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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Court Of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark (Reviewed by Michael E. Everest)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)
Read Michael's Interview with Anna Smith Spark
Read "On Writing Violence In A Violent World" by Anna Smith Spark (guest post)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anna Smith Spark lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a PhD in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website www.greatworks.org. Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher and fetish model.

Anna’s favourite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust.

In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it.

Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built.

The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:The Court of Broken Knives’ is the stunning debut to Anna Smith Spark’s ‘The Empires of Dust’ series. One of two Anna’s to be released in June 2017 (UK), by Harper Voyager, the story of ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ is outmatched only by the unique voice that tells it. Bold, beautiful, brutal, Smith-Spark lives up to her twitter handle @QueenofGrimdark whilst pushing the boundaries of storytelling amongst recent releases.

THE GOOD: The voice is strong in this one! Right from the start, as the reader, you’re drawn into a world by the power of the words used to describe it to you – but it’s not so much description, more a depth that brings it all to life. Both beautifully inventive as it is brutally evocative, the characters are morbidly mortal, dragged into a doomed destiny of a plot.

THE BAD: The voice is strong in this one! I know, I’ve already said that, but it’s true. You will either love this voice, or never quite grasp the sumptuous simplicity of what it’s saying. If you’ve looking for an a-to-b quest fantasy with paint by numbers characters and complexities, this book is not for you.

THE UGLY TRUTH: The voice is strong in this one? I know, I know, I know! I’m labouring a point, but it’s only fair that I give this book the credit that it’s due. Anna Smith Spark’s voice is equal parts mesmerising as it is magical. It’s more than epic – it’s operatic! But at the same time it has the distortion and drop tuning of a metal band in full force. The Court Of Broken Knives is cranked all the way to 11, and you’ll either be a fan for life, or not quite sure what’s going on.


What sounds like a relatively simple plot line (mercenary hand hired to assassinate an Emperor) turns into one of the most stunning imaginings of fantasy in recent times. Naturally, and not in the least because of the author’s twitter handle, this has earned the label of Grimdark (because who doesn’t love a label), but The Court Of Broken Knives is so much more than that. If I had to throw tags together in an effort to label this, it’d be Grand-Dire, for the sheer opulence of the story telling and the world itself, versus the stakes and the events set in motion.

The world Smith-Spark has woven – and I say woven, because building inspires thoughts of blocks, and The Court Of Broken Knives is a rich tapestry not levels of lego – is breath taking. Soul destroying at times, too. Yet, somehow, it comes crashing back to earth right when you need it to.

I will have to admit that this took me a moment or two to get used to. Actually, not a moment or two – a chapter of two, in fact.

I fell in love with the first chapter – the opening page in particular. You’ll know what I mean when you read it, but the language, the choice of wording, even the tempo…there’s something about it. A je ne sais quoi that will breed diehards by the thousands, but naysayers, too.

But as I reached the second chapter, I began to notice that I wasn’t grasping everything that the voice was trying to tell me. A sentence here, there, there and there. I was almost reading the words rather than reading what was going on. Now, let me be clear, this isn’t because the voice is speaking in a language that I didn’t understand, the words I knew, but as a reader who takes joy in simple pleasures and straight forward prose (e.g. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, and RJ Barker’s Age of Assassins, as examples from 2017, and of course my love of David Gemmell) I wasn’t fully appreciating what Anna was saying in the telling of this story.

So, I restarted.

Not once.

Twice.

And then I got it. Oh boy, I got it.

And it wasn’t just speaking to me. It was singing!

I must’ve only been 10 or so pages in when I restarted (note: I checked, it was page 11) but I’m glad I did. Once I had tuned myself in to the voice, I went from enjoying it, to being wrapped up in it.

And why was this?

Without overdoing it any more, it’s the voice! The sentence structure and wording will be new – dare I say unique – to many readers, and the shifts between first and third person will be staggering until you’re used to it.

Speaking of perspectives, the story is told through that of a quartet of diverse characters. A priestess, a politician, a veteran mercenary, and a seemingly-simple-yet-forever-suffering ranking soldier. The contrast between the two pairings allows for interplay and a comparison of human nature, that is both provocative as it is a pleasure to read and explore. For me, my favourite as is the norm, was the veteran, who I connected with. The priestess in particular allows for an eye-opening account of the perversities and providence in divinity, whilst the politician delves into the sheer determination of mortal will and the downfalls that come with it.

The Court Of Broken Knives is not for the faint hearted – both in terms of themes and the style of delivery. It’s a hard book to put down and come back to, potentially another reason why I had to restart, as I was so caught up with work at time of beginning reading. But, I felt that’s because it’s meant to be devoured. Not a page turner, but a page burner. Once you get into the flow of things, you’ve dragged along, sucked down into the depths, and when you come back up you’ll be gasping for air.

CONCLUSION: I realise that this review is thin on the ground in terms of detail on the plot or the characters – but you can get that from the blurb. This review is here to tell you what the blurb won’t. That this book really is different. It will make you think differently. It will challenge you. Recommended for fans of Mark Lawrence and R. Scott Bakker, I can understand why, but by the time you’ve finished, you’ll realise there isn’t another author quite like Anna Smith Spark. Not just a new voice. But a different voice.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Double Or Nothing by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Double Or Nothing HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Castle Doctrine
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in Joliet, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration. 



OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Daniel Faust – sorcerer, thief, and newly-minted Las Vegas crime boss – has debts to pay. One of those debts has just come due, an IOU to be paid in the form of a high-risk heist, and it’s a job he can’t refuse. The mark? Daniel’s arch-nemesis, a man with a Cheshire smile and the powers of a living god. The score? A sacrificial dagger buried under layers of electronic, occult, and human security, snug on the far side of a custom-built deathtrap.

Normally, a heist like that would be the end of Daniel’s problems. This time, it’s only the beginning.

Caitlin, Daniel’s lover and the right hand of a demon prince, faces her own threat. She’s adept at navigating the politics of Hell, keeping the peace with diplomatic grace and a whip, but a plan years in the making has left a ticking time bomb under her feet. When it explodes, it will send shockwaves through the infernal courts – and expose one of Caitlin’s darkest secrets. A hidden enemy has targeted Caitlin and Daniel for destruction, and aims to lure them into an impossible snare. For one of them to escape, the other must die.

The only way out is through a maze of demonic bounty hunters, psychic assassins, unlikely enemies and even more unlikely allies. Daniel Faust has spent his life as a trickster, defeating his enemies with the art of the con. He may have finally met his match. Las Vegas is the ultimate chessboard, and his opponent is already two moves ahead..


FORMAT/INFO: Double Or Nothing is 307 pages long divided over forty-three chapters with a prologue, an epilogue and an afterword. Narration is in the first-person, via Daniel Faust solely and different third-person narratives for the prologue and epilogue. This is the seventh volume of The Daniel Faust series. 



June 27, 2017 marks the North American paperback and e-book publication of Double Or Nothing and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a cast of anti-heroes and with a magician con-man as the protagonist, the Daniel Faust series is Richard Stark's Parker crossed with The Dresden Files and set in Las Vegas. 



OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Double Or Nothing is the seventh book of the Daniel Faust series and the potentially the first book of the third arc of the series. It's also the first book that has so many nods and set-up for future books that at this point it would be highly unadvisable to jump into this series with this volume. What I mean to say is that if you really should start from the beginning/book 1 of the Daniel Faust series (The Long Way Down) or even The White Gold Score which is book 1.5 of the Daniel Faust series (it is a novella and also acts as a good starting point for the series).

Double Or Nothing basically opens up after the events of The Castle Doctrine and we find Faust now in control of his life for the first time after the events showcased in the past six books. He however has been called up on the first of the two favors he owes to a certain baron from the Court of Night Blooming Flowers. The first task being re-acquiring the knife that Faust stole in the events showcased within A Plain-Dealing Villain which lead to the start of all his troubles with Damien Ecko. Things are never simple as the knife is now with a person who's under the control of Ms. Fleiss & by extension the Cheshire Smile. Knowing what a dangerous mission this can be, Faust has to enlist his gang but also has to plan accordingly as they are dealing with the Cheshire Smile after all. This is the main thread that kicks off the story, another dangling thread which has been present from the past couple of books has been the whole situation with Caitlin's past lovers. This book brings the plot thread to a solid conclusion. Whether the readers will feel the same remains to seem, as for me I feel that there might be more to this angle, even after this conclusion.

This book also focuses the Cheshire Smile but not in the way you would expect. There's a smart nod to Glass Predator (the scene where Daniel finds out what happened to his Hemi' Cuda is quite funny) as well as some nods to the happenings in the Harmony Black series. There's also some intriguing plot happenings for the future trilogy that the author is planning and while this book isn't the first to lay out these tracts (There's a partial but clear nod in The Castle Doctrine and Glass Predator even introduces a character who most likely will be a POV protagonist for that trilogy). Lastly what this book does gloriously is give us the first physical appearance of not one but two princes of hell. The characters also make some trips to Albuquerque, Denver, Chicago and a place that hasn't been featured so far in the series at all.

This book has all the trappings of its wonderful predecessors, it’s action-packed, has a lot of plot twists, revelations and the climax is definitely out of this world (quite literally). Primarily this series has always been about characters and this book continues to highlight them. While we only get Faust’s POV, the secondary character cast is so well-developed that while many fav-favorite characters don’t get that much screen time, newer ones that do more than make up for it. A well-liked secondary character from the Harmony Black books graces Daniel Faust’s world however the way he makes an appearance, Faust is none too happy about it. The best part for me was that this book focused on one of my favorite grey side characters, one who is possibly craftier than Faust and kudos to the author as the book’s epilogue will leave most readers astounded. Lastly I would like to highlight Corman & Bentley's (Faust's foster parents and mentors) exploits which are often mentioned in several books. This one however mentions a very exciting chapter in their past and I hope the author can explore their past in novellas or short stories or even novels.

Talking about the action, as always with the Faust volumes, action is more so on a personal level rather than big action scenes. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to read. The pace of the book is such that along with our protagonist, we are constantly shepherded along by the author. It’s fun to try to anticipate the twists and try to predict where the story is going. The book does manage to keep readers on tenterhooks with all the plot twists and manages to put Faust through another wringer but this time Caitlin also has to face the music.

With this book though while I had an idea where the story might end up, the climax and all the plot twists were a nice surprise. There's some terrific cameo appearances of new characters who I believe will have significant roles to play in the future books. This series has also never shied away from the horror genre aspects and this book takes things a few notches further. What I’m referring to has to deal with the lower levels of winter and pathway connecting it to Prince Sitri’s realm. The author has a gruesome imagination and kudos for coming up with that particular sequence (combining claustrophobia & revulsion).

The author also spoke to us in this interview about the various intricacies involved in the book and hints about the various things (read Qs. 3, 4, & 5) that can be expected. He also mentions the brilliant cover design and what it points towards. This book has a particular connection to the events of A Plain-Dealing Villain and while it’s not necessary to re-read that book before this one, it can be helpful to at least know a strong summary of it. Lastly this book is also the start of the proper binding of the two series (Daniel Faust & Harmony Black), we get so many nods and hints about the world and the happenings that I can't wait to read Cold Spectrum (Harmony Black# 4) when it releases on Halloween later this year. For those readers who haven’t read the Harmony Black series yet, I would implore you to do so as then only can you get a hint of the sinister plan that Craig Schaefer seems to be hatching across these different series.

CONCLUSION: Double Or Nothing is exactly what the author promised it would be, a crackerjack bomb of a story that once lit up, burns rapidly towards its mind-shattering climax. This book just makes this series that much more stronger and is a rapid indicator of how soon the Daniel Faust series will be challenging the Harry Dresden files for being the best thing that urban fantasy has to offer us readers.
Sunday, June 25, 2017

RE-REVIEW: The Price Of Faith by Rob J. Hayes (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)




AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy. The Ties That Bind trilogy is his debut.

OFFICIAL BLURB: NOT EVERYONE HAS A DESTINY.

Separated and miserable, Thanquil Darkheart and Jezzet Vel’urn both have their reasons for wanting to leave the Dragon Empire. Jezzet flees from the wrathful fury of an Empress scorned while accompanied by the ever insidious Drake Morrass and Thanquil sets out to find and judge his one heretical loose end...

FORMAT/INFO: The Price Of Faith is divided into five sections with forty-six POV chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person via Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart, Jezzet, Betrim Thorn aka The Black Thorn, Jacob Lee, Pern Suzku the Haarin, and Anders. This is the final volume of The Ties That Bind trilogy.

June 21, 2017 marks the worldwide e-book re-release of The Price Of Faith and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Alex Raspad, cover design was by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: The Ties that Bind is a dark fantasy trilogy with terrific characterization and a twisted plot that is very reminiscent of the works by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch.

ANALYSIS: This book has been re-released by the author after he got his rights back from Ragnarok Publications and readers can read more about that in this interview and over on the author's site. I'm reposting my review with a few edits and to espouse the brand, new cover and re-release of the entire trilogy. I've been a big fan of Rob J. Hayes since I first got my hands on his debut book The Heresy Within. However it was The Colour Of Vengeance, which simply blew my mind and convinced me of the awesomeness of this trilogy and the author. With this book, I was waiting to see how the author would end his trilogy. This volume also featured the return of Jezzet and Thanquil who were conspicuously missing from the second volume. A warning to readers, I'lll be discussing certain things which can be considered spoilers for the preceding titles so be forewarned.

The Price Of Faith begins once again with Thanquil who now finds him being hunted. His prey now has turned predator and the witch stalks Thanquil in his dreams as well as the awakened stage. Thanquil is still bitter about his parting with Jezzet who now finds herself as the court of the Dragon Empire and a friend to the Dragon Empress. A stranger in a strange land, Jezzet finds herself drawn to the weird customs and a certain dark and dangerous pirate who also happens to be the paramour of the Dragon Empress. Drake Morass is feared by everyone and for good reason. His antics in Chade haven’t gone unnoticed however he has a bigger game in mind.

Lastly there’s Betrim “Black Thorn” Thorne who now finds himself as the head of a new crew of deadly misfits and a drunken sot named Anders. Betrim still hungers for revenge for the events that befell him at the end of the first book and just maybe he might find the person who bested him. However can the Black Thorn best those far deadlier than him and his crew. These are the many questions posed in this final volume. However this story is about our three leads introduced in the first book, they all have changed. Jezzet was a killer however by the end of the first book became a true blademaster. Betrim was a scoundrel and murderer however he became a deadlier leader and now leads the motley crew of Henry, Pern, Ben Six Cities, Anders and Riley. This third volume is about the change that befalls Thanquil. We get to learn how he acquired the sobriquet of Darkheart that has followed him around since his initiations as an arbiter. We get to see what really happened in his childhood and how he was “saved” by Arbiter Prin.

We get to see his connection with the Templar Jacob Lee as well learn why the Emperor chose him for the furtive mission. All of this and more is laid bare, in this ending volume. As is the case with the preceding two volumes, characterization once again is the author’s forte. We get all our main POV characters back however once again it’s the side character cast who make the read that much more rewarding. Last time around we got to know Henry, Pern and Anders and while they are back, it’s pirate captain Drake Morass who steals the show every time he graces the pages. Oozing menace and charm in equal measure; Drake Morass is a charmer who is poison to those he opposes.

He however also steals scenes whenever he appears and confounds our POV characters as much as he does the readers. I believe the author is setting him up for something pivotal in the future and he will be playing a major role in the books to come. Not that he doesn’t play any less of a significant one in this one as well. The action sequences are no less exciting than the preceding volume, however this time around; there are pirates, dragons and demons involved. All the threads introduced so far come to an exciting, action-filled climax which answers some pretty fundamental questions about the nature of reality of the world, the aspect of calling upon a god’s power and also concept of avatar-hood.

All the characters from the previous two volumes make an appearance (at least the ones left alive) and there are a few new ones to hook the reader’s interest. There’s also the character arc, with this book it’s Thanquil who gets the treatment and we get a peek into his madness. This book makes him even more sympathetic and a little crazy. He’s been pushed to the end of his wits due to the fact that Jezzet is somewhere and needs his help. Thanquil’s background and powers are laid bare and as a reader it was good to read what makes such a complex character tick.

Going on to the drawbacks of the book, one factor going against is that not all threads are completely closed. In fact the epilogue alone puts a whole new spin on the entire story that has happened within the space of three books. Also there’s the aspect of character deaths and particularly a couple of characters meet untimely ends. This on a whole kept the story exciting however on a personal note, I was just saddened by it. Lastly the only other thing that might cause heartache for readers is the fact there’s a resolution provided but that might not be what they expect. To some it might be underwhelming in a way. I think that was the author’s intent to undercut expectations and it will be up to each reader to gauge how successful the author was.

CONCLUSION: The Price Of Faith brings to an explosive end to a trilogy that while being self-published can be safely considered as a superb dark fantasy trilogy. It will have its detractors but the fans outnumber them sharply. The Price Of Faith is indeed about the faith that the characters have invested and the price it extracts when their conventions are challenged. Simply put this is a fantastic end to a great trilogy and a terrific beginning to Rob J. Hayes’ career.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

RE-REVIEW: The Colour Of Vengeance by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: BEATEN, BATTERED AND DAMNED NEAR BROKEN WITH A BOUNTY ON HIS HEAD SO LARGE HE’S TEMPTED TO TURN HIMSELF IN, the Black Thorn finds himself on trial for the crime of being him. Despite the impending probability of death he has but one thought on his mind; taking revenge against the Arbiter who took his eye.

In order to carry out his vengeance Thorn must first escape Sarth and recruit a new crew, each one with their own designs on revenge.

FORMAT/INFO: The Color of Vengeance is divided into three sections with forty-three POV chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person via Betrim Thorn aka The Black Thorn, Henry, Jacob Lee, Pern Suzku the Haarin, and Anders. This is the second book of the Ties That Bind trilogy

June 21, 2017 marks the worldwide e-book re-release of The Colour Of Vengeance and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Alex Raspad, cover design was by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: The Ties that Bind is a dark fantasy trilogy with terrific characterization and a twisted plot-line that is very reminiscent of the works by Joe Abercrombie, David Dalglish and Scott Lynch

ANALYSIS: This book has been re-released by the author after he got his rights back from Ragnarok Publications and readers can read more about that in this interview and over on the author's site. I'm reposting my review with a few edits and to espouse the brand, new cover and re-release of the entire trilogy. A warning though before I begin my review, the start of the book is spoiler-ish for the climax of The Heresy Within so if you haven’t read it or don’t mind a minor spoiler, then read on. .

After finishing The Heresy Within, I couldn’t wait to see what happens next and immediately bought the second book and began reading. To my delight I read the blurb and saw that it focussed on the Black Thorn who along with Jezzet was my favorite character so far. At the ending of The Heresy Within, we are presented with an ending that is shocking to say the least and so with The Color Of Vengeance, we begin with Betrim Thorn who has been imprisoned after his failed attack on the Arbiter Kessick. Awakening in a dank corner he recalls his failed fight and the vital organ he lost. He manages to find his way out his most recent impediment and goes back to the wilds wherein he knows what to expect.

With the Black Thorn’s escape, the inquisition decides to send a new type of person to  track him down and deliver their verdict. Jacob Lee is the person chosen for the task and he’s a Templar with a penchant for dancing and seeing through lies. However his dancing is the type that leaves broken bones, & dead bodies in his wake. Pern Suzku is a Haarin, warriors who take contracts to guard people who can afford their services. Among the Haarin, he is considered to be one of the best if not the best one. His newest client however might be one to force Pern to reconsider what it means to be a Haarin.  Lastly all these characters are heading towards Solantis wherein most of them will meet up with some of their past and a reckoning for the future. 

There are a few other characters from the preceding volume who make their appearances as well but I’m hoping that the readers RAFO about them. But to put it mildly, The Colour of Vengeance simply blows away The Heresy Within and is safe to say the better book of the two. Once again the main reason is the characterization and as with the last book, it’s the POV characters that make it such fun to read. Beginning with the Black Thorn, Suzku, Jacob, Henry and the non-POV characters, mostly everyone is a two-faced killer and even harder to judge.

The author marvels in creating a volatile situation in the city of Solantis and to add to that are all these hot-headed killers and deadly warriors that are headed towards a violent finish. While this does seem a bit generic in the sense that cool characters come together and fight, what differentiates this book from the riff-raff is that the author creates a fantastic storyline wherein every new chapter adds to the tension and keeps the plot simmering all the way to its action-packed climax.  

I can't stress how terrific these characters are but think of all the bad-ass, grey characters we know from ASOIAF, the First Law trilogy, the works of David Gemmell and David Dalglish, simply put we get similar bad-ass rogues here and they will absolutely keep you riveted. Secondly the dialogue and action sequences are top-notch, with the variety of characters that fill in the pages, dialogue becomes crucial and the author doesn’t disappoint with his gems from time to time. The action is also considerably amped up and for those who can’t get enough of it; this book should very well fulfill all your cravings.

Also this book introduces a bit more of the secondary characters including a certain pirate who becomes a monumental figure in the overall happenings as well gives a clue about the overall world and therefore expands the story from its simple trapping of being a revenge saga. I loved how the author takes minor characters from his previous books and makes them standout ones. Cases in point are Anders, Henry and Drake Morass, the author deftly showcases what might be truly happening but then again readers must be wary that all is definitely not what it seems to be.

Negative points about this book are almost next to none for me. However one big point for many could be the absence of two of the main POVs from its predecessor. However because this volume focusses on newer characters who shine brightly if not more. Perhaps the reappearance of all the characters from the previous book can be thought of more than simply coincidental as the story makes it out to be. The author could have smoothened this bit of the story but the way it all happens I didn’t mind it. I didn’t have any other complaints about this book and it’s safe to say that this is a dark fascinating gem of a sequel. 

CONCLUSION: The Color Of Vengeance is not simply a revenge saga, no more than The Lies of Locke Lamora is simply a story of thieves. It’s much more than that and possibly the best fantasy book I've read in 2013 (when it was first released). Don’t take my word for it and start reading this series to see why I think Rob J. Hayes is the next fantastic Brit addition to the field of dark, gritty fantasy and another Indie gem after Anthony Ryan to arrive from the British shores.

Friday, June 23, 2017

RE-REVIEW: The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: As any warrior will tell you; even the best swordsman is one bad day away from a corpse. It's a lesson Blademaster Jezzet Vel'urn isn't keen to learn. Chased into the Wilds by a vengeful warlord, Jezzet makes it to the free city of Chade. But instead of sanctuary all she finds is more enemies from her past.

Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart is a witch hunter for the Inquisition on a holy crusade to rid the world of heresy. He's also something else; expendable. When the God Emperor himself gives Thanquil an impossible task, he knows he has no choice but to venture deep into the Wilds to hunt down a fallen Arbiter.

The Black Thorn is a cheat, a thief, a murderer and worse. He's best known for the killing of several Arbiters and every town in the Wilds has a WANTED poster with his name on it. Thorn knows it's often best to lie low and let the dust settle, but some jobs pay too well to pass up.

As their fates converge, Jezzet, Thanquil, and the Black Thorn will need to forge an uneasy alliance in order to face their common enemy.

FORMAT/INFO: The Heresy Within is divided into four sections with sixty POV chapters. The narration is in third person via Thanquil Darkheart, Jezzet Vel’urn and Betrim Thorn aka The Black Thorn. This is the first book of the Ties That Bind trilogy.

June 21, 2017 marks the worldwide e-book re-release of The Heresy Within and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Sigbjorn Pedersen, cover design was by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: The Heresy Within is a dark fantasy debut with terrific characterization and a twisted plotline that is very reminiscent of the works by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch.

ANALYSIS: This book was originally self-published by the author in 2013 and it completely blew my mind. When I first read it, I had no clue about this book but the blurb suggested a dark story and the excerpt that I read had me salivating as soon as I finished it. The story safe to say was far from a disappointment. This book has been re-released by the author after he got his rights back from Ragnarok Publications and readers can read more about that in this interview and over on the author's site. I'm reposting my review with a few edits and to espouse the new(ish) cover and re-release of the entire trilogy.

The story begins with Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart who is a member of the Inquisition that seeks to root out demons and those who practice the dark arts in the lands in and around the holy city of Sarth. They are an organization who based on the teachings of Volmar, and have dedicated their lives trying to burn heretics and forever stamp out the dark arts. Such dedication has given them the street title of “witch hunters” and it’s one that is actively discouraged as well. Thanquil however is not a typical arbiter and is just returning from a distant mission before he gets shanghaied into an even more dangerous one. 

Jezzet Vel’urn is a blademaster, she’s also a person who thinks more of day-to-day survival than anything else. Her troubles stem from a past friendship gone sour and before long she has to decide whether she will “fight or fuck her way” out of the troubles heading her way. Lastly there’s Betrim the Black Thorn, mercenary, rogue and all round deadly murderer. His name echoes throughout the wilds as a name to be feared. Having lost a few digits on his hands and feet have made the Black Thorn extremely cautious in trusting folk even those among his crew but come long he will have to decide whether he wants to remembered as just a vile mercenary or something more.

That’s the basic gist of all the POV characters however there are other characters as well and all of them crazier and scarier than these POV ones. If I had to pinpoint the one single strength of this book, I would say it’s the characterization. Very few authors manage to write such terrific characters in their debut, only a few such as Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie and Anthony Ryan come to mind but now I believe we have another addition to this list. Rob J. Hayes who has written about lowlifes and scoundrels but writes with such wonderful application that these very characters seem fascinating gems and before long have you hooked onto their antics. This is the best part of the story, and very reminiscent of Blake Crouch and J. A. Konrath’s serial killer thrillers wherein they explored the darker side of human depravity and power. 

Similarly the author herein focuses on people who frankly would be villains in most fantasy books however gives them three dimensional personas for the readers to enjoy reading about. Betrim, Thanquil and Jezzet are the main characters and they shine brightly through their chapters but it's also the side character cast such as Henry, Bones, Swift, etc that make the story so much more intriguing. The POV characters Thanquil, Jezzet and Betrim are all psychologically broken people however the way they cope with their problems is fascinating to read. Plus amid all the savagery, their semi-honorable actions seem even brighter as compared to the muck around them. Sure enough some of them are still reprobates, act crazy, commit violence in a wild manner upon each other and normal folk, however many of them become so interesting that the readers will be forced to turn the pages to get to know them better as well as their sides of the story. This was what I loved so much about this debut, the terrific characterization, the unpredictable plot-line with all the action and bleakness.

There are plot twists galore as the story hardly moves in the direction that the readers would expect and in the end the author makes sure that the rules of the world are obeyed in the sense that no character is truly safe. The author also subverts several fantasy tropes by not following conventional storylines Case in point the God Emperor of Sarth was a farm boy who was revealed to be a human incarnation of Volmar. However the author doesn't focus on this and mentions it and moves on to the juicy parts.  There are quite a few deaths and so I would recommend that readers not read the blurb of the sequel books so as to not spoil their reads. The ending is very Abercrombie-esque wherein situations are resolved but the characters are put through a psychological and physical grinder of sorts. All in all this is a kind of debut that you definitely don’t want to miss because as soon as you finish this book, you’ll want to start the next one and then the one after that. The nice news is that both the sequels are already out and therefore ready to be devoured. Lastly the cover art is also very apt and details a particularly fascinating scene from the book itself.

Now moving onto the parts of the book that seem to be a bit deficient, namely the worldbuilding front. Sure enough there is enough history and geography provided to make it seem three dimensional but because the story focuses so much on characters and action, some readers who might want to know more of the surrounding world might not be satisfied. This book is without a map and so for cartophiles (like me) it’s a bit of a negative. However the author has posted a world map on his website for those interested Lastly those who don’t like dark fantasy or grey characters please, please avoid this book at all costs as you definitely will not be able to stomach it for all its brutality, gore and graphic nature. There's also quite a few situations and characters that come on to the main stage without any explanation and so I hope their status and back-stories will be explained in the succeeding volumes.

CONCLUSION: The Heresy Within is an amazingly dark debut and like 2012’s Blood Song is an absolute gem. If you like Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch or Mark Lawrence, make sure this is your next book. If you want a dark journey filled with action, betrayals and truly magnificent bastards of characters then The Heresy Within is the book that you should seek. DO NOT MISS IT!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

NEWS: The Ties That Bind Trilogy Cover Reveal & A Free Book by Rob J. Hayes (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Rob J Hayes has been a favorite of mine since first debuted his fantasy trilogy in April of 2013. The earlier covers weren’t anything that would catch most people’s eyes however his writing had that special quality that most readers including me took notice. Within a year of his indie success, Rob signed up with Ragnarok Publications to give his books a wider release and also got new cover art as a result.

Things however didn’t work out with Ragnarok because of their sheer unprofessionalism and the author has documented all of his pitfalls with them over HERE, HERE & HERE.

Thankfully earlier this year, Rob was able to get the rights to his debut trilogy back and decides to re-rerelease them with new cover-art. Okay so it’s new for books two & three and one slightly older cover for the The Heresy Within.

So here are the covers in all their glory and with new blurbs:

The Heresy Within (cover art by Sigbjorn Pedersen, cover design by Shawn King):


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Order The Heresy Within Over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: As any warrior will tell you; even the best swordsman is one bad day away from a corpse. It's a lesson Blademaster Jezzet Vel'urn isn't keen to learn. Chased into the Wilds by a vengeful warlord, Jezzet makes it to the free city of Chade. But instead of sanctuary all she finds is more enemies from her past.

Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart is a witch hunter for the Inquisition on a holy crusade to rid the world of heresy. He's also something else; expendable. When the God Emperor himself gives Thanquil an impossible task, he knows he has no choice but to venture deep into the Wilds to hunt down a fallen Arbiter.

The Black Thorn is a cheat, a thief, a murderer and worse. He's best known for the killing of several Arbiters and every town in the Wilds has a WANTED poster with his name on it. Thorn knows it's often best to lie low and let the dust settle, but some jobs pay too well to pass up.

As their fates converge, Jezzet, Thanquil, and the Black Thorn will need to forge an uneasy alliance in order to face their common enemy.

The Colour Of Vengeance (cover art by Alex Raspad, cover design by Shawn King):


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Order The Colour Of Vengeance Over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: BEATEN, BATTERED AND DAMNED NEAR BROKEN WITH A BOUNTY ON HIS HEAD SO LARGE HE’S TEMPTED TO TURN HIMSELF IN, the Black Thorn finds himself on trial for the crime of being him. Despite the impending probability of death he has but one thought on his mind; taking revenge against the Arbiter who took his eye.

In order to carry out his vengeance Thorn must first escape Sarth and recruit a new crew, each one with their own designs on revenge.

The Price Of Faith (cover art by Alex Raspad, cover design by Shawn King):


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Order The Price Of Faith Over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: NOT EVERYONE HAS A DESTINY.

Separated and miserable, Thanquil Darkheart and Jezzet Vel’urn both have their reasons for wanting to leave the Dragon Empire. Jezzet flees from the wrathful fury of an Empress scorned while accompanied by the ever insidious Drake Morrass and Thanquil sets out to find and judge his one heretical loose end.


Plus to celebrate the relaunch of his debut trilogy, the author has also made the collection of his First Earth short stories FREE on both side of the Atlantic. So please download a copy  for FREE and enjoy an exciting introduction to the First Earth Saga

Order The Bound Folio Over HERE (USA) & HERE (UK)

Official Book Blurb: The world is full of heroes, villains, and all the shades in between. The Bound Folio tells their stories from the tortured childhood of the legendary Blademaster the Sword of the North, to the humble origins of the Queen of the Five Kingdoms, to the death of one of the world’s greatest assassins.

This anthology collects together eight dark stories of swords, sorcery, and seduction from First Earth, the setting of The Ties That Bind trilogy and the forthcoming Best Laid Plans duology.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Force by Don Winslow (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Website
Order The Force HERE
Read an Interview with Don Winslow by John Wilkins

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true . . .

All Denny Malone wants is to be a good cop.

He is "the King of Manhattan North," a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant and the real leader of "Da Force." Malone and his crew are the smartest, the toughest, the quickest, the bravest, and the baddest, an elite special unit given carte blanche to fight gangs, drugs, and guns. Every day and every night for the eighteen years he’s spent on the Job, Malone has served on the front lines, witnessing the hurt, the dead, the victims, the perps. He’s done whatever it takes to serve and protect in a city built by ambition and corruption, where no one is clean—including Malone himself.

What only a few know is that Denny Malone is dirty: he and his partners have stolen millions of dollars in drugs and cash in the wake of the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history. Now Malone is caught in a trap and being squeezed by the Feds, and he must walk the thin line between betraying his brothers and partners, the Job, his family, and the woman he loves, trying to survive, body and soul, while the city teeters on the brink of a racial conflagration that could destroy them all.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "…he started out with his eyes firmly on the guiding star, his feet planted on the path, but that’s the thing about the life you walk—you start out pointed true North, but you vary one degree off, it doesn’t matter for maybe one year, five years, but as the years stack up you’re just walking farther and farther away from where you started out to go, you don’t even know you’re lost until you’re so far from your original destination you can’t even see it anymore" - Don Winslow

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" - Henry IV Part 2W. Shakespeare

After eighteen years in the NYPD, Detective Sergeant Denny Malone has good cause for unease. The de facto king of Manhattan North has seen considerable upheaval in his kingdom. He may be, effectively, the head of this select unit, charged with going after gangs, drugs, and guns. “Da Force” may have unusually free rein to do as they see fit to accomplish their goals. But a turf war between competing providers of recreational pharmaceuticals is growing increasingly kinetic, with one of the combatants looking to purchase a considerable supply of death-dealing hardware. Not OK. The captain is pressing for a high-publicity bust. There is also the perennial political dance one must perform to keep the brass at One Police Plaza and the political suits from interfering with business as usual. Of course, what passes for business as usual might not look all that good splashed across the front pages of the local tabloids.

Bribery may be the grease that keeps the wheels of civilization turning, but it leaves a lot of cops with very dirty hands. Denny is no saint, and no Serpico. He may mean well for the community he is charged with protecting, but his methods often lack the soft gleam of legality. We first meet him as he arrives in federal lockup. The novel then goes back to show how he got there. Slippery slope stuff. See the greased wheels above.

"The street stays with you. It sinks into your pores and then your blood." 
"And into your soul? Malone asks himself. You gonna blame that on the street too? 
"Some of it, yeah." 
"You’ve been breathing corruption since you put on the shield, Malone thinks. Like you breathed in death that day in September."
"Corruption isn’t just in the city’s air, it’s in its DNA, yours too." 
"Yeah, blame it on the city, blame it on New York." 
"Blame it on the Job, It’s too easy, it stops you from asking yourself the hard question."
"How did you get here? Like anyplace else."
"A step at a time."

Lines are crossed here with the frequency of runners reaching the end of the NYC marathon. Early on, Denny and his crew take out a major distributor, whack the principal, and skim off a significant portion of the captured product, a bit of an extra retirement fund. Some people are a tad upset by this. It’s not exactly much of a secret, though, and there are those who would like to see Denny being saluted by the entire force in Dress Blues and white gloves while someone plays Taps.

One of the great powers of this novel is the perspective offered on diverse forms of human behavior. Is Denny a brute for roughing up a guy who beat up a kid? Definitely outside the law, but are his actions effective? Denny really does care about the people in his kingdom. He cuts slack when possible, and brutalizes when it is called for. But the law seems a lot more of a recommendation than an absolute.

Winslow offers a close up look at a dark element of police culture:
 - How does being on the take work?
 - Who gets what?
 - How is money distributed?
 - Who is it ok to accept bribes from?
 - What is allowed that would otherwise be justiceable?
 - And why do the cops here consider it ok?

He offers as well a moving look at the human relationships that make up police life, the code of honor, the power of partnership, the requirement that all members of the team partake of the ill-gotten, if only as a means of self-protection, the wives who turn a blind eye to where that extra cash may have originated, and what their breadwinner may be up to when the crew parties hard, up to a point anyway. The interaction between the police and people in their area is rich with real affection, as well as the expected cynicism. Some of these scenes are stunningly moving, tissue worthy.

How about the relationship between cops and the local criminal element? You might be reminded of those cartoons in which Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote punch a time clock, go at it, then clock out at the end of the day, friends. The cops and criminals often seem cut from the same cloth, although the baddest of the bad guys are certainly much worse than the worst of the cops. And the bullets really kill. Winslow does not spare the one-percent, either, in his look at layers of amorality.

Don Winslow is a seasoned writer at the pinnacle of his craft:

"Malone drives past the Wahi diner and the mural of a raven on 155th. Past the church of the Intercession, but it’s too late for Intercession, past Trinity Cemetery and the Apollo Pharmacy, the Big Brother Barber shop, Hamilton Fruits and Vegetables and all the small gods of place, the personal shrines, the markers of his life on these streets that he loves like a husband loves a cheating wife, a father loves a wayward son."

There are wonderful nuggets of law enforcement intel in here. Like the notion of testilying. Or what is considered proper attire for a day on the stand. How about special celebratory nights for a crew? The upside of EMTs not taking a Hippocratic oath. Rules for note-taking on the job. How 9/11 saved the mob. Planning your crimes so they cross as many precinct boundaries as possible, increasing the likelihood that a paperwork snafu will botch a prosecution. On tribes within the force.

Winslow has a Damon Runyon-esque ear for character names. My favorites were a CI named Nasty Ass, and another the cops call Oh No, Henry, and a linguist’s appreciation for the local patois. Or maybe that would be another well-known teller of tales. (I think Dickens is one of the progenitors of noir fiction, writing as he did about the criminal underclass.) He peppers the novel with delicious small side-stories. Tales told in a bar by guys who have been spinning yarns for a lifetime. They give us occasional breathers from the breakneck pace.

He takes on topics that will resonate, from Blue on Black violence, and the resulting reactions, to how the jails are functioning as de facto mental hospitals and detox centers. From a consideration of God and the Church (Denny is not a fan) to the impact of the job on people’s lives. Denny recalls his father: "He was a cop on these streets, coming home in the morning after a graveyard shift with murder in his eyes, death in his nose and an icicle in his heart that never melted and eventually killed him."

From how cops cope with the daily horrors to how the crime numbers are cooked to support whatever preconceived outcome was desired. On the Iron Pipeline, the route on which legal guns from Texas, Arizona, Alabama and the Carolinas become illegal guns in NYC. The politics of police tactics and voting. The hatred and respect the cops have for the best defense lawyers. Their relationship with reporters: "You trust a reporter like you trust a dog. You got a bone in your hand, you’re feeding him, you’re good. Your hand’s empty, don’t turn your back. You either feed the media or it eats you."

Denny may be dirty, but you will be dashing along with him and hoping for the best. Maybe this whole situation can be fixed. He is a rich, multi-faceted character, and you will most definitely care what happens to him. Think Popeye (Gene Hackman) of The French Connection, or Lieutenant Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta) on the wonderful TV show Shades of Blue.

You might want to secure your seat belt and make sure that your Kevlar is all where is it is supposed to be. This is a non-stop, rock’em, sock’em high-speed chase of a novel, a dizzying dash through an underworld of cops, criminals, and those caught in the middle, screeching stops, and doubling backs, hard lefts, harder rights, and Saturn V level acceleration. Once you catch your breath after finishing the final pages I expect you’ll find yourself realizing just what a treat it has been.

CONCLUSION: The Force is not just a great cop book, it is a great book, period, a Shakespearean tragedy of high ideals brought low, with one of the great cop characters of all time. The Force is an instant classic.

NOTE: This review originally was posted on Goodreads. Don Winslow picture courtesy of Milanonera.com
Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Castle Doctrine by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Order The Castle Doctrine HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Long Way Down 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The White Gold Score 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Redemption Song 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Living End 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Plain-Dealing Villain
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Killing Floor Blues
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Instruments Of Control 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harmony Black
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red Knight Falling
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Glass Predator

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in Joliet, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration. 



OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Out of prison and back on the streets, Daniel Faust returns home to a city on fire. The Chicago mob is making their play for control of Las Vegas, with an army of gunmen and a lethal shapeshifter on their side, while Daniel's friend Jennifer marshals the forces of the Vegas underworld. Staying on the sidelines isn't an option, especially when a Metro detective orders him to get the war under control -- and if he can't, he'll expose Daniel's secrets to the FBI.

It's a bad time for ghosts of the past to come calling, but Damien Ecko is on his way with a hit list and a legion of walking corpses. Marked for death by the courts of hell, the mad necromancer plans on making sure that everyone who framed him, Daniel first and foremost, dies along with him.

Hunted by the living and the dead, pushed to his limits, Daniel will have to be smarter, faster, and more ruthless than he's ever been. He'll need to call upon new, dark powers, and darker allies. His enemies thought they took everything he had. They couldn't take his hunger. When this war is over, Daniel Faust will rise like a phoenix...or go down in flames.


FORMAT/INFO: The Castle Doctrine is 310 pages long divided over forty-four chapters with a prologue, an epilogue and an afterword. Narration is in the first-person, via Daniel Faust solely and different third-person narratives for the prologue and epilogue. This is the sixth volume of The Daniel Faust series. 



September 27, 2016 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of The Castle Doctrine and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a cast of anti-heroes and with a magician con-man as the protagonist, the Daniel Faust series is Richard Stark's Parker crossed with The Dresden Files and set in Las Vegas. 



OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Castle Doctrine is the sixth book and like The Living End brings to a solid conclusion one of the main plot arcs introduced in A Plain-Dealing Villain. With this being the sixth book, I'll have to discuss some plot and character details which will be spoiler-ific (in a mostly minor way) for the preceding volumes so be warned.

The plot opens after the events of The Killing Floor Blues when Daniel has returned to Las Vegas and is enjoying his newfound freedom. He plans to start with a new identity and is laying down the foundation for it when he finds out that Damien Ecko is gunning for him. Ecko has been slowly targeting those he believes to be special to Faust and he’s been making his way to Las Vegas. All of this while the Chicago mob is making moves on the Las Vegas scene and it's up to Jennifer and her fellow gang affiliates to thwart them. Faust is forced to take counter measures against Ecko, help out Jennifer and will have to finally take a stand and figure out what does he want to do with his life.

There's obviously a lot more going on but I can’t talk about it while spoiling the plot in a major way. What I can say is that this is the book that reveals so much more about background series arc that has only been hinted at so far. In fact I would say that this is the book that overwhelmingly ties together all of the author's published series so far (the Daniel Faust books, the Harmony Black series as well as The Revanche Cycle). Let’s start with the title: “The Castle Doctrine”, this specific precedent had been referenced in the earlier books and plays out grandly within this volume. So far within all of the previous books, Faust has been reacting to things and his failures have started adding up. This is the book wherein all of his mistakes comes to roost and Faust will have to determine what type of person he wishes to be. Whether he wishes to invoke the castle doctrine and defend those he loves and protect what he cherishes.

As always is the case, Danielis front and center of the story but we get to see him realize his mistakes. After five and half books worth of horrific shenanigans this book is ultimately about the first solid transformation that Daniel Faust takes. Sure it hasn’t been a smooth ride for Faust but as he hears from the Mourner Of The Red Rocks, he seems to be wasting his potential and this book heralds the beginnings of a new chapter in Daniel’s life. As a reader, it was exciting to read this and I can’t wait to see where the author takes Faust next. Characterization has been Craig’s forte and this volume also does the needful with us getting to meet new characters and older ones as well. The character cast is a suitably wide one and yet even with the singular, limited POV. The author is able to showcase a wide variety of folks with an equally wide variety of reasons for the things that they do. I thoroughly enjoy how the author is able to do this and it’s even better when we get to see the same characters from Harmony’s POV in her series. With this volume, the horror aspect is played down a little and considering how the author has been generous with this facet, this was a tad surprising.

This book also serves as the arc conclusion to the Damien Ecko plot introduced in book four (A Plain-Dealing Villain) and similar to the first three books, we get another trilogy ending that will sit right with most of the fans. This book is chronologically set after the events of Red Knight Falling and features a small clue about possible events occurring in Glass Predator (book 3 of the Harmony Black series) and it hints at further co-mingling of plots and characters down the line.  Another point of note, this book doesn't really bring to an end to the Cheshire Smile's plots  as I think he's going to be around for a longer while and possibly might be one of the ultimate big bad of the universe that the author is writing.

There's a subplot to this book that's very meta and is done splendidly. For me this part of the book was the best part as it revealed a lot of the future. I believe this section ties in to the whole grand plan for the series and so readers will have to be on the lookout for it. For most fans of this series, this book will be the big payoff as a lot of things get resolved while things are set into motion that will have plot ramifications further down the line. This book also features a nice tip of the hat to The White Gold Score which while chronologically being book# 1.5, was written along with this book. It reintroduces us to characters featured in the novella and readers who have read The White Gold Score will really love to the see the sequel to the fight featured in it.

Lastly this book brings to a grand conclusion to the events that have been in motion since A Plain-Dealing Villain. However one important plot thread regarding Caitlin is left hanging. This book also highlights an important point about a future trilogy that the author is planning and most readers of the Revanche Cycle should be able to spot it. This book though doesn’t work as a standalone as too many events, characters are referenced from previous books for it to be read on its own. That would be my only pseudo-complaint about the book. Truly though there’s nothing much to rant about this one.

CONCLUSION: The Castle Doctrine brings to a strong conclusion to the Damien Ecko trilogy and as for Faust, it heralds a new beginning for him. The Castle Doctrine is a slim volume which packs more of a punch than you might expect. It’s exactly what Faust would have planned in a fight so get ready and read this one ASAP. So like me you can then be hooked onto the wonderfully addictive universe that Craig Schaefer is crafting quietly and solidly.

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