Steampunk Thriller Book Review: Inevitable Ascension

A husband and wife duo of authors who take on every aspect of publishing, working independently of one another before smashing their manuscripts together, sounded like an intriguing idea to begin with. And so it was that Inevitable Ascension by V.K. McAllister landed in my inbox and reading queue. It is the first in a series, but the name of the series isn’t on Amazon, and it appears the sequel isn’t out yet either.

Update: Apparently the sequel is out and the original review is incorrect, it’s just difficult to find. The name is Inevitable Ascension Volume 2: Crossing Worlds.

We’re introduced to our dual protagonists, Violina and Lux, as they drag in some ferocious and once extinct monsters into a museum for a client who refuses to pay them. They live in the city-state Eden, in a steampunk-esque futuristic sci-fi world with two suns and a bizarre religion that revolves around events from the distant past. After deciding to recapture their prize in an attempt to resell the cubs to recoup the lost profits and improve their lot in life, they find themselves pursued by Eden’s corrupt police force, the Enforcers, for crimes they both did and didn’t commit. They steal another artifact in the museum for good measure, which turns out to be a powerful artifact that opens portals into other pieces of Eden’s history.

Talking much more about the plot would bring on spoilers of the highest order, so let’s move on to the characters. Lux and Violina are interesting, though a little shallow and a bit hammed up in their dialogue with one another. This was one of the first stories can say I finished despite not really liking either of the characters. As the story goes on, Violina takes a downward arc, one that leaves her believing she can murder indiscriminately in the name of “justice” of her own making. Lux, on the other hand, undulates from brilliant to stupid in the funniest (and sometimes most obnoxious) version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope I’ve seen put to pen.

That said, the world the writing duo built is fascinating and interesting, and the plot itself woven together with care. Given that it’s a time travel narrative, and one with many twists and turns, the detail work put into making sure every single twist and reveal was accounted for by the end deserves a salute. There are very few, if any, plot holes to be found here, a far cry from most of what exists in that particular subgenre. And the pacing was relentless, so it was hard to put the book down once I decided to invest myself in the plot and ignore my annoyances with the characters.

The writing itself is passable, sometimes quite nice when describing setting and the other characters. The main issue I have with it is the dialogue, particularly between Lux and Violina themselves. Every line doesn’t have to be a witty one-liner or sarcastic retort, and it gets a bit grating after a while because the authors didn’t quite seem to realize that. The dialogue often clashed with the tone of the scenes around the characters, and these tone shifts didn’t always work for me. This could be a personal preference, as a bleak plot doesn’t need to have bleak characters all the time, but I don’t think that characters always quip at each other either. I was looking for a balance I didn’t quite find in the pages.

All in all, it was the plot and world building that drew me in and kept me reading until the finish. For that, I give my recommendation: 4/5 stars, worth looking into if you like time travel or sci-fi thriller narratives and are looking for something a little humorous despite the bleak plot.

Sci-Fi Suspense Book Review: KEPT

Kept by Theresa Jacobs is a sci-fi suspense novel with an intriguing premise done differently than I’ve seen before, though we’ll dig into that in a moment. It appears to be the start of a series, given the cliffhanger at the end, but I couldn’t find any information on Amazon or Goodreads to indicate such.

We meet the main character Finnegan in his dreams, hunting in the mountains of Montana. He awakens in underground tunnels monitored by aliens, having left Earth with the rest of humanity some number of years before (it isn’t quite clear) due to the cooling of the sun.

I’m going to gripe about the science for a moment, because during his flashback explanation of the refugees’ situation, the author quotes a year just under a millenium from now and states the sun has cooled, when that’s at least a few million years off and the sun would balloon into a red giant long before the cooling would disrupt Earth’s ecosystem. Putting that aside, however, and assuming it’s meant to be a soft scifi/slipstream story, we can continue.

Humanity boarded twelve ships and shot off to various theoretically habitable planets. Finn’s ship, the Gaia, crash landed on a rocky planet, and everyone on board was dragged into these tunnels by slug-like aliens, given sack dresses to cover themselves, and stripped of their belongings. They take pills instead of food each day, which seem to magically erase their need to defecate, eat, drink, or have sex.

We discover that Finn has a partner named Helen who is playing skip-rope with the line between insanity and stability, and shenanigans involving his attempts to kiss her get the colonists gassed. The aliens release the gas whenever humans start to fight, hurt themselves, or otherwise get up to trouble.

Talking about the plot much longer would create spoilers, so I’ll give my general impression from here on out. The story takes a while to get started, but the cast of characters were enjoyable and the plot moved at an even clip. once we hit the inciting incident and the mysteries began unraveling. The majority of plot movement happens in dialog, and the setting was pretty sparse, but given the conditions in the tunnels and the lack of possessions, it ended up being far less obnoxious than many dialogue heavy novels I’ve read or reviewed in the past.

Setting the science aside, I found the situation to be intriguing and believable enough within the author’s world building to follow along, and found myself caring about and rooting for the characters by the end. The ending was satisfying and interesting, and the hint of a sequel left me wanting more. If she put out another book, I’d love to take a look at it. Her writing style was relatively plain, sometimes repetitive, but serviceable and clear. I only found a few typos and misplaced words, which is a step above many of the submissions I’ve reviewed.

All in all I enjoyed reading the story and look forward to seeing more of Jacobs’ work.

4/5, solid sci-fi story with well done suspense, interesting characters, and a common premise done in a very different way. Definitely worth picking up if you have the time.

Paranormal Romance Book Review: Painted Girl

As anyone who has read my submission guidelines knows, I’m all right with chick-lit and humorous women’s fiction, but romance isn’t generally my thing. That said, when a Native American focused Romance novel featuring modern indigenous folks as the primary cast landed in my inbox, I just couldn’t resist. That’s how I ended up reading Painted Girl, the first book in the Spirit Key series by R.A. Winter.

The book opens with Sara, a young Kiowa woman, getting into a car accident that takes the lives of both of her parents. The PTSD from this event haunts the rest of the book, and her reaction to this traumatic event is well realized and realistic. Shortly afterward we’re introduced to our second Point of View character, Grandfather, the Kiowa Elder who takes custody of Sara and teaches her the traditional ways.

Sara develops strong feelings for John Redhorse, the third protagonist in our story (though his point of view chapters come far later), who recently cut his hair for mourning the loss of his father. Throughout the story, we see both of them struggle with their lust and love for one another, John pressuring Sara into forsaking the traditional ways as he has and Sara resisting him because part of her wants to remain true to her culture.

The two of them go out to the woods alone after checking on the horses and decide to go fishing by hand to bring in some food for dinner. It’s clear at this point that Sara and Grandfather aren’t in the best financial position, and the fishing and farming we see in these opening chapters, along with John’s occasional hunting are helping to sustain them. Sara’s arms sink into the river clay and she has a vision of becoming one with the Earth, her mother’s song from when she was young filling her ears.

Her vision breaks when the song causes a panic attack and flashback to the day of the accident. As the story progresses and we discover that the Spirits are real and ancestors really can communicate with indigenous people, this turns out to be Sara’s major block to accepting help from the spirits and ancestors in her craft.

The pacing of this story is very slow, though I enjoyed the vignette style of many of the chapters and the immersion in the culture that the novel provided. Being from a Salish (not plains) culture myself, I enjoyed seeing a modern look at the struggles modern tribal folks face as they try to marry their modern lives with traditional values. The ending was a little disappointing, in part because of romance genre expectations, and in part because the main conflict of the novel really wasn’t resolved. It took the wind out of a story that I really enjoyed.

Winter’s writing style is simple and plain. There are some beautiful lines and interesting visual images sprinkled throughout, but for the most part the story is composed of simple sentences and repeated similar sentence styles. If it weren’t for the sexual themes, I’d say it would work as a middle-grade reading novel given the vocabulary used.

Despite all of the book’s faults, after a while I was drawn in by the hypnotic rhythm of the story and the intriguing cultural details. I wonder if the story fits better as literary or women’s fiction than romance, given the way the story ends and the hints about where the next books may be going.

3.5/5, not terrible but in need of an editor and a bit of study in the realm of story structure. That said, it fills in gaps in representation in a genre that rarely pays attention to indigenous people, and for that reason I recommend picking it up.

YA Fantasy Book Review: Horrid

L.C. Ireland’s YA Fantasy novel Horrid is the first in the Seven Sisters of Silverleaf series. It features the story of the middle sister, Delta, as she desperately tries to break the curse on her family without losing her soul.

The book opens with a bit of exposition. Delta Silverleaf details the disappearance of her brother, Elias, just as a war springs up between their country, Sydna, and the neighboring country of Horr. She also discusses the Horrid Witch, a magical practitioner who sold her soul for access to the dark arts and curses the Silverleaf family over “something” Elias stole from her. We watch her eldest two sisters disappear and by Chapter 2, it’s clear Delta is next.

Which drives her to seek the witch out and bargain her soul away. The witch demands she go to an allied noble house with a magical dagger to slay someone there, without specifying who. When Delta demands to know, she’s told “the dagger knows its target.” There are some interesting descriptive cinematics here, when the witch swallows Delta’s soul and acquires her youth and the beautiful color of her eyes.

The synopsis on this one really hooked me, and part of me wishes that the final product was as good as the premise promised. It’s such a short read I can’t get too much deeper into the plot without spoilers, but like many of the reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads, I found myself wanting more depth and setting and insight into both world and characters, and this particular book is wanting in those departments. Which is a shame, because what’s there is really interesting and more original than I expected.

The protagonist is a bit surface level. Despite being in first person, we don’t get as much of her character as I would’ve liked. About half the book is spent in flashback setting up the circumstances of the witch’s assasination attempt, and there is an interesting romantic subplot hinted at, but we barely get to spend much time on each section of the book before we’re off to the races again. The weight of Delta’s choice is repeatedly emphasized, but just as the tension really builds in the middle of the book, Ireland baits and switches and the tone shifts.

Her writing style is clean and crisp, perfect for a young adult or middle grade novel. I didn’t find any typos and the novel is beautifully formatted. Clearly there was a great deal of world building done, but not as much as I would like made it onto the page. I did find myself pulled along toward the end, and I can’t quite find many pacing problems apart from the massive flashback toward the middle. I think my big criticism is that we spent so much time with these other characters, it never really felt like Delta’s story. After about halfway through the camera zooms out and other characters gain prominence, and I felt like a lot of the pressure and urgency from the beginning becomes far less impactful.

3.5/5, it’s serviceable and has a lot of potential, I’d likely read another book written by the author. I just wish the premise had filled its potential in the way it clearly could’ve.

Epic Fantasy Book Review: In the Claws of the Indigen

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been chomping at the bit to get at this one. In the Claws of the Indigen is the second novel in Steve Rodgers’ Spellgiver series. You can check out my review of book one here. Warning: spoilers ahead if you haven’t read book one. I’m only covering the first quarter of book two, so if you’ve read book one, read on.

When we left Larin and the rest of our merry band of heroes, his lover from the first book Onie had been hauled off by the Morphasti worshipers in his home city. The book opens with Larin righteously pissed off at the head servant of Emja, Korrin, for having allowed that to happen.

This book is interesting because it gives some point of view scenes to characters we haven’t spent time with before. Larin and Kemeharek are back (and Kemeharek’s chapters are consistently inhuman and fascinating), but so is Queen Relena, who is mounting a resistance at the palace while our heroes search for the cure for the king’s sleeping sickness.

The heroes journey in this piece has three main foci. The first is Larin training for his inevitable showdown with the evil wizard Emderian in a desperate attempt to learn how to control his power. The second is Larin’s attempt to overcome the influence of Haraf, who throughout the book is trying to drive his servant into the pits of madness alongside him. I would argue the journey to find the king’s cure is tertiary to the other two, as though the outward plot pushes us there and the stakes are never low enough to lose sight of the pressure, the inner journey is really the core of this book.

Similarly, Kemeharek’s subplot centers around his struggles with the newfound knowledge that is God is not all it seems. Through his uneasy friendship with Theralle, who we met in the last book, his struggles to liberate his people from Eldegod tyranny are suitably inhuman and yet deeply moving and fascinating. The way Rodgers portrays indigen psychology is just phenomenal.

The greatest strengths in this book, apart from the character growth we see in our protagonists, lie in the imaginative world he’s crafted in the Swamp when they get to it. Some truly original imagery and (spoilers) fascinating magical system and reasoning behind the conflict between gods, demons, and the Eldegod. The discoveries related to this really kept me riveted and engaged with the world.

I have a few nitpicky gripes about the early parts of the book, namely Laniette’s propensity to scream Aiieeee constantly in the first few chapters, the somewhat stiff dialogue in the castle scenes, and Akul’s strange love affair with two different women that seems to start and stop with the plot and not as naturally as I’d like, but these are, as I said, minor nitpicks.

Overall the writing is strong, the world is fascinating, the characters intriguing and realistic for the world, and I ended up binge reading until the end. Heck, even the cover art is beautiful! Rodgers made a fangirl out of me, and I’m sure anyone who dives into this wonderful fantasy series will wind up the same. I can’t wait to see how he ties everything up in book 3 next year, and I noticed there are hints of side stories in the same world coming out later this year.

4.5/5 because of the nitpicks, still a must-read.

LGBTQ YA Book Review: The Symptoms of Being Human

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin is another of my Writer’s Book Club books, and I’m quite grateful I read it. It’s what I’d describe as a literary YA novel dealing primarily with the internal struggle of protagonist Riley Cavanaugh, nonbinary child of a congressman from Park Hills, California.

At the opening of the story, Riley isn’t doing too hot. They (there isn’t a preferred pronoun in the book, so they seems the best pronoun to use for the review due to familiarity and widespread adoption) have just transferred to a new school and have chosen to adopt a gender-neutral persona in an attempt to deflect constant questions about gender. Right when they walk into school, they’re immediately called “it” and attacked by a group of girls led by Sierra, one of the main antagonists in the book.

When they settle into their first period class, they meet a big Samoan dude nicknamed Solo and hit it off over geeky references. Just as they get comfortable in this new friendship, however, they’re left alone and stranded in their third period and eventually at lunch, where the football team humiliates them by demanding to know if they are a “fag” or a “dyke.”

Back at home, Riley avoids talking to their family about their experiences and instead turns to the blog they had started at the beginning of the first chapter. Under the pseudonym Alix, they spill their feelings out onto Tumblr expy Bloglr, believing it’s more like a journal than a blog post due to their lack of followers. They didn’t expect their blog to pick up followers and attract attention, and they certainly didn’t expect the later attention of love interest Bec.

Much like the last book I reviewed, A Land of Iron, the relationships between the protagonist and those around them form the beating heart of this book. Riley feels like a real teenager, and the way they dodge language about their biological sex and instead explore the pure psychological experience of being genderqueer/gender fluid is expertly done. I’ve heard there’s a film adaptation in the works and I doubt film can go half as far to openly experience the wonder and horror of gender dysphoria and a quest to find one’s place in the world at such a young age.

Unlike many narratives surrounding LGBTQ youth, this story gifts its protagonist with supportive (if misguided) parents, a decent level of privilege (one of the few physical details we get about Riley is that they are white) and wealth, and a support network of hard won friends. It does explore the other side through a subplot involving a follower of Riley’s blog who gets beaten within an inch of her life after coming out as trans to her parents, but for the most part the focus is on Riley and their journey to self acceptance and attempts to help others in their position accept their gender fluidity.

The writing style is smooth, clear, and consistent. It really feels like a teenager talking to me as I read, and I found myself sucked into Riley’s experiences as I read along.

5/5, well executed work that deserves its success. I’m glad the author decided to help fill a much needed niche in the LGBTQ+ sphere of fiction.

LGBTQ Western Book Review: A Land of Iron

 

As anyone who has ever read my Submission Guidelines knows, apart from Weird Westerns, the Western Genre just isn’t my thing. Usually. But when a short Western novel starring a transgender protagonist set in the late 1800’s landed in my inbox, I just had to check it out.

I’m glad I did.

A Land of Iron by Alex Washoe is an epic family drama starring a twin brother and sister, Rebecca and Lucas Westbrooke. Lucas being the aforementioned transgendered character. Their relationship forms the backbone of the drama, even after the murder that sends the plot moving perpetually forward.

But let me back up a bit. The book opens with Rebecca attempting to train a young mustang colt she named Rayo and getting knocked flying in the process. The town banker (and friend of her deceased father) shows up to ask her if she needs a new foreman. They just keep quitting because of threats to their families, and has a half-Mexican half-white woman, Rebecca just can’t command the respect of the ranch hands. She decides she’s going to take over anyway because she doesn’t want to just marry Ned Finch, the rancher next door and new head of the second powerful family in the town triad.

Then we meet Lucas. Born Lucy Westbrooke, he fled his town of birth after his father did something terrible to him to try and force an identity that was never his. We find him playing cards with his dear friend, Watson, a writer who came to the town to find out about the rivalry and land seizure from the early settlers perpetuated by the Westbrookes, Finches, and Bannermans one generation ago. Turns out, things may not have been the way Lucas’s father told the stories.

The next day, Rebecca discovers Lucas has returned and goes to the saloon where he’s staying to confront him. During their argument, they discover a body stabbed with their dead father’s knife. Poor Watson.

I can’t say too much more without spoilers, but I will say the relationships between the characters really are the beating heart of this work. Lucas and Rebecca learning to accept one another, as well as their own identities as a trans man in a newly blooming relationship and a half-breed (book’s words, not mine) woman now in charge of a massive ranch, as well as the way their father’s past haunts the background of both the town and the characters’ minds, create an engaging conflict that props up the expected gunfights and plot twists.

The writing is crisp and clean, with a few sentence fragments sprinkled in as a stylistic choice and few if any typos. It’s the first in a series, with a promise for a sequel later this year. It’s rare for me to pick up a book in this genre that I can stand to read, let alone finish, but I found I really cared about the characters by the end.

For that alone this one gets a 5/5. If you’re into Westerns or even just historical fiction, it belongs in your Kindle Library.

Sci-fi/Thriller Book Review: Restoration

Note: I’ve reviewed all three of the other books in the Tales of a Warming planet Series. Click on the names of the books to check them out:

Mother Earth Insurgency

Carbon Run

City of Ice and Dreams

Restoration is the fourth book in J. G. Follansbee’s Tales of a Warming Planet series, and in many ways it’s an interesting break from the first few books. Where the first two books focused on fugitives running from the benevolent (if a bit extreme) Bureau of Environmental Security, and the third book on a survival mission starring climate refugees, this entry slows down and takes a deep look at how dealing with the wounds humans inflicted upon the Earth affects people in a small town whose main income comes from agriculture.

We have two main characters and two other point of view characters. The book opens with Junie Wye, a rebellious teenager from California who caved in to her father’s request to move her to a small rural town in Washington. Separated from her boyfriend and most of her friends apart from the c-tribes (think like Facebook groups but way more advanced) she can use through her mind’s eye (computer in your head), she resents her father’s meddling in her life.

Ed Wye is our second protagonist, and he’s returned to the town he grew up in as head of the deconstruction of the dam that gives life to the farmers’ orchards in the surrounding area. A good friend of his from high school chose to hire him despite his terrible reputation in business, and this is his last chance. Right from the get-go, though, it’s clear that the town residents aren’t giving up the dam without a fight. By the end of the chapter, part of the dam collapses and nearly kills several workers inspecting it. And that’s just the beginning.

Like the other entries in the series, Restoration takes a nuanced approach in dealing with complex issues involving that planet’s well being. We get point of view chapters from one of the main antagonists, a woman Ed falls in love with who is a former prostitute, and the son of said antagonist that really flesh out the town and make it feel real. The BES gets one of of its darkest showcases here, though I can’t say why without spoilers.

Though the plot has much smaller stakes than the previous books, it never quite feels devoid of conflict and movement. Junie’s journey from spoiled California kid looking down on the rural hicks into someone much more…well… balanced for lack of a better term feels believable and engaging. Ed’s internal struggle matches the external world and we really feel the fire on his rear as the book moves along. Through most of it, you’re not quite sure who to root for because of how well drawn the other characters are. Those shades of gray add to the feeling that this is a world you could, but probably wouldn’t want to, live in.

4.5/5 stars, an enjoyable romp with decent tension and movement and a well realized theme, but the power-hungry prostitute trope just needs to go. I’ll admit, Syren was more well drawn than the rest.

On My Month Long Absence, Announcements, and Future Schedule

Hello friends, fans, readers, and fellow authors!

Some of you may have noticed I haven’t posted a review in over a month after committing to a number of them a few posts ago. I’d like to explain what happened and talk a little about what my future plans for the blog and my own work are going forward.

I’ve had a hell of a time recovering from the pneumonia I suffered back at the end of May through early June. My right lung still isn’t fully clear, it’s been extremely difficult to get back into my workout routine (more on why that’s important here), and I’ve been struggling to get back into my writing as well. But I was determined to keep up with my reading schedule, so I finished Joe Follansbee’s Restoration and geared up to start Alex Washoe’s A Land of Iron aaaaaand… my ereader bloody broke. Right before the Futurescapes conference on June 14-16th (which was wonderful by the way).

I wasn’t able to send it in for repair until the 20th, and it took the manufacturer until about a week ago to get me a new one. Given that I have over 900 books on the thing between the ones all the lovely authors who’d like their books on my blog send me and the ones I’ve purchased from bookstores other than the manufacturer’s, getting it all set up again took…time. A lot more time than I’d like to have spent.

But fear not! The new one is up and running smoother than Glass Lake in Rainier on a breezeless day, and I am committed to taking care of my backlog.

Which is where the less happy announcement comes in. I’m closing my submission queue for a few months until I can catch up on replying to all the lovely people who have been waiting. I have over 200 unopened submission emails (holy Hathor people!) and 72 people I’ve already committed to who are waiting on me to get their lovely books read and reviewed. My goal is 2-3 reviews a week over the next several months, but that’s also going to depend on how well my own writing is going on any given day. I’m an author first, after all.

My current review schedule is as follows: Restoration by J.G. Follansbee, A Land of Iron by Alex Washoe, In the Claws of the Indigen by Steve Rodgers, Horrid by L.C. Ireland, and Painted Girl by RA Winter. There are a number of folks after them, but these are the ones I’m working on for the forseeable future. I’ll put up another list when I finish Painted Girl.

This brings me to awesome announcement two. Covenant of the Hollow got an amazing new cover redesign by the lovely Rebecca Poole of Dreams2Media, and it’s on sale for $0.99 for the remainder of July in anticipation of Prisoner of the Hollows release. Look at this gorgeousness! Look at it! And click on it if you want to take advantage of that awesome sale!

Promotional stuff aside, I’m also looking for feedback on other things you guys would be interested in with the blog. I know book reviews are my bread and Smart Balance, but I’d like to expand the content a bit. Would you guys be interested in essays about some of the cool science-y stuff I learn as I work on research for my books? Cultural stuff? More ADHD writing and productivity hacks? Non-fiction book reviews for self-help stuff?

I’d love to hear back from you. My readership means a lot to me, and I want this blog to be as useful to you as it is fun to write for me.

All my love,

~Ashleigh (Alaakaad) Gauch

Epic Fantasy Book Review: Dragonhaze

Dragonhaze is an epic Fantasy by Mirren Hogan. It’s the first in her Reasoner Trilogy.

The story opens with the first of our four protagonists, Daven, caught in the bombing of a tavern just after he orders a mug of ale. He witnesses the dead of a librarian right beside him, and as a healer feels compelled to save her, but is too afraid to help her because of the bombers. The guilt from this incident haunts him for the rest of the story, because not all is as it seems with both Daven and the bombing itself.

The next chapter introduces us to his mother, Kaida, a draakin (dragon rider) and her enigmatic dragon mount Risper. Dragons in Dargyn (a mouthful I know) are psychic and can only survive when bonded to a rider. We soon learn Daven’s father Del left the two of them when she took on the bond with Risper to save his life (a bond both her grandfather and grandmother held before her) and she’s still pretty sore about it.

When Daven goes to visit her, we discover the draakin had participated in the aptly named Dragonwar to stop a group of magic users known as magin from destroying Dargyn, but the current government sees them as little more than sapsuckers looking for handouts for their mounts. Kaida has been barred from advancing in her career due to this government pressure, and most citizens regard the draakin with suspicion.

We meet our next protagonist in Chapter Four. Dashka, who happens to be an undercover magin, as she has the ability to use magic when she sings. We also meet her Aunt Mabyl, who took her in after her mother abandoned Dashka upon discovery of this terrible power. They’re visiting the massive city of Paryos on vacation following the death of Dashka’s cheating husband. She tours the ruins of Paryos and banters with their guide, discovering quickly just how far the government has gone to suppress any knowledge of or reference to magic even in the ancient ruins beneath the city.

Our fourth protagonist is Brish, a young apprentice bard who overhears a conversation he shouldn’t between his guild master and a mysterious third party threatening to harm people if the government doesn’t change its policies. The word “yaraz” puzzles him, but his superiors refuse to explain it to him. He stalks the guild master in an effort to learn more, but it takes some time before he makes the connection.

I can’t speak more about the plot without spoilers, but I will say the direction this book went is intriguing. Most fantasy series involving magic, dragons, and the suppression thereof quickly escalate into all out war, and the politics and intrigue with the focus on ordinary people in this story piqued my interest. The characters were well developed by the end and the writing was decent, though there were a few typos and grammatical errors that were missed during the editing phase. They weren’t pervasive or overly distracting.

Hogan’s descriptions were a bit more minimalist than is my usual style, but those I did get to enjoy were well written on the line level and interesting. The plot moves along at a steady clip, though the point of view switching between chapters doesn’t seem to have a steady rhythm, so it felt a little erratic at times.

If I had one complaint, it would be all of the D names in the book getting a bit overwhelming. Dashka, Daven, Dargyn, dragons, draakin, Del, etc. It’s a minor spat, but it did get a little internally grating in the passages were multiple concepts/characters above were referenced.

Still, it was an interesting world populated by intriguing characters, and I’m interested to see where the series goes next.

4/5, a solid Kindle Unlimited read. I’d pick up the next one.