Book Review – Beneath A Fearful Moon by R.A. McCandless

I’ve always felt the novella doesn’t get enough love. In this day of digital and on-demand publishing, there’s really no reason to focus exclusively on massive tomes just because they’re easier to run through the printing press. Not every story needs to be four hundred pages long and trying to stretch a shorter tale into a full-length novel just gives you Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A story should be precisely as long as it needs to be and no longer.

Returning to Aqualine in the form of a novella was a good thing. It’s the perfect length for the story it’s telling. The story is clever and handled well and, thankfully, didn’t get dragged out into 400 pages of extraneous details. McCandless aims the story right at the point and stands on the gas. What comes next is a short, intense read that builds on his work in The Clockwork Detective.

And just like Clockwork Detective, Beneath A Fearful Moon is a great example of blending two genres to come up with something new. Part steampunk, part urban fantasy, Moon is a story that straddles worlds without letting the setting be overbearing. Imagine clicking gears and the so-perfect-they’re-alien Fae. Sundry things like steam-powered tree strippers meet fantastic water dryads. Nature buts up against iron technology. Even Aubrey, our protagonist, is a study in straddling worlds.

If you like steampunk or urban fantasy or just want to see what happens nine months after they get drunk and have a torrid affair, check out McCandless’s Constable of Aqualine series. Both The Clockwork Detective and Beneath A Fearful Moon are available on Amazon and both are well worth the read.

Constable Aubrey Hartmann did her duty, fought for the Empire and lost her leg in the process. All she wants is a quiet life, and the chance of some fun, romantic entanglements in the frontier town of Aqualinne.
When bodies start turning up, slashed from head to toe, she’s duty-bound investigate. As the clues start to point to the reclusive and deadly Fae in the prohibited Old Forest, Aubrey must rely on her war-forged nerves and her trusty Manton pistols. The challenge isn’t just to solve the case, but to survive it.

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Book Review – R.A. McCandless’s Company Of The Damned

Back in 2014 the first of RobRoy McCandless’s angelpunk stories dropped and changed the world’s view of angels. That book was Tears of Heaven (check out my review here). In case you’re wondering, every time I use Tears of Heaven as a drink in one of my books, that’s what I’m referring to. Tears of Heaven kicked off the Flames of Perdition series about the Nephilim Del and her ongoing task to rid the world of rogue demons escaped from Hell and tearing up the world.

Since then, two more books in the series have dropped and this time Del the rogue-demon slayer has come a long way from the absinthe-swilling anti-heroine we saw in the first book. She’s been beaten down, seen friends killed, and found herself in a shaky alliance with a hidden group of elves. Hell Becomes Her set up the longer-running story line and Company Of The Damned knocks it out of the park.

This is McCandless at his finest, digging into the action and bringing the character’s to life on the page. Like all good writing, it started with “what if?” question. In this case, what if some of the Biblical elements were right? Maybe not all of them, and Del is certainly not given to quoting Bible verse. But what if demons were a real and constant threat? What if angels were the nigh-undefeatable soldiers of the Throne? What if, stuck in the middle of that, were the Nephilim, struggling to find a safe way for themselves in a world that would be perfectly content to see them dead?

That’s the world McCandless built in the first two books. In Company of the Damned, he takes full advantage of that world and doesn’t hesitate to tear the hell out of it. This is like reading a Hollywood blockbuster – it has battles, and magic, and Norse goddesses, and golems, and even Lucifer himself. With all that, it would seem like a complicated mess of a story. And perhaps it would be in the hands of a less story-teller, but McCandless weaves this stunning menagerie with a deft hand and gives us a rare gem in the world: A Hollywood blockbuster that has a heart. It’s not all style and no substance.

If you like your characters tough, your dialogue sharp as a tack, and your action scenes plotted out as well as any John Woo movie, this is a good series to get into. With a bit of luck, we’ll see Del on the silver screen someday.

Del’s life was supposed to be easier. She had safety, support, and a small army of immortals to help her banish rogue demons. She should have known better. When the Archangel Michael himself orders her to account for her actions and face judgement, Del finds herself at a crossroads. Trapped on an island in the Mediterranean, Del is outgunned, outnumbered, and outmaneuvered. While her shaky alliances are falling apart, old enemies and new traitors appear around every corner. It may take everything Del has to save all she’s worked for—including her own life. \

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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

 

Book Review – A Grave Magic by Bilinda Sheehan

It’s fairly difficult to trace the roots of urban fantasy back to its roots, but there’s no doubt it’s been an explosive and extremely popular genre. There are those who would say it’s just fantasy for lazy authors, but as I’ve pointed out in the past, building a world that mostly looks like ours but is populated by magicians or dragons or witches is no mean feat.

A Grave Magic takes place in a world that might as well be ours. It’s got cops, criminals, good guys, bad guys, and all the trappings you expect from the mundane world. One would assume it also has hot dog vendors and baseball. But it also has vampires and witches and all manner of paranormal bugaboos. Our guide to this world is a witch named Amber Morgan who is struggling to keep her abilities a secret from a world that has no great love for anything non-human.

And that right there is the little click that makes urban fantasy such a powerful tool: It allows us to explore society without resulting to tedious mumbo-jumbo or overusing words like paradigm.

We all like to think we’d be cool with witches and vampires running around in the real world, but in reality we’d be terrified of them because they’re functionally humans and deep down we all know exactly what we’d be like if we had that kind of power. In that sense, characters like Amber Morgan, who seek to keep their powers contained and at least mostly use them for good, represent the best in our natures. Even as Amber struggles with her own capabilities and what they mean, she tries to do right by a world that would just as soon see her torched and her ashes scattered to the winds.

As I understand it, this is the first of Amber’s adventures, so when you get hooked there are more books out there to read. A Grave Magic is a paranormal romp through some very realistic crimes with characters you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

Sheehan has done a fantastic job of building a world where magic is a thing, vampires and witches are real, and it all still feels perfectly believable. Trust me, that’s not as easy to do as you’d think.

If you like your urban fantasy sassy and bold with just the right amount of humor, this is a good place to start. Personally, I highly enjoyed it.

Darkness can’t always be beaten by the light. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

Amber Morgan is a rookie in The Elite, an organisation tasked with the elimination of rogue preternatural beings in King City. But she has a secret. She’s a witch and only joined The Elite to settle a personal score.

Her first case is supposed to be the routine investigation of a rogue vampire but it soon becomes clear that dark forces are at work, darker than anything the team has dealt with in the past.

When an irritatingly sexy Hunter offers to help, Amber wants to say hell no! The last thing she needs is another distraction even if he is sin personified. But with the fate of a missing child at stake and a possible connection between the case and her past, how can she refuse?

Get your copy on Amazon (for less than a buck).

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Book Review – Prey Till The End by S.L. Eaves

I recently wrote a post on the urban fantasy genre and how it can be a lot trickier to work the paranormal into the real world and have it be believable than most people think. The true mark of understanding in the genre is when you can read a book set in our world and have critters like vampires and werewolves make sense in the context of the story.

Of course, vampires would work with the Defense Intelligence Agency. If any government group is going to know about vampires, it’s DIA. That’s exactly the kind of thing they’d find out about and vampires, justifiably, would be leery of working with them.

It’s the little details like those that can make a good urban fantasy story pop. Lori’s smoking – she’s dead, after all, it’s not like she’s going to get cancer – and drinking, the fact that she’s not 100% on board with being a vampire, and her moral flexibility all add to the gritty realism of a world where vampires are real, werewolves are real, and at least part of the government knows about it.

I guess that’s one of the things that doesn’t ring true about a lot of stories where vampires are running around doing vampire things and absolutely no one knows about it. It would only take a handful of people being drained of blood before even the most jaded cop would wonder if the stories were true.

So that’s the world of Prey Till The End, S.L. Eaves’s latest brilliant mix of urban fantasy, thriller, and horror story. I reviewed Dead And Damaged a little over a year ago and found it a cracking good story about how vampires and werewolves would be excellent fodder for any number of secret groups that would absolutely love to use that kind of genetic material to make super soldiers.

In Prey Till The End Lori, our protagonist from the previous book, finds herself stuck between an alpha werewolf who wants violent revenge, a rogue group of vampires doing nasty vampire stuff, and the purebloods that will kill every vampire if the rogues aren’t stopped.

Through her eyes, we see a world that looks and smells real. It’s soaked in booze and reeks of cigarettes, the coppery scent of blood, and the musky smell of werewolves. S.L. brands Prey Till The End as the final installment in the Endangered Series. Maybe that’s the case, and I can certainly understand the desire to move onto other things, but I’d like to see more of Lori’s life (death, she’s a vampire) in the future, even if it doesn’t follow on with the theme of the rest of the stories.

This is a really good, just like the previous one, and it’s nice to see someone taking classic monsters – vampires and werewolves – and doing more than making soft-core erotica with them. S.L. has created a great twist on the traditions and not only brought those creatures into our world, but managed to make the fantastic seem real without feeling mundane.

If you like action tinged with horror and topped with a thriller cherry, check these books out. They’re great and great fun.

The 3rd installment brings the The Endangered Series to a gripping conclusion that will keep you on the edge of your seat till the last page. 

Seven years have passed since Lori exiled herself from her clan. Seven years without bloodshed, without demons, without torture, without premonitions. Seven years of peace and quiet in the civilian life she’s cultivated for herself.

Seven boring years. 

Then Vega appears at her doorstep with alarming news: a former member of his clan is responsible for the recent string of homicides across the southwest and the Purebloods are holding her clan responsible. To make matters worse, this traitor is working with an enemy from Lori’s past who is hell bent on revenge.

Now she’s faced with returning to the world she’s tried so hard to escape in order to save the only family she has left. Lori finds unlikely allies in a slayer and a werewolf hybrid, both survivors of S&D Pharma’s experiments. Together they fight to stop the vampire’s killing spree and absolve her clan from the Pureblood’s wrath. That’s if a ghost from her past doesn’t succeed in stopping her first.

Get your copy here.

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Urban Fantasy

Back when my son was still wildly into dinosaurs, I found a book called Dinopix by Teruhisha Tajima. It was a bunch of photo edits that posited what the world would be like if dinosaurs had lived into the current day. It didn’t concern itself with the struggles early humans would have had to deal with when encountering a hungry T. rex or a pack of Deinonychus, nor did it deal with what evolution would have done with those creatures over the past 65 million year. Dinopix dropped dinosaurs, as they were before they went extinct, straight into the modern world.

Please clean up after your diplodocus. Carry a very large bag and a shovel.

The result was brilliant and enchanting. Although, as I recall, my son was less than impressed with it than he was with Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, which melded two kiddo favorites into a fun little adventure complete with pronunciation guide for those of us reading aloud who had forgotten how to pronounce Giganotosaurus.

Both books did a fantastic job with melding the real world with the fantasy world that all kids and writers seem to inhabit. That’s the beauty of looking at the world through different eyes and rather than seeing a normal checkout counter, wondering what crazy thing has happened or will happen there. Maybe the person manning the cash register is a werewolf just trying to make ends meet. Lycanthropy, after all, doesn’t pay very well.

This kind of melding of the magical and the mundane is often referred to as Urban Fantasy, but I’d argue it could also easily fall into the magical realism world. Both deal with the idea of magical or extraordinary events happening in a predominantly realistic world. Werewolves running cash registers or vampires running night clubs. Or even a rogue Valkyrie trying to kick off Ragnarok. The differences are pretty trivial, but magical realism has been a thing in Latino literature for a very long time while the rest of us were only made aware of it when Narcos premiered on Netflix.

I recently read where someone said urban fantasy – as a genre – was for lazy writers. The argument was that urban fantasy was essentially fantasy without all the world building and was, therefore, easier to deal with than real fantasy.

In case you’re wondering, this is the gist of this post. I just felt like rambling on about dinosaurs, pirates, urban fantasy, and magical realism.

As an essentially urban fantasy writer, I bristled at that admonition. I have no beef with fantasy, I’ve even dabbled with it a bit, even though Greetings From Sunny Aluna would probably be better classified as wuxia than traditional fantasy. If we’re going to insist on classifying everything, that is.

So, are urban fantasy writers lazier than traditional fantasy writers? I’d have to argue no. Even though urban fantasy takes place in a largely realistic world, snapping robot dinosaurs into it takes a lot more thinking. In a traditional fantasy world, seeing a dragon isn’t that far out of the ordinary. It’s fantasy; it’s supposed to have dragons.

Probably not run by actual dragons.

But the real world isn’t supposed to have dragons wandering around running hot dog stands or selling drugs on street corners. Making that kind of thing work takes finagling or it feels fake. Which means, the world that dragon inhabits has to be aware of at least the idea that dragons could not only be real, but they could also get a license to run a hot dog stand.

It’s that license part that requires world building inside of the real world. Twisting the mundanity of penetrating bureaucracy into something a dragon had to do means you have to build hooks into the real world that will allow things like that to happen. That’s world building.

World building is more than describing castles or various tribes running around stabbing each other. It means making the world of the book be internally consistent with itself. Or, at the very least, making it seem real enough that the reader doesn’t hit a page and think, “What the holy fuck just happened? How did we get from elves to zero point energy?”

Well, you see, elves have always been big proponents of not only zero point energy, but also cold fusion.

And, let’s not oversell the world building done in fantasy. Most of the fantasy genre sits plainly in the European Middle Ages, just with less disease and more magic. Sure, some people have done some amazing jobs with it – The Dragonriders of Pern series comes to mind – but a lot fantasy is just kings and dark wizards throwing down over land rights. Now, before you grab pitchforks and torches, yes, I know McCaffrey’s dragons are usually classified as Sci-Fi. Let’s face it, though, there are a lot of traditional fantasy elements to those books. Besides, it could be argued that sci-fi is fantasy that replaced the magic with technology and the dwarves with aliens.

Not amused.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. I enjoy sci-fi, usually more than I enjoy fantasy, but I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of fantasy stories, too.

So, is urban fantasy just fantasy for lazy writers? Hell, no. It takes a lot more effort to believably shoehorn dragons selling hot dogs into downtown Albuquerque than it does to have that same dragon snatching up damsels and swilling the blood of knights out of a very large mug.

What are you thoughts on it? Is urban fantasy for lazy writers? Do elves really have a thing for zero point energy? Is sci-fi just fantasy with technology in place of magic?

Mark Your Calendars. Saxton is Coming Back

It would figure that the world would collapse right as he was settling in to a quiet life in a quiet town. Wilford Saxton just got a date and donut when a call from an unknown number sends him speeding toward Shiprock, New Mexico. Get there and fix the problem, the caller said, or the girl in Albuquerque dies.

Against his wishes, Wilford is dragged into a game of evil that spans three generations and this time the stakes are dangerously high. If he fails, it won’t just be the girl in Albuquerque that he fought so hard to save getting killed or a handful of people slaughtered horribly. Something is slumbering on Shiprock and if gets loose, the whole Southwest will be doomed to an eternal nightmare.

Armed only with his talking gun and his last two friends in the world, Wilford Saxton is about to walk into a bloodbath as faces the yee naaldlooshii. The skinwalkers are out and no one is safe.

Saxton: Yee Naaldlooshii

Available Friday, July 15th.

©2016, Eric Lahti

©2016, Eric Lahti

Free Short Story

ClockManDevilGirl

Your interesting bit of trivia for the day: Zona Peligrosa has a companion story. The two short stories are intended to introduce Jack and Sally Anne and set up a book I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while. Loophole, the companion story to Zona Peligrosa, was published in the IASD Holes Anthology last year. So, for those of you who’ve read The Clock Man and wondered if there was more about Jack’s devil girlfriend, the answer is yes and Sally Anne is quite the bad ass in her own right.

Download links below. Enjoy.

Get the Mobi here

Get the Epub here

Get the PDF here

 

Book Review – Roller Rink Witchcraft by Raven Snow

Let’s face a hard fact here: the real world can seem pretty boring. Get up, go to work, curse at traffic, flip off random drivers and pedestrians and the occasional kid in the back of the school bus, go home. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if that person who thinks he’s a warlock really is? Probably not, because you’ve picked on him since kindergarten and he’s got a huge chip on his shoulder and the power of the universe in his little finger. What about if magic were real and, frankly, pretty pedestrian? What if, instead of lurking behind the normalcy, the fantastic was right out in the open? Got a stain, go the cleaners. Got a hex, head down to Regina’s. She’s the best at getting out hexes. She’s even got a groupon going this month.

That’s the thing that fascinates me the most about urban fantasy as a genre. Regular fantasy, with mages and dragons and wizards, is less interesting to me because the world they’re set in is less interesting to me. That doesn’t mean the fantastic elements aren’t cool as shit, it just means I don’t really care for castles and dungeons. I like the idea that the hero or heroine saves the day then goes home to play XBox or Tweet about what they just did.

Totes stopped invasion of evil from 9th dimension. Suck it red ‘lectroids. Lolz. #banzai4life yo.

That’s the kind of world Raven Snow creates. There are magic stores – real magic, not prestidigitation – and they’re fiercely competitive. A budding witch with a powerful grandmother owns a throwback 70s roller rink. (BTW, I spent many a misbegotten day in legitimate 70s roller rinks. Yes, I’m that old). Snow has created a cool world where magic is just one of those things. By stripping the fantastic element from it, she’s made it even more amazing.

The story embedded in the surroundings is a traditional mystery, but Snow has breathed new life into the genre by dropping it into a magical universe. The cool thing is, magic doesn’t solve the mystery, because that would have been cheating.

Roller Rink Witchcraft is part urban fantasy, part mystery, part romance, and a heck of a lot of fun in the process.

witchcraft

Get your copy here (it’s free! At least as of this writing)

And Away We Go

I hit publish on the first Saxton story last night. Actually, it’s the first two, but one was originally part of The Clock Man. The second (and much longer) story is called Uneasy Allies and does a couple things. I’d said I wanted to create something episodic – a kind of monster of the story, but with an overarching story line that will continue throughout the series. Uneasy Allies introduces the first monster of the series, but also gives a hint about the longer story line.

I’ve got a pretty good idea of where I want to go with it, and even have a halfway decent idea of how to get there. This whole series is an offshoot of the Henchmen series and details what Wilford Saxton is up between the events of Arise and what will be happening throughout H3nchm3n (still need a better title). He was a key player in both Henchmen and Arise, but won’t figure too heavily in the new book. However, Saxton’s actions will have ramifications, and the things he does will impact the events of H3nchm3n. Steven, Eve, Jessica, and the rest will all feel those ripples.

And this is where things get murky. The Henchmen series is written in the first person, from Steven’s point of view. While this can be a fun way to write and it allows me to really get into his head, he can’t truly understand things outside of his direct experience. I could have shoehorned some information into place, but it would have been clunky.

I don’t like clunky.

As the Saxton series continues, it will start to fold in more and more of the world of Henchmen and Arise, but it will also start to show how some of the elements of The Clock Man stories that aren’t part of the Aluna series fit into the broader narrative.

Plus, the Saxton stories are a cracking good read. You’ve got Wilford himself, who’s an interesting character in his own right, the bombastic chief of police from Cuba, New Mexico, and a bruja who will exhibit some amazing powers. Besides, how can stories about hunting monsters get boring?

So begins my attempt to see if I can leverage Kindle Unlimited into an X-Files kind of experience for readers. Hopefully it’ll be good enough to keep people interested.

Saxton: The Hunt & Uneasy Allies is available now. Each installment will come approximately every other month and all will be $0.99. All will also be available on Kindle Unlimited.

Go grab a copy. It’s the best buck you’ll spend today.

Saxton1