Friday, 12 November 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Leviathan Wakes, by James S Corey; The Silk Thief, by Claire Buss; Human Starpilot, by F Stephan; and Redshift, by RM Olson

Welcome to the latest round of reviews! And this should be the first of two review write-ups in short order, with the next one being a number of collections and anthologies I've been reading of later. But first, novels! Time to dive into deep space, and worlds of fantasy. First up, I've been watching The Expanse series for a while now - and thought it was about time to try out the books. So without further ado, it's time to wake the leviathan... 


Leviathan Wakes, by James S A Corey

Sometimes you open a book up and you know you're in sure hands right away - and from page one of Leviathan Wakes, you know this is a solid piece of writing. 

It starts with horror, as much as anything else, with Julie Mao on board a doomed spaceship trying to find a way to survive, then switches to the two main protagonists as they try to figure out what became of her and the consequences of what happened. 

One of those is Jim Holden, a man who has tumbled down the ranks of society to become an officer on board an ice hauler, only to find captaincy thrust upon him in the aftermath of finding a derelict ship. The other is Joe Miller, a detective and drunk treated as a joke by his colleagues and given the job of finding Julie Mao by his boss. 

What happens will bring the two together as the solar system spirals to war around them - and at the heart of it all, something is ready to change the universe forever, something alien. 

It's interesting to come at this from watching the show to see the differences. One of the best characters from the show, Chrisjen Avasarala, the bull-headed Earth diplomat, is completely absent here, which explains why for much of the first season of the show she was so peripheral to the story. There are other differences too - the character of Shed Garvey, the ship medic of sorts, was fleshed out better in the show, as is the character of Amos Burton, who is a bit one-note in the book but given greater depth in the series thanks to the great Wes Chatham. On the other hand, both Holden and Miller hold up better in the book than the show, given the greater focus on them as protagonists. Miller, especially, great in the show, is a messy person with a remarkable talent for piecing things together, not all at once but worrying at each problem like a determined terrier until he gets there. 

Reading it also feels like you could be reading something that has sprung from a roleplaying campaign. Each different character feels like they could have been created from a book of classes and skill sets. 

It's a real treat of a book to read, and there's always something potentially world-ending going on, setting the stakes high and motoring through to the finale. You can absolutely see why this became the success that it is, and it's a fabulous introduction to characters you will love, and sometimes hate in equal measure. 

I read book one just as a curiosity to compare with the show - but I'm hooked, and I'll be back. 

AI Rating: 5/5

Leviathan Wakes is available here on Amazon.

The Silk Thief, by Claire Buss

This is a welcome return to Roshaven from author Claire Buss - a series that started out with The Rose Thief

Picking up after the events of the first book, the Emperor has a dilemma, she has to pick a name. Fourteen apparently will not suffice for the people. Worse, she also has to pick a husband. And it would be awfully nice if she could get people to call her Empress as well. 

She turns for help to those who came to her aid in the first book - the Thief Catcher Ned Spinks and his companion Jenni the Sprite. But with Ned beset by a Nightmare - not just a bad dream but a supernatural haunting - and Jenni having lost her magic as she goes through her coming of age, they might not be the best people to help. Worse, it might just cost Fourteen the kingdom...

Mixing wit with wisdom, there is a real Pratchett feel to much of this. It's laugh out loud funny in places while spiking in thoughts about sexism and social inequality along the way, all without being too heavy handed. There's also love. Y'know, the kind that feels real, not the sort that feels levered into the story just for a bit of romance. You find yourself rooting for characters even when they don't know themselves what they really want.

I particularly love the character of Jenni the sprite, a Cockney accented grump of a fairy far from afraid of saying the impolite but necessary thing. 

It's a warm, witty, wonderful delight of a tale, and I heartily recommend it. It's better even than the first book I would say, and that's a rare treat in itself. 

AI Rating: 5/5

The Silk Thief is available here on Amazon - and book three, The Bone Thief, is out today.

Human Starpilot, by F Stephan

There's a smashing idea at the heart of Human Starpilot. Humanity has encountered aliens, and it might just be the thing that saves an Earth facing the collapse of its ecology. Earth has something of its own that the aliens want - pilots. 

Earth suddenly finds itself trying to find a place in an alliance that depends on technology far more ancient than those using it, and its bargaining chips will be the humans trying to earn a place alongside other species as pilots of these vessels. 

The story itself follows Brian and his fellow cadets as they try to master the art of piloting, something that requires the use of nanotechnology injected into their systems - something that can fundamentally change the pilots themselves, or even kill them. 

In a lot of ways, we're in the same kind of territory here as Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and there's something of the same sense of exploring the morality behind the use of technology too, with the lives of the pilots little more than a way of Earth getting what it wants - and the pilots keenly aware that the price of failure if they don't master this alien technology could be the catastrophic failure of Earth's ecosystem. 

So far, so good - but there is a but. I'm not certain, but it feels as if this book is written in the author's second language. Credit for that, they do a lot better than I would, and that brings with it too some good things in a different approach - but it really needed a tighter edit. There are a lot of incorrect word choices and typos, but it could also have done with better editing overall to make the story slimmer and smoother. Some of the errors are glaring, such as when a list of five trade rules is presented and it only lists four. The title itself I'm not 100% sure of - on my version of the book it's Human Starpilot, while on Goodreads it's got an extra s on the end as in the picture above. 

A lot of the ideas in the book are interesting, but the wording makes it harder to get your head around some of them, while a lot is left hanging over to be resolved in sequels. 

All told, I generally liked it, but would advise readers to take a look at the "Look Inside" function in online shops before they take the plunge. If you can live with the occasional incorrect word choice or typos here and there, go right ahead. For me, though, it really needed a solid edit to make the story shine. 

AI Rating: 3/5

Human Starpilot is available here on Amazon.

Redshift, by RM Olson

Soaring spaceships, inexplicable portals, betrayal, assassins and more - space opera ahoy!

Redshift is the first book in the Singularity series - and it brings together a motley crew of adventurers as the world changes in an instant with the appearance of a mysterious portal. More than that, something that emerges from the portal gives hope of a cure to a defect that has long been plaguing humanity, and a chance of survival for those affected by it. 

Into this are plunged a genius scientist along with his best friend, a top politician who might find herself being outmanoeuvred by a rival, and the galaxy's best assassin trying to escape a government bloodhound on her trail. 

The portal brings them all together - in one way or another - but this book is more about the troubles on the way, with murder attempts, sabotage and mutiny all on the agenda. 

This is a rollicking ride of a book. It's perfect for those who want to binge read through a series (more books on the way), with characters that are intriguing and a soap opera tale to plunge into. If it's hard sci-fi you're after, this isn't it, but nor does it aim to be. Instead it's in the vein of Firefly or Dark Matter. 

Another positive to mention is the use of non-binary characters and a range of relationships, all as part of a universe that doesn't make that a big deal but just ordinary life. 

There's a lot to love in this book, and a lot left to explore in future episodes. I'm giving it four stars, because I perhaps wanted a bit more of what is left over in this book instead, which focuses more on the characters and less on the situation that brought them together. But as a starting point, it's a good read. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Redshift is available here on Amazon

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Meet The Author: EJ Dawson, author of Behind The Veil

Ejay Dawson is an author I've bumped into out in Twitterville, haunting the likes and mentions of tweets and being a supportive and encouraging part of the community. And she has a new book out! 
Beginning a writing journey with an epic 21 book series, Ejay started her author career in 2014 and has taken on the ups and downs of self-publishing with her fantasy series The Last Prophecy since 2016. At the start of 2019, she put the series on the backburner to write Behind the Veil in 25 days, and signed a publishing contract for the gothic noir novel to independent publisher Literary Wanderlust. 
She stopped by to chat about Behind The Veil, her writing career and more!

Hi, Ejay, tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? Give us your elevator pitch to make us fall in love with it!

I’ve recently released Behind the Veil, a gothic noir about Letitia, who reads the veil between life and death to give closure to war widows. But when her gifts are called up on to safe a young girl from her growing insanity, Letitia has to decide to risk her sanity to catch a killer.

What inspired the story?
Too much Penny Dreadful and a long time love of gothic romances thanks to my mother’s bookshelf. She had all those old romantic suspense books that I loved, but I wanted to add elements of the paranormal. Letitia came to me in a single afternoon and I sent what would become the first chapter to a friend, who informed me, and rightly so, that this wasn’t just a short story.

Too much Penny Dreadful? Impossible!

Never such a thing as too much Penny Dreadful! Without spoilers, what was one of your favourite moments of the story to write? What was it that made you enjoy that section so much? 
For me it was the gentle unveiling of Letitia herself. The little glimpses into her past, how she herself was institutionalized, and how all of that came to be. I wrote the story in twenty five days not because I needed to but because I had to know how she came to be the way she was, and I didn’t know at the start.

As a writer, have you ever had a character grow to be a much bigger part of the story than you expected? Who was the character and what was it about them that made them emerge from the sidelights? 
I absolutely have done this with my characters from my Queen of Spades trilogy. Two of the characters weren’t meant to become so important to the main character Ayla. The doctor of the ship, Kabe, and the android that was too perfect Casey. They didn’t just become their own characters, they developed a romance arc on the side of Ayla’s own with Leith that was delightful, fun, but intensely difficult give some elements of the story and how Ayla’s past affected all of them.

What are your favourite genres to read – and what is it about those genres that draws you in? 
I love to read fantasy, scifi, romance, paranormal, you’ll find me steering very clear of the ordinary and I think it’s because I have a very active imagination. I’ve always been drawn to the otherworldly and the impossible. For me these don’t represent unlikely probability, so much as not here and not now. 

What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?

I’d grown up with good English fiction, the kind my mother read as a child. Enid Blyton and the Golden books. I loved those stories, but my deep seated love for horror came from R. L. Stine’s Goosebump books. I moved from a small country village with no library to a large country town and discovered them from a new friend. I promptly devoured them and then discovered young adult gothic romances.

Who are your favourite authors to read? And whose writing do you feel has inspired your own work most? 
Terry Pratchett is one of my favourites and an all time staple. I’ve read and re-read all his books multiple times. I could name heaps of others but I think the writer was always within me, and it wasn’t a question of which writer made me what to be a writer, but rather committing to it and learning the craft when most people think its impossible for them. We all start somewhere, and learning any skill is about applying yourself. 

Ok, we’re waving the Altered Instinct magic wand. Your story is being turned into a movie – and you get to cast the main roles. Who do you cast for the leading characters? Bonus perk: Who directs?

I would absolutely pick James Wan. I remember loving the Conjuring because it was so subtly scary which is what I’ve tried to evoke. As for actors… I couldn’t pick anyone because I’d rather pick people who the role spoke to. I’ve always loved when you see a film with lesser known actors and they make the role their own, the develop the character into something beyond the page, and for me, that would matter more because they’d become the characters of my story, rather than just them playing themselves in my story. That would be the truer compliment.

Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise? 
There are a lot of underlying themes, one of which is the ability to say no. To choose to protect yourself, even if it means not doing what is “right”. One element of the story that’s been pointed out to me by readers is the way in which I’ve handled Letitia’s post traumatic stress from the events. I feel this has more poignancy as we come to understand why she might refuse someone asking for aid as the hero is normally the first person to say yes, which in this case, Letitia doesn’t. The ability to say no, because doing something hurts us, is to some an act of cowardice, and to others a matter of preservation and I wish there was more understanding around the strength it takes to say no.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?
They can find me at and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (@ejdawsonauthor)

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year? 
The best book I’ve read this year has been Wings of Ebony by J. Elle – such a powerfully important book that we all need to read.

Thank you for visiting the blog! It was a pleasure to chat! 

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Meet Diane Morrison, author of A Few Good Elves

Diane Morrison describes herself as a Pagan, a speculative fiction author, a musician, a professional blogger, proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. What she doesn’t say - but which is true - is just how supportive she is of others in the writing community. You’ll find her on podcasts, helping with events and... well, here, there and everywhere. 

Her latest book was launched through Kickstarter - and she stopped by the blog to chat about it. 

Hi Diane, and welcome to Altered Instinct! Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? Give us your elevator pitch to make us fall in love with it!

A Few Good Elves is a dark blackpowder fantasy military SFF space opera. Picture the excitement and epic scale of a space opera – only with magic and Age of Sail ships in the stars. Picture the great battles of epic fantasy, with mages slinging spells and elven and orcish armies clashing over the fate of the universe – only in space. And I keep it grounded, despite all this craziness, in the gritty reality of combat. Be warned – I do not sanitize the violence. War is awful, and the people who fight are heroes because it is awful.

My story centers around Shaundar Sunfall, a mixed-race elf in a segregated, colonial society, who has a reputation as a bit of a troublemaker. He grows up on his father’s ship, so learns a love of starfaring early, and he aspires to be a Star-Pilot. When the orcs declare war, he and his best friend Yathar Goldenbough lie about their age and join up. They are inspired by the tales of glory they have been raised on. They discover that war is not the grand adventure they thought it would be.

Without spoilers, what was one of your favourite moments of the story to write? What was it that made you enjoy that section so much? 

The Aces High obstacle course, hands-down, was the most fun in this book! The protagonist must successfully navigate an obstacle course in an asteroid field like a slalom race to qualify for entry into an advanced Star-Pilot’s school. It’s full of raw action, but unlike many action scenes in the story, there’s no violence involved. It’s a chance for the reader to see starfaring through a Pilot’s eyes, with excitement and joy. Describing the different challenges, and how Shaundar deals with them, not only let me really buckle down into how the universe works, but it let me show you a lot of important things about Shaundar as a character. It was a glorious moment.

As a writer, have you ever had a character grow to be a much bigger part of the story than you expected? Who was the character and what was it about them that made them emerge from the sidelights?

Oh yes! Pay attention to a minor character in this story named Thersylvanna. He’s going to be significant later on in the series. I think the reason why is that in a story about colonialism, you’ve got to have a working-class perspective somewhere. Shaundar’s family is kind of on the outs, but he is nobility, and as such, his privilege colours the things he does. I needed a counterpoint to that.

Who are your favourite authors to read? And whose writing do you feel has inspired your own work most? 

For this story in particular, I take a lot of inspiration from Lois McMaster Bujold, David Weber, and Patrick O’Brian, and they’re definitely among my favourites. I have also been influenced a lot by Stephen King. Other favourites include Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, and Octavia E. Butler, though I can’t say I write much like the latter three – I think they’re far better with a turn of phrase than I am and their language is beautiful.

Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise? 

Thank you for asking this question. You might get the impression from the description that this is just a wild romp through a fantastical starscape, but it is not. I examine colonialism, racism, war, loss, grief, friendship, loyalty, and duty. I suppose you could call this first book, which is only the beginning of a much bigger story, a bildungsroman as well. I feel that by putting these things in a universe that is obviously the product of someone’s imagination, it gives us enough distance to look at them critically, without letting our own existing biases get in the way.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Tell us about yourself. 

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool nerd. I play RPGs, and that remains my favourite hobby. I also write music from time to time, often about books I’ve read (they call the genre “filk,” and it’s a staple of the SFF community.) I craft and cosplay from time to time. I like to get outside and walk when I can, not that I’ve had much opportunity what with COVID and the fires over the summer lately. I also stream about writing and worldbuilding on Twitch, as well as play a live gamecast that is based in this universe.

What has been your favourite reaction from readers? 

This started out as a fanfiction piece in a Dungeons & Dragons universe, so in its first incarnation, I was publishing it a chapter at a time for the fan community. Ten years later, one of the community members looked me up, joined my Patreon, and demanded, “Are you done yet?” That inspired me to get my butt in gear and finish the changes I’d made to set it in my own universe. Knowing that someone still wants to know how the story ends a decade later… that says to me that I am doing my job as a writer, and that this is what I’m meant to do.

What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?

I’m doing the final edits for book 2 of the Toy Soldier Saga, called To Know Your Enemy, and I’m doing a rewrite of book 3, Brothers in Arms. I’m also working on expanding my short story repertoire because I’ve been getting some good magazine sales there.

What’s the most fun piece of technology/magic that you’ve included in your novel that you wish you had in real life?

Starfaring engines, especially the natural Starseed ones. I would really love to travel the far reaches of the universe, protected by its arcanology, literally sailing among the stars.

Away from books, what are your loves when it comes to TV and movies? (Altered Instinct will plant aw flag on behalf of Quantum Leap, Babylon 5, Stargate, The West Wing and Star Wars, and fight to protect it!)

Oh, don’t get me started on fandoms! I share your love of Star Wars and Babylon 5 (the best sci-fi show ever on TV, don’t @ me!) I love Firefly and Star Trek too, of course. I loved Game of Thrones, and am not as pissed off about the ending as other people because I see the bones of what George R.R. Martin was trying to do there. I’m a Marvel fan, and Wonder Woman was the best superhero story ever (but the rest of the DC movies can go hang.) If you haven’t seen Master & Commander, you should. Let’s see… I loved both Dune movies and can’t wait to see the new one. And you must see a quirky Netflix show called Love, Death and Robots, if you haven’t already – this is the best of modern sci-fi in all its glory. It’s brilliant.

Love, Death and Robots - an animated series available on Netflix - hailed by Diane as "the best of modern sci-fi in all its glory".

I love Master & Commander! A great film! Are your books available in audio format? How have you found the process of transforming it from the written page? 

Not yet, but it’s on the agenda! This book was funded by a successful Kickstarter, and we reached the first stretch goal, which was an audiobook. So I can’t wait to explore that adventure!

I have to ask for readers who might want to know: Is this a kissing book?

Ha ha! A little bit. I mean, it’s a subplot, but yes, there is a bit of romance that informs the rest of the story.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

I have a lot of social media, but I’m most easily reached at my website, my Twitter @SableAradia, or my Twitch channel If you want to know more about the Toy Soldier Saga, you can find me at And if you want to support my work and get weekly chapters in both my Toy Soldier Saga and Wyrd West universes, often before they are released to the public, I have a Patreon

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

I’m working my way through the Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Jeff & Ann Vandermeer, and I just started the SF classic Grass by Sheri Tepper. I started reading an imprint called SF Masterworks a few years ago, with the goal of reading one per month, to educate myself in the classic of sci-fi, and the Big Book is like that too, only with short stories. As to the best book I’ve read in the past year… well, I haven’t done as much reading as I usually do due to book release and other life chaos, but I would have to say that’s Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, the first book in the series that The Expanse is based on. And the book is definitely better than the show (and I really like the show!) Well worth the time, and that thick-looking tome reads at lightning speed.

Thanks for having me!

You can pick up A Few Good Elves at 

Friday, 10 September 2021

BOOK REVIEW: The Gulp, by Alan Baxter; One Word Kill, by Mark Lawrence; Notna, by JD Cunegan

It's book review time again, and time to catch up with antipodean horror, globe-trotting mythological thriller and D&D-inspired adventure.

The Gulp, by Alan Baxter

Some horrors start off with creeping dread and mystery. This one sits down across the table from you, flashes a devilish grin, slides you a beer and asks what's the worst possible thing you can imagine. Then chuckles and says that's all you've got? Let me tell you a story. 
Five stories, in fact. Each a slice of life and death in the remote Australian community of Gulpepper, nicknamed The Gulp. It's the kind of town you might find in The Twilight Zone if Clive Barker was mayor. Everything's a little twisted, a little wrong, a little off-kilter. 
The five stories seem separate at first - how a trucker finds his safe world slipping away from him, how some teenagers deal with the weird things happening to their mother, how a group of backpackers fall under the spell of a local rock band... but the pieces start to make up a bigger picture. Something strange is always going on in The Gulp, but now... well, strange is stacking up on strange. 
Alan Baxter does a great job of inviting you into a weird part of the world, starting with uncomfortable before plunging into the grotesque and the ominous. There's clearly more to come, but building slowly, steadily. Each of these stories is a crack of distant thunder, warning that the storm is coming nearer, nearer. I'm looking forward to when it arrives. 

AI Rating: 5/5
The Gulp is available on Amazon.

One Word Kill, by Mark Lawrence

I should be a sucker for this book. It's about a teenage boy who is both a genius... and who is dying. He's also a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, and in a time when at last roleplaying games are kind of cool, and affectionately regarded in hit shows such as Stranger Things, more fiction that treats gaming as a delight rather than a menace ought to be welcome. 
As a long-time gamer myself... let's not talk about how many years exactly as that makes me feel old... that really ought to hit the mark for me. 
But it didn't, sadly. Things set up as major hurdles are resolved so easily you wonder why they were part of the book to begin with, and the plot itself, which tosses in time travel on top, manages to be both predictable and contradicting its own rules. 
This feels like a missed opportunity, there's a great chance to tell a good story here, but it falls flat and ends up feeling by-the-numbers. Not quite a critical miss, but I won't be giving the rest of the series a roll of the dice. 

AI Rating: 2/5
One Word Kill is an Editor's Pick on Amazon - so mileage may vary. 

Notna, by JD Cunegan

Globe-trotting, myth-shaking, world-threatening thriller your kind of thing? Step right up, for this thrill-ride from JD Cunegan.
Look, there's one name I'm going to mention right from the off. Though I hesitate to do so because it's an author name that a lot of people have a bit of scorn for. Dan Brown. But, you know what? I've read a bunch of Dan Brown stuff and what's good about it is the way he conjures up these threats from across history and binds it into a story that hops from one location to another around the world. He has his failings elsewhere, sure, but that's what works - and it's also what works here. 
Here, an archaeologist is on the trail of the Gem of Notna, whose power can be both a threat to the world and... perhaps, in the right hands... its redemption.
This is the first book I've read by Cunegan, and his writing is fun, brisk and keeps the plot moving along, revealing a story set in the modern day but stretching back to the dawn of time. Ancient beings and gods are woven throughout, but overall it becomes a very personal tale as our heroes learn the power that they're dealing with, and try to work out how they can use it to save the day, and the world. 
A good, fun read. 

AI Rating: 4/5
Notna is available on Amazon.

Friday, 3 September 2021

BOOK LAUNCH: Wolf Killer, by CH Clepitt

Those of you who have been regulars at the blog for a long time will know I'm a fan of the work of C H Clepitt - and they have a new book out! Wolf Killer is the title... and the details are below. 

Release Date: 26th September 2021

Author: C H Clepitt

Pre-Order Links: Amazon, Smashwords

ARC Requests:

Interview Requests:

Release Party Link: 

“Honey, it’s the ’80s. You need to find yourself a woman who can hold your hand in public, not one who calls you her ‘friend’ and keeps you away from her boss. You don’t need that kinda heartache. You think it’ll be OK, but it won’t, trust me. It starts to eat away at you.”

FBI Agent Clara Hunter might not be girlfriend material, but as Red soon discovers, if you have a serial killer on your heels she is just the woman you want in your life!

Book 3 of the Magic Mirror collection takes Red Riding Hood, and tells it in a way only C H Clepitt can!

The Magic Mirror Collection

The Magic Mirror Collection jumps through history, retelling fairy tales with a queer twist. So far we have seen Beauty and the Beast set in 1930s France and Snow White set during the Second World War spanning Germany and rural Wales. In this latest installment we find ourselves in 1980s America, and on the hunt for a serial killer. 

Told with C H Clepitt’s unique style, fans of the author won’t want to miss out on this exciting new collection.

Comment from the author

I love the fact that historical fiction gives you a snapshot into an era that you may not have previous knowledge of. There’s something about reading a work of fiction set in a different time that is so much more immersive than just reading a history book. 

With each of the Magic Mirror collections I have tried to write them in the style of the era, and Wolf Killer may be the most grown up yet. It deals with issues of queerness and identity the way the previous two books have not and I hope people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Good luck with the book, C H! 

Thursday, 2 September 2021

It's new book day! Tales From Alternate Earths 3 is out now!


Hi all, it's new book day!

Tales From Alternate Earths 3 is out today - in paperback and ebook format - and by golly it's a great collection of stories. 

Am I biased when I say that? Honestly, I don't think so. I have a story in there, sure, but let's leave talking about that until another blog. For starters, just look at that list of authors. 

From the top, there's Alan Smale, whose tale A Clash of Eagles won the Sidewise Award, and whose bibliography is a fantastic list of great reads. His story starts the collection, and... well, I don't want to say too much because part of the joy of the story is piecing together the who, how and where of it all. I do love, however, the viewpoint he tells the story from, that of a real woman of the times he writes about. It's the kind of story that raises big questions, not just about the changes in history, but about how the characters involved are affected, and what it means to them personally. It's splendidly done. 

More great writers! How about Daniel M Bensen, who returns from previous Inklings books - another Sidewise Award winner, for his story Treasure Fleet, in Tales From Alternate Earths 1. Or DJ Butler, a big name in the alternate history field? 

I shouldn't pick favourite stories from the collection, so I absolutely won't hint strongly that my favourite is the fantastic story To Catch A Ripper, by Minoti Vaishnav, who is also a television writer who recently staffed The Equalizer on CBS. (And by golly, I'd love to see her story get the TV treatment too)

Then there's JL Royce, who has been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest (and his story here is a doozy, mixing noir detective fiction and some shocking post-war history). 

Matthew Kresal was only yesterday named as a finalist for the Sidewise Awards for his previous story Moonshot, and his story in this collection is an intriguing film biography-style take on the making of a much older version of the movie Titanic. 

Add to that returning Inklings names such as Aaron Emmel, Brent A Harris, Rob Edwards, Christopher Edwards, Ricardo Victoria, Jeff Provine and dynamic duo EM Swift-Hook and Jane Jago, and you've got quite the set of authors. 

It's been a pleasure working on this anthology with such great stories. And I hope you might dip your toe to discover them yourself. I won't say too much about each story just yet - as there are twists and turns I don't want to spoil!

I always fall in love with stories in the anthologies we publish - but that's because so many authors give us stories to love. 

You can fall in love yourself by picking up the book at It's available in paperback and in ebook format. 

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Monday, 26 July 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Tempest Blades: The Cursed Titans, by Ricardo Victoria


Tempest Blades: The Cursed Titans, by Ricardo Victoria

Let the tournament commence!

The Cursed Titans is the sequel to Ricardo Victoria's The Withered King. It largely stands alone - but the first book did so well at introducing its large cast of characters that it would be a shame not to start there. 

This time around, with all those introductions done, the plot can rattle away at pace - and it certainly does that. This is full-on adventure, full of zip and zest, with witty one-liners being dispensed faster than the energy arrows launched by lead character Alex. 

The plot centres around a tournament that doubles up as a way of nations resolving their differences. There is a swirl of politics around the tournament itself - and it provides the perfect opportunity for chaos itself to be unleashed.

I've said before that the Final Fantasy series is a good touchstone for Ricardo's writing, and it holds true here again. It has that anime spirit, that high sci-fi feel. There are new friends to be made, and new enemies. 

Adventure? Check. Fun? Check. Freewheeling sci-fi? Check. If you want all of that, it's all here. 

But what impressed me is that this time around there's something more. Alex is wrestling with depression, and the story explores that in some depth. I've been lucky in life, I've never really had to deal with depression personally, but the story spoke to me in the way it reflected what friends have gone through. It shows how characters around Alex deal with his depression - or sometimes how they don't deal with it, perhaps even not noticing it until it's pointed out by others. Sometimes I've been that person, who didn't notice or who didn't know how to react, so this story really hits home. 

In the end, this is as much about Alex confronting himself as the monsters unleashed in the world, and the most important alliances and friendships are the ones that help him on that personal journey. 

This kind of exploration of depression in science fiction and fantasy is not common - so Ricardo adds a welcome voice to the conversation. 

This is a good read. A fun read. But it's also perhaps an important one. 

AI Rating: 5/5

Tempest Blades: The Cursed Titans is available on Amazon and through other booksellers.

Check out my interview with Ricardo here