shines. Many thanks to the extraordinary talent at Seedlings Design Studio. Without further delay, here's the cover of Jesse Teller's upcoming new release:

The Manhunters Book Two
Releases April 15, 2018

The busiest pirate bay in Perilisc is newly infested with vampires. These monsters will soon overrun the world, but the Manhunters must try to stop them in secret. Agents of the king are hunting Rayph's vigilante crew, and with one false step, they could all end up at a royal execution.  

Praise for The Manhunters:

"Teller’s world is stunning in its complexity."
—M. L. Spencer, Bestselling Author of The Rhenwars Saga

"Dark and gritty fantasy, epic in its fierce and raw telling."
—Tome Tender Book Blog

"Jesse Teller has created a convincing world and populated it with characters that are endearing and relatable."
—Readers' Favorite

You can find Hemlock here on Amazon or here on Goodreads

Interview with Author Rob J. Hayes

Dark fantasy author Rob Hayes is a finalist in the current Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO). Not too long ago, I reviewed Where Loyalties Lie, the first book in his critically acclaimed Best Laid Plans duology. I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the second book later this month. His style is action-packed and his characters are scoundrels. It's truly fantastic. Here are some insights into his work.

What inspired your world building process?

I think that's a many faceted question. There's certainly no one thing that inspires my world building. I take inspiration from the books I read, the films I watch, the games I play, the artwork I see. And also from the real world we inhabit. It all comes together in a way I don't entirely understand myself.

When I was building First Earth I certainly took inspiration from medieval Europe. The first kingdom I was creating is the Five Kingdoms and it has knights and nobility and peasants, in many ways its a small microcosm of what medieval Europe was, but focused in a much larger world.

 Across the ocean from the Five Kingdoms is the Untamed Wilds and that's a place that was very much influenced by the wild west. It has dozens upon dozens of little towns each with their own laws and governors, and all surrounded by a largely lawless expanse. Bands of outlaws roam the land, and deputised bounty hunters try to bring them in.

 Across another ocean is the Dragon Empire, a land loosely based on feudal Japan... but with dragons. So the world itself is a bit of a mash up of different cultures across different times. I wanted it to feel large and lived in, and the best way I could think of achieving that was having many different places and people mentioned, and sometimes visited.

But the inspiration certainly doesn't stop at those real world comparisons. I like to think I took the bleak aspect from the Warhammer universe. The dark political gaming from A Song of Ice and Fire, the sense of there always being somewhere new to explore from World of Warcraft. Honestly, I'd say the list of inspirations for First Earth are too numerous to count. I take inspiration from everything and put it all into my fiction.

Who are you writing for and why?

It might sound a little cliched, but I write for myself. I write the stories I want to write, in the worlds I want to write. I've never been the type of person who looks at what is popular at any given time and tries to follow it. Hopefully one day the two things will align and my popularity will soar... along with the book sales to prove it.

As to the why. I have stories in my head. I have worlds and characters and concepts. I'm a dreamer, always have been. I was that kid in school who stared out of the window dreaming of orcs and aliens and heroes and villains. Eventually I decided I wanted to share those stories with others. I wanted to introduce the worlds and characters I dream to the world, so they'll still exists in some form or another, even if I've moved on.

What do you do to recharge your creative energy?

I'm a gamer to my core. I finish writing for a day and like to load up something on my xbox and let the mechanical motion of moving within that world switch my mind off. It helps with the aforementioned inspiration, but it also helps me debrief after a day of existing in my own world.

What reactions do you hope to inspire in others?

There's no greater reaction you can inspire in others as making them want to do what you do. Maybe one day someone will pick up writing in their own world and say my work was an inspiration to them. And I think I'd be very happy at that.

 Also, I'd like to inspire others to buy more of my books. :D

Where is your writing taking you?

Everywhere. I don't like staying still for too long. I'm always creating new places and characters. From dipping my toes into science fiction, to trying my hand at a fantasy YA epic. My writing takes me wherever my imagination leads, and who knows what will inspire that from one day to the next?

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