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Book Review: Shadow of the Wicked, by Douglas W.T. Smith

Douglas W.T. Smith‘s Shadow of the Wicked is going to be on Sadie’s Spotlight next week. I didn’t agree to review the book for the tour, but those participating in the tour received a free copy of the book. Since it’s only 107 pages long, I decided to give it a quick read.

Honestly, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. Assuming I would enjoy the book, I had planned to drop the review at the same time as the post goes live on Sadie’s Spotlight—a bit of a 2 for 1 deal. But I turned out not to like it much and I do try not to post bad reviews during a promotional tour. That’s just bad form. So, I’m posting it a week early instead of holding it until the week after.

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Twin brothers–a sorcerer and a warrior–are each tortured for their opposing convictions. Will magick be restored or extinguished?

Magick had once ruled The Three Kingdoms, but now it is banished and condemnable.

Jaromir and Talmage have been imprisoned for different convictions.

Jaromir wakes up chained to a table filled with dread, while Talmage is thrown into an underground labyrinth.

Jaromir has devoted his life to mastering weapons as the Empress’ Guard and forming a secret order to rid the world of magick. His lifetime devotion is useless when his limbs are chained. Unless he divulges the order’s plans. Jaromir is tortured and his body pushed to breaking point but he refuses to betray the order––until his wife is dragged into the room. Jaromir is forced to make a choice between his honor and his beloved wife. Which will he choose?

Meanwhile, Talmage is thrown into an underground labyrinth. Since his parent’s death, he had practiced the art of magick in secret from his brother’s order. Magick had been his savor and his security through his troubled life. No matter what Talmage tried, the ghosts of his past haunt him––especially in the dark passages. At first, he thought he was alone, for one last trial, until familiar voices echo from the shadows.

Both brothers must escape from their wicked fate, identify their outgrown relationship, and swallow their pride before it’s too late.

my review

There isn’t any polite way to say a book isn’t very good. I could try and dress it up, give the review a compliment sandwich, etc. But the bare bones truth is still that this book isn’t very good. Though it’s not labeled as such, I’m fairly sure the copy I read was an ARC and, therefore, hasn’t yet had it’s final mechanical edit. So, I won’t go into grammatical editing. But even leaving that aside, the writing is choppy, repetitive, and often unclear. The characters are un-relatable and, worst of all, none of it is given any true context.The sentence in the synopsis that says, “Magick had once ruled The Three Kingdoms, but now it is banished and condemnable” is pretty much all the world-building you’ll find in the whole novella. What you’re left with is 107 pages of torture porn with no apparent point. I read all 107 pages and still do not know if there was a theme or message. Was I supposed to take something away from this? I sense that Smith meant for me to, but whatever it is it’s too weak to be successfully conveyed. A viscous content editor could maybe beat it into something meaningful. But it’s not there yet. It does have a great cover though.

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Book Review: Dark and Otherworldly, by Kristen Brand

Author, Kristen Brand sent me an ecopy of the Omnibus of Dark and Otherworldly for review.
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Leigh Morgan has one mission: to stop the fae who abducted her sister from ever kidnapping another human again.

Dredarion Rath wants one thing: to disgrace his older brother and prove himself the worthier heir to Otherworld’s throne.

When their paths cross, it changes everything, and neither Otherworld nor the human realm will ever be the same.

Three romantic urban fantasy novels; one darkly enchanting volume. The Dark and Otherworldly Omnibus includes:

dark and otherworldly individual covers

Poison and Honey
She hunts the fae. The last man she should fall for is a cunning fae prince.

Sting of Thorns
She’s been cursed by the queen of Otherworld. Now the only one who can save her is the man she betrayed.

The Cruelest Curse
When dark forces threaten Otherworld, she’ll have to join forces with her enemies to save the kingdom… and the prince.

my review

I wrote brief individual reviews as I finished each of these novellas. But I’ll make a few quick general statements before I get to them. First I liked this quite a lot. I loved the way Leigh and Dredarion grated on one another, but also came to respect aspects of the other.

Second, I know that my hatred of serials is a personal issue that not everyone shares. Many people will have no issue with this story being broken into 3 volumes. And at 519 pages it is too long to feasibly be published as a single book. But it is 100% a single story. While the author finds acceptable stopping points, none of it stands alone and I think it could have been edited down to fit into a single longish book. I just see no reason that it needed to be broken into 3 pieces. I wouldn’t have even chanced reading it if I hadn’t been offered the Omnibus and that would have been a shame because, as I said, I liked it quite a lot.

Third, I can’t write this review and not mention the giant elephant that is Leigh falling in love with her en-slaver and, because of that love, being willing to return and fight for the peoples who were still actively enslaving her own. By the end Dredarion may have changed his views, but no one else had. So, even by the end she loved and worked for the betterment of people who were enslaving her people. It’s hugely problematic and if it wasn’t in a fantasy setting it would have been wholly intolerable.

Since it is a fantasy I was able to suspend my disbelief enough to put up with it. But even then I noticed that the issue of slavery was more and more often euphemistically referred to as servitude as the series went on.

Now, moving on to my thoughts each individual novella.

Poison and Honey
I liked this a lot. I liked both Leigh and Dredarion and I liked what they appreciated about each other. I thought the world was interesting and both Leigh’s determination and Dredarion’s obvious blind spot around the enslavement of humans interesting. I did think the romance aspect moved too quickly and disliked that it ended on a cliffhanger, such that it’s not a complete story. And at only 136 pages, it had room to be. It did feel like it was a spin-off of something, with quite a lot of named, but otherwise unknown, characters showing up right at the end as if we should know who they are. But as far as I can tell it isn’t.

Sting of Thorns
In a way I think I enjoyed this second installment more than the first. All those unknown characters who showed up out of the blue at the end of Poison and Honey are finally introduced and I liked them all. Leigh and Dredarion are forced to get to know the real versions of each other and I enjoyed that, though I still feel their ‘love’ is unsupported. I just decided to roll with it like any other fantasy element. I did see the twist coming and it, of course, explains so much.

The Cruelest Curse
Honestly, this was my least favorite of the three. It brings the story to a satisfactory conclusion, but it lost the tension and delicious banter between Leigh and Dredarion. They became love-sick saps instead. Plus, while I was always bothered by the way the humans’ enslavement is glossed over as servitude, you really feel it here. I don’t think the word slave is even used. And when Leigh negotiated for better conditions for the humans, it included pay and the ability to leave a position, but not that humans wouldn’t be kidnapped anymore. Perhaps this is inferred, but I use it as an example of how the slavery aspect weakened as the series progressed. Despite all that, when I look at the series as a whole, I’m happy to have read it and will happily pick up another of Brand’s Books.

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Book Review: Bleacke’s Geek, by Lesli Richardson

I picked up a copy of Bleacke’s Geek (by Lesli Richardson) as an Amazon freebie, after seeing it recommended in a fantasy readers’ group I’m in. It was still free when I posted this review.
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When girl meets geek, the fur’s gonna fly.

Dewi Bleacke is a no-nonsense Prime Alpha wolf. As head Enforcer of the Targhee pack, she’s in charge of Florida. Her assignment is to kill a dirtbag who sold his daughter. She doesn’t expect to find her handsome, albeit geeky, soulmate in the process.

Dr. Heathcliff McKenzie Ethelbert lives a quiet, boring life. A professor at USF, he has no girlfriend, no car, and is a devout vegetarian. So when a mysterious woman with mocha eyes literally drags him out of his booth and then proceeds to have her way with him, it’s not his average night out. When she follows their sexy interlude by abducting him after killing a man, he suspects life has just taken a drastically odd turn.

Now Dewi, her partner Beck, and her surrogate father Badger, have to educate her new “grazer” mate on the ways of the Targhee wolves. “Ken” does his best to fit in. But an old killer lurks in the shadows–the wolf who murdered Dewi’s parents. Can she keep Ken safe, or will her mate prove to everyone that he’s a lot more than just Dewi Bleacke’s geek?

my review

This was recommended by someone in a fantasy readers’ group because a member had asked for books in which strong women protect nerdier guys. I loved the idea and when I saw it was free on Amazon I picked it up and read it soon after. The problem is that, while it fits the description of strong woman protecting nerdier guy, it doesn’t actually subvert the patriarchal, women as the weaker sex script and suffers greatly for it.

Let me be clear. If I pick up a book about an female alpha werewolf falling in love with a nerdy, vegetarian university professor, I want her to be the stronger party. I want it to actually subvert, not just flip the gender dynamic. Bleacke’s Geek doesn’t even try.

Dewi is the only ever female Prime Alpha (the alphas’ alpha), stronger than even normal alphas and even more unable to submit to others. Excerpt…she’s really not. Dewi, sweet special Dewi, really just wants to submit to her weaker human husband (something no male prime would ever do, even to another alpha), cries a lot, and ALL the men in her life coddle and protect her. They keep information from her to keep her safe and unstressed. Information they tell Ken immediately so that he too can protect her from it.

I found the whole thing worse that being given a weak heroine. Here we were promised a strong one and then it was taken away. But I’m not supposed to notice.

Then there is the abuse problem. One of the things I complain about most in reviews is the easy use of abuse of women as a plot device. Here we have Dewi’s parents murdered, her mother raped in front of her first. Dewi almost killed as a child. Dewi kills a man who has sold his daughter into sexual slavery and has plans to do the same with the other two, she saves a woman whose husband has tied her up and is beating her, Ken’s mother is murdered in a bout of domestic abuse, and the man who killed Dewi’s parents shows up to rape and murder her. That’s a lot of unrelated cases of abused women in less than 200 pages. I think I’m justified in wondering if Richardson simply can’t think of a single other plot device to use, because that is some pretty weak storytelling.

Additionally, the ONLY other women in the book are faceless waitresses and the co-ed students in Ken’s class who go slutty and throw themselves at him as soon as he mates a werewolf. One of whom he can’t remember her name, but remembers masturbating to the memory of her triple Ds several times. (And this is a man I’m supposed to like?) So, every woman but Dewi is either a victim or sexually disposable, or a sexually disposable victim. This I can do without, especially from female authors. I simply expect more and better.

The writing and editing is competent, even if the author makes some odd stylistic choices. The first sentence of the book has no verb, for example. But if this is the authors idea of a good story I have no desire to read anything else they every write.

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Review: Bleake’s Geek