Book Review – The Magician’s Sin by Alexander Thomas

The strange and wonderful world of superheroes and villains has always been a fertile field for new ideas to take root. From the original mortals that stood up to the gods to the Shadows and Doc Savages to modern mega-blockbusters, the idea of better than regular people fighting evil has been around since we first said, “Man, those gods are jerks. I’d love to kick that Apollo guy right in the balls.” Through those superheroes and villains, though they be better, stronger, smarter, more powerful than us, we get the chance to explore our own humanity.

The idea of flawed heroes is nothing entirely new, though modern mainstream movies are only just beginning to explore it. The Shadow was hardly a nice guy. Doc Savage may not have killed anyone outright, but he had no qualms about letting a temple fall on a bad guy.

It is kind of wonderful to see someone take a powerful character and expose their weaknesses. Not necessarily kryptonite, but those little things inside their heads that slowly break them down. The failures they can’t quite get over, no matter how much they drink.

They say the Golden Age of Superheroes was the 1930s. This was the era that brought us Superman and Batman, albeit slightly different than their current incarnations. This was also the stomping ground of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Phantom. It was a vibrant time and the panoply of colorful characters represented that time. But once you strip away the veneer, the world was a mess.

It’s into that world that Alexander Thomas drops us. Organized crime, honest cops, random violence, and very real magic. Our guide is Anson Walker, a stage magician with actual magical powers who got dragged into the role of a hero and found more than he bargained for.

Part superhero story, part love story, part mystery, The Magician’s Sin is a caterwauling romp through the weird and wonderful world of the Golden Age of Superheroes. A time when the ethics of one hero are being supplanted by the twisted ethics of another and right around the corner a magical anomaly is waiting.

This is a well-crafted story that deserves attention. It may be easy to throw a bunch of genres at a book and see what resonates, but it takes a gifted master to weave elements of heroism, failure, magic, detective noir, and romance into a single, cohesive story. And that’s what Alexander Thomas has given us in The Magician’s Sin.

Simply brilliant. Go buy a copy. Now.

Titan City: 1933

Anson Walker is a retired wizard who has spent the last two decades trying to put his past to rest. His cynical retirement is thrown into chaos when the daughter of his ex-wife hires him to rescue her mother from the dark forces who’ve taken her. The kidnapping is only days before the Aberration, a time every century when the rules of magic don’t apply. Anson’s investigation reveals an ancient conspiracy, the return of a decades-old nemesis, and feelings he thought long gone.

Will he rescue his old flame, or succumb to the forces against him?

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out Alexander on Twitter, his website, Facebook, and on Kyanite Publishing‘s Author Page

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Book Review – Lightning Blade by D.N. Erikson

Way back in ’93 Groundhog Day dropped Bill Murray’s single-handed show-stopping mania into American moviegoers’ laps. About eleven years later a Japanese author named Hiroshi Sakurazaka dropped a book called All You Need Is Kill. All You Need Is Kill was appropriated by Hollywood and turned into Edge Of Tomorrow which was a good – if underappreciated movie – that was saddled with a really unfortunate name. Not that All You Need Is Kill is a spectacular title, especially compared to the simple punch of Groundhog Day.

So, what do Bill Murray, groundhogs, Japanese novels, and American sci-fi have in common? They all center around the idea of a time loop. Bill Murray relives the same Groundhog Day 38 times, although the director says he lived the same day over and over for ten years. All You Need Is Kill‘s protagonist loops through the same set of days over and over again, dozens or hundreds of times. The prime difference between the two is Bill Murray wakes up each morning to Sonny and Cher and All You Need Is Kill‘s Keiji Kiriya restarts each time he dies.

D.N. Erikson’s Lightning Blade follows a similar pattern. Not that Lightning Blade is necessarily derivative of either Groundhog Day or All You Need Is Kill, it just makes use of a time loop, which is a pretty clever thing to do in an urban fantasy story. At least, I’ve never seen it done before.

Here’s the thing about time loops: They can get boring if they’re not handled well. Groundhog Day could have been the least interesting movie on the planet – right up there with Ishtar – if it wasn’t handled well. Ditto with All You Need Is Kill. If you’ve got the same character going through the same thing over and over, it can get ridiculously tedious. In other words, writing a time loop story isn’t for the faint of heart.

Fortunately, Erikson handles the time loop with a good deal of flair. Lightning Blade is told from the point of view of Ruby Callaway, a less-than-savory bounty hunter living out her days in a Tuscon penitentiary where she’s been imprisoned for a variety of crimes including having and using essence – the world’s version of magic. Ruby gets caught up in hunting down a necromancer who’s become a terrorist. Unbeknownst to Ruby and her FBI partner, the necromancer has dropped them both into a time loop where he’s been hiding out and getting stronger. Every time Ruby dies, the loop resets and she has to start all over again.

Each time Ruby gets re-looped, she remembers even though the rest of the characters are reset back to zero. Since she knows what’s coming, Ruby has to try new things to get her story back on track. Each of the loops gets us closer and closer to the endgame, which is just as much a surprise as everything else that comes before it. That’s what makes a good time-loop book.

For fans of Kate Daniels and The Dresden Files comes a new breed of urban fantasy heroine.
One who might not survive an endless day.

When the FBI releases supernatural bounty hunter Ruby Callaway after 20 years, the terms are simple: put down the necromancer killing public officials in return for amnesty. But then the necromancer plunges a blade through her heart, and Ruby reawakens at midnight, back in jail. Alive. 

Which means one thing: the necromancer has thrust the world into an endless time loop that only he and Ruby can see. And Ruby is the only one capable of stopping him before the world burns. But as she unravels the necromancer’s sinister plan, two questions repeat in Ruby’s mind: Just how dangerous is a vengeful serial killer with nothing but time? 

And what if the necromancer isn’t the worst thing lurking in the shadows of this brave new world?

Lightning Blade is the first book in the Ruby Callaway Trilogy, mixing dark, gritty urban fantasy with a sprinkling of futuristic sci-fi & cyberpunk. Not your typical bounty hunter. Not your typical urban fantasy.

All in all, Lightning Blade is a fun read with well-handled time loop that takes its time to explain the nuances of the world Ruby lives in. As a bonus, it’s available for less than a buck now.

Get it on Amazon

Check out Erikson’s website

 

Reality vs Fantasy

rant

One of the best parts of writing, of course, is getting to create the story from scratch. It’s an awful lot like playing pretend when you’re a kid and you get to make up all sorts of fantastical things. The kid stuff doesn’t have to follow any set of logic or rules. When you’re a kid, you can have the biggest weapon and be unbeatable by any foe. You’ll also be smart and handsome and generally the best player in the game.

While that’s all fun when you’re tootling around the playground with your buds pretending to fight the forces of darkness and winning handily, it doesn’t make for good grown-up stories because beating the bad guys senseless without any real stress doesn’t create our good friend dramatic tension.

“Yep, whooped up on the bad guys and went home to XBox and the best Cheetos and chocolate milk money can buy. Didn’t get a scratch on me.”

Fun. Not exciting, though.

bollywood

Teeming with dramatic tension

One thing kids do have that adults seem to lack is a lot of imagination. In a kid’s world, fantasy and reality combine to make a kind of surreality soup that tastes great with Cheetos and chocolate milk. The fantastic can be incredibly fantastic and the realistic can also be incredibly fantastic because kids don’t see the world through the same jaded eyes adults do.

In the adult story world, things need to make a least a modicum of sense or, at the very least, be very truthy. Even the fantastical stuff needs to have an air of rules and some grounding in reality or it starts to smack of deus ex machina solutions and over-the-top fantasy where a girl falls in love with a billionaire and changes him for the better. No one will ever fall for that.

Wait. Scratch that. It’s a common trope these days.

kitt

A show chock full of realism.

Anyway, even if the fantasy world filled with magic and dragons, there still needs to be some limit on just how far things go. The hero – who is righteous and brilliant and handsome – can’t change the rules at the last minute because the story got to a point where there was no reasonable way out.

The inherent perfection of the characters is also something that can kill the tension. Heroes don’t necessarily need to be dashing or beautiful any more than villains need to twirl mustaches and tie damsels to train tracks. Realistic heroes can be monsters (literal or figurative) and villains can be people doing the wrong things for all the right reasons.

I’ve been working on my first fantasy novel, Greetings From Sunny Aluna. I promise, it won’t be a traditional fantasy novel. There will be dragons and magic, but there’s also crime, drugs, fighting, and drinking. In order to keep things at least borderline realistic in a world where there are two suns, two moons, magic is real (and used to power lights, among other things), and humans and dragons fought a nasty war at some point in the past, I’ve been digging into a lot of Chinese mythology and trying to reconcile it with the rules of the world. Sure, there are dragons, and, yes, they are magical creatures. But they’re also unrepentant apex predators with gigantic egos. There’s magic, but very few people completely understand it and even though it’s everywhere, most people are content to power their lights and ovens with it.

These are the things that help ground the story and, in my opinion, make it fun. That little hint that this could be real, no matter how bonkers the rest of the story may be. Too much fantasy and you lose the human element of the story. Too much humanity and you might as well be rewriting Beaches or The Piano because you’ve lost the fantastical element in the story. Figure out just what humans are good at (being lazy and finding the easiest way out of working) and wrap that with a magical world and you’ve got the makings of a good story.

There are rules on Aluna, and an awful lot of broken people doing awful things in the name of good. It’s still fantasy, but it’s not high fantasy. Think of Greetings From Sunny Aluna as down in the gutter fantasy. It’s going to be fantasy merged with the mean, gritty realism you only get when you’re knife-fighting behind a 7-11 at 2am. It’s just that the 7-11 will serve fried tarantulas and the knife fights will be epic.

greetingsfromsunnyalunatwitterprecover

 

Book Review – Seer of Souls by Susan Faw

To save the world, they must be born of the world. The battles between the Kingdom of Cathair and the Primordial forces at Daimon Ford are the stuff of legends. Desperate to save the world, two immortals choose to be reborn as mortals, wiping away all memory of their divine existence. But even as Cayden, and his twin sister Avery make the ultimate sacrifice, other gods are plotting against them. At the point of birth, divine intervention and powerful, ancient magic are called upon to snatch their souls from the dying flesh of a princess’s poisoned womb. The royal family of the Kingdom of Cathair has always been the physical Spirit Shield of the world. With the murder of the entire royal family, who guards the secrets within the castle walls? Can the magic of the gods, old and new, ensure the safe keeping of the immortal treasure within, and if they fail, who will choose for the unborn? Helga, the goddess of the underworld, is not amused and has set into play a diabolical scheme of her own. There is a little place called Sanctuary by the Sea and chaos is about to pay a visit… This is Seer of Souls, Book one of the Spirit Shield Saga, a fantasy read for all ages.

Some reviewers have said that this book started slow and only picked up momentum about half-way through. I respectfully disagree; the pace moves along quite nicely throughout the book, it’s just that the pace (and the tension) amp up at the end and, in comparison, make the beginning seem tame.

That’s not a bad thing.

Take your average fantasy story and you’ll see a handful of commonalities: evil king or queen, outsiders, some magic, maybe a dragon or two. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a damsel in need of saving and a plucky band of ne’er-do-wells out to save the day. Seer Of Souls has some of those things, which is to be expected of a fantasy novel. Other things, such as the dragons and damsels in distress, are lacking. Again, not a bad thing. There’s really only so much you can do with damsels in distress when you don’t have a train handy. Call me a traditionalist, I just prefer my damsels in distress to be tied to railroad tracks by a mustache-twirling baddie.

And don’t get me started on dragons.

What Seer Of Souls does have that a lot of the fantasy genre is lacking is a clever bit of intrigue. Instead of huge armies clashing on forlorn battlefields and wizards cracking reality square in the nose, what Faw gives us is a clever way to infiltrate. She’s taken the fantasy genre and given it a good, solid whack on the keister. Maybe it’s just because I don’t read that much fantasy (see my previous bit about damsels and trains), but the change from huge armies clashing made the story seem fresh. More than that, it made the story seem much more personal. This doesn’t have a huge cast of caricatures, it has some realistic people who aren’t certain they’re always doing the right thing. It’s got people with powers who don’t completely understand those powers. It’s also got a antagonist with questionable fashion tastes. All of that makes for a story you can fall into.

This is only book one of The Spirit Shield Saga, but it’s off to a good start. I hope Faw expands on her world – especially the Primordials – and keeps up with the intrigue in future releases.

seerofsouls

Get your copy here

Rules of Magic? Magic Laughs At Your Rules!

MagicWood

Insert your own joke here.

A couple years ago I was working on a programming project and we were having issues. Our program manager let me know and I set to work on fixing things. One day, without any intervention from me, the problems stopped happening. When I explained what was going on, the PM simply said, “FM.”

FM?

Fucking magic.

Software, especially the multi-tier stuff I work on, has its own set of rules. It’s complicated enough that sometimes completely unforeseen issues creep in and disappear as things like network load change. There’s precious little you can do about some of those things. If the data ain’t getting where it’s supposed to go, it ain’t getting where it’s supposed to.

In my writing persona, some of my stories have dabbled in the occult and touched on magic, but with the Saxton series I’ve got a full-on bruja wandering around. For the uninitiated, bruja is Spanish for witch. Brujeria is witchcraft. Like all witchcraft, it’s an involved art, learned over generations of trial and error. I’m hardly qualified to speak to its efficacy, so we’ll just say it works.

 

Now, Renee McMasters is a bruja, and a very powerful one. If you’ve read The Clock Man, you’ve come across her, but haven’t experienced what she’s capable of. Save for the way she took over the bogeyman (kind of gave away a plot point there) and sent him after her enemies, she’s mostly just a woman who inspires respect in people. And tries to kill Saxton with poisoned flan.

In Uneasy Allies, which will be the first Saxton story, Renee gets to stretch her legs and readers will get a taste of her abilities. I wanted to make her realistic, show what and where her powers stem from, but realistic magic doesn’t flow as well in an action story. Perhaps later stories will explore those topics, but for now I had to break with the realistic side of magic and make her abilities work in a compressed narrative. She won’t have the time to spin a traditional spell when all hell is breaking loose.

This is not to say I didn’t study up on magic a bit. It’s a pretty common tool in fiction and there are those who do it well and those who do it poorly. In my research I found a bunch of rules for using magic in fiction.

  • Magic should be limited and not used a Deus ex Machina solution.
  • Magic should have a cost associated with it.
  • Magic shouldn’t be all-powerful.
  • Magic should be difficult to learn

And on and on and on and on. The general gist of using magic in fiction comes down to one very simple rule: don’t let the story be about the magic. Magic is just some stuff that happens, a tool for causing or resolving events; it’s like a gun but for magicians. And like a gun, magic isn’t the easiest thing to wield.

legoZatanna

If you recognize who this is, you get a gold star.

Fictional magic is quite different from it’s more realistic counterpart, but both of them come down to hacking reality. That’s the genesis of Renee’s magic in the Saxton series: she’s basically got the ability to see and impact the world around her more than the rest of us.

Her cost for using magic will eventually be explored, but for now it’s not. She doesn’t have all the power in the world, but she’s pretty tough. And she’s the only character in the story who has that kind of power.

So, did I follow the rules? Kind of. For the most part. But, let’s face it, this is fiction and I didn’t get into this business to do what everyone else is doing. Sometimes you’ve got to make up your own rules and just make sure they work with whatever story you’re peddling. The last thing you want your audience to do is wonder what just happened.

whatamilookingat

When your readers get this look, you’ve lost.

Within certain confines, playing with magic and its abilities in fiction is perfectly acceptable. As long as it works, it’s all good. Besides, it’s fucking magic. Have fun with it.

Saxton: Uneasy Allies should be dropping early next month.

The Clock Man

The Clock Man started with a single idea: what if you could meld the fantastic Chinese martial arts and mysticism with American steel? It would be kind of like Steampunk but without the Victorian underpinnings. Rather than brass and bronze and the analog details that make Steampunk so interesting, what if you had a world that was powered by magic? What if – like the stories in Kung Fu Theater – martial arts were an important part of that world?

Thus was born Aluna.

In all fairness, I think I should point out that Aluna (at least the name) was my son’s creation. He used to tell us stories of the wars and things that happened on Aluna; it was his planet and he was populating it with all manner of high technology and fantastic creations. I took the name and used it for a different world – with his permission, of course.

I like the way the story turned out. It’s rare that I’ll start editing one of my own stories and not be able to put it down, but the irascible Felix Crow still brings a smile to my face.

The book sort of snowballed from there. It was originally intended to be a short story collection but of the eight stories only a few fall into traditional short story parameters. Most of the stories fall into the novelette range and the Clock Man itself is toward the top end of the novella range. This must be just how I think about telling stories.

Some of the stories, like The Protectors, link directly back to the events of The Clock Man but take place outside of Aluna. Others have more tenuous links but Aluna is very much present. Other stories, Eve, The Hunt, and Awaken, are very much part of the Henchmen universe. Some flit back and forth between those two worlds.

The nice thing about giving Eve, Wilford, and Dreamer their own stories is it allowed me to answer questions left over from Henchmen and Arise without having to muck up the narrative of both of those books. Those two novels are told from the point of view of Steven and he doesn’t know everything nor is he really meant to.

Bar none the most difficult to write was Duérmete Niño. That started out as a simple look at the world through the eyes of Coco, but how do you make the bogeyman a sympathetic character? He doesn’t talk, he’s got a limited understanding of the world, and exists solely for the purpose of eating children. There’s not much you can do with that. I like to think I found a way to make him work, though.

Awaken was originally published as a stand-alone piece and was available online for quite a while. The sales were dismal – I think because no one wants to pay to read a short story that’s not erotica. Even as a free download it really didn’t go anywhere. I made some serious edits to it, added a bit of Dreamer’s point of view, and included it here because I think it’s an interesting story and does a pretty good job of setting up Dreamer’s motivations.

As an interesting side note – The Protectors was based on a dream I had. The story is almost a scene-for-scene retelling of that dream. Some embellishments were added (like the entire end scene). If you’ve ever wondered where stories come from, that’s definitely one place: an overactive dreamer.

At some point I need to figure out what to do with Jack and his devil girlfriend. She’s only referenced Zona Peligrosa, but she has her own story in the Holes anthology. I think they’re both interesting characters.

Without further ado, the Clock Man is now available on Amazon for $2.99 or you can read it on Kindle Unlimited.

Enter worlds of magic and dragons, martial arts and mayhem

  • A woman waits in a plain white room, wondering why she’s there and what’s about to happen.
  • A man and his talking gun hunt the bogeyman.
  • A family finds its house is haunted and sets out to trap the ghosts, but what if the ghosts aren’t the real problem?
  • Far underneath a city, the figure of a man rests. For decades he’s remained perfectly motionless. Last night he moved.
  • In a world of magic, martial arts, and dragons, one man controls the flow of magic. Now his daughter wants him dead.
  • Zapp Blander always dreamed of being a hero. When a man named Jack shows up, Zapp might just get his chance.
  • She was designed to choose which slain warriors got to go to Valhalla, but Kara has developed her own ideas.
  • The bogeyman of New Mexico is beaten and fed what should be a simple task: Kill the boy.

TheClockManFinal

Get your copy here and spend the weekend curled up with some amazing stories.