Fantasy Bucket List Book Tag

My second tag stolen from Re-Enchantment of the World, originally originating from The Little Book Owl. This one I actually got first, but had such a hard time coming up with one of them (that I STILL haven’t managed), that it got pushed back to the end of May.

Also, since most of these I could’ve fulfilled entirely in Middle-Earth, I decided to omit it from contention. I’ve seen one already entirely of Middle-Earth from Maddalena, so you can check that one out if you’re missing some nostalgia.

A Fictional World You’d Like to Tour

Roshar, The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Roshar, rendered beautifully by

This one obviously would be Middle-Earth (or New Zealand, because that’s pretty much as good as I’d ever get AND because I’ve heard it’s just incredible there), but since that’s off the table (at least, for this post), I’m going with Roshar.

Of you lot that don’t read Brandon Sanderson, this is his world from the Stormlight Archive. A vast and sprawling continent full of lush, varied environments and locales, and unique and interesting creatures. A continent of magic and mystery, gods and demons. I’ve read Way of Kings three times (pretty good for a 1200 page book) and would always be ready to read it again. The world is just so amazing and richly rendered and… yeah. There were a lot of finalists, but this won by a decent margin.

A Specific Place You’d Like to Visit

The Eye of the World, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

A place of green and growth, tended by the Green Man, an ancient thing made of forest itself. The place moves around the Blight, a land of desolation and decay, never in the same place twice. At the heart of a spring forest rests the Eye, surrounded by a quiet, soothing place, full of butterflies and flowers. Through a simple arch lays a “smooth floor, slick to the eye like oiled slate… seamless, white walls glittered with uncounted flecks in untold colors, giving a low, soft light even after the sunlit archway vanished [from view]. The corridor opens into a vast, domed space, the rough, living rock of its ceiling dotted with clumps of glowing crystals. Below it, a pool took up the entire cavern, except for the walkway around it, perhaps five paces wide. In the oval shape of an eye, the pool was lined about its rim with a low flat edging of crystals that glowed with a duller, yet fiercer, light than those above. Its surface was as smooth as glass and as clear as the Winespring Water. Rand felt as if his eyes could penetrate it forever, but he could not see any bottom to it.” A place filled with saidan, the male half of the One Power. The description is surreal, and one of my favorite moments in possibly my favorite ever book. There’s a reason that despite his tendency to meander, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE Robert Jordan’s writing.

A Character You Would Like to Meet

Kvothe, Kingkiller Chronicles by Pat Rothfuss

The man that has done everything and knows everything. Plus, he owns his own bar, so I assume there’d be free drinks. Plus he’d fill me in on the events in the third, as-yet-to-be-published book. Among other adventures and stuff. And cider hopefully, plenty of cider.

An Event to Witness

I had a tie here. SO, (1) the edge of the rim of Discworld, as seen at the end of the Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett, or (2) the Moontears blooming, as seen in The Dreamblood Duology, by N.K Jemisin. Of course, with the Rimfall on Discworld, seeing it also means probably almost dying, so… The Moontears only bloom under the light of the Dreaming Moon, and I feel that would be amazing to witness, like the baobab trees kinda.

An Activity/Sport to Try

Song of the Shattered Sands, by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Sand-boarding, or sand-skiff racing. Like from Avatar: tLA. Just cruising around on an endless sea of sand, like you’re surfing on water, but without all that nasty drowning.

A Weapon to Wield

The Sword of Sorrows, The Empire of Storms by Jon Skovron

Hope’s weapon, from the island trilogy. I almost picked her as the person I’d most like to meet. When pulled from its sheath, the sword hums softly. Whenever it’s moved, it hums more. Said to remember every life it has ever taken, and the sound it makes is the loss it feels at every death.

Creepy, yeah? I almost picked another incredibly creepy one, but replaced it. This one I had to leave in.

An Item to Use

Jungissa, The Dreamblood Duology by N.K. Jemisin

This is tanzanite, btw. Cool, innit?

The Jungissa is a special stone that is used to induce and control sleep. Now, while it’d be cool (and definitely not weird and creepy) to control other people’s sleep and dreams—I’ve always been a problem sleeper. I’m one of those people who has an active, wandering mind, thus I have the attention span of a rabbit and it takes me 30-45 minutes to fall asleep after going to bed. In the third grade (and again in highschool) we had an assignment to tell the class what we’d do if we could only do one thing for the rest of our lives, and if we had an extra hour in the day, respectively. I picked sleep. I’ve always loved my sleep, and never gotten enough of it. And lately, I’ve been extra tired—all the time. This stone would be AMAZING.

Okay, so I almost picked the Jade Eye, from R.S. Blecher’s Golgotha, which allows the wielder to see the dead and talk to them for a brief moment. That… seemed a bit much. I’m not actually a huge fan of horror. Mostly I just find it boring.

On Tap 5/30

Currently Reading

• To Be Taught, If Fortunate – by Becky Chambers

If some scifi stories are more fiction than science, To Be Taught, If Fortunate is probably more science than… well, a comparable amount of both science and fiction. An group of explorers travel somewhere no ‘man has ever been: an extrasolar system. What they find here is beyond their wildest dreams, but it’s what they left behind that may provide the biggest surprise at all. For what are people if not curious, and what would happen should that curiosity fade?

• The Bayern Agenda – by Dan Moren

The Bayern Agenda is the second Galactic Cold War book, and the first through Angry Robot who kindly sent me a copy. At about the quarter mark right now and it reads like a pretty standard military scifi thriller, but there’s still a ways to go.

• Eden – by Tim Lebbon

Eden is an eco-supernatural thriller about a future where the world has succumbed to climate change and global warming. In a last-ditch effort to combat this, the world established several Virigin Zones that were returned to nature. Jenn and her father are part of a team that race across these wildernesses, but this time they might’ve gone too far. Eden is the oldest and wildest of the Zones, and who knows what may lurk within?

• People of the Rainforest – by John Hemming

People of the Rainforest is my lone nonfiction read of the year, regarding the Villas Boas brothers and their exploration of the Amazon jungle basin. As with all nonfiction titles, this one boasts an incredibly long name, which I neither can remember nor repeat.

Up Next

• Age of Empyre – by Michael J. Sullivan

The sixth and final book in the Legends of the First Empire series, now we find out what two consecutive cliffhangers have set in motion. And whether or not Suri is the Heir of Novron. Or… right?

It’s been a scifi heavy month for me. Which is a wee bit odd, as I think it’s fantasy month everywhere else. But sometimes that’s how things go.

Obviously the world’s still not in its best place, but that seems the norm nowadays, sadly. Hopefully we get it together here soon. Otherwise, my little corner of nowhere’s been pretty quiet. Still sick, but it ain’t COVID, so that’s good. But it’s been stirring up lately with my allergies and my anxiety and reflux and everything, so it’s been tough to figure what I have, exactly. But it’ll get better. Anyway what’s everyone else reading? Anything I need to get to? Let me know!

What My Favorite Characters Would Be Doing in Quarantine (Book Tag)

I was recently tagged by Ola & Piotrek over at the Re-Enchantment of the World to “take 5+ of your favorite characters and imagine what they’d be doing if they were stuck here like us”. The tag, created by Kal at Reader Voracious, and looks interesting enough for me to do, especially considering I haven’t actually finished any books in a while. But that’s all about to change! Just not now.

Three from Jay Posey’s Legend of the Duskwalker

Would be sitting around drinking, waiting for someone to shoot. The mailman, the neighbor from downstairs, the girl he spurned in sixth grade—wouldn’t matter much. Whomsoever broke social distancing. There’d be no internet, calls, or TV on his watch, just drinking and cleaning his guns. Plus maybe a siesta. And he wouldn’t be handling the waiting well.

James Holden from S.A. Corey’s The Expanse

Would’ve announced the cause of the pandemic and whose fault it was to the entire world, then immediately pissed off somewhere and left the world to deal with it however.

Xavier Rodriguez from Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s Hell Divers

&

Artyom from Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro

Would have thrown on their radiation suits and gone out to search for supplies. Some people might give them strange looks, but their rifles would probably’ve prevented those people from doing anything about it (though I’ve seen a not-insignificant number of people take their rifles on a walk to the store during this crisis, and for the most part the rest of us just ignore them). They’d also keep a watchful eye out for any mutants or atomic bombs lying around.

Rincewind from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

Would be in the library fiddling with his Wizzard hat and feeding bananas to the Librarian, who would be incredibly offended but probably willing to humor his friend.

Çeda from Bradley Beaulieu’s Shattered Sands

Would be sneaking out at night and taking drugs. Then roam the desert and fight some trees as her way of social distancing while totally not being high.

Alex Verus from his series written by Benedict Jacka

Would be looking through the futures in which he went out to the store and trying to determine the paths to walk in order to avoid touching anyone. After that he’d probably just make Luna do his shopping for him.

Hope from Jon Skovron’s Empire of Storms

Would be fully engaged in sword practice and combat training. When not training, she would be immersed in meditation. Luckily, her social life wouldn’t suffer. Can’t lose something you’ve never had.

Music Monday – Songs Stuck on Repeat

Music Monday is a meme created by Drew, the Tattooed Book Geek (as far as I know), as a way to share a song that he’s fond of. As I’m not sure how long I really want to run with this, figured I’d start with a week’s worth of my current favs, then maybe tone it down from there.

So, these are the songs that I’ve been playing the most during the COVID crisis and quarantine. This list could’ve been a ton longer, but I figured I’d just make the list manageable, because otherwise it’d be too overwhelming. As it is, I would expect anyone to do pretty what I’d do in this instance—click on one or two songs, listen a minute or so to see if I like them, then like them on Spotify to wait for later. Also, silently judge anyone’s taste in music based on whatever odd links I chose. Feel free to judge me on one or two, as my taste in music is… eclectic.

Monday – Divine – by Ember Falls

A single from 2019, it is my most played song of the last month by far. And probably the year.

Tuesday – Loser – by 3 Doors Down

Off the first album I ever bought, 3 Doors Down’s debut The Better Life, back in 1999. Yeah, it’s not Kryptonite, but I’m sure that’ll be in next week. I’ve played Loser just as much over the past 20 years.

Wednesday – After the Crash – Michael McCann

My favorite ever song from a video game, off my favorite video game soundtrack, from my favorite game of all time—2011’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Thursday – Take the Day – Turisas

I got into Turisas earlier this year, and there’re two songs I’ve pretty much been obsessing over: Stand Up and Fight is one, but especially Take the Day, both from their 2012 Battle Metal.

Friday – 1955 – Hilltop Hoods

This is my breakup song. Not that I broke up with anyone this year, but several friends have. It’s a lively, happy bit of hip hop. Always makes me feel better. 2016 Single version.

Saturday – Raido – Wardruna

A lovely, dark folk ballad. Off their 2016 album, Runaljod – Ragnarok.

Sunday – Masters of Destiny – Delain

I’m usually bingeing something AusHop, something Folk Metal, something Sympthonic, and then something by 3 Doors Down. Delain—along with Within Temptation—are my go to for Symphonic, though both have transitioned past this genre in recent years. This was released as part of their 2019 EP Hunter’s Moon.

I realize the irony here is that there’s a single song from an American on this list. One—3 Doors Down is from Mississippi. Which… right? And in case you were curious: Ember Falls is Finnish, as is Turisas; 7 Mazes is German; Michael McCann’s Canadian; the Hilltop Hoods are native to Adelaide, Australia; Delain is from Zwolle, Netherlands; Wardruna is Norwegian.

Book Loot – May Edition

After I stockpiled a bunch of books last month to see me through this new illness and my social distancing plans this summer (it’s not really a COVID thing, I’m introverted every summer) (most of the year, actually), this month I really didn’t get much. Didn’t buy a single book, even. While I didn’t get a lot of book loot, I DO go on a rant about one of the games I got this month. So, that’s mildly interesting.

ARCs for June

By Force Alone – by Lavie Tidhar (6/16)

Ye gods this book. A grimdark retelling of the Arthurian legend, it’s definitely nailed the darkness. TBH I hate every character in this book. That I’ve read so far, at least. And there haven’t been that many, as I can’t get into it. It’s just… bad. I’ve tried four separate times and haven’t yet surpassed 10%. It’s certainly looking like a DNF at this point. Although I don’t usually review DNFs on here, I’ll do a group DNF here sometime soon, but maybe check out Rebecca’s over at Powder & Page in the meantime? It’s only slightly more flattering than mine will be.

The Adventures of Rockford T. Honeypot – by Josh Gottsegen (6/23)

As a young chipmunk, shy, bookish Rockford T. Honeypot had dreams of thrilling adventures across the forest. However, timid of danger and germs, his only adventures were found in books and his imagination. When his family abandons him after a mistake that destroys their hazelnut business, Rockford sets off on a legendary journey beyond his wildest dreams.

Honestly, it sounds like some kind of reluctant adventurer meets Redwall scenario. A middle-grade book, I’ll probably start it after I finish (or bin) By Force Alone.

The Kingdom of Liars – by Nick Martell (6/23)

Originally scheduled for release on May 5th, it’s been pushed back, which gives me more time to read it! I actually only snagged a copy after hearing some friends‘ reviews, which was lucky enough considering it should’ve been published before I had a chance. Years earlier, Michael was accused of murdering the king’s only son. By his own father. Branded a traitor and cast out of society, now he robs the rich, but is desperate for a way to reclaim his old life. In a world where magic costs memories, Michael must survive a civil war between magic and technology, with a family dictatorship standing atop the throne.

Purchases

None!

Games

AC: Syndicate

After I sank nearly 130 hours into AC: Odyssey, I figured I’d go back in time a little. Turns out Syndicate was on sale this month so I got it for $9. Woot! I’ve always wanted to play it, so everything works out.

The Sinking City (aka: the rant)

A title from Sherlock Holmes publisher Frogwares, the Sinking City is a Lovecraftian horror game revolving around war vet and gumshoe Charles W. Reed. Now, I’d been after this one for a while. I almost got it when it came out, but the price was a bit steep. Finally found it on sale this month and… I’m still a little disappointed. I’d heard it wasn’t great, so my expectations weren’t high. So, good news first: The detective aspects are its best feature. There’s no handholding, no line that you can follow around that shows you exactly where to go and who to talk to and what to look for. There are hints—but they’re few and far between. This is mostly rewarding, but sometimes irritating as heck. For better or worse, it’s up to you to solve the crimes, and rely on your own thought-process to do so.

Now the bad news. First off, the game plays like a PS3 version ported to a PS4. It lags a fair amount, especially between areas. The graphics aren’t up to snuff. The people are pretty good, but they mostly reminded me of the NPCs in Skyrim; one expression, constant waving their arms, repeating the same lines over and over. The game is set in Oakmont, a city cut off from the States by an epic flood. Despite the game world being quite large, it isn’t very interactive. Most of the buildings are inaccessible, and several more can only be entered during specific missions. When they end, so does the access. There are several different areas, each supposed to represent a different people and culture. Instead it looks like the same block repeated over and over. There’s a little variation, but not much. And since you can only enter maybe one building per block, it matters little. The platforming is awful. You can’t jump, only mantle, and only in certain places. And you don’t fall gracefully. Even if you just walk off the curb, it’s either a predescribed falling motion—complete with a comical “oof”, which you definitely take damage from, no matter the height—or you just glitch to the bottom. The combat, if anything, is worse.

It’s a detective game—the combat seems to’ve been added as an afterthought. It’s point and shoot. Nothing more. There’s a auto-aim system that snaps to the target’s… groin. With the amount of damage done by each shot, and the scarcity of ammunition—it’s worse than useless. And since the auto-aim snaps to every enemy’s gut every time, you can’t really aim yourself. I mostly just ran away. And then stopped playing.

Wrap-up

So… next month should be busy. I have a backpacking trip scheduled with friends—all of which have backed out. And the place is reservation only (since it’s fairly popular), so I’ll have to go somewhere else. Dunno if I will. We’ll see. Lots of books to read, though. The amount and quality of books coming out in July is staggering. Unless they get delayed.

As usual, lemme know if you’ve read or played any of these, or are looking forward to anything else. I’d love to hear! Or maybe if you’re going on holiday anywhere fun. Or… is that a thing this year? Or are we just staying home and drinking? Let me know!

TBR – May 2020

Since I totally failed at reading Blood of Empire recently—not because of it, more because I’m broken, because I can’t focus on things—I figured we’d ditch the normal and talk about some of the more obscure titles on my TBR. I mean, they might not be obscure for you, but are more titles that I want to read, but haven’t for some reason. Things I still would love to read, but’ve been shelved for the foreseeable future for a variety of reasons, and I don’t have any idea when I’ll get to them.

Currently Reading

• An Ember in the Ashes – by Sabaa Tahir

So I’ve got this as an audiobook and… I’ve been struggling to get through it. It’s good—pretty good, at least—but I’m just having trouble concentrating. A good YA book thus far, though I’m finding (early on, at least) that the way Elias has been watching Laia a little weird. But whatever.

TBR for ???

I’ve meant to get to Those Above for some time now—I do believe it made it into one of my longer lists last year—but haven’t. I wasn’t a huge fan of Low Town, and… I dunno. It LOOKS good, but… well, BUT. And there’s that.

Hexed is the novelization of the comic series by Michael Alan Nelson, and I’ve heard he actually did a pretty good job writing it, so I’m encouraged. It’s fairly short as well, and supposedly a quick read. But he was really upbeat about it at one point and was going to do a bunch more and continue the series and stuff… but that really hasn’t happened. The series is over (I think—pretty sure) and there aren’t any more books. I guess that’s tempered my interest.

I… I’m not a huge fan of Mark Lawrence. Like… yeah. Pretty much just that. There’s no way around it, really. I hated Jorg—so much that I didn’t read Emperor of Thorns. I liked Jalan better, but apparently not a ton since I never made it past Book #1. I’ve enjoyed his Impossible Times stuff, and I read the first few chapters for Red Sister and immediately got the book. And put it on my shelf. Where it’s stayed until now.

The Edge of Dark is supposedly an impressive cyberpunk and scifi book that begins a thoughtful series. Do you know? Have you read it? I totally ADORE cyberpunk and yet—here it sits. Untouched. I’m really enjoying Automatic Reload right now, so maybe after that, but… I’m skeptical. I’ve met me, after all.

Shadow of the Winter King has been on my TBR for like, 10 years. Pretty impressive considering it was only released in 2014. I’ve heard more mixed things about this than anything else on this list, but I still want to read it. No idea when that desire will actually evolve into me doing anything about it though.

Behold: the one Sanderson book I’ve never read. Okay, there’s more than one. Dude writes like, a dozen a year—there’s only so many I can read through. But Warbreaker‘s been out for over a decade, and I’ve had it for most of that time. Actually, I think I’ve had it for MORE than that time. I got it as a freebie from the man himself (well, his website) when he was promoting… something. I can’t remember. Maybe this, maybe the Wheel of Time stuff. I dunno. I think you can still get it for free over on his website. Here, even.

Yeah, so, this month’s TBR is pretty much just a list of books that I haven’t read and have some desire to, but ultimately not enough (yet, at least). While instead of doing anything about it I sit around reading through ARCs and trying not to spend money. If you don’t know, I’m a recreation coordinator (that’s a fancy name for what I do, which is mostly just trying entertain children with different colored sportsballs), and I’m currently off til mid-June. Since I got laid off my part-timer in March, and am currently sick (but not with COVID, I think, though I’ve not yet gotten my test results)—this is pretty much it. I’ve no energy (’cause of the sick thing, mostly) and no attention span (I’m just like that sometimes). You can probably tell from this extremely rambly post. That I DID rewrite and edit, by the way. Just, poorly, it seems. So… yeah. No complaints. I’m okay (more or less), I have enough accumulated to live on, there’s nothing to go and do anyway. I’m an introvert, so this is my natural habitat. I hope y’all are surviving just as well, and as places start to reopen—Montana is in the 2nd or 3rd stage of this already as we’ve not even had 500 cases total—can begin to return to some semblance of normalcy.

I hope you didn’t want to actually hear about the books themselves because I just realized I didn’t do that. Annnnd I’m already late on this so… have you read any of these, or do you also need to? Reading anything good right now? Anything that I need to put these off even longer to read instead? Because I will probably make that sacrifice.

Seven Endless Forests – by April Genevieve Tucholke (Review)

I absolutely love the cover—all those greens and trees!—courtesy of the amazing Elizabeth H. Clark.

Standalone / Torvi #1

Fantasy, YA, Arthurian Legend

Farrar, Straus & Giroux; April 28, 2020

352 pages (ebook)

4.0 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Macmillan and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Torvi has seen little in her eighteen summers, as she’s rarely been out of sight of her family farm. Daughter of an Elsh farmer and a Merrows’ sailor, she spent her entire childhood being told that her lot in life would be to tend the animals, steal glory from her sister, and only provide worth to her family through a dowry. Though her nan would often tell her tales of adventure and glory, Torvi’s mother would dismiss these as too fanciful for her eldest daughter, instead using every opportunity to focus on the talents of her second daughter, Morgunn.

The story opens in the aftermath of a plague, one that has devastated farms in the Middlelands. Everyone Torvi has ever known or cared for died in that plague, excepting two: her father—who broke his promise and returned to the sea some years before—and her sister, Morgunn. But their mother, nan, and all farmhands and servants perished, all to be burned or buried by Torvi’s own hand. Even Viggo—her lover—passed, leaving her all alone. Except for Morgunn. Morgunn, the daughter her mother doted on. The daughter that Torvi never could be. The daughter that would inherit the world, that would win glory, the daughter likely to retrieve the mythical sword of Esca, thus commanding a Jarldom.

The daughter that gets kidnapped in the opening chapters.

A roving band of wolf-priestesses, disciples of flesh, blood and flame, descend upon the farm, taking Morgunn off for sacrifice after razing the steading to the ground. And it’s up to Torvi, her only family left, to rescue her sister and kill the wolves holding her. Something she’ll never hope to do alone.

And so Torvi sets out upon a quest: to find and gain allies in her fight, to save her sister, to rebuild her life, and even—maybe—to liberate a magical sword from a certain stone, thus winning glory. Though on her journey Torvi shall face death, tragedy, danger, and deceit, she may yet find adventure, love, glory, and the acceptance that’s eluded her all her life. But will she reach her sister in time?

Well, she certainly doesn’t reach her sister IN TIME. This is NOT a spoiler, just a note on just how long it takes her to get going. A few chapters in, she (and Morgunn, before her capture) meet Gyda, a druid, and gain their first companion. Then a little after her sister is taken, they collect some Butcher Bards—and are off on a magical adventure! Just, not a time-sensitive one. Honestly, the first part of the story is so random and wandery that by the 1/3 mark I fully expected them to reach the wolves only to find that the raiders had sacrificed Morgunn a month past. And then I realized this probably wouldn’t be very Arthurian. Nevertheless, there’s no real sense of urgency to the plot—as if they’d a gentleman’s (or ladies) agreement from the wolves to stay any executing of anyone until there could be a showdown. Torvi and her band just kick around the world having exciting adventures and telling mystical tales while at the same time casually keeping an eye out for anyone they could use to help free her sister.

The most surprising revelation wasn’t actually that they were wasting waaay too much time. It was that—despite the lack of urgency, despite the impending death of Torvi’s sister—I was actually enjoying the story. Torvi and her band travel to exotic and fanciful locales, face unknown horrors, meet exceptional people, and explore breathtaking forests. And despite the lack of any urgency—or maybe because of it—I really enjoyed it. I mean, the fact that they take their sweet damn time is entirely irksome, something that can’t be understated. It bothered me when I picked up Seven Endless Forests every evening. But by the time I set the book aside each night I was over it, already lost in the aftermath of the adventures they’d undertaken. It is a magical and wondrous world Tucholke created, one that overwhelmed all the issues that came with it. Not that there are many. Other than the sense of urgency, I had one other issue—that of the plot that is Morgunn. Without spoiling as much as possible… the kidnapping of Morgunn doesn’t extend through to the end. At about the 3/4 mark, we clear that up and take on the next adventure: that of the sword of Esca. Now, the two tales are loosely connected, but Tucholke doesn’t really take any pains try and tie them closer. And as much as I adored the story—and I did—this disconnect was annoying, and stupid.

The world-building of Seven Endless Forests is impressive. The myths and stories that appear in the text are so varied and unique that I’d be interested to go back and read Tucholke’s other stuff to see if they weren’t established earlier. Now some of the legends within are retelling of Norse faery tales, like how the story is a retelling of Arthurian legend. But others I didn’t recognize. Now, I don’t pretend to know everything about either topic, but I have dived pretty deep before, into each, so I’m aware of a decent amount. But the various characters that Torvi and her band meet are so wondrous and colorful; the Butcher Bards, the Quicks, the wolf priestesses, the Pig witches, the Merrowsfolk, the monks and witches and wizards and more. And the places they visit are no less amazing—tree villages, night markets, endless forests—that it was easy to lose myself in the world for a few hours or more and then go to bed, forgetting that the plot had basically wandered around aimlessly during that time.

Magic is different depending on who you are. Instead of one universal magical system, there are many. Pig witches read the entrails of beasts to decode the future. Drakes read the stars to accomplish the same. Flemmish Wizards do a bit of both, but command the more traditional magicks besides, making them a class all their own. Wolves (priestesses) rely on yew-berry poison to see the world as it truly is, and to manipulate it to their own ends. Additionally, there are Sea witches, Druids, Bone monks, Jade Fells, and more. Each with their own abilities and styles.

TL;DR

A retelling of Arthurian legend with an emphasis on ancient Norse culture and a map that very much resembles Finland, Seven Endless Forests is the wondrous, meandering adventure that I didn’t know I needed. While it wastes too much time to be considered an urgent rescue mission, and while that whole plot thread ends at the 3/4 mark, the resulting tale that this book tells are worth their weight in gold for their adventure, questing, myths and legends, and its fabulous world. Though possessive of a strange blend of wandering and urgency at first, the story settles down to tell the tale of Torvi, a farm-girl out to seize control of her destiny. It’s not without fault, but succeeds much more than it fails—at least, in my opinion. It reminded me of a novelized Quest for Glory game, if you remember those. Magic, fun, adventure—what more could you ask for? Definitely worth a read.

A Note: While everything I’ve read claims that this is a standalone, at the end of the epilogue there is a disclaimer noting that the story is not over yet, and the conclusion reopens a few threads, just in case the author decides to revisit the world in the future. What I’m saying is: this is just primed for a sequel. So don’t count one out.

A Historical Note: Seven Endless Forests is set in a mythical not-Finland. The story is a retelling of Arthurian legend, but relies heavy on ancient Norse culture and tales. I actually had this in the midst of the review and one point, but then I rambled a bit too much (and this is the CUT DOWN version). Now, as I’ve been an archaeologist and historian in past lives, well… Finland wasn’t originally Norse. It was conquered by Sweden in the Late Middle Ages and generally settled as a colony. They converted the people to Christianity, and several Norse cultural aspects bled into Suomi during this time. But while they bordered one another, the two cultures aren’t the same. The Scandinavian and Finnish languages aren’t even remotely similar. The myths and legends, while occasionally similar, are not the same. And importantly, Norse paganism and Suomenusko are not the same. Norse featured Odin, Thor, Asgard, and Yggdrasil. Suomenusko relied on its own pantheon of gods (like Ukko, Lempo, and Nyyrikki), ancestor worship, and the veneration of forests—that did actually make it into the text. Otherwise, despite the fact that the map is essentially that of Suomi, it’s heavily Norse, with a few Finnish influences.

Black Heart (The Best Series You’ll probably Never Finish)

Remember the Barrow?

So back in 2014, Mark Smylie released the Barrow, a peek into his RPG world of Artesia. A dark fantasy epic featuring a woman dressed as a man, an enlightened world regarding sex, and a dark haven of strange and brutal cults, treasures and adventure. It’s been a while since I actually read the Barrow, and as I’m a bit fuzzy on the details—I won’t try to review it here. If you haven’t read it, it featured a generally good if meandering story, set in a beautifully designed and detailed world of grey and red.

But that’s not what this is about.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about the best series you’ll probably never finish. This was a reference to those series that end too early—for whatever reason—and we’ll never see an actual conclusion to. If you’re interested, please check it out, and add your own in the comments. These are only series that I’ve read—and I can’t read everything. Anyway, I’ve been working on Part 2 of at least 3 or 4, which has involved researching series and authors and emailing publishers and reading up on books. Now, one of my potentials for this list was the ill-fated sequel to The Barrow, named Black Heart.

This one has been delayed for a while, to the point that I figured it’d be a pretty easy add to the list, but after a little research into it, I’m… well, less sure. Mostly as it seems that Smylie actually seems to have this one in hand, so much so that I think it’ll see the light of day, in one form or another.

A little background first. Back in March of 2014, the Barrow released to fairly positive reviews. It was a solid, entertaining read, from a guy who had already created a world and possessed many stories set in it. But writing is hard. And it didn’t surprise anyone overly much when the sequel—which was originally scheduled to be published later that same year—was delayed. And as Smylie got distracted by other projects and battled writers’ block, the book was further delayed. Last I checked (in 2018) the project was still ongoing, with the publisher Pyr eventually expecting to print a book. Then in late 2018, Pyr was sold.

The new parent company, Start Publishing, claims to have asked for an ETA on a manuscript and received no response. I haven’t heard back from Smylie on this, but I’d assume that my emails just ended up in his spam folder, because that’s happened quite a lot during this article. But whatever happened, Pyr’s new owners nixed any plans on publishing Black Heart, and that was that.

Except, that it wasn’t.

While Smylie hasn’t finished Black Heart, he is a good 250,000 words in. With Pyr out of the picture, he looked to self-publishing. He established a Patreon to help him work on the novel, posting roughly one chapter a week, though for the past month he’s only posted one. As of May 2020, it has amassed 29 of its anticipated 47ish chapters, but Smylie says that he’s written 37 of them. There’s also a Part I PDF for subscribers, but I can’t (yet) tell you how long it is. So it looks like this thing may actually get out. I don’t know (yet) whether this concludes the extent of his plans to get the story out there, but I’ll figure it out.

Well, maybe. Eventually. Since I’m a little bit off work until… further notice, I’m a bit cheap. If you can’t wait for Black Heart, maybe go check it out? Entry level access to the 29 chapters available so far is set at $5/month, which—I’m not in a position to afford. Yet. So… tell me about it if you decide to splurge, eh?

Expect another entry into the best unfinished series soon, which will clear up most of the multibook ones in my reservoir. After that we’ll primarily deal with sequels, standalones that never saw the light of day, series that were announced but will likely never be finished, and others whose authors died before finishing them.

Black Heart

Mark’s Patreon

Tales of Beedle the Bard – by J.K. Rowling (Review)

Hogwarts Library #3

Short Stories, Fantasy

Bloomsbury; December 4, 2008 (original)

Pottermore Publishing; March 31, 2020 (audio)

109 pages (HC) 1 hr 35 min (audio)

3 / 5 ✪

A quick little reminder about how cool Harry Potter was. And probably a subtle hint to buy more merchandise and hey maybe your friends would like some too, and hey you know that one family member who hasn’t read the series, you could gift them it now, yeah?

Remember Harry Potter? Dude, yay-high, lightning scar, glasses, wizard. No, no, not “wizzard”. That’s the other one. This is the Daniel Radcliffe one. He was also in that other thing that you probably saw but then regretted it as it wasn’t Harry Potter.

If you don’t remember Harry Potter, I think the first book is still free a bunch of places. If you’re interested, google it. But for the people that remember the Wizarding World, Tales of Beedle the Bard is a quick reminder of how much fun that world could be. Especially at times such as these—where some of us are stuck in, others are stuck out, and the rest are in the fantastic land of in-between—fun is badly needed. Enclosed within the hundred-odd pages there are four new tales from the world of Harry Potter and one tale most of us have probably heard before.

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot begins the Tales, a brief reminder of how those that hoard their magic will never find peace from it. The Fountain of Fair Fortune was my favorite of the tales, and teaches the lesson that if you think your life is bad, well, someone else probably has it worse. The Warlock’s Hairy Heart pushes the point that you can’t hide from your feelings without the consequences being impossible to live with. Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump shows that anything can be lovely, but some things you can’t afford “to fake it til you make it”, and consequences be damned. And the Tale of the Three Brothers—which was featured in the books—returns to stamp home the point that you can’t hide from Death, because… no, wait. Never mind—the last one has no moral.

TL;DR

So, five stories, four of them new, and four with morals. I swear that the Tales were used as some kind of history read in Harry Potter, so these folk tales with morals attached make little sense here. I guess it’s just a little lore that will remind you how fun and cool Harry Potter was and how much you should go back and read them now. For diehard fans (which I am not—I like the world and the story enough, but y’know, I like other stories too) (it’s not a Stormlight level of good, anyway), I guess it’d be a must-read. If you’ve Audible, it’s free, so the read was worth it. But otherwise… meh. Pretty light, nothing too deep. It’s mildly fun and interesting, though nothing special.

Audio Note: The narration was the strongest part. A star-studded cast feature, each reading a separate tale. Considering this was free, it’s incredibly well narrated.

Sea Change – by Nancy Kress (Review)

Novella, Scifi

Standalone

Tachyon Publications; April 24, 2020

192 pages (ebook)

3.8 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Tachyon and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

The year is 2032. A decade earlier, an event known as the Catastrophe rocked the world. One private company’s biopharmed drug caused several the deaths of several children and fanned the flames of resentment already burning against genetically modified foods. In the fallout from the poisoning, protests rage, concluding in GMOs being banned. Ten years later, global warming is no longer debatable. Sea levels have risen, drought and famine rocked the globe, temperatures soar as the ozone slowly fades. Some few still use GMOs, but they are labeled terrorists and are hunted. But these radical outlaws may yet save the world.

Renata is an operative of one of such ecoterrorist cells, from an organization just referred to as “Org”. These brazen men and women work to save the world from itself, artificially engineering crops that will resist disease, flourish with limited water, even grow in salt water. Renata—known as Caroline Denton now—has lived many lives, but this is the most important. This is a cause she will rally behind, a cause she will die for.

Which she may very well have to.

A mole is in the Org, and no one is above suspicion. At only four to a cell, there is very little blame to go around. Renata knows everyone, but trusts no one, for as she keeps secrets of her own from the Org, she assumes they do likewise. And as secrets from her past and personal lives begin to bleed around those from her secret life, she will be confronted by a choice. One that will force her to choose where her loyalties lie, and what she truly desires. In the end, she will visit the one place she can never escape—to the Quinault Nation, the site of her son’s death—looking for answers.

I was presently surprised with just how much I enjoyed Sea Change. Though hardly perfect, it’s a pretty good read; the story begins in the present before jumping back and forth between it and the ghosts of Renata’s past. It does this until maybe the halfway mark, whereupon Renata’s past starts showing up in the present. I was able to cruise right through this—with never a dull moment. While it didn’t drink me in—with details missing or absent, description fuzzy—it never lacked encouragement to read on.

The story is probably its strongest asset; between that of the Org and Renata’s own, hers’ easily won out. But in the end her own story and theirs’ became intertwined. Actually, I guess they always had been. It’s really Renata’s story we’re reading—it’s just that the Org is the life she wants, what she’s most invested in.

Despite bearing the title “Sea Change” and much of the book taking place in and around Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula, there is precious little about sea change. It’s mentioned early on that the sea level has risen, causing the tribe to move further inland, away from the sea. And that’s pretty much it. Nothing is said about Seattle, which sits on the ocean. Nothing about the rest of the world, or how the rise in ocean levels has changed it. In fact, there’s little enough present about the fate of the world at all. Yes, yes, we’re treated to some background on the Catastrophe, the standing of the US, a bit about climate change—but little more.

Honestly, I found the premise surrounding “the Catastrophe” a bit underwhelming. With the pandemic going on, I expected a near apocalyptic event: a great famine, flooding, earthquakes, a virus, something—but it’s just a single genetically modified drug. That kills a handful. Sure, this kicks everything else off, as GMOs even in this day and age are controversial. But it’s not… well, comparatively, I’m not sold on its sheer earth-shattering consequences. Could happen though, I guess.

TL;DR

With adequate characters, a sub-standard setup, and a vaguely eco-thriller backdrop, I really didn’t expect much of Sea Change after the first chapter. I was surprised, then, when the story took off and drank me in. While there’re several reasons I could criticize it (and DO, if you’ve read the above), the fact is I enjoyed the story, especially Renata’s. And since her story is basically the one told—not the GMOs or climate-change thriller we began with—that’s actually a good thing. In fact, I was so invested in this story by the end I was hoping it might continue on for a bit, but alas, t’wasn’t to be. Though, if you don’t enjoy the story like I did, it might be worth DNFing this and moving on. Because, while Renata tells a good tale, it’s really about her, not the world.