Review: Darkstorm by M.L. Spencer

Braden and Quin Reis share a tragic past, but it’s now up to them to save the future. When a secret conspiracy resorts to harnessing the powers of the Netherworld to save their legacy, Braden and Quin are the only mages capable of stopping them. But these two would-be heroes are compromised, harboring terrible secrets.

Can Braden and Quin put aside their differences long enough to prevent the unsealing of the Well of Tears? Or will they relent and join the conspiracy?

Darkstorm is the prequel to the epic grimdark fantasy series The Rhenwars Saga. If you like morally gray antiheroes, page-turning action, and mind-boggling plot twists, then you’ll love Spencer’s award-winning series.

5 of 5 stars!  

Betrayal and failure infest this story, with scant moments of triumph. Spencer teases the reader with glimpses of success and hope, making for an experience that compels you to keep reading, to keep hoping the next plot will work out. It's unsettling, mesmerizing, and addictive.

I devoured this book. I read until my eyes were soupy. I had some vague understanding of where things would end up, and I desperately needed to see how it unfolded. I had started with Darkmage, the first book in The Rhenwars Saga, then backed up and read this prequel. There were some things I liked about doing it this way. Darkstorm takes place a thousand years earlier, and thus shows the origins of some of the artifacts and traditions you find in Darkmage. It was cool, knowing where these circumstances would lead, but if you want a truly spoiler-free experience with this series, then start with Darkstorm

Those Reis brothers! What can I say about them? They have some issues for sure. I am impressed they still talk to each other after finding out the history that went down between them. Their relationship is fraught with conspiracy and tragedy. 

While Braden is more of an optimist and one to take action, Quin has a tendency to be consumed with cynicism, but he keeps going despite all the odds, because he does love his brother deep down and wishes he could feel more like his equal. 

Darkstorm really explores extreme choices made with good intentions, how small actions conceived in self-preservation can lead to dire consequences. It's an excellent exploration in moral ambiguity. It teases that line of when and how to defy the rules, that point where justice lives more within revolution than institution. While the sympathetic characters are generally from one side of this conflict, it's clear that both sides are desperately trying to do what they think is right, and the fate of their entire existence is at stake.  

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads

Review: Melokai by Rosalyn Kelly

Legendary warrior Ramya has successfully ruled as Melokai for longer than most. Prosperous, peaceful, and happy, her people love her. Or so she thinks.

Ramya’s time is up. Bracing herself for the gruesome sentence imposed on all Melokais who have served their purpose, she hears instead a shocking prophecy.

Is the abrupt appearance of a mysterious, eastern cave creature the prophesied danger? Or is it something darker, more evil? And what of the wolves? Will the ferocious war with their kind oust her from power?

Suddenly Ramya must fight threats from all sides to save her mountain realm. But while her back is turned, a conspiracy within her inner circle is festering. Ramya and her female warriors must crush an epic rebellion before it can destroy her and devastate her beloved nation.

She thinks it’s the end, but it’s just the beginning...

4 of 5 stars

Melokai introduces us to a brutal world of tribal nations with unique races and strange customs. The Melokai is the ruler of the Peqkya society. Their tendencies are very bestial, although their appearance is human. It's a misandrous society, where men are second-class citizens and vulnerable to extreme punishments for slight mistakes. Cats are a big part of their lives, including cats that can speak. The Peqkya culture is very detailed, complex, and violent. It's an excellent display of a culture that combines human instincts, rash consequences, and animalistic survival traits.

This is a violent world, even in sexual arenas. To me it felt like an indication of the state of the societies, or the shortness of tempers, rather than being gratuitous.

The different races in this world are humanoid-animal blends, some leaning more toward humans and others leaning more toward the animal. The wolf tribes operate much like wolves, living in small packs with an alpha male and female. They are territorial and very protective of their land and their pack members. Beyond that, we don't see much detail about their customs and traditions, which lent to an off-balanced feeling.

And that's really my only criticism of this work, it lacks a consistency of richness. The Peqkya culture comes alive, while some of the other cultures feel a bit flat or seem to be based mostly on stereotypes. So, there's a kind of unevenness in the immersion.

There's a desert society based around camels, which has it's own religion and conniving royal politics. There's a distant tribe of pygmies. And one society is a kingdom of humans, complete with king & queen, knights and princesses.

There are a lot of POV characters and a few plotlines left open. Only one climax really comes to fruition in this book, which leaves the author several threads to develop further in the series, and left this reader really wishing to see more of where things are going.

I absolutely loved Melokai Ramya. I can understand there's some debate about whether she brings on herself the plots that scheme against her, but I thought she was a very relatable character who wants the best for her people.

I very much enjoyed Rosalyn Kelly's writing style and look forward to the sequel!

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

Interview with Author Richard Nell

I recently reviewed Richard Nell's epic novel Kings of Paradise and easily became immersed in the scope of his world. Lucky for me, he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work.   

What inspired your world building process?

The short answer is a love of history. Kings of Paradise has a world very much like our own, in a style we tend to call ‘low fantasy’ these days. The two main cultures shown are bits and pieces of different real cultures mushed together with a little spin. The Ascom, for example, or the ‘land of ash’, is pulled right out of an old Norse self-description: ‘Ascomanni’, or ‘men of the ash tree’. They meant Yggdrasil, the tree they believed held the worlds (this is also where ‘Middle Earth comes from, or Middenheim), and I turned the mythology into men rising from the ash of a volcano. Even some of the matriarchal aspects are pulled from a South-East Asian people that still exist today (though they are mostly Islamic now, which is rather more patriarchal!). Anyway, I could go on (and on…). It would be fair to say I enjoy the world-building process, but I try not to make it intrusive. I know not everyone is as interested as I am!

Who are you writing for and why?

Myself, mostly. I have ideas I want to explore, things I need to get out, and the best method I’ve ever found is to write them down and pull them apart and try to understand. These days more and more I write for the wonderful fans eagerly awaiting the next book(s), but fiction has always been a way to invite others to explore these things with me. Once a reader has the book in their hands, I like to think we’re seeking answers together. I’m not a preacher. I don’t have any great truths to impart.

What do you do to recharge your creative energy?

I work rather hard at a schedule of relaxed discipline. Writers in general tend to be lazy, sneaky gits who (if you let them), will sneak off and indulge any number of bad, self-destructive habits. So I try to keep my mind and body healthy. I exercise, eat relatively right, and allow time to screw around and do nothing. I read a lot, too.

What reactions do you hope to inspire in others?

Thought, emotion. I’ve never really been the type to just ‘entertain’, though of course that is and must always be part of the experience. I suppose I’m happiest when I hear a reader is consumed, glued to the writing until they’re finished, and affected long after. I know what it’s like to have a book change you, and whether or not I can pull it off, that is what I want for anyone.

Where is your writing taking you?

Hopefully to a better version of myself. Writing I think is the most authentic thing I can do with my energy, so there’s a certain freedom or at least peace in that. If I die tomorrow, I did what I could. And if I’m very lucky perhaps it will even earn me a living. But we’ll see.

For more of Richard Nell's work:

Twitter @rnell2