Posts Tagged With: dark fantasy

“Handmaiden’s Fury” by JM Guillen

I spent most of an afternoon drawn into JM Guillen’s free short fiction over at Irrational Worlds, and was quickly hooked by the rich and evocative worlds conveyed in just a few paragraphs.  Needing even more, I decided to try the novella Handmaiden’s Fury.

Handmaiden’s Fury is the story of a young priestess named Keiri.  She is a devotee of the goddess Rydia, whose grants power through sexuality.  Keiri’s power allows her to bond with people, control them, and even destroy.  Of course, it is not without personal cost, as the rituals to channel Rydia’s power involve a fair share of pain and submission.

When Keiri’s master discovers an evil sorcerer who smuggles slaves and ritually tortures innocent victims, he decides to use Keiri to put a stop the vile magic.  As he and Keiri work together to defeat their foe, Keiri realizes the depth of love and passion that she and her master share.

As with the short fiction at Irrational Worlds, I was immediately drawn into the story, which combines elements of horror, dark fantasy, and erotica.  Sexuality is an important part of the story, but is handled tastefully.  The bond between Keiri and her master is something to be treasured, and it keeps Keiri’s power from consuming anything in its path.  The magic system is unusual and well-developed, and the city in which the story is set seems like an organic part of a much larger world.  My only real complaint about Handmaiden’s Fury is that it didn’t come to a complete resolution, leaving me wanting more.  I hope that Guillen returns to Keiri’s story one day.

Categories: Erotica, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Black Fire Concerto” by Mike Allen

After seeing glowing reviews at The Little Red Reviewer, Lynn’s Book Blog, and Just Book Reading, I knew I had to read The Black Fire Concerto.  I’m on a book-buying hiatus until the government shutdown ends and I have a regular paycheck again, but lucky for me, it is available through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.  It’s the first time I’ve used that particular feature of Amazon Prime.  Mike Allen, you have taken my Kindle-book-borrowing virginity.  Yay!

Every evening, twelve-year-old Erzelle is called to play her harp aboard a riverboat named the Red Empress.  Like Scheherazade, this means that she can live another day.  You see, the boat is kept by the Family, who lure unsuspecting diners aboard their ship to feast on ghoul meat, which is said to grant extended life.  Once aboard, the poor unfortunates are bitten by ghouls, turned, and served up as dinner themselves.  When they decide that Erzelle isn’t worth her keep, then she too will become dinner.

That all changes when Olyssa, a kickass woman with a magic pipe, shows up one night for dinner.  She springs Erzelle from her predicament, and the two embark on a voyage to find Olyssa’s long-lost sister.  While doing so, Erzelle learns about the origins of the magical apocalypse that caused the Storms, the ghouls, and the end of normal life.

The magical apocalypse envisioned in The Black Fire Concerto is unlike anything I’ve ever read.  Magic is real, but humans only learned to tap the darkness a few decades ago.  The results were catastrophic, and led to the dystopian society that presently exists.

One of the things that impressed me the most was the way that the author was able to depict the way that magic affects its users.  This was especially evident as Erzelle learns how to use it and is gripped by the rage and the temptation to unleash too much power.  Heroes and villains alike are shaped by the magic that they use, and every action has a consequence, regardless of intention.

Mike Allen’s imagery is incredible.  He creates great machines fueled by rotting corpses, the friendly fox-like Vulpines, and villains that will give you nightmares and make you feel sympathetic at the same time.  A blend of fantasy and horror, The Black Fire Concerto will leave you begging for more.

Verdict:  Buy this.  Immediately.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

“Legacy of Kings” by C. S. Friedman

“Legacy of Kings” is the third book in C. S. Friedman’s Magister Trilogy, which began with Feast of Souls and Wings of Wrath.  I’m going to try to be as vague and spoiler-free as I can, which is always difficult when reviewing the third book in a series.

The book begins with a poetic introduction recounting the events of the first two volumes, citing the major events and figures of which the bards will one day sing.  I was grateful for this introduction.  I had read “Wings of Wrath” many months after reading “Feast of Souls,” and had found when I read it that I had forgotten some characters and plot points that were  important and relevant to the second book.  The introductory text prevented that problem, and created a much more enjoyable reading experience.

The book follows new developments in humanity’s war against the Souleaters, giant dragonfly creatures who have bonded with human riders to create intelligent soul-eating monsters that threaten the very existence of civilization.

The story follows many different characters, with none of them forming what I’d like to think of as a main protagonist.  This style works here a lot better than it did in the second book (which might have had something to do with the fact that I read the second and third books within a month or two of each other).  The closest thing to a main character or heroine would be Kamala, the only female Magister.  In this book we also discover that there is a much darker secret as to why Magisters cannot be women, and that it isn’t the soft-hearted slightly sexist bullshit that the Magisters explained in the first book.  I was happy to discover that there is more to the Magisters’ nature than meets the eye, and that Friedman had created a story that was far more complex than I expected.

One of the things that impresses me the most about C. S. Friedman’s writing is that her characters are morally ambiguous.  I’ve mentioned this when reviewing the earlier books, but it bears repeating.  Nobody in the book is purely good or purely evil, but instead characters have complex and multi-faceted personalities and ambitions.  Kamala, for instance, is a strong female character, but at the same time, she doesn’t seem to care that she’s feeding on human souls and that the very exercise of her powers means that innocents will die.  King Salvator used to be a monk and views Magisters as an abomination, and is so dense that he’d rather ask witches to give their lives for him than to make use of a Magister’s power, even if it will provide a strategic advantage in combat or save his life.  There were many times that I wanted to slap him for his idiocy.  Then there’s Siderea, who becomes the Queen of the Souleaters… much as I’d like to hate her, she doesn’t want to eradicate humanity completely, but rather to create an empire that would serve her own needs.  I felt bad for her because the Magisters all knew how to save her, but were content to watch her die even after sexually taking advantage of her for years.  We can sympathize with the villains and get pissed off at our heroes, and we end up rooting for humanity as a whole rather than specific factions or characters.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the entire trilogy, and “Legacy of Kings” was a perfect conclusion.  This is a great series for someone who’s looking for some dark epic fantasy that isn’t just a rehashing of Tolkein, but rather is a complex and original series set in a world where everything has a price.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wings of Wrath” by C. S. Friedman

Back in September I reviewed C. S. Friedman’s “Feast of Souls,” the first book of the Magister Trilogy.  I finally read the second book!

“Wings of Wrath” picks up where “Feast of Souls” left off.  The Wrath is a wall/spell separating the civilized world from the wintry north, which is where the Souleaters were banished long ago.  The Souleaters are dragonfly-like creatures who seduce their human prey before consuming it.  If they are left unchecked, they’ll destroy even the remotest possibility of human civilization.  The only hope lies in the hands of a female Magister, a pregnant queen, a monkish king, and a bastard.

One of the things I like about this book is that every act of magic has a price:  life essence.  Everyone has a finite amount of life essence, and once you run out, you’re dead.  As such, all magic operates under certain rules and assumptions, even if the average people don’t know what exactly they are.

Friedman uses her magic system to create a world of astonishing moral ambiguity.  None of the major protagonists can be considered completely good or evil.  Kamala is a Magister, which means that she feeds off of the life essence of innocent people until she bleeds them dry and they perish.  (Fun fact:  After I published my review of “Feast of Souls,” the search term “feeds off of souls of children” has led several people to my blog.  I’m not sure whether to be proud or horrified.)  Every heroic act that Kamala commits is paid for in human life.  The Wrath that protects humanity is likewise made possible by a heinous crime.  Our protagonists are not the white knights that one normally expects to see in fantasy.  Likewise, the Souleaters are portrayed as a civilization seeking their own place in the world, and not the evil monsters that they could be.  All in all, this makes for a complex and balanced tale.

One of Friedman’s strengths is writing strong female characters who are able to rise above the most daunting of circumstances.  Kamala becomes a Magister because she had been abused and taken advantage of earlier in her life.  Her quest for power originates in self-defense, but evolves into much more than as she throws in her lot in the fight against the Souleaters.  Queen Gwynofar likewise has suffered much hardship in her lifetime, but because of the gift of her bloodline she finds herself in a unique position that calls for both strength and sacrifice.  Perhaps the most intriguing character to me thus far though is Siderea, the Witch Queen, although there’s not much I can say about her that wouldn’t be a major spoiler.

“Wings of Wrath” is well-written and doesn’t suffer from middle book syndrome.  One of the things I like about this trilogy is that each book has its own story arc that is a part of the larger whole.  It doesn’t end on a giant cliffhanger, but rather is the close of one chapter within a greater saga.

I’d recommend the Magister Trilogy to anyone who enjoys a good dark fantasy where characters blur the lines between good and evil.

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I read this book as part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge and the Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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