Master Of Restless Shadows by Ginn Hale, Book One

GinnHale Restless Cover
Cover Illustration by Zaya Feli Cover Design by Dawn Kimberling

I would rate this 4 stars.

I thought this was a standalone, but apparently it would have been helpful to read the Lord of White Hell and the Champion of the Scarlet Wolf duologies first. The world-building is amazingly detailed, yet I still feel like I might have had a rounder view of this universe if I read those first, as there are several characters from those books included in this one and they are written in linear time. Things about the court intrigues, neighboring countries, power struggles between church and state, all the differnet types of religious beliefs, and the use of magic obviously all have more background than I was privy to here. While the plot is always easy to follow, the explanations about the magic are not–until the second half. All of the sudden the magic is explained, the emotional connection I wanted kicks in, and the book really comes alive, which saved this story for me. I am left wondering if maybe I would have felt more emotionally attached from the beginning if I had read the other four books? The writing style for the first half is removed, like an observer focused on the main plot and moving about chess pieces. While there is clever dialogue and witty banter, the author never lets them succumb to passion or deeper emotions that the reader can actually sit with and let breathe. Then again, maybe that is because of the constant explanations of past events, but recaps are entirely necessary for this to work.

The story is told from four points of view: Narsi, Atreau, Ariz, and Fedeles. Narsi is a great character, a genuinely kind, clever, brave and warmhearted physician. Atreau the charming rake and novelist, but that deflects from what he is really doing as a spymaster. Ariz is the tragic tale, living under compulsion and being made to do things he doesn’t want to do. Fedeles as the Duke of Rauma is treading a fine line of facing his fears and past traumas to become the hero everyone needs. Although these main leads are all male, there are many strong females characters in this book and the cast is large and diverse. Clara and Oasia are the most intriguing, rich, intelligence, three dimensional female roles I’ve read in secondary characters in a long time. Everyone has various shades of grey as many are not whom they seem on the surface, even Narsi takes to subterfuge with ease. The characters are what bring this to life–why I even cared about all the plots and subplots. Honestly though, more than rooting for them individually, I was rooting for good to win over evil and for anyone to have even a dash of happiness. Just like real life, there is racism, sexism, homophobia, religious zeal, and xenophobia. In the end, it’s about averting a war. The corruption, greed, torture, assassinations, servitude…they are what you would expect from the rich and powerful. There is nothing fast about this book; it’s all slowly built brick by brick. That’s not to say that no action happens, but the pacing is slowed by the world-building–even though this all takes place in a week, it feels much longer. Suddenly everything happens at once and it’s over.

If you are wanting an m/m romance, this may not hold your interest. If you want a complex, painstakingly detailed, queer renaissance type high fantasy novel with a tangle of multiple plots and slow burn, fairly chaste romantic pairings, then you might like to try this book. This is also going to be a duology, so be aware this doesn’t end here. Right now I am frustrated on many levels. While I acknowledge the first half was neccessary, I didn’t love it and was getting bored. After the second half, I am completely sucked in and want to read the next book right now this minute. I am also sad that reading this might have ruined the four previous books for me, because I will know what happens as I believe this duology is the end of the series.

Ginn Hale’s Website

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Review: The King’s Dragon (Fire and Valor #1) by W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns

[This was one difficult for me to rate. I think I may have rated The Amulet Stone by Mason Thomas too low. If I had rated that one higher, I would likely have rated this one higher too. I been reading a lot of fantasy this year, so it’s difficult not to compare them all even though they are all very different.]

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

When King Edmund dies, Reynold becomes king. After several decades of peace and prosperity, this starts a cascade of events that will see the kingdom of Llangard in a more precarious position, and many uncertain who is friend or foe. Reynold’s cousin Tris is well respected at the castle, but hides his nature, afraid it will endanger his life. Bet, the king’s assassin, has his own secrets, and is a huge part of shaping the events at court with well done action scenes. As political machinations, ethics, and morals drive them apart, their long held attraction also pulls Tris and Bet together. Theirs is the main romance, if you can call it that. While the sex scenes are explicit, they are not titillating, just used for character and plot development. I would say the relationship is part of the book, not the point of the book. Tris is such a likeable, character with more depth as the book goes on. It’s quite the feat to make me feel sympathy and empathy for an assasin. For all the characters, their complex loyalties are twisted and tested until they find there is a difference between what is right, and what is honorable.

Since this is the start of a series with a full cast of characters and multiple points of view, it will require some attention to detail. While the various points of view help layer the world-building throughout the story, they also make it more difficult to get very attached to any one character. The heading for each chapter tells where the point of view starts, but be prepared for a change in points of view between scenes. Other important points of view besides Tris, Bet, and Reynold include: Reynold’s sister Gillian, Rhiannon and Hafgan as visitors to the castle, Sidonie as the King’s guard, and Prince Roland. As the Prince is nine, I am glad not too much time is spent with his point of view, but I did find it age appropriate.

Without giving too much away, relations between the dragons of the Mawrcraig Mountains and Llangard are contentious from a war fought long ago. Still, the kingdom relies on the dragons to turn back invaders from the north, and the dragons expect to be left alone. They want to improve their situation so a dragon goes to meet the new king. They may have been a threat to humans once upon a time, but they have no greed for human lands. Yet, dragonkind won’t stay hidden in the mountains forever. People of Tornheim are encroaching in the mountains. Usually a nation of tribes that don’t work together, something may be changing as they are growing bolder. The Torndals may also be creating intrigue to move against Llangard. While there is an elf in this story, the reader doesn’t know anything about the elves at all at this point. Too much care has been taken to set up this world and its politics for it not to have a much larger story arc coming. Even though this story, as it is, has a satisfying ending, there are four plot points left dangling to build upon.

If there was a stumble, I would say it’s in the development of the relationship between Sidonie and Rhiannon. They barely spend any time together at all and attraction alone between strangers wasn’t enough for me to believe how their plot point develops, even though the end is so, so good. The scene between Tris and Hafgan also seemed forced and too soon in their acquaintance for that level of exchange. There are dragons that are introduced near the end, but there was not enough done to make me intrigued by them. I would expect the next book to feature more about them and their culture; I welcome this as I would love to have their points of view too. I’m just saying dragons are written into relationships where time wasn’t taken to build them, or introduced briefly to position them for the future, rather than to add to the story already in play. This is an ambitious, action packed fantasy adventure that carries the reader merrily along. There is magic, elves, dragons, and plenty of historical lore, which may or may not be fact–every side has their own view of war, after all. My only concern is the next book will need a lot of world-building also and I hope there are more intimate scenes (like with Bet and Roland, or Tris and his mother) between the characters so I can check in with them more emotionally, rather than those getting lost in all the politics and plot twists that I intellectually enjoy. I look forward to the next book to see where everything goes, especially because the authors have made me a bit bloodthirsty and have proven they’re not afraid to surprise and delight.

Cover art © 2019 by Natasha Snow Designs. The cover is so striking with Tristram front and center, which is as it should be since he is the rallying point and glue that holds things together.

Order here:

Universal: http://mybook.to/thekingsdragon

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XC67S95 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47945724-the-king-s-dragon

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 295 pages
Published September 26th 2019
ASINB07XC67S95
Edition Language: English
Series: Fire and Valor

 

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: The King’s Dragon (Fire and Valor #1) by W.M. Fawkes and Sam Burns — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Ramen Assassin by Rhys Ford, Ramen Assassin 1

Ramen Assassin
Cover Art © 2019 Reece Notley

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

Kuro Jenkins owns a ramen shop in Los Angeles. Rescuing former child star Trey Bishop one night leads him back into a lifestyle he thought he left behind. Trey has his own past he is trying hard to shake. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Trey’s life is in danger, but as a recovering addict, no one believes him. Growing close as they try to figure out who’s trying to kill them, is it just proximity and convenience, or something more?

Every time I feel like I’m being mean, not giving higher star reviews, I read something like this to remind me why I’m just being honest. This author describes scenes I can picture in my mind, with so many little details stuck in, they create snapshots. Her words tease all my senses, giving me characters I care about and can root for. This is like an action adventure, yet so intimate. The writing is a rat-a-tat style that fits this genre well. Here, the secondary characters shine–especially the females. The plot twists actually move the story forward with nice symmetry. This is a spy tale–ex-spy tale–so the reader should expect some suspension of disbelief. Overall, this is a gripping, sweet and totally smoking romance, with a few dead bodies and a satisfying ending.

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Review: By Way of Pain – Criminal Delights: Assassins by J.M. Dabney

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This is part of the Criminal Delights series, which are standalones by different authors revolving around dark themes. Pay attention to the trigger warnings. This book is about a lawyer named Cowan Kingley, who is a hired assassin. The reader sees him at different ages to establish him as not quite right, and much of the book is in his first person POV. The reader also gets the first person POV of the man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ends up kidnapped instead of killed. The key here is the why of it. What would make an assassin not kill a witness right away?

The warnings say dubcon, but I would say this is noncon. The Stockholm Syndrome contributes to the confusion. As a virgin with no experience, the captive has never had the chance to find out what he likes. Once Conway starts with the humiliation, whipping, spanking, choking, and breath play…his captive realizes he likes it. I don’t think this will convince anyone who isn’t predisposed to liking this sort of book. The book really has two acts. The first half is more intimate with just the two of them. The second half has John Wick style action sequences. While the whole book is actually effective, well written, and way more entertaining than it should be with a satisfying conclusion…there is a major issue.

Although Conway thinks of himself as a sociopath and has studied human psychology, I can’t agree since he is able to become obsessed, possessive, and caring–genuinely caring as the reader knows his POV–towards his captive. In the thank you note at the end, the author calls him a psychopath. These are not interchangeable words; they are two different things. One lacks empathy and the other lacks conscience, but neither would care about anyone else, let alone fall in love. This is the downfall of the book. If you are willing to ignore clinical definitions of these mental illnesses and suspend disbelief, it is well done for what it is.

The cover by was done by Natasha Snow. The covers of the whole series are stylized and match

Sales Links:  Amazon Universal Link: books2read.com/CriminalDelights-Pain

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 166 pages
Published May 20th 2019 by Hostile Whispers Press, LLC
ASINB07PKQZ23C
Edition Language: English

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: By Way of Pain – Criminal Delights: Assassins by J.M. Dabney — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words