Review: Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell

An island prince searches for meaning; a deformed genius struggles to survive. In a changing world where ash meets paradise, only one man can be king…

Ruka, son of Beyla, is a monster. Single-born, twisted, and ugly, Ruka has the bright, golden eyes of a wolf, but his mind is as vast as the open sky.

Born in the frozen, snow-covered wasteland of the Ascom—the land of ash—Ruka was spared from death at birth by his mother’s love. Now, he is an outlaw, and dreams only of vengeance. But can a broken genius find redemption? Or once he has the world in his grasp, will he simply break it apart?

Across a wide sea is the white-sand island paradise of Sri Kon.

Ratama Kale Alaku is fourth and youngest son of the island monarch men call the Sorcerer King. And at sixteen, Kale is a disappointment. His father has sent him away to the navy, perhaps in hopes of salvaging a once-promising child, or perhaps just to get rid of him.

Now Kale must prove his worth - and not just to his father. He must become more than a wastrel prince, or else lose all hope of purpose, or love.

And though Kale does not yet know how or why, he stands on the cusp of discovery. For his path, his 'Way', is perhaps the only hope for his family, his people, and as the storm gathers across an unknown sea, maybe the world itself...

5 of 5 stars!

Vast in scope and intimate in its telling, Kings of Paradise is an impressive novel from a brilliant mind.

The story unfolds naturally and starts with humble beginnings. Ruka, an only child raised by a single mother, and Kale, fourth son of an island king, and not very skilled at anything.

In the land of Ash, Ruka is an exile who longs to expose the corruption of the religious order and claim some personal justice for crimes against his mother. These are tribal people whose governing system is centered around women and their hierarchy of priestesses. They are isolated from other cultures and have an ancient lineage of gods and legends. Ruka is unique for his knowledge of runes, which his mother taught him though most of his people no longer understand, especially not men.

In a distant but no less unique culture, we follow the life of Kale, a young prince who goes through many different types of studies and training trying to find his purpose, where he can best serve and what his contribution to the world should be. He learns some rare and powerful metaphysical skills that earn him a few followers and a few enemies. 

The most impressive aspect of the book is how the complexity of the cultures, politics and religions become increasingly revealed as the characters mature and are themselves gaining more perspective. The world building is so intricate and so expertly shown, only as details pertain to the story at hand. There are many point-of-view characters whose lives contribute to the story in different ways, sometimes only for a chapter or two.

My only critique is that the distribution of point-of-view changes is somewhat irregular, at times spending several chapters with one character before switching to another. It only mildly affected my reading pleasure as I sometimes took a few pages to remember who the next character was and what he or she had going on, at least in the early stages of the story.

This book is so engaging. It was incredibly hard to put down. The characters have much at stake, and their personalities are inspiring and demanding.

I highly recommend Kings of Paradise for readers of epic fantasy who are looking for something impressive, unique, authentic and complex. 

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads

Review: An American Weredeer in Michigan by C.T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

Life is not easy for the world's first weredeer detective. A simple hike turns into a media circus when Jane Doe, her best friend Emma, and a pair of monster hunters find a mass grave. Determined to find the parties responsible, Jane soon discovers a sinister cult leader has decided to make Bright Falls, Michigan the home of his corrupt religion.

As if this wasn't complicating her life enough, Jane also has to decide whether or not she wants to begin a relationship with FBI Special Agent Alex Timmons or local crime lord Lucien Lyons. Both men are determined to get to the bottom of the crime she's investigating but may be distracted by their own agendas—as well as their love for Jane. 
5 of 5 stars! 
Jane Doe is back in a bucking good story! If you enjoyed I Was A Teenage Weredeer, this sequel will not disappoint.

An American Weredeer in Michigan starts with a murder to solve—several actually. A mass grave of infants has been found in the forest, and whoever is sacrificing these children has been getting away with it for a long time. Jane is not about to walk away from such a heinous crime without finding the one responsible. Her best friend Emma also joins her to help and Jane's FBI-agent love interest, Alex, shows up to work the case as well.

This story picks up a few months after the first book. The aftermath of the last case is settling down and the town of Bright Falls seems to have found some balance.

Jane has been spending a lot more time learning to use her natural powers and she's now the official shaman of Bright Falls. Her new powers have not diminished her power of sarcasm, and she's able to keep her cool through emotional and spiritual crises.

To complicate things more, a traveling group of religious fanatics is in town, and one of their local members, Robyn, turns to Jane for help finding her biological parents, who abandoned Robyn when she was young.

People are turning to Jane more often for spiritual answers, her being the town shaman and all, but she's not quite comfortable with that part of the role. Jane is still trying to figure out her own beliefs in the midst of all this new "enlightenment" and she's not sure how to assure others yet. The further she gets into this case, the more she learns that supernatural problems rarely have clear-cut answers.

This book has fewer deer puns, which I missed, but more deer cussing, which I was easily a fan of. The characters felt much more complex in this book, which explored more of their pasts and their relationships to each other. There is a strong sense of evolution in Jane's character by the end of the story, too, where she finds more confidence and resolve in her life and what she wants to do with her future.

This is a fun urban fantasy with a complicated twist of events that's entertaining and unpredictable. It touches on some heartfelt issues and navigates tragedies with heroic ease. I'm certainly looking forward to the next one!

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

Interview with Author Benedict Patrick

I recently reviewed They Mostly Come Out At Night by Benedict Patrick and found the atmosphere captivating. I'm pleased today to share here my interview with the author. 

What inspired your world building process?

Folktales and fairytales have always captivated me. From an early age, I was surprised at how many different versions of traditional tales were out there. I had a storybook of Red Riding Hood were there was a (with hindsight, very disturbing) picture of the huntsman opening the sleeping wolf’s stomach, loading it with stones, and then with a flip of the page the wolf was drowning in a nearby river. My friends had not heard that version before. As I grew older, I enjoyed finding more obscure folktales – East of the Sun, West of the Moon was a favourite.

When it comes to my own worldbuilding, particularly for the Yarnsworld novels, storytelling traditions are one of the first aspects of worldbuilding that I tackle, whether it’s the warning tales of the Magpie King’s forest and the Crescent Atoll, or the hero worship that is going on in the City of Swords, the stories that the characters in my world tell each other dictate how they act, and what the world around them is like.

Who are you writing for and why?

The correct answer here is for me, isn’t it? 😊 

There’s definitely part of that, especially in the beginning, but I’ve been very lucky to develop a small but dedicated readership, who’ve stuck around through three very different books. Nothing gives me a bigger kick than hearing from those people that they enjoyed my latest story.

What do you do to recharge your creative energy?

I like to game. I try to game as much as possible, but time is a cruel taskmaster. I used to play a LOT of video games, and I do have a Nintendo Switch and a gaming PC, but any time I spend on there now tends to be playing Lego games in co-op with my son. I’m much more successful carving out tabletop gaming time. I meet up with a bunch of friends most Sunday evenings to play board games (and tend to tweet a lot during those sessions!). Once a month, I meet up via Google Hangouts with a bunch of fantasy authors (Timandra Whitecastle, David Benem, Josiah Bancroft and Phil Tucker) to play Dungeons & Dragons. We’ve recently started to release our games sessions as a podcast, Crit Faced.

What reactions do you hope to inspire in others?

Oh, I like catching people off guard, I guess. Bring them to a place they’ve not been to before, share unusual characters and settings. Hopefully the story they finish isn’t quite the story they believed it was when they began.

Where is your writing taking you?

With regards to overall career, I definitely aspire to making this a full-time gig in the next few years, but that is still a long road to travel, albeit a road I’m pretty confident I’m on, now. As I mentioned earlier, I’m very fortunate to have found a readership who like what I do, and that readership keeps growing. One of these days, it’ll be nice to put aside the never-mentioned day job and focus on story all the time.

With regards to the types of stories, I’ve been jumping around the Yarnsworld for the first three novels, visiting different locations and different characters. For the next few Yarnsworld books, I’d like to revisit some of those locations, see how those stories have developed over time. In saying that, I read Nick Eames’ Kings of the Wyld last year, and that book hit me like a sledgehammer. It was fun, just pure, unfiltered fun. I would love to create something that made readers feel a fraction of that, and that desire is weighing on my mind a lot as I figure out which projects to tackle next…

More of Benedict Patrick's work:

Twitter: @benedictpaddy

Crit Faced Podcast: