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Steve H. Caldwell

Tacoma, WA
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  • Son of a Liche

  • The Dark Profit Saga, Book 2
  • By: J. Zachary Pike
  • Narrated by: Doug Tisdale Jr.
  • Length: 20 hrs and 9 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars 105
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars 100
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 100

Still bruised and heartbroken from their last calamitous quest, Gorm Ingerson and his band of washed-up heroes try to make amends for the orcs they accidentally betrayed. But justice is put on hold when an old foe marches to the city gates. Gorm is horrified to discover a liche pitching the frightened city-dwellers on the merits of the undead lifestyle...at the head of a corpse army. To save the city from high-pressure sales tactics and an inevitable siege, the dwarf warrior and his misfit band hatch a harebrained scheme that lands them at the top of the king’s kill list.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Hilarious and thrilling!

  • By GreatZen on 05-05-18

Literally my favorite listen this year!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-21-18

Its always a worry when getting book two in a series with a first book as good as Orconomics that the book will be a letdown, not being able to capture the same magic as the first. Well, after reading and listening to Son of a Liche, I can attest that this is not an issue. While it follows in the same vein as Orconomics, it improves in a lot of ways what was already a fantastic series debut. More action, deeper plot, character revelations, bigger stakes for the overall world. In other words, it is a fantastic book in its own right.

One year after the events of Orconomics, the party of Gorm, Kaitha, Jynn, Heraldin, Gaist and Laruna are still hunting for the remnants of the betrayed Gazvarda tribe of orcs, and having no success. In fact, they haven't had nearly the success they planned on. The Heroes Guild and kingdom have a a huge bounty after them, and they haven't had the impact helping protect the Darklings they had hoped to. The Darkling races of Orcs, goblins and other assorted races that were screwed out of their NPC status have formed the Red Horde, forsaking their clans. Meanwhile, the bankers and King that had betrayed them all are starting to haul in the loot from revoking the NPC's papers.

Deciding to put the Gazvarda quest on hold, the party comes across a skeleton that is animated. This is bad news, since the only one who could animate a skeleton is a necromancer, and the group only knows of one of them operating currently: Datarr Urmayan, Jynn's father, currently a powerful undead Liche! Following the skeleton, they discover Jynn has gathered an army of the undead and plans to invade the Freedlands. Hatching a plan to recover some artifacts that may help them fight Datarr, they meet some old companions of Gorm to help equip them, and recover a powerful artifact to use against him.

Facing Datarr in battle as he attempts to destroy the bulk of the Kingdom's army and Heroes Guild, the group is defeated, and Datarr gains even more converts to his cause. you know, the cause of undeath. It does have a great benefits plan, after all, and he actually goes recruiting with surprising results. Licking their wounds as they barely escape, The party comes up with a last dich plan to stop the necromancer and get an army of their own: Namely, the Red Horde. Now, if only the Red Horde didn't want the party dead, thinking they were the ones that betrayed them to the Heroes. All of this leads to a climactic battle in the Kingdom's capital of Andoran, with an amazingly staged battle scene that has more twists than seem possible. The book ends with plot lines resolved, but the story isn't over. In fact, it will be continued in Dragon Fired.

I can't stress again how fantastic I found this books. The characters were all fleshed out even more, with more revelations about their pasts, some of which were just completely unseen. The dialogue is crisp and witty, and it just comes across as banter that real friends and companions would use. You really sympathize with their struggles, and cheer at their successes. The setting is expanded even more, and the author's world building is some of my favorite in all of fantasy. You just feel like you are right there in the middle of the action at all times. The same issues from the first book are addressed. The nature of heroics, the good and ills of a market economy, especially when its abused by those in charge. Those same individuals, though, also show how easy it is to fall from grace. Even the least of us has it in them to be a hero, as several of the characters show.

Doug Tisdale, Jr. did his usual fantastic work narrating this one. He had an even bigger cast to work with, and he still managed to give them all a life of their own. While Gorm may be my favorite character he does, several others were almost at that level this time. His narration is smooth and flowing, never lagging or monotonous. He has crept up into my top 3 narrators with this performance, it's that good.

All in all, this is probably my favorite read this year, a year that included Kings of the Wyld, Blackwing and The Great Hearts. Lofty company, but it has something for everyone who likes a fantasy novel, with elements of comedic, epic and grimdark fantasy woven throughout. I can't recommend it highly enough, and you are missing out if you don't try these out for yourself. If I did stars, this would be a 10 out of 10 stars. Its that good.

  • Orconomics: A Satire

  • The Dark Profit Saga, Book 1
  • By: J. Zachary Pike
  • Narrated by: Doug Tisdale Jr.
  • Length: 11 hrs and 46 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,343
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,277
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,274

Professional heroes kill and loot deadly monsters every day, but Gorm Ingerson's latest quest will be anything but business as usual. The adventuring industry drives the economy of Arth, a world much like our own but with more magic and fewer vowels. Monsters' hoards are claimed, bought by corporate interests, and sold off to plunder funds long before the Heroes' Guild actually kills the beasts. Of course, that's a terrible arrangement for the Shadowkin; orcs, goblins, kobolds, and their ilk must apply for to become Noncombatant Paper Carriers to avoid being killed and looted by heroes.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • High Fantasy meets Economics- hilarity ensues

  • By James Caulfield on 01-02-17

One of my top listens in the last couple years!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-20-18

Author: J. Zachary Pike

Length: 389 Pages/ 11 hrs, 46 mins (Audio)

Release Date: September 30, 2014/ December 21, 2016 (Audio)

Publisher: Gnomish Press LLC

Narrator: Doug Tisdale, Jr.

I happened to notice this title looking through Audible one day. The title intrigued me, as did the cover, so I said what the hell. Best credit ever spent! While the title has satire written into it, and it does have many humorous elements, it also has a serious fantasy soul mixed in to it, taking the typical fantasy tropes and turning them on their head, all while adding what must be the most hilarious explanation of economics ever.

Across the various kingdoms of Arth, the Heroes Guild is responsible for keeping monsters in check, putting down dangerous monsters and collecting the loot from their hordes. The volume of loot hauls over the years have been a huge boon to the economy, and now make up the majority of the economy. To take advantage of this windfall, investment groups formed to back parties of adventurers in exchange for a cut of the loot. After years of profitable ventures, however, the loot stream seems to be drying up, causing worry in financial sectors.

This is where the story starts, as we first meet Gorm Ingerson, disgraced dwarf hero, who did the one thing you don't do on a quest. He ran away. For that, he was stripped of his ranks and has been on the run ever since. He has now fallen so low as to become a homeless vagabond, robbing low ranking heroes of their spoils. After one such encounter with one, where he unintentionally save the life of a goblin the hero was out to kill, the goblin, Gleebek, joins Gorm in his wanderings. Since he doesn't speak any lightling (human/elf/dwarf) languages, Gleebek speaks the shadowkin language, and its a hilarious version of I Am Groot, since Gorm has no idea what Gleebek is really saying. After being captured by the guild trying to get Gleebek his NPC (Noncombatant Paper Carrier) papers, Gorm is given 2 choices: Face guild justice, likely to involve a rope and a short fall, or join the prophesied quest of the seventh Al'Matran hero, what usually turns into a suicide run. Usually. Which is still better odds than the other option.

Bowing to the inevitable, Gorm goes and meets his new companions: a drunken elven ranger, a snooty Dark Wizard, a reckless fire mage, a thief turned bard, a silent weapons master from Gorm's past and the High Scribe of the mad Goddess Al'Matra's temple, who is the ostensive leader. They are set the task to find a group of marble masks known as the Elven Marbles, and returning them to the elves. This is the start of a quest that goes in directions you just don't see coming. As the company travels around trying to find the marbles, they run across various dangers, shaking the rust off their skills and cohering as a unit. They even pick up a hidden member, who is much more formidable than you'd believe.

While on their travels, they meet the most dangerous creatures imaginable; Orcs! How are orcs all that dangerous, you ask? These orcs of the Gazvarda tribe, follow the Path of the Aggressive Seller, that's how! They will make you part with your money with their value added proposition! While in the orc village, they discover a lead that the marbles may be in the fortress of Detarr Urmiyan, the evil necromancer killed years earlier by the paladin Johan the Mighty. Discovering it's empty, they investigate it and find the Marbles. They also discover that while he may be dead, Detarr is still kicking around, now its only as a powerful Liche! Managing to escape, they have to determine who gets the marbles: The elves, or the orcs who they were stolen from years ago. This decision leads to the crux of the story, as the decision of who gets the marbles leads to tragic unexpected consequences, when a huge betrayal takes place. The party then has to decide where to go after the fallout settles, and its in a direction you might not expect.

While this book is a satire, poking holes in traditional fantasy tropes, it is also a serious look at societal issues such as racism, class status, economics and the true nature of heroics. I mean, really, just because goblins are ugly by human/elf standards and live in a dungeons/tunnel systems, if they haven't harmed anyone, how is it heroic to just show up, but in and slaughter them all and steal all their stuff? Who's the real monster? There is a character in the book that is of a species so dangerous the Guild guide says that if you run across one, run away! The problem is, he may be a monster, but he's a true hero, protecting people and just trying to find a true home. How is he a monster? The whole issue with NPCs and their second class citizenship is also discussed, and really plays against the tropes. As far as the economics is concerned, you will have a solid grasp of how an actual market economy works after reading this, and it never feels boring, it's so well interwoven in the story.

The characters are some of the best written I have ever run across. That's not just in fantasy, that's in all of literature. Whether it be Gorm's or Kaitha's rather tragic story, Heraldin and Jynn's desperate attempts to escape their pasts and even Niln's attempts to find meaning in the prophecies he's been given, you can't help but to like and sympathize with them. They are not just cardboard cutouts playing generic tropes, they are fully fleshed out characters, dealing with the hand dealt them as best they can. As humorously as possible in a lot of cases. The world building is top notch. Arth is a fully fleshed out world, and you really get a sense of the setting as you read through, and can visualize it easily in your minds eye. I consider this to be a setting equally on par with Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar in terms of depth, darkness and potential for humor.

The narration was handled by Doug Tisdale, Jr. after listening to this, he has cemented a spot in my top five favorite narrators. He did a fantastic job with the various voices, of which there are quite a few, giving live and individuality to each. his portrayal of Gorm Ingerson is literally my favorite voice portrayal in any of the thousands of audiobooks I have listened to. Its that good. His narrative pacing is excellent, and you will find yourself hoping the story continues just to keep listening. Easily one of my top five listens of the last two years.

All in all, I can't recommend this book highly enough. The sequel, Son of a Liche, should be highly anticipated by anyone reading or listening to Orconomics. Anyone who like fantasy books should find something to enjoy in Orconomics. Get your copy today.

  • An American Weredeer in Michigan

  • The Bright Falls Mysteries Series, Book 2
  • By: C. T. Phipps, Michael Suttkus
  • Narrated by: Arielle DeLisle
  • Length: 9 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 17
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 17
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 17

Life is not easy for the world's first weredeer detective. A simple hike turns into a media circus when Jane Doe, her best friend Emma, and a pair of monster hunters find a mass grave. Determined to find the parties responsible, Jane soon discovers a sinister cult leader has decided to make Bright Falls, Michigan the home of his corrupt religion.   

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • I was a deer Caught in the Headlights!

  • By Ray Johnson on 04-26-18

Fantastic addition to Series.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-20-18

I was very excited to hear that this book was being written. I gave the first book in the series, I Was A Teenage Weredeer, a glowing review. It was easily the best book I had read this year. That is, until this book, which actually surpasses the first book in all ways. I know the authors have more planned out in the series, which is in the same universe as CT Phipps's Straight Outta Fangton series, so there are is a lot of potential stories in this series and universe.

The story starts a year after the last book. Jane is 19 now, and is basically the shaman of Bright Falls with her parents being hidden in Witness Protection. She is kind of muddling along in her job and in her love life, with FBI agent Alex Timmons out of town, and her attraction to Bright Falls bad boy Lucien Lyons put to the side, no matter how good looking he is, or what may have happened one drunken night! This is Jane's life as the story gets going.

While on a picnic with her best friend, the werewolf Emma O'Hara, two monster hunters sent by Alex come upon them, since they need some help on a case. Jane and Emma go with them, and discover a true horror: A mass collection of dead infant skeletons. This discovery sends Jane and crew on a quest to determine who left them for dead, and they are determined to stop it from happening again. Enter a charismatic immortal preacher, who is looking to kill Jane's mentor, Kim Su. Well, Jane's not down for that, either.

So starts a wild ride of a story, in which we discover Bright Falls has an actual god living in the woods, we meet a new character, Robyn, who's mysterious past is linked to the entire mystery. We also discover that there really was a King Arthur, although not quite like the stories say, as well as who Merlin really was. Jane's potential as a mage is explored, and her growth in power and skill are noticeable. The crew has to deal with a variety of challenges to find the truth about who is responsible for the deaths, and they find out the problem is a lot bigger than they could have ever imagined. Alex being accused of murdering the preacher? That's the least of the problems.

We also discover just what Alex went through in his abusive household, and his story is fleshed out more, and his relationship with Jane is more firmly defined. This all leads to the final showdown with the villain(s) and the results will effect the characters and the broader world. The final chapter has Jane meeting with the villain from the previous book, and settling that issue, but discovering that the world is a lot scarier than they expected. New opportunities are open to Jane and Alex, and we'll see where they go in book three.

Like book one, the characters are a great strength of this story. Jane is a fantastic character: Strong, with attitude to match, but still with moments of vulnerability and self discovery. She is a pop culture quote a minute machine and makes you like it, finding a quote for every situation. Alex is more fully fleshed out; his back story is truly tragic, and that gives insight into his motivations. The new additions, Robyn, and the hunters David and Yolanda, all add a new depth to the story, with Robyn really shining and sure to be a fan favorite, being a good foil to Jane. Learning more about Kim Su really fleshed her out as well, giving a view into her motivations. The villains are well drawn out as well, with realistic motivations (or lack of motivation) within the story line, which added to the level of threat to the heroes.

The setting of Bright Falls is probably one of my favorites in urban fantasy. The small lumber town that was the secret home to the Shifter leadership is a stroke of genius. The same town and leadership having to deal with the rest of the world after the Reveal of the supernatural is interesting, in the way that they now have to deal with tourists looking to take selfies with werewolves! Also, those same tourists are wanting to go into the surrounding woods on the look out for magic, of which Bright Falls has more than its fair share. The description of the town is so vivid, you can imagine it vividly in your mind. The new settings, including the Grove in the woods, are just perfect for the story. You'll see what I mean when you read it.


In her second go around narrating The Bright Falls books, Arielle DeLisle has become very comfortable with the various characters, the dialogue flowing so smoothly it feels like you're listening in on a conversation. She really nails the various voices, from Jane's sass and still somewhat innocence, to Emma's protective earnestness, to the creepy preacher's shtick. Her Alex and Kim Su voices are some of my favorites. She really catches his kind of spacy competence, and Kim's inscrutable attitude mixed with a Texas twang is really fun too. Her pacing is fantastic, and she really brings the story to life. Definitely someone who's work I will keep listening to.

All in all, this book improves in every way on an already fantastic book one. The characters are more fleshed out, as is the setting. It has some interesting twists on mythology and really expands upon the themes of book one. Jane also shows just how far she's willing to go for justice, and that is pretty damn far. This may be my favorite effort by these authors, and that's saying a lot, since I am such a fan of their previous work. I can't recommend this book highly enough!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Shrouds of Darkness

  • Brooklyn Shadows, Book 1
  • By: Brock Deskins
  • Narrated by: Steven Jay Cohen
  • Length: 7 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 31
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 29
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 29

New York has a problem few are aware of. Creatures of myth and darkness prowl the night-shrouded streets, preying on those who won’t be missed. At least, those are the rules. Bodies are turning up, and their deaths are far from natural. Our kind’s existence depends on remaining nothing more than folklore and fairy tales, but someone has decided to break the rules. Now, it’s my job to stop a conspiracy before it threatens to expose the truth about vampires and werewolves. My name is Leo Malone.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Entertaining.

  • By Natalie @ ABookLoversLife on 12-26-17

Excellent start to an urban fantasy series.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-09-18

With the slew of vampire urban fantasy that has hit the shelves in recent years, from romance with vampires to gritty urban grimdark, I wasn't sure where this would fit into that group. While the idea of a vampire detective isn't new, Brock Deskins' Leo Malone is definitely a great character who brings an added dimension of humor and determination you don't see in a lot of this type of character.

When a mob accountant is accosted outside his office by a gang of rival thugs, things get hairy, literally, as he turns out to be a werewolf. That's bad, since supernaturals are supposed to keep it hidden, and shredding some gangsters isn't very subtle. The vampire leadership is quite keen and strict about keeping it hidden from the humans.

This brings Leo Malone onto the case when the accountants adult children hire Leo to find out what happened to their father. The case turns out to be much more complicated that its seems, Since it seems there are forces that don't want him found, and will do anything to keep him from being found. Leo's complicated relationship with the vampire Elders isn't helping, as they would rather see him dead if they could than anything else. As he delves further into the disappearance, he discovers a much larger conspiracy that that threatens not only his life but exposure of the supernatural community in general, which could have far reaching consequences for all the supernatural nations.

Like his other books, Shrouds is a character driven book. The urban setting is fun, and you get immersed in it, but the characters are where the action is at, especially Leo. His attitude towards life and the vampire nation in general really make him a sympathetic character. You really root for him, even as he snarks his way from one discovery to the next. The secondary characters are well fleshed out as well, and the plotting if fast paced and never lags.

Steven Jay Cohen does his usual excellent job of bringing the story and characters to life. His Leo voice may be my absolute favorite he does. Just the right amount of snark for the part. His narrative pace is spot on, and smoothly flows throughout the book. He is definitely a reason to consider getting the audio version.

  • Brutal

  • Brutal Trilogy, Book 1
  • By: James Alderdice
  • Narrated by: Liam Gerrard
  • Length: 8 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7

The Sellsword knows an opportunity when he sees one. When he rides into the border city of Aldreth, he can tell that the power struggle between two feuding wizards needs a solitary spark to ignite into all-out-war. As he sets the corrupt paladins and demonic adepts against each other, he's not surprised when the blood begins to flow.... But after the alluring duchess catches his eye, the Sellsword puts himself in harm's way to protect her and the innocent people of Aldreth. To save the noble few, spells and blades won't stop the Sellsword from leaving a swath of carnage in his wake....

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Fantastic fantasy!

  • By Steve H. Caldwell on 03-12-18

Fantastic fantasy!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-12-18

You know the old Western movie trope of the man with no name riding into a border town with two gangs feuding over control of the city, and going out and cleaning house? Well, James Alderdice takes that old trope of many a Clint Eastwood movie, places it in a medieval type setting, then proceeds to turn the whole thing on it's head and make it his own! This leads to the creation of a unique, brutal, dark and at times humorous story with an interesting collection of characters.

The book starts out with the man who becomes known as Sellsword attacked by bandits on the way to the small city of Aldrith. He dispatches them like the boss he is, although his horse falls off a cliff during the fight. Shame, it was a good horse. He then travels on foot towards Aldrith, and discovers the city, although it has a Duke, power is actually split between two warring wizards. There is also a group of dark cultists in the mix, as well as a dark version of the kingdom's religion stirring the volatile mixture of power politics.

Arriving at the Duke's manor, Sellsword finds the Duke gone, but does meet the Duchess. Receiving a note, the Duchess leaves suddenly. It turns out The Duke was murdered, setting off a chain event of actions as people, including the Duchess, scramble for power. Sellsword starts to approach each party offering his services. This leads to some epic fights, as Sellsword goes and proves his worth to the various parties. The best, and both most hilarious and gory, example of this is when he goes to the local casino run by one of the wizards and asks to see the wizard. when told no, he tells the guards to disarm themselves or he will. all six of them then rush him, where he proceeds to disarm them by removing all their arms! This type of dark humor runs throughout the book. He also runs into the town Paladins, basically the constabulary, who are corrupt and work for the highest bidder, and has several run ins with them.

This is the mix the Sellsword has to deal with, as alliances shift, plots are hatched and tensions boil to the breaking point as each side jockeys for the ultimate power in the town, with an unseen menace over it all providing even worse danger. With some epic city battles, betrayals on all sides and shocking revelations, the plot rushes forward headlong into the final confrontation that will determine the fate of the city!

This book has everything I look for in a fantasy book. Its dark tonally, with just enough humor to keep it from becoming brooding. The setting is well drawn out, reminding me of classic hives of villainy and scum like Lankhmar and Sanctuary without being a knockoff of them. You really get a feel for the city, feeling as though you are right there on the streets. The characters are all very well written, from the mysterious Sellsword to the Duchess through all the other supporting characters. The villains, of which there are several, are some of the best I can remember in recent memory for a small scale story that isn't world shaking. The reasons behind their actions are reasonable in their own minds, and actually make some of them even a bit sympathetic. Sellsword, though, is the star of the show. He is a mystery, but you can piece together the mystery of his identity with the clues you're left. He is definitely one of my favorite characters in recent memory.

I had never heard Liam Gerrard narrate before, but I was extremely happy to discover him. He has an excellent range, and he really brings the various characters to life. He uses a variety of tones and accents to differentiate the characters, and he has excellent pacing on the narration parts. I am definitely keeping an eye out for his work in the future.

Overall, this is one of the top stories I've read in the last couple years. I would rank it up with Nicholas Eames's Kings of the Wyld, Ed. McDonald's Blackwing and CT Phipps Wraith Knight as my favorite reads of the last year. Definitely a recommended read!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Darkstorm

  • The Rhenwars Saga, Book 0
  • By: M. L. Spencer
  • Narrated by: Simon Wright
  • Length: 9 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 18
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 16
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 16

Braden and Quin Reis share a tragic past, but it’s now up to them to save the future. When a secret conspiracy resorts to harnessing the powers of the Netherworld to save their legacy, Braden and Quin are the only mages capable of stopping them. But these two would-be heroes are compromised, harboring terrible secrets. Can Braden and Quin put aside their differences long enough to prevent the unsealing of the Well of Tears? Or will they relent and join the conspiracy?

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Entertaining dark fantasy.

  • By Natalie @ ABookLoversLife on 02-23-18

Smashes fantasy tropes to bits!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-11-18

I had this series recommended to me by several friends who told me that it takes one fantasy trope after another and smashes them to pieces on the alter of Grimdark. Well, being a huge fan of grimdark, I got excited by the idea of something original, not just another Prince of Thorns or Before They Are Hanged knockoff...err, homage. I am happy to report that not only was this true, but the author took those tropes and burned them to ashes. What is left is an original, swerve filled race to a conclusion you just will not see coming. On that note, we'll get into the review.

When apprentice mage Merris finds out she is going to be kicked out of the mages guild, she follows the head of her guild out one night to try and dig up some dirt on him that would allow her to use the information to fend off her removal. What she discovers instead of some midnight assignation or other such scandal puts her life, and the very fate of the world, in jeopardy. She comes across a group of mages not only from her city-state of Aerysius, but from the neighboring city-state of Bryn Calazar, which are a hairs breadth from war with each other, involved in a dark ritual with netherworld powers. After she escapes, she goes to see her mentor, Sephana, who she discovers is having an illicit romance with the ambassador from Bryn Calazar, Braden, who helps her escape to Bryn Calazar by sending her to his brother Quin. How much this helps is debatable, since Bryn Calazar is most definitely a patriarchy, unless you have status as a mage as a woman. The problem is, Quin is a drunken wreck.

After convincing Quin of her bonifides, Quin and Merris approach the head of his mage guild, and this is where everything goes pear shaped, as they are unexpectedly betrayed in the guild hall and end up on the run. Meanwhile, in Aerysius, Braden and Sephana are captured trying to spy on the cabal, and they are transported to a secret base in Calazar lands. The conspirators, all high ranking mages, explain to Braden what they are about. They are trying to head off the end of magic and civilization as they know it, as magic is going to have a polarity shift, killing all mages and destroying anything created with magic, like buildings in cities. The cabalists have decided the power of the dark god in his Netherworld will allow them to hold the polarity shift off for a thousand years. All it will cost them is their souls, and a bunch of human sacrifices...

This leads to a wild second half of the book, as Quin, Braden, Sephana and Merris try and work against the cabal, which has power throughout the highest levels of both kingdoms. There is epic magic battles, giant cavalry battles as there is an uprising against the cabal by Braden's people, which all leads to the final confrontation between the cabal and those trying to stop them. There is also a huge betrayal you don't see coming which costs those trying to stop the evil a member, and which definitely effected the outcome. Definitely a grimdark ending, although there may be a ray of hope, however slight, even with the sacrifices made.

The characters are the true strength of this book. While the setting was well described and gave you a feeling of being there and the plot is fast paced and never lagged in the slightest, what happens with the characters is really what hooks you. Whether it's Quin's self destructive behavior, Braden's quest to do right for his kingdom whether it wants it or not, or Merris trying to maintain the life she has, you really care about what happens to them. When you find out the details from their past's it really humanizes them. Even if some of it makes them less sympathetic, Their flaws just make them that much more believable. The villains, who are actually trying to do what they see as right, are well drawn out, and even somewhat sympathetic. They do evil for a greater good, which you don't see too often. There isn't a mustache twirl in the group. It really is a well thought out group of characters.

I had never heard Simon Wright narrate before this book, but I found him to be a compelling voice. He really put the effort in to bring the characters to life, whether male or female, no matter the voice or accent. His pacing on the narration is spot on, and he keeps you engaged in the story, waiting to see what happens next. Definitely a voice to check out.

All in all, this is a fantastic addition to the grimdark fantasy ranks, as good as anything put out by the big names like Cook, Martin, Abercrombie and Lawrence, and actually maybe a hair better than a couple of those! This is a prequel to a larger series, so it will be interesting to see what the decisions made in this one lead to in the future of the series

  • The Sorcerer's Ascension

  • The Sorcerer's Path, Book 1
  • By: Brock Deskins
  • Narrated by: William Turbett
  • Length: 9 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 37
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars 31
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 32

Torn from a life of comfort and luxury, his family destroyed by political intrigues and aspirations, a young boy must quickly grow into a man before the deadly streets of Southport devour him. Follow Azerick through a non-stop adventure that pits him against thieves, thugs, murderers, and men of power that will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Azerick must fight just to survive, but for him survival is not enough. A hunger to avenge the wrongs committed against him burns deep within. But that is not all that lies within the young man. There is a power waiting to be unleashed that may be the key to achieving the justice and security he seeks...if it does not destroy him first.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Engaging and entertaining.

  • By Natalie @ ABookLoversLife on 01-30-18

Fantastic start to a dark fantasy series!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-27-18

I went into this one without any preconceptions, other than knowing I had enjoyed the author's urban fantasy novel Shroud of Darkness. I found that though this is a completely different book, it was just as enjoyable. After reading this, I felt that this was what The Name of the Wind should have been if the main character wasn't a complete Mary Sue.

When Azerick, son of a wealthy sea trader, has his father executed after he was framed for treason, He and his mother lose everything to the local Duke. They end up living in an inn his mother works at as a server. When she is violently murdered and he is thrown out, Azerick returns after dark, breaks in gets his stuff back, and after struggling with and incapacitating the innkeeper who stole their belongings, burns the inn to the ground.

This sets Azerick on a path he could never have foreseen. Squatting in an abandoned building, he is found by a group of squatters and joins their ranks. When a dispute with the thieves guild destroys his new family, Azerick declares war on the thieves, getting his revenge in the cruelest way possible. After a series of run ins with the Mages guild, it is discovered Azerick has magical ability and he is allowed to start training at the guild academy, where the children of rich and noble scions train. Obviously, as a poor orphan, he butts heads with the other students, especially the biggest bully boy, Travis. As you can expect, a boy used to living by his wits and strength on the street is not going to take bullying lying down. This theme continues throughout the book, as Azerick, who is very smart and understands magic theory very well, struggles to cast spells beyond a certain simple level, although he does excel in academic subjects and alchemy.

This changes when it is discovered that Azerick is a sorcerer, not a wizard, meaning his spell casting is self determined, not cast by rote spells. With this revelation, and a new master to tutor him, his spell casting is greatly improved. As time passes, and his rivalry with Travis reaches its final climax in a duel, Azerick discovers a secret that may effect the safety of the world, and he must determine what he needs to do and where his loyalties lie. This ties into a side plot dealing with the kingdoms founding as it's dragon overlords were overthrown with the help of five suits of magic armor that are now in play in a power play for the throne.

The characters are a real strength of this book, especially Azerick. His struggles after his families fall and subsequent successes and failures really tempered his personality. He is a hard young man, willing to take the harshest measures for revenge and to protect those he loves. What he did to the man who killed his mother and to the thieves guild show that no measure is too radical to achieve his goals, for good or ill. The secondary characters, from his best friend to his mentor are well thought out and have well rounded personalities. The villains, whether Travis or the Duke and his henchmen, are loathsome but believable, being drawn to power and the ability to abuse it.

The setting is well thought out and well described, with lots of detail without going overboard. The plot and prose flow well, with lots of action, but some introspection as well, as the events unfold to show the grander conspiracy and how it connects to Azerick.The final portion of the book is like a roller coaster ride leading to Azerick and Travis's inevitable confrontation, and has a satisfying payoff. All told, a dark but enjoyable beginning to a series.

I was unfamiliar with William Turbett's narration before this book, but I am happy to have discovered him. He brings each character a unique life of their own, with a variety of tones and accents, and his pacing is very solid. He makes you want to keep listening as he brings the story to life.

I have heard that this book was compared to The Name of the Wind in a negative way. I find that odd, since while it deals with similar characters, it goes in very different directions, with the characters having different methods and motivations. I would recommend this story to anyone who would like a different take, a darker one, on a coming of age tale, with well rounded characters and real struggle and pathos.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • I Was a Teenage Weredeer

  • Bright Falls Mysteries Series, Book 1
  • By: C. T. Phipps, Michael Suttkus
  • Narrated by: Arielle DeLisle
  • Length: 9 hrs and 54 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 36
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 35
  • Story
    4.5 out of 5 stars 35

Jane Doe is a weredeer, the least-threatening shapechanger species in the world. Blessed with the ability to turn furry at will and psychically read objects, Jane has done her best to live a normal life working as a waitress at the Deerlightful Diner. She has big dreams of escaping life in the supernatural-filled town of Bright Falls, Michigan. Unfortunately, her 18th birthday is ruined by the sudden murder of her best friend's sister in an apparent occult killing. Oh, and her brother is the primary suspect.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • My favourite by this author!!

  • By Natalie @ ABookLoversLife on 03-07-18

A great new Urban Fantasy!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-23-18


Based in the same universe as the Straight Outta Fangton vampire series, I Was A Teenage Weredeer has the same comedic sensibility, but tackles a completely different aspect of the supernatural world. That would be the world of wereshifters, drug in to the spotlight with the vampires when the vampires bailed out the US government during the last economic meltdown, in exchange for equal rights and protection. Unfortunately for the shifters, they weren't included in the deal. Only two states, Michigan and New Hampshire, protect shifters from being killed outright. That's where the story picks up, in Bright Falls, Michigan.

Bright Falls is the unofficial capitol of the Shifter world. The heads of the 12 shifter clans are all there, from the powerful werewolf clan to the selkies, weredeer and werebears. The main protagonist, Jane Doe (pun fully intended) is 18 years old, and works at her family's restaurant. She is a member of the weredeer clan. Her parents are John and Judy Doe, which is a funny way of introducing a weredeer weakness, puns. Jane's sister is romantically involved with one of the Werewolf clan, and unbeknownst to Jane, so is her brother, the only member of her family not to be a shifter.

When Jane's brother is arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Jane and the girl's sister Emma, who is actually Jane's best friend, start their own investigation to find out who really murdered her. What they find will shake the foundations of the town, and the balance of power throughout the shifter world. helping them along the way are Alex, an FBI mage who is kind of spacey, and Lucien, who happens to be the local gangster, and has some secrets of his own. As they continue down the rabbit hole, they discover evils perpetrated in the town by people they trusted, all in the name of the "greater good".

They discover the true nature of the evil infecting the town, and in a series of climactic fights, discover that the side of the angels might not be the clean side after all. Jane has to make some incredibly difficult decisions, that may include hurting the ones she loves the most to get to the truth. Oh, and she's had a vision of her in an intimate encounter with Lucien, and also finds Alex intriguing as well. Awkward!

I have to admit I am a huge fan of CT Phipps. I have loved every one of his books, and have them all. That being said, this one was something special. I think Jane Doe may be his best character to date. She is strong, independent and stubborn enough for a dozen people. While she has special abilities because she is a shifter, she relies on her brains to get through most problems, rather than battering them into submission with stronger than human strength. That being said, she has her moments of weredeer badassery too!

The supporting cast is also excellent. Emma is a great friend character, and her romantic feelings for the very straight Jane adds an extra dimension to their relationship. Alex's spacey kind of good guy is a lot of fun, as is Lucien's bad boy allure. Alex being a mage and Lucien being a...well, you'll see, adds some real spice as well.The villains are excellently crafted as well, bringing a real sense of grand danger as well as having realistic and somewhat sympathetic reasons for their actions, at least in the case of the biggest threat. The town of Bright Falls is colorfully and carefully described, actually feeling like a character itself. Characters have always been a strength of this writer, so that's no surprise.

Arielle Delisle is revelation as a narrator. She did a fantastic job bringing the various characters to life. She really captures Jane's snarky, sassy yet vulnerable personality, Emma's affectionate protectiveness, Lucian and Alex's tension and Kim Su's sarcasm and wisdom. Her pacing is excellent, and she is now on my "must listen to" list.

All in all, I feel this will appeal to a wide variety if readers, from teens to adults, male and female alike. I know this is a project of love for the author, and book 2 will be available soon on Audible. Any fans of his other books should really be able to dig in and enjoy this one. I can't recommend it highly enough.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • The Eighth God

  • The Orcslayers, Book 1
  • By: Paul S. Lavender
  • Narrated by: Damien Brunetto
  • Length: 6 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 7
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars 7

For thousands of years, five great fortresses have stood sentinel between the Borderlands and the rapacious Orcs. But the Orcs have allies and these allies are about to set a chain of events in motion that will lead to war. Heroes will rise to answer the call.

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • A quick and fast-paced listen!

  • By superstardrifter on 02-23-18

Fantastic Dark Fantasy Epic.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-07-18


This is one of those books some friends of mine recommended as a decent grimdark story. I decided to give it a shot, and I am glad I did. It is a completely different take on elves. No longer the wise, graceful elder race, these are gritty, at times petty and prejudiced. They can't stand the half elves, and give them a raw deal, and they are not too sympathetic.

The Orcs are much different than the fairly sterile ones Tolkien created. Yes, they kill indiscriminately, but this author's are so much worse. They don't just kill. They torture, humiliate and will rape anything they can hold still. They plunder, despoil, keep sex slaves and are generally the worst sort of evil race I have ever seen put to page that is not demonic, and these actually give other writer's demons a run for the money, and these create the background tension in the story.

The story starts 5000 years ago. An elvish battalion has been almost wiped out by a horde of orcs. The last seven elves are surrounded by the horde, protecting a pregnant human woman, about to be wiped out when a miracle occurs. The warriors are imbued by the seven elven gods with magic weapons and armor that they become bonded to for life, that allows them to defeat the orc horde. These are the Orcslayers, the scourge of the orc hordes, and the orcs would tremble in fear at the mention of them.

Now 5000 years later, the orcs haven't been seen in numbers in millennia. The South is at peace, with 5 forts guarding the passes between the orcs in the north and the elves and humans in the south. In the orc lands, and orc chieftain with dreams of uniting the tribes and conquering the south, sends his half-orc son, Bazak, to spy on the leadership of the Southern kingdoms, and help set up the invasion. He makes it down south and seduces a captain in the guard of Ashen Falls, gaining valuable intel.

Enter Saethryth. He is one of the two Orcslayers currently active. The roles have been passed down over the years. He follows the half-orc and confronts him as he is about to kill his duped captain, and saves her, although the orc gets away. He then decides to help her get revenge on Bazak by inducting her into the Orcslayers, realizing their numbers need to be increased, and she takes the new name Tierra.

The other storyline follows Melress, a half elf battle mage who is actually
Saethryth's half brother, unbeknownst to them both. Melress is sent on a mission to support the fort at Knight's Reach if the Orcs actually are invading. While he is on the way to the fort, he comes across a farm that an orc war band has despoiled, and he uses his power to save a young woman who was recently killed. He has a unique power to raise the dead, which is a priest's power, not a mages, and this plays an important part in the story later. He also unintentionally raises her parents, but they arise after he and the girl leave, and the parents quest for orc vengeance provides some hilarious moments in an otherwise grim story. Talk about gallows humor! We also discover that there might be a little more to the Elven pantheon than the seven accepted gods.

The story lines converge at Knight's Perch, where the one of the forces of the orcs is invading. What follows is a well drawn out battle scene, with surprising combat, monsters rampaging, heroism, courage and barbarism in steady amounts, as well as some betrayal you don't see coming. Bazak and Tierra meet again, although Bazak doesn't enjoy the meeting for long. We discover Melress is married to someone rather important, and that there is a grand conspiracy moving events far bigger than the orcs, looking for vengeance long denied. The story ends with us getting a glimpse at the larger world the story will be taking us in to in future books.

The characters and setting are real strengths of this book. Saethryth's world weary cynicism, Tierra's need for revenge and to protect her homeland, and Melress's innocent earnestness, with just a bit of a chip on his shoulder due to being half elven, all make them endearing. The side characters are also well fleshed out, making you interested in their interactions throughout the story. The villains are just loathsome. There is no other way to describe them. They are Orcs as would make Tolkien shiver just thinking about them. They are not sympathetic in the slightest, although they are interesting, as in wow, that train wreck sure has a lot of fatalities way. You just cant take your eyes off of them, even though you want to.

All in all, this was a very good debut novel. Grimdark as all hell, great characters, an interesting backstory, and a fully fleshed out world that has a grander conspiracy awaiting discovery.

Damien Brunetto is a new narrator to me, but I am interested in hearing more. He did a great job bringing the characters to life, giving each character lavish attention. He has a good cadence that keeps the listener engaged the whole way through. I recommend this book wholeheartedly for dark fantasy fans.

  • Rising Thunder

  • Dynasty of Storms, Book 1
  • By: Brandon Cornwell
  • Narrated by: Ralph Lister
  • Length: 13 hrs and 16 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 57
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 53
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 50

Elias is no ordinary elf. A giant amongst his kind, he dwarfs not only his fellow elves but the taller, stronger humans as well. Cast out by his own kind, he was sent to live amongst the Northmen at a young age, learning their ways and culture, but never wholly accepted by them. When his oldest friend, King Brynjar, dies in his old age, Elias's position among the volatile men of the Northlands becomes tenuous, and he sets out to make his place in the world. Far to the south, a war is brewing between his homeland of Lonwick and the demonic Felle.

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Great Fantasy Debut.

  • By Steve H. Caldwell on 11-29-17

Great Fantasy Debut.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-29-17

I have to admit, the premise of this book, the idea of a giant outcast elf, really spoke to me. Unless we are talking Drow, most elves are the Tolkien ideal: A graceful, wise elder race set on the world to guide the younger races, or at least to look down on the short lived fools. Only in more recent works like Paul Lavender's The Eighth God has a new, more callous approach to elves been taken. This writer takes it to an even greater length.

Elias is a giant of an elf. at over seven feet tall, he towers over both elves and humans. in fact, other than giants and ogres, you won't find many creatures taller than he is. He is also strongly built, not the lithe, graceful elf that is typical of his kind. Exiled to the mountain humans in the North (this worlds analogs to Vikings) He has lived there for over 60 years, although in elf years, at 167 years of age. he is hardly more than an older teen. While he is accepted as a ward of the King, he is not trained any more as a warrior than he was with the elves. He goes on no raids and is not an advisor to the king, just a friend.

As the current king dies, a power play takes place, and Elias is forced to leave for at least a year by the King's son a he sorts out the potential usurpers. He can come an reclaim a place in a year, assuming the new king is still on the throne.

After leaving and deciding to head to the human lands, Elias is accosted on the road by a huge man wearing armor and wielding dark magic. He is only saved by the intervention of a mercenary troop that happened to be passing on the way to a job. Elias then joins the group, who specialize in guarding caravans and nobles. Their next job involves guarding a noble on a trip, but this goes horribly awry when he betrays them and sells them to pirates as galley slaves!

Leading a breakout by the rest of the slaves, Elias and the slaves finish the ships journey to the islands they were headed to. Elias finds out one of his fellow slaves, a sea elf (blue skinned elf), is a local chieftain, who invites him to stay with his village, since he suspect Elias is the answer to a prophecy. That prophesy involves an outsider saving the islanders from the pirates who have been preying on the islanders for decades. Elias also meets the chiefs daughter Coral, who he is told is part of the prophesy as she is slated to bear the chosen ones son. The young elves relationship grows from there.

What follows is a few seasons of mayhem and chaos, as Elias and the crew of mercenaries and islanders he recruits go after the pirates, both on the sea and on their island strongholds. They survive many battles and ambushes, and after a huge and tragic setback, they finally have the forces and a plan to attack the Pirates main base. The attack also brings out the mystery man who attacked Elias so many seasons ago, and they finally face off and some painful revelations are made to Elias. After the battle, Elias has some difficult decisions to make about where to go with the rest of his life, and with his men. He makes a decision that will have long lasting repercussions for much of the world.

I really enjoyed this book, the characters, especially Elias and Coral, are really well drawn out. The plot is fast paced, but takes time to flesh out and give interesting story lines to the various characters. The various locations are well described, and you really get a good feeling about how they appear, as well as the character descriptions, such as the difference in elf sub-types, like the sea elves having blue skin and Elias's tribe having reddish. There are also a few surprise elements to the plot, and they are quite fun for a pretty grimdark story. The ideal about the injustice of prejudice, overcoming odds, and finding happiness are all at play throughout the story, and are excellently portrayed.

One warning. This book does have some graphic sex scenes between Elias and Coral. They are integral to the story, not just tacked on, or so it seemed to me, but this may be a turn off for a few readers, so be forewarned. I didn't see anything objectionable about them, since it is consensual sex between two elves, both over 150 years old.

Ralph Lister is in top form on this one, bringing his substantial chops to bear on a complicated story with many different characters, with multiple accents. He handles them all well, and his narrative pacing is great. He really kept the story moving along, and gets the listener really into each of the characters.

This is one of those stories that will appeal to a broad variety of fantasy readers, whether they like epic fantasy, swords and sorcery or grimdark. I can't recommend it highly enough, because it is a fantastic novel for a debut writer, and things will only be getting better from here!

6 of 7 people found this review helpful