The concept of transporting an average person into an alternate realm for high adventure has been around about as long as stories have been told. Authors such as Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs all took swipes at this concept over a century ago. Science fiction and fantasy writers have followed that route time and time again ever since. With the advent of table top role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Gamma World, Call of Cthulhu (among many others) in the seventies, the concept of transporting oneself into a fantasy realm took on a whole new meaning. Since then, more and more writers have embraced this concept, including the likes of Terry Brooks (Magic Kingdom for Sale), Joel Rosenberg (Guardians of the Flame), and Stephen R. Donaldson (Thomas Covenant). Time marches on, and more recently, a new subgenre has been gaining popularity, thanks mainly to the influx of MMOs, or massively multiplayer online games, such as Everquest, World of Warcraft, and numerous other computer (or mobile ap) based games where a player can craft a character in a strange fantasy world and join thousands if not millions of others endlessly questing for new adventures. This subgenre is known as LitRPG, though another variation is called Game Lit. Much like with their predecessors, the characters in these written works are tossed into a fantasy realm, though in this instance, it is a computer game universe. It may be a virtual reality, but it is with real world consequences-the characters are in true mortal peril with no reboots or extra lives to spare.
This is where J.E. Reed’s first novel, Running With The Wolves, lands. We are introduced to Kiuno, who wakes up one morning in a strange, primordial forest realm, separated from the real world where she lives in with her husband, working a regular job, and living a regular life. She can remember her life back home, but not her true name (Kiuno is her online ID-the one she created for the games she plays). Searching for anyone else in this wild and strange place, she comes across other survivors who are struggling to come to grips with this strange and dangerous place. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she has somehow been thrust into a game she played with numerous others online called Chronopoint, where she was an expert at building alliances and facing enemies both human and inhuman. With that in mind, she forms bonds with others with the goal of finding her online friends (including her real life husband) and to discover a way out of this lethal place, which is made of ten different realms, each one far more dangerous than the one before.
While the story is filled with fantastic creatures and strange magic (Kiuno has to figure out how to manage the extremely potent and dangerous magic she possesses), this boils down to a story about survival and finding those around you who you can trust and build friendships with. Everyone you didn’t know before, when it was just an online game, is a potential threat that might be willing to kill you to survive and find a way to the tenth realm where they might find a way to get back home.
For a first novel, this is a very solidly written work of fantasy, with a main character that is well fleshed out and worth rooting for, along with the friends she connects with, both new and old, in her journeys. The editing is solid, though I did have a gripe with an overabundance of pronouns and some confusion, at times, as to who was speaking a given line-words are spoken but the actions in the same paragraph are that of someone else. Overall though, the writing and editing is crisp and the action moves at a rapid pace. It did seem a bit odd that Kiuno seems to be about the only female character of any relevance in this, the first book of what is likely a trilogy. There are other females, but none seem to take up more than a paragraph here or there, while there are numerous male characters to challenge and engage Kiuno in both battle and friendship.
Another minor criticism is that while each of these realms are quite perilous, with the introduction of several creatively fiendish monsters, it seems as though there isn’t a vast amount of difference from one realm to the next, except that each is inferred to be incrementally more dangerous. Much of the terror in this tale lies in the nightmares that Kiuno is going through-hoping her husband still lives while watching those around her die gruesome deaths as she learns how to control the lethal magic the realms has gifted her with. The monsters she faces represent only brief interludes on occasion.
The story does draw you in, despite the universe the author has created being a bit sparse when it comes to the fantastical (again, there are a few run-ins with some quite fantastical monsters, but they are somewhat limited). The hope is that as our protagonist and her band of loyal allies move deeper into the ten realms and closer to the ‘front lines’ where the war to find a way home is being fought, that there will be more to see, and more to challenge her beyond her own fears and insecurities.
Her closest friends are well thought out characters that I grew to both appreciate and enjoy, though the villains in this book were fairly uninteresting. While there are inhuman monsters that come in many shapes and sizes, none serve as more than a passing danger. The human monsters are a far greater threat and much more vicious, but unfortunately, none hold the reader’s attention for very long. As the author continues to shape this world and crafts more and greater challenges for the heroes of the piece, it is my hope that Kiuno becomes more of the natural leader her companions believe her to be.
Again, this is a solid debut novel and I look forward to checking out the second book in the series.
Running With The Wolves can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Running-Wolves-Chronopoint-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B07CH47MVW/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1551067659&sr=8-6&keywords=running+with+the+wolves
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
Not too long ago, I was approached by an author friend of mine with a request to help promote their new fantasy novel on my blog, which I did, happily. I tend to write reviews of horror novels, but I thought that since I am a big fan of fantasy as well I would also read her book, and not just promote it. So here is my review of her book, which I would say fits nicely in the realm of young adult fiction, with both fantasy elements as well as a bit of horror-with werewolves and vampires playing a prominent role.
Charming Incantations: Enticed tells the story of Lisa, a young woman whose parents were tragically killed in a fire, which thrusts her into a world she never knew existed: one with supernatural creatures that expect her to do her part as the surviving heir to the human representatives on a council that works to keep the world safe from darkness.
While the story provides a prolog explaining the alliance between the six races: human, werewolf, vampire, shape-shifter, witch, and banshee, the first chapter of this tale bypasses Lisa’s initial realization of what she must do or any revelations she has that there is an entire world that has been hidden from her. Instead, her tale begins with her knocking on the door of the meeting place of the six representatives of the six races. There she meets the five other generals, or leaders of the armies that hold back the evil known as goblins from taking over the world. One of them, Romulus, the leader of the werewolves, will take her in and protect her from danger until she can be trained to protect herself and take over her duties as a leader.
Lisa faces a great deal of challenges, not the least of which is the fact that she is falling hard for Romulus while she is trying to grasp this new world that surrounds her. She fears these supernatural races but must come to terms with them all so that she can insure that her status as protector of humanity comes to pass.
This tale is part romance and part fantasy adventure. There is magic here, and I am sure there will be passing comparisons to Twilight, but this is a tale on a far grander scale. Lisa is learning about this new world as we learn about it, and is forced into battle even though humans are deemed the weak link in the alliance. She cannot raise her own army of humans because the secrets of the other races must be kept, so the burden is even greater for her than for her counterparts. In some ways, this is a coming of age tale as well, with Lisa doing her best to find her place in a world that is scary, exciting, and quite dangerous.
This is the first book of what I believe will be a series, but this story can certainly stand on its own as a tale of a young woman coming into her own in a world filled with both dangers, delight, magic, and mayhem.
Charming Incantions: Enticed can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Charming-Incantations-Enticed-Monique-Snyman/dp/0987874721/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1336631184&sr=1-1
Donovan Vicar is a man with a special gift. He is a feeler, which the author describes as someone who feels the vibrations of those around him. It becomes clear rather quickly that this is only scratching the surface of this gift…a gift he will soon need on a strange journey he must set out on across time.
Fractured Time begins in the present era, in the year 2007 in the city of Bitternest, Louisiana. Donovan is working to manage his power as a feeler, which tends to knock him for a loop every time he is around someone who has a negative or evil aura. So when someone walks by that has the most potently evil aura of anyone he has ever met, it compels him to follow them. Donovan fears the danger they represent. In the past, he has discovered too late that when he senses such evil, something horrible is about to occur. Not long after this discovery, Donovan finds himself traveling backwards in time in pursuit of this evil man. Fifty years in the past to be exact, to the Bitternest of 1957. It becomes clear rather quickly that the man he was tracking is responsible for this new puzzle, and it is up to Donovan to figure out how to stop whatever foul plan the man has for the world and to hopefully find a way back home, to the present.
Fractured Time is a good old fashion mystery spiked with magic, imbibed with ancient evil, and with just the right touch of nostalgia mixed in for good measure. Alan Draven has created a city shrouded in darkness and strange alien forces, and populated it with a cast of colorful characters that are quite entertaining. I enjoyed the almost retro feel of this story, and not just because the vast majority of it was set in a world fifty years in our past. This is a good old fashion tale of sorcery and evil men who crave absolute power who are willing use the blackest magic in their cause.
Naturally, no story is perfect, and this one suffers a bit from what I would say is the author’s enthusiasm to share with his audience as many details as possible about the world he has created. The thoughts and motivations of not only the main characters are revealed, but those of most of the secondary characters are as well. Mysteries are unraveled at a pace that is probably faster than I would have preferred for this type of tale, and leaving some questions left unanswered would have been just fine by me. The epilogue is an example of this. While probably necessary, to fill in all the blanks, some of the answers seem almost abrupt-loose ends that are sewn up in a hurry, so nothing is left to puzzle over.
Even so, I can understand the enthusiasm the author wants to share with us over his creation. Bitternest holds up a strange, fun-house type mirror to what would be its sister city of New Orleans, another Louisiana city filled with oddities, magic, and strange tales of the occult. Alan Draven has given us old magic and old gods that feel right at home in this strange city, and I can understand his passion for sharing every last bit of it with us.
Fractured Time can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Fractured-Time-Alan-Draven/dp/097699478X/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1314631559&sr=1-7