Shards of Reality is a story written in a new fantasy subgenre that I haven’t been exposed to previously called LitRPG. Given that I spent several years buried in the world of Norrath via Everquest, the Sony Online Entertainment massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG for short), this seems like a natural extension into the realm of literature for me to check out. This of course means I haven’t been exposed to other LitRPG works before reading this book so I don’t know all the tropes or rules involved.
Of course, if you’ve read fantasy, you are at least somewhat familiar with the concept of leaving our reality and entering an alternate fantasy universe, whether it be something along the lines of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever or Magic Kingdom for Sale. Those are tales not attached to any sort of game, though Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame series took that step with a Dungeons and Dragons type game where the characters/players are involuntary thrust into the world where they role played warriors, wizards, and rogues. LitRPG takes this a step further, at least with Tim Long’s new series (this book is Enter The Realm Book 1) by making it so those entering the realm realize they are still actually in the game, not some alternative universe, and this game is an MMORPG, similar to the likes of Everquest or World of Warcraft. Furthermore, the game elements stay intact. There are still levels, experience to gain, stats to get from weapons and spells, mana pools to be used when casting spells, hit points, and all the lingo gamers are familiar with, like ‘Ding!” when a character gains a level, “mob” which is short for mobile, or a non-player character that you can attack, or in many cases, a monster, and plenty of other bits and pieces of jargon.
Our main character, Walt, is a game tester and slacker who has been thrust into a version of the MMORPG his company made and runs, Realms of Th’loria. He has no idea how he got there, and when he discovers another co-worker, Oz, is there with him, they set out to figure out what the heck is going on. While Walt is intrigued by the idea of being in the game he has played for years, he isn’t his favorite high level character that took him years to build up, he is instead a “noob” or a level one character with no skills or weapons. Oz, who is even less happy with this situation, is in the same boat. Being familiar with the game environment and monsters gives them some advantages, though they quickly realize that this is a rundown, grungier version of the world they have played in their virtual reality helmets back in the real world. After hooking up with another co-worker who is stuck in Th’loria with them, they discover that this isn’t just a different version of the game they’ve played, but that there is plenty more mystery involved with this place, and why they’re here. Of course, this is the first of a series of books, so more questions are posed than answered as these unwilling heroes of the realm are forced to venture forth to gain the experience needed to provide them with a few answers and the skills they need to survive.
I’m not sure how much I like the comparison and contrast between LitRPG and the more immersive, for lack of a better word, fantasy realms that people from our world end up stumbling into. The idea of looking at a weapon and knowing its stats because they are emblazoned on the hilt, having a HUD inside your skull that shows your health, mana, and how much experience you need to hit the next level does take a bit away from the fantasy aspect of it for me, though I appreciated being in the know as a former gamer, as it were. Reading this book made me nostalgic for those times, a decade ago, when I was grinding experience and was the leader of my own guild of players in Everquest, all of us striving to get better loot and gain levels so we could unlock new skills and go on even tougher adventures. Of course, we weren’t trying to escape the game like our main characters here, and their whining complaints, especially Oz’s, was a bit annoying, though realistic; a character on a screen getting hit and taking damage is a whole lot different than feeling it when a dagger gets shoved into your back.
Overall, this story was fun. Someone who hasn’t gamed in an MMORPG may feel a bit confused at points, and for those who want full-fledged escapism from reality, they might find this type of book a little bit too self-aware, but if you enjoy the idea of being thrust into an adventure and a mystery to boot, the LitRPG subgenre and Shards of Reality in particular is something to check out.
Shards of Reality can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/SHARDS-REALITY-LitRPG-novel-Enter-ebook/dp/B075RSCJZ3/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8
Mists of the Dead, by Travis Adkins, takes the tradition of high adventure and adds a liberal helping of modern day zombie horror to bring something to the page that is both familiar and yet fascinatingly unique.
We are introduced to Warrel, a roguish charmer of a bard who has it made being the house balladeer in a tavern run by man of questionable means. Still, Warrel yearns for a life of adventure. His chance for something more occurs when Kogliastro, the most famous wizard in the world, decides to leave his fortress behind and venture out into the wide world once again. With a bit of finesse, Warrel is able to convince the magic user of his potential usefulness as a scribe on his journeys, and thus begins a saga that will take the old mage and young, impetuous bard (along with their dwarf warrior companion) to a strange new land filled with both mystery and the eponymous mist.
Being someone who grew up on Dungeons and Dragons, this tale has much that was familiar to me, from the magical items and spells the character’s use and discover, to the chosen professions of not only the three adventurers but others they meet in their travels. The world the author has created is filled with gods and monsters of his own creation as well as those taken from the pages of the manuals I devoured as a fanatical fantasy gamer in my youth. Adkins puts his own spin on the mix, in particular related to the gods of Erda, the world in which Warrel lives, and how his characters communicate. Warrel in particular uses an entertaining mix of the classic ‘ye olde’ common tongue and modern vernacular that put a smile on my face at is creativity.
While the story can be easily classified as traditional fantasy, Adkins does not forget his own history, which includes at least two traditional modern-day zombie apocalypse novels. The zombies our adventurers meet don’t share the traits of magically enchanted undead, raised up by dark priests and necromancers, but adhere in many ways to the zombies we are familiar with these days-those who die within the mists rise up and are compelled to devour the brains of the living.
Naturally, given my own life-long fascination with both fantasy adventure and the undead, I am probably a biased reviewer of this tale, but I must say that the characters are solidly fleshed out, as is the world(s) the author has created. If perhaps there is an area I would be critical of, it is the length of time it takes for Warrel to go from committing to leaving his home behind to travel with a famed wizard and actually doing it. While the detail the author commits to Allswell, the city that Warrel calls home, and the cast of characters he has relationships with is tremendous, it perhaps takes a bit too long for the real adventure to begin. With that said, for me, Mists of the Dead was both an exciting journey into the unknown and to places I am very familiar with and love returning too.
Mists of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XC5Q794
At Hell’s Gates is the initial horror volume in a series anthologies produced with the proceeds going to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The overall theme of this series is general horror, but this volume leans heavily on zombie apocalypse related tales from authors with books already out on that subject matter. The stories told here are tied in with their other works, giving a short story that sometimes lies at the periphery of the world they have created or serves as an new slant on characters a reader of those works is already familiar with.
Overall, the work here is solid and the writing entertaining. This book serves more as a sampler platter of various author’s works rather than standalone tales except in a few cases, although little is lost in translation if you hadn’t read any of the books from the author’s bibliography. For example, I have read Stephen Kozeniewski’s work, The Ghoul Archipelago and his short here is based on the world we see in that novel, but I have not read anything from Stevie Kopas, but her tale of murder and insanity stands on its own quite well, though it is a part of a bigger world the author has created in her novels. The only criticism I have of the layout of this work, at least in the e-version, is that the introduction of the authors comes after the stories, when the ‘teaser’ description of the story and how it relates to their greater works should have come prior to each tale. A minor quibble, but one worth mentioning.
Anthologies are always a mixed bag, and some stories grab you more than others. That is inevitable with such a wide assortment of writing styles, authors, and story types, and such was the case here. I didn’t dislike any of the stories, but a few stood out and will remain with me for quite some time. The aforementioned author’s tales fall into that group, as well as stories by Paul Mannering, Tim Marquiz, Frank Tayell, and Jacqueline Druga. Their stories made the leap from the page into my imagine more so than any of the others. Of course, anyone who enjoys a good zompoc tale will likely find a good primer for a larger series of books by various authors to check out-with traditional slow moving zombies as well as infected and fast moving, talking zombies being found within these pages. And while some of these stories weren’t as compelling as standalones, they did intrigue me enough to perhaps take a closer look at the bigger stories being told.
With future volumes having specific themes, it is more than likely that the stories will be standalone tales of horror rather than shorts tied into a larger saga as was the case here. This is a solid start to a promising anthology series with the proceeds going to a very worthy cause.
At Hell’s Gates can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-One/dp/150254539X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
Phineas Cavanaugh is a hack Necromancer living near Seattle who scrapes by tracking down lost souls or by occasionally helping the police out with a murder investigation. He left his guild pretty much in shame a few years back and has had a hard knock life ever since. Things start to get interesting when he is hired to seek out the lost soul of an elderly woman’s dead husband and a demon tries to devour him in a park while on the job. At the same time the police call upon his services to track down a vicious shape shifter who seems to know Phineas and might just be hunting him as well.
Things get worse from there as Phineas’s old mentor is attacked and brutally murdered at his guild and he is called upon to return to his old stomping grounds to figure out what has happened by attempting to speak to his departed friend’s soul. That is when all hell breaks loose, literally. Phineas is thrust into a mystery where old enemies and friends are drawn into the fray with him smack dab in the middle. He has to figure out what is going on and what part he is supposed to play before demons and the dead alike tear their way into our plane of existence and destroy everything that Phineas cares about.
At The Behest Of The Dead is told in first person and one can’t help but be reminded of noir detective potboilers with its urban sensibilities and snarky attitude. Phineas is a self-effacing schlub with a good heart even if he does work with the dead and rubs elbows with demons and other questionable sorts. It has a bit of Simon Green’s Nightside going for it, as well as Glenn Cook’s Garrett Files. Urban fantasy with as much irreverence as mystery, with a bit of romance tossed in for good measure. And Phineas, like other hard luck P.I-types, seems to attract the attention of the ladies despite perhaps looking and acting like he has been ridden hard and put away wet most of the time. Even though he has rough edges (or maybe because he does), Phineas is a likable sort, making his tale easy to read and entertaining.
Tim Long stretches himself beyond the zombie apocalyptic genre he normally haunts with this one, although he gives a winking nod to his roots with a few zombies showing up, though they are not anywhere near being a critical part of the telling of this tale. He has crafted an interesting world with the magical elements fantasy fans will appreciate while putting his own slant on things, making this world his and his alone. The characters are interesting and diverse enough to make them stand out and I can imagine some pretty intriguing adventures in their future. A fun read that has excellent potential as the start of an enjoyable series of books.
At The Behest Of The Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EZCXA9M/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Well it is Friday the 13th and while many folks consider that bad luck, I think it is a great day…and the start of a great weekend. Especially for fans of great apocalyptic fiction. Permuted Press, my publisher, has decided that this would be a great weekend to promote the heck out of virtually every one of the books they offer on Kindle by having a sale that runs through Sunday. So go on over to Amazon to check things out. Just click on the picture below and you’ll be sent to the list of books for sale, including all three books in my trilogy: Comes The Dark, Into The Dark, and Beyond The Dark. Plenty of other fantastic books can be found on sale, including plenty of ones that I’ve reviewed here. So here is your chance to pick them up for either 99 cents or $2.99 when they’re regularly around $7.99. So check it out, and as they say over at Permuted, Enjoy the Apocalypse!
If God Doesn’t Show is a modern take on Cthulhu mythos by H.P. Lovecraft and the efforts of a cult to bring about his return. We are introduced to Thaddeus Archer, a secret service agent who is dealing with a wife who is struggling with mental illness and a teenage daughter who resents him for having her mother locked away in a mental institution. Things change when Casey, his daughter, is abducted by the same mysterious cult which desires the Old Ones return. Time passes and Thaddeus gets close but cannot find his daughter, and his obsession causes him to get demoted after several agents die in a bloody raid on the cult.
Then in an instant, everything changes, and the world shifts as the cult prepares to open the way for Cthulhu to return. But before he can come, the rift into the void brings with it shadows-dark creatures that makes puppets of the dead and sometimes even the living, with their only goal of destruction of humanity. But these creatures, or even the doomsday cult who accidentally let them into our dimension, are not the only forces at work trying to destroy humanity. Thaddeus will have to work not only with the few other survivors at his side who have escaped the initial onslaught of the shadows, but a man who has lived through many lives and has struggled with darkness and evil in every one of them if the former secret service agent wants to save his daughter and prevent the Old Ones from rising up from the mysterious island that now floats in the pacific ocean.
If God Doesn’t Show is an interesting take on the Cthulhu mythos, filled with action from start to finish and topped off with plenty of darkness and intrigue. What starts out as a personal tale of one man on a hunt to find his daughter abruptly changes into something far more earthshattering in a grand and dramatic fashion. We are introduced to Blount, the character who has been reincarnated time and time again, about halfway through the book. He is positioned as a possible savior of humanity, destined to struggle with all forms of evil in each of his lifetimes. When we are introduced to him, he is on a mission with a group of government operatives heading to the strange island in the pacific that has a dark, impossible city buried within its jungles.
The two main characters spent most of this tale rushing toward the same objective and the pacing is fast and intense. While I found myself rooting for Thaddeus, Blount is the far more interesting character, surrounded by the supernatural and flashing back to past lives filled with battles against darkness. Their separate treks are both filled with mystery and energy, though that energy dissipates somewhat toward the end of the story, with what I could best describe as an extended epilogue. Giving away more details would be providing spoilers, which I like to avoid, but I felt as if the story lost a bit of its momentum going into the home stretch.
The authors provide excellent details surrounding the mixture of Lovecraft and Christian elements, though there were some questions I had that were left unanswered about the cult and their choices of sacrifice, though those quibbles were fairly minor. Overall, this was a fun read-a nice spin on the Cthulhu mythos with a few twisty elements tossed in for good measure. Of the two main characters, Blount was by far the more intriguing and the brief flashbacks to his past lives were intriguing tidbits that I would have liked to have seen more of. Perhaps this story doesn’t call for a sequel, but it might be interesting visiting some of Blount’s past lives.
If God Doesn’t Show can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1618680560/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Infatuation: The Story of Snow Queen by Nathan J.D.L. Rowark is not a story that is all that easy to describe. In fact, for my period of reading at the beginning of this saga I wasn’t sure I quite understood what was going on in this fantastical tale of love, lust, and revolution, and wondered if I ever would.
The story begins with the introduction of Kay and Grace, a brother and sister who are in the Garden of Remembrance when a flight of snow bees separate them. This is a place where loved ones return from death in London, and where Kay will find his destiny in the arms of the icy Snow Queen, who will cause his demise but also receive his undying devotion.
We are granted a very slim understanding of how all these elements come together at the beginning of this tale-why there are these snow bees, which are both necessary to this world but are also a great menace to it-and why the dead come back to life.
Infatuation takes place in the far future, in a world where implants have tied the living together and granted them a form of immortality. Bodies are stowed away and the essence of a person can be transplanted into a new body after death. All of this is controlled by a mysterious religious leader who keeps everyone within the city under his control through the use of a pervasive social network.
When Kay and Grace get separated in the garden, they go on their own journeys-Kay with his new found love, the Queen, and Grace, in her efforts to find her brother, even though he has sacrificed his body for a new, dead one so that he can endure the touch of his icy maiden.
The story gets more complicated from there, but as with any intriguing story, much is revealed in time, and in the case of this tale, that is both a literal and figurative statement. The adventurers travel back and forth in time, with the meaning as to why this is happening to them not quite clear at first, or even throughout much of this tale. This story is a maze of alternate existences and discoveries of one mystery after another that intertwine Kay, Grace, Eternity (the Snow Queen), Reneta, the strange scientist who seems to be at the heart of much of the main mystery within the saga, and both her husband and son, who have rebelled against her and the religion-fueled government.
Describing this storyline in clear, precise details would be next to impossible, but at its heart, this story is about two souls destined for one another, despite so many seemingly good reasons for them not to be together. Nothing is as it seems in this story, which each chapter revealing a new twist and new surprise, both from the past, the present, and on into the future of the characters. This is a complex and layered mystery, which can be daunting at certain points, but once certain aspects of the tale were revealed, it kept me intrigued and fascinated to the very end of its pages.
Pigeon holing this story in a particular genre would be impossible. It is an amalgam of science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, and adventure, with a frosty haze layered over all of that. Admittedly, there is plenty here to confuse, and I more than likely missed a few key details in my initial reading that may require further review to understand all its elements, but I grasped more than enough to feel satisfied with its ending, though as with any tale where time travel plays a part, there is no real beginning or end, just different cycles in time and the hope that things can be changed, perhaps for the better, as they repeat themselves.
This is a tale for someone who is willing to stick with a story to the end-someone who likes it when an author doesn’t reveal more than is absolutely necessary at any given point. It is for someone willing to embrace the fantastical and magical mixed in with the technological while it has an almost a fairy tale-like sensibility.
Infatuation: The Story of Snow Queen can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00946F0L0/ref=cm_cr_thx_view