CSFF Blog Tour: The Warden and the Wolf King

The Jewels of Anniera are preparing for war. All the long winter they have been rallying the people of the Green Hollows to go up against Gnag the Nameless, to end his destruction by destroying him.

The Skreeans are preparing for war. All winter Gammon has been leading them in the work, making ready to attack.

And then Gnag beats them to it.

The Warden and the Wolf King is the fourth and final book of the Wingfeather Saga, written by Andrew Peterson. This book, more than any of the others, belongs to the Wingfeather children, Janner and Kalmar and Leeli. Artham and Podo had their most pivotal moments in the first and second books, Nia had hers in the third. Here, in the fourth book, the adults retreat and the children take over.

This novel is the most intense of the series, in action and in darkness. What strikes me about the sadness of this book is that it leaps at you from unexpected places: characters left lost even after a great triumph, the boys and the cloven in the Blackwood. (You who have read the book, you know what I’m talking about. “Anniera. My home.” Really, I think I teared up.)

A lot of characters – not heard and hardly thought of since the second or even first book – come back. We even make it back to Glipwood, with reflection on how it all began. It was gratifying to revisit so many earlier elements of the story. The major storylines are brought to complete and satisfying conclusions, and such elements as the cloven and Gnag himself are thoroughly explored.

The one storyline left unresolved is Artham’s. The Warden and the Wolf King underscores his brokenness; his nightmare of ghouls in a dark chamber is the worst moment of his madness in the entire saga. And there’s no resolution. The story ends on a hopeful note for Artham, but he never truly finds healing or a lasting peace.

At first blush, it’s a little curious that Peterson finishes the stories of characters we thought we’d never see again and leaves Artham without resolution. But it makes sense. Artham’s story cannot be quickly or easily finished. That ship sailed when Artham snapped at the beginning of Monster in the Hollows. Andrew Peterson established then that even Artham’s glorious transformation wasn’t enough for healing, and now he needs to come up with something even better. Which won’t be easy, because that transformation scene was tremendous. (Authors do these things to themselves.)

Now I’m going to turn on the SPOILER ALERT for a few criticisms. I think the decision to bring back Bonifer Squoon was a mistake. It didn’t add much to the book, and it placed an unfortunate asterisk on the ending of Monster in the Hollows.

Additionally, Artham’s decision to retire to his treehouse when he knew there was a fleet of Fangs heading in the direction of his niece and nephews struck me as inconsistent with his character. I know he was, as he said, lost. But any more lost than when he first stumbled from the Blackwood and resolved to protect his brother’s children?

Finally, the book had continuity errors. Characters knew things they had not known in the last book and had no apparent opportunity to learn. If you read the conversation between Janner and Artham in the first chapters of Monster in the Hollows – the last conversation they have in the entire series – it’s clear Janner has no idea why Artham is so disturbed by the Blackwood. But in The Warden and the Wolf King, he knows his uncle’s history with the forest. The whole character of Arundelle is a kind of continuity error. (Anybody remember Alma Rainwater?)

All right, SPOILER ALERT OFF.

I regard the flaws of this novel as ultimately minor, especially in a 519-page conclusion of an epic. The Warden and the Wolf King is a fascinating book; I would even call it a great book. It is spiritually strong – very aware of the Maker, searching after His presence and His goodness. A phrase appears multiple times in the story – the Maker’s good pleasure. There’s both comfort and courage in it.

The Wingfeather Saga is one of the best series I have ever read, and The Warden and the Wolf King is an excellent denouement – heartfelt, imaginative, full of meaning, with hope and sorrow and glory.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Jupiter Winds

Grey Alexander has precisely two worries: providing for herself and her sister, and not getting caught. They live in lawless independence in the North American Wildlife Preserve, and there’s no telling where or when Mazdaar may catch up with them.

Jupiter Winds is written by C.J. Darlington and published by Mountainview Books. The novel is sci-fi, with a dystopian tinge, taking place in a future of amazing technology and totalitarian government. As is made plain by the title, the story goes beyond Earth to include Jupiter.

The novel’s descriptions of Jupiter have a suitably foreign feel, and the author is effective in creating impressions of places and people. The prose is quick and focused, moving the story along at a good pace.

There are a lot of ideas here, all weaving together: space travel, different planets, human manipulation of various environments, androids, Big Brother. Androids – here called drones – are effectively creepy, and become more so as the book goes on and new revelations are made.

Interestingly, there is no democratic force opposing the totalitarian Mazdaar. Heroes there are, and even some organized opposition, but no one shows any notions of democracy. The only power that counters Mazdaar is an Asian empire called by the name of its rulers, the Yien Dynasty. It is to the author’s credit that she gives a noble cast to the Yien Dynasty, acknowledging the good possible even in such governments.

There was some inconsistency in this book. One character kept oscillating; she took radically different actions at different points in the book, and I didn’t really understand why. As a character, she was hard to get a grip on.

Jupiter Winds is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure, a quick but broad-ranging read. Recommended for those who like adventure and sci-fi.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: The Word Changers

One day, seeking a refuge away from home, Posy went to the library. She ended up in a book.

Not, you know, in the metaphorical sense of reading a book, or even in the literal sense of having fallen asleep in an open book. She was inside the book: Within the story, surrounded by characters, and expected to fulfill her own assigned role in the Plot.

And so the adventures begin.

The Word Changers is Ashlee Willis’ debut novel. A YA fantasy, with a strong element of romance, it is based on a fresh and original idea. Characters who are, even in their own world, characters in a book, and conscious of it, and behaving accordingly; the Author who wrote all; the Plot that must be replayed; the waiting for a reader – all makes for a fun and intriguing premise. I felt it had the mark of a book-lover.

I enjoyed Ashlee’s use of such fantasy creatures as mermaids and ipotanes. The world of her novel – especially the Glooming and all its travails and deceits – was effectively imagined and written. The characters, too, were vivid – the king, the queen, Falak, Kyran. Posy’s own reactions, struggles, and joys felt real to her circumstances.

There is an allegorical aspect to this book, with the Author of the story clearly corresponding to God. A theme of choices and free will emerges easily from this, and there are moments when characters try to grasp the whole meaning and purpose of what happens.

The romance angle was strong for a fifteen-year-old character – many parents would be nervous to have their fifteen-year-old in a relationship that serious. But I suppose Posy was old enough for it.

The Word Changers is a fresh, lively fantasy, well-written and memorable. Recommended.


And here, readers, are your links:

Ashlee Willis’ blog

Ashlee Willis on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

The Word Changers on Amazon and Barnes and Noble


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dreamtreaders

Archer Keaton’s life, when he’s awake, is fairly ordinary: a brother, a sister, a dad, school days, chores. Friends, including that one he would like to have as more than a friend.

But when Archer Keaton is asleep, his life is extraordinary. He is a Dreamtreader – roving the Dreamscape, meeting its many and often strange citizens, repairing breaches between the Dream and the waking world, and – every once in a while – confronting the Nightmare Lord.

Dreamtreaders is written by Wayne Thomas Batson and is the first book of his new trilogy. Like Archer’s life, the book is made of two parts: the waking world, with its routine issues of school, family, and friends, and the Dream – a perilous and intoxicating place, in which the rules of the waking world are suspended, and the rules of the Dreamworld take over.

So the novel mixes a school story with a fantasy adventure, ultimately bridging the two in a logical and interesting way. The world of the Dream is intensely imaginative, and though it seems at times the living definition of freewheeling (how wild is a place where you can simply think anything into existence?), it is still governed by its own strange laws, some of them quite unforgiving.

The world-building of Dreamtreaders is excellent – as we see primarily in the Dream, but also in the waking world. Scoville Manor, including its charming-but-odd menagerie, is a fine piece of craftsmanship. Batson’s skill as a writer brings home his imagination to his readers, helping us not only to see his worlds but to feel them.

Characters, too, are well-done, from the precocious Kaylie to the nettlesome Master Gabriel to the slimy Bezeal. Archer Keaton is an admirable protagonist, adventurous and brave and caring, with well-measured amounts of flaws and mistakes.

The imagery of the book, usually quite compelling, got too disturbing a few times, especially in the final storming of Shadowkeep. I also thought Rigby and Kara’s turn during the same section a little too abrupt; it confused me initially, and I wished it had been foreshadowed earlier in the book.

But the thing is, I really enjoyed this book. It swept me up and away. In Dreamtreaders, Wayne Thomas Batson does justice to humanity’s ancient fascination with dreams. Recommended.


Tomorrow I will be sharing an interview with Wayne Thomas Batson about Dreamtreaders. He had many interesting comments about the book, just as you’d expect, and I hope you’ll come by to see it.

Now we have the links:

Dreamtreaders on Amazon;

Wayne Thomas Batson’s website;

and the blog tour participants:

Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Christopher Hopper
Jason Joyner

Carol Keen
Jennette Mbewe
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer

Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis

Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Samuel Adams

In 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to determine what course the American colonies would take in their struggle against Britain. Some men were driving toward a declaration of independence, bold and dangerous, and others hung back. Thomas Jefferson, by appointment and at the urging of John Adams, began writing a declaration to present to the Congress.

And Samuel Adams, behind the scenes, guided the delegates to make the bold decision, war and threat of hanging and everything.

Samuel Adams, written by Amber Schamel, is the second in Remington Colt’s Revolutionary War Series. At an estimated 22 pages, Samuel Adams is a novella that takes place one morning of the Continental Congress. It also flashes back to earlier events as Adams sets forward the case for independence to reluctant delegates.

The novella contains much history, many facts, united under a framework that makes for an easy, absorbing read. Given the amount of history, it’s impressive how smoothly the story flows, how easily it all comes together. There were snatches of dialogue that left me wondering if those men of the Revolution would really have said that, but capturing the long-discarded style of the past, and still keeping it accessible to readers of the present, is a large task, especially for so brief a book.

There were a few lapses in the writing style (a few paragraphs shifted past and present tenses), and a persistent grammatical error of capitalizing dialogue tags (“Another answered.”). But Samuel Adams is still nicely-written. Moreover, it is a historical novella that captures the facts of the day, as well as Samuel Adams’ trials and his emotions. I recommend Samuel Adams to those who enjoy history and historical fiction.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset

In Aerisia, the land beyond the sunset, there are beautiful fairies, immortal warriors, and the magic-wielding Moonkind. There are thick forests, lovely palaces, and tall mountains.

And there are the Dark Powers, the Evil.

When Hannah Winters is suddenly spirited away from Earth into Aerisia, her hosts graciously but implacably assign her her destiny: to become the Artan, their deliverer.

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset is written by Sarah Ashwood and published by Griffineus Press, the first of a trilogy. The world-building of this novel is impressive – a collection of races, each distinctive and compelling, a rich mythology, and a fascinating history. An attention to detail completes the land of Aerisia as a wholly different world.

As the first book in a trilogy, Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset is devoted to establishing its strange, new world, with all its peoples and history. The plot moves somewhat gradually on account of this. With all the space devoted to world-building, it’s a curious omission that the story never elaborates on the Dark Powers. We see them in action three or four times before the climax, but as readers we have little notion who they are and what they want. It’s hard to discern what the threat to Aerisia really is. They need a deliverer, but from what? As far as we can see, and except for a few targeted attacks, everything in Aerisia is great.

I think this neglect to develop the Dark Powers is the novel’s primary flaw. Hannah’s character arc may be frustrating to some readers (she mostly reacts, and when she does act, it’s usually foolish), but it is a real and believable journey, as she progresses from a frightened, angry young woman to … something more, maybe even the Artan.

Although this was not the author’s fault, there was an unusual number of typos. It wasn’t too bad, but it was enough to be noticeable. (Typos are hard to clean out, and you need at least two thorough edits besides the author’s.)

Aerisia: Land Beyond the Sunset is a rich fantasy with memorable characters, an intriguing mythology, and a fresh romance. Recommended to those who enjoy intricate world-building, fantasy creatures, and romance.


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Until That Distant Day

France, in 1792, was an unsafe place, and not only for the king and queen. As revolutionary fever seized the nation, and Paris descended into tumult and violence, everyone’s security became threatened; everyone’s peace melted away.

Colette, in the thick of things with her revolutionary brother, finds her spirit drifting away from it. Regretting the past and fearing the future, filled with concern for those she loves and can no longer protect, Colette now reaches for things that have nothing to do with politics.

But, as the old saying has it, just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.

Until That Distant Day is a historical romance written by Jill Stengl and published by Rooglewood Press. The story fully entrenches itself in its historical setting; all sorts of fine details show a high level of research and create an encompassing sense of realism. The unrelenting heat, the political turmoil, the carriages in the streets, the characters’ reactions to a black slave – all invoke the world of 1792 Paris. But just as important are the little things. We watch the characters do small, daily acts, like going out to rain barrels for their water, and we taste the life they live.

The one historical element I would have liked to see expanded was the political conflict – not so much what happened but why it happened. Everybody wanted a republic instead of a monarchy, but why? I didn’t feel that the book explained the “first cause”, whatever troubles or grievances led the people to revolution in the first place. If I understood that unhappiness better, I might have understood better, and felt more, the cause and the passion surrounding it.

Until That Distant Day is a very character-driven book. Colette is a strong and complex character, both flawed and admirable. Claude and Pascoe, though sometimes unlikable, were yet understandable and ultimately sympathetic. All the characters felt very real, very human, from Tressy to Adrienne to Arnaud.

Although a romance, the novel is not primarily focused on the heroine getting her man. Other relationships are just as important to the story and just as deeply felt. I enjoyed seeing the brother/sister dynamic – a relationship that, for some reason, is often neglected in fiction. Even when stories feature sibling relationships, they tend to be brother/brother or sister/sister.

In some ways this novel is a study of humanity, and all our passions, faults, and virtues. Until That Distant Day shows sin and goodness entwining, in the world around us and in our own hearts. As a novel, it digs deep.

The historical milieu of Until That Distant Day is compelling and it imbues the story with a sense of danger. Impelled by its characters, with a wealth of human emotions and motivations, Until That Distant Day is a rich and profound novel.

CSFF Blog Tour: Numb

Crusader is the best assassin the Church has, carrying out all his missions with heartless thoroughness. He is intelligent and methodical in his work, his skills well-honed. And he’s numb. No pain can stop him, no emotions can get in his way.

Until he is assigned a new victim and, for reasons he doesn’t understand, he can’t kill her.

Numb is a science fiction novel written by John Otte and published by Marcher Lord Press. The various technological trappings of the story give it a feel of classic blaster-and-spaceships sci-fi. I loved the idea of the space stations and of the Ceres colonizers. The abandoned Waystation was particularly evocative, giving me a feeling of how vast space is and how very easy for even large things to get lost.

The world-building showed some very nice touches; the cube-shaped New Jerusalem Station is one of them, but my favorite is this comment, delivered by one of the novel’s protagonists: “Tell me, did the earliest Christians arm themselves when the Emperor Nero trundled them off to the Vatican hippodrome as arsonists?”

This is a clever blending of fact (Nero’s scapegoating of Christians for the burning of Rome) with error (“the Vatican hippodrome”?). Time blurs history, and I enjoyed seeing that acted out in Numb. I appreciated that Otte in no way pointed out the confusion of facts, trusting his readers to catch it on their own.

The oblique reference to the Catholic Church was also interesting. The True Church is essentially a speculative version of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, transplanted from the Middle Ages to outer space. You could list the discrepancies between the True Church and even the medieval Catholic Church, but it still mirrors the Roman church in its political intrigue, persecution of heretics, and attempted subjugation of infidels. Alongside this, names like Inquisitor and Crusader and the Cathedral of Light are only superficial similarities.

If I had to name one fault of this book, it would be that characters’ actions didn’t always logically follow their motivations. It happened rarely, and even then was usually minor. One character, for example, showed himself wary of certain visitors to his installation but then casually shared vital information about the place.

In one place, however, it wasn’t minor. Reason would caution against helping, and then falling for, a bloody-handed assassin, especially one who had been assigned to kill you. But that’s what Isolda did. I think her decisions could have been justified, but she made them too quickly and with too little explanation.

Numb is a fast-paced story that takes surprising turns and, in it all, leaves space to the characters, through whom the novel gains emotional power. Add an intriguing framework built from the history of our past and theories of our future, and Numb establishes itself as a winning piece of sci-fi.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: A Draw of Kings

The kingdom of Illustra is faced by a two-front war. Or a three-front war. It depends at how many different points the foreign hordes can force their way into the country. Illustra needs to find their soteregia, their savior-king. Then they will crown him. Then he will go and fight for them.

Then he will die, and save them.

Every time they cast the lots to find the savior-king, the lots say Errol and Liam, each name as many times as the other. So Illustra prepares for war, and goes out to battle, all the while waiting for something to reveal the truth, to untwist the Gordian knot. Who is soteregia, and why does the cast of lots fail?

A Draw of Kings is the final book in The Staff and the Sword trilogy, written by Patrick W. Carr. Here Errol’s journey – begun as the village drunk two books earlier – finally ends, and here they discover at last who the Soteregia is.

Carr handles a large cast of characters, and honors all the principals with a true part to play in the story. The narrative is complex, as the characters divide into three storylines, for a while widely divergent from each other. There was a little confusion to this at the beginning, when it took Carr several chapters to return to one storyline. (Two missions actually began on a ship, and at one point I forgot they were different ships. I remember when I figured this out. Huh! That’s why Martin wasn’t around during the storm!)

Even at the beginning, I appreciated the multiple storylines, where the characters pursued the same goal with different quests and in different theaters. It suited Illustra’s many troubles.

It also allowed Patrick Carr to display the vastness of the world he has created, from Ongol to the steppes to Illustra herself. Finally, the different storylines gave the assemblage of characters space to work and to shine.

The most important part of any story is the end. Ending a story that has sprawled across three books and a thousand pages is especially hard, and hardest of all is ending a story you yourself have tied into a Gordian knot. But Patrick Carr succeeded in crafting a satisfying ending, in cutting through his Gordian knot, and it is this success, of all his successes, that is most impressive.

A Draw of Kings had a strong religious element that still felt somewhat to the side of the action. I enjoyed picking out the real-world parallels (I caught a nod toward Calvinism!), and I was moved by Errol’s final conclusion regarding the mercy of Deas. I wish that part of the book had been stronger, though perhaps the story didn’t have room for it.

The flaw of this book was a favoritism towards Errol that infected the other characters. They were partisans for Errol, and occasionally it made them act less than what they were. Adora was wrong to invite Antil to dinner, only to prod and taunt him; if you make someone your guest you need to treat him as a guest. Far worse was the archbenefice, who punished one man’s insolence to Errol by having his teeth broken.

Worst of all was Martin. He expressed his willingness to “search church law and tradition” for a way to execute Antil. Justice is rarely served this way. I have already determined I want to kill you, so all that’s to do now is to scour law and tradition for some technicality on which to do it. And with Illustra on the brink of annihilation and the church having just regained holy Scripture that had been lost for centuries, Martin made a priority of “correcting perceived slights to Errol on behalf of his predecessor and Rodran”.

Yet this flaw was ultimately a minor one, and A Draw of Kings is not only the last book of its series, but the best. It seals The Staff and the Sword as a rich and compelling fantasy, the sort of story that suggests a thousand other stories to be told.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: One Realm Beyond

Cantor only ever wanted one thing: To be a realm walker – to travel from one plane to another, helping, discovering, adventuring, with an impressive dragon by his side.

All right. He wanted two things. One he will certainly get.

One Realm Beyond is the first book in Donita K. Paul’s Realm Walkers series. The shape-shifting mor dragons are a classic fantasy element, but overall the book had sci-fi flair to it. The “realms” were given a more or less sci-fi explanation; even the special powers of the realm walkers struck me as more superhuman than supernatural.

The setting of this novel completely engaged me. I enjoyed the various bits of technology, I enjoyed the political intrigue and the educational “rounds”, I enjoyed the fantasy mix of races – dragons and humans and Brinswikkers. I enjoyed the idea of the realms and the realm walkers.

The characters were even more engaging. Bridger and Bixby charmed me at once, and the more I saw of Totobee-Rodolow, the more I appreciated the uniqueness of her character – supremely confident, supremely knowledgeable, and almost exaggeratedly feminine. Cantor was the straight man of the foursome, which made him less flashy but not less needed. Somebody has to be normal.

One of the interesting pieces of this story is how the dynamics between the two young realm walkers and their dragons work out. Cantor is persuaded to accept a dragon as a “temporary constant” (now there’s a contradiction in terms), and Bixby persuades a dragon to accept her as a temporary constant. Bixby ends up with the sort of dragon – elegant and sophisticated – that Cantor dreamed of having, and Cantor gets an offbeat, diversely talented dragon who is much more like Bixby than himself.

Religion was a persistent theme of the story, but by no means an overstated one. Primen (their name for God) is mentioned a good number of times, but always in ways that seem natural to the characters and their situations. (In a brief but fascinating moment of complexity, a character who has been studying “Primen’s Guide” denounces realm-walking as witchery.)

One chapter revolves around going to sanctuary – an obvious church equivalent. And what is interesting about that is that even fantasy novels with religion generally have no church equivalent. Going to church (or the synagogue, temple, etc.) is such a constant in real-life religion, and so rare in fantasy-world religion, that I have to congratulate Donita Paul for the chapter.

The plot of One Realm Beyond moved only gradually to the main point; it took a while for the story to find its dramatic center. I noticed this as I read, but it never really bothered me. I was enjoying myself anyway. It is such a fun book, such a light-hearted book, with entrancing characters and a terrific setting. I like fantasy, and I like sci-fi, and I hold a special fondness for well-done science fantasy – which is what One Realm Beyond is.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.