Review – The Vagrant

The Vagrant (The Vagrant, #1)

The Vagrant by Peter Newman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Vagrant is a silent man, a wanderer with a magic sword, a baby, and a goat. This is the story of his journey through a post-Demonic apocalypse world and the family he starts to build in it.

I loved this book, in a way that kind of astounds me. I bought it on the recommendation of its similarities to Dark Souls, and that recommendation was spot on. The core idea, the feeling of a world and powerful entities within it caught in decay and decline, is evoked perfectly here, and at the same time the glimpse into how people adapt to, and sometimes even embrace, corruption feels so unspeakably real. At the same time, the bleak world is studded with both hope and humor, for a perfect balance of darkness and light. And more than anything, the Vagrant is a good man, a decent man, and it shows in his every action and reaction.

The characterization in The Vagrant is outstanding. I can only assume that Peter Newman is a truly gifted observer of the world, because the way that every character in the books feels true to the core could only come from heart-deep understanding. Even the goat, THE GOAT, is a fully fleshed character while still remaining truly and utterly goatlike. It’s amazing. And Vesper, the baby! She’s perfect. She’s a baby, and a person, and full of character it’s almost painful.

It’s almost shocking, really, how human this book is considering how inhuman the world it depicts is. The people and land are growing ever more tainted by the Demonic invasion, and even the “pure” humanity in the north is wrapped in eerie light of entities that are anything but human. Yet between these two poles, people get on with their lives as they have ever done, and it’s beautiful in a way. There is badness there, of course, but there is also the Vagrant and his simple decency, wrapped up in the power of a sentient, unstoppable sword.

It’s a heady mixture, and one I can recommend wholeheartedly to fans of adventure, action, and human drama alike.





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Quill – Review

Quill (The Cartographer #1)

Quill by A.C. Cobble

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Quill by A. C. Cobble
I was given a review copy by the author.

Quill is a story set in a different universe’s version of the British Empire, one that seems very familiar, but is wholly different. It happens in a world with magic, and spirits, and also airships and trains. There are guns and bombs, and sorcerers and druids, too.

It is the story of nobleman adventurer Oliver Wellesley, the Cartographer of the series title, who is very far down in the line of royal succession so he is merely rich and aimless, and also apparently a sex-magnet. He is finagled into investigating a murder which smacks of the ancient, forbidden art of sorcery, and is partnered with beautiful, sex-hungry (this comes up a lot) sorcerer-killer priestess, Sam No-last-name.

They jaunt all over this not-at-all British Empire (which pays little heed to the true costs of empire and colonialism) and meet sorcerers and hedge witches and lustful heiresses and, generally, spill a whole lot of blood.

It’s an adventure. It’s a romp. It’s two-fisted, leather-pantsed, drunken alley fighting fun.

There’s a lot to recommend this book. It’s got originality, it’s got some very nice structural planning (the alternating viewpoints work very well, and the character tics turn out to be actually quite meaningful), and the dialog isn’t weighed down by hyper-witty banter. People who like airships and hard-punching women will dig the story.

The pacing was nice, and never felt draggy either.

The writing is solid, if a bit too in love with certain turns of phrase (the euphemism “sanguine fluid” for blood appeared a few times, and bothers me still), and generally well-edited. There are more typos than you might find in a pro publication, but far less than in most self-pubs, so it’s on the good side. I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the prose, honestly. It’s better than, say, Sanderson in many respects.

There are a few plot tunnels but they’re really not that important overall. It’s the kind of book that you should go into for a fun read, rather than looking for a deep reflection on human nature or what have you.

I liked it. I’d like to read the sequel, honestly, since the end kind of went for a semi-cliffhanger and I like these characters.

Thank you, A. C. Cobble, for the copy, and the fun read!



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Empire of Grass – Review

Empire of Grass (The Last King of Osten Ard #2)

Empire of Grass by Tad Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Empire of Grass by Tad Williams

The follow up to The Witchwood Crown, which itself was the followup to the incredible Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy of 30 or so years ago, had enormous shoes to fill. The original series was a landmark in fantasy, and when Tad Williams opened the door to Osten Ard once more in 2017, expectations were understandably high.

The Witchwood Crown met those expectations and more, bringing readers a glimpse at that familiar realm after decades away. Characters we know and love return, while some are lost forever, and new faces were introduced: Prince Morgan, grandson of King Simon and King Miriamelle, his troll friend Sennec, the half-blood Norn Nerez, and many more. The Witchwood Crown placed our characters in deep peril, with a gut-punch of an ending, and with the Empire of Grass we finally get to take up the cause again after an agonizing wait.

But oh, it was worth the wait. This book is a middle book – it has very little closure and lots of progression. There is more movement and plot flow than in the first book, since the stage is all set, but even so this is not what I’d called a fast book. It is smooth and steady, but not racing.

That being said, the last 200 pages or so are breathtaking. So much happens, and of such import, that it is once again going to be a very hard wait for the next book, The Pilot’s Children.

I will also say, with the current state of the plot, it would not surprise me in the least of the final book ended up being split in two. There just seems like so much that still needs to happen before anything is resolved… But I suppose we shall see.

Anyway, if you have read Witchwood Crown, you should certainly read this book. If you haven’t read TWC, then by no means start with this one: go back to the beginning!



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The Unnamed Bears Favor – Review

The Unnamed Bears Favor

The Unnamed Bears Favor by J. Lyon Layden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Unnamed Bears Favor
by J. Lyon Layden

Disclaimer-I received a free review copy from Netgalley.

This is the story of an unnamed boy who yearns to be named a man in his stone-age (?) tribe. The story begins when he is chosen to join a group of mystical hunters, who offer him just that chance. However, he must go on a journey fraught with peril and haunted by magic and mystery.

This novella is a lushly worded, tightly paced journey into mystery, in the most traditional sense of the word.
The author evokes the worldview of a paleolithic person in a way that feels authentic, although we can never know what authentic actually means here. The world built in this compact story is unknown and unknowable, dangerous and beautiful and enchanting. I wish there were more.

One of the things that I find most compelling here is the author’s reluctance to explain. Things are left unsaid, and things that we, the readers, do not understand are taken for granted. The characters do not explain things that they already know, just as would happen in real life, so the reader is left to wonder. What was real? What was confusion, or hallucination, or actually magic?

The use of language is also well wrought. The differences in dialect, hinting at connections beyond the tribal level, are interesting and fun. I found some parts where the language was perhaps a little too overwrought and got in the way of comprehension in a way that felt unintentional, though, so that line is a fine one.

I also spotted some basic typos, but such things are often unavoidable and so I didn’t find them to detract overall from the story.

My only drawback, and the reason I’m not going for 5 stars, is that the ending felt rushed and vaguely flat. I felt that this might actually be enough of a world to merit a full novel, if a short one to maintain that mystery.

Overall, this was a genuine pleasure to read. I am grateful to the author and the publisher, Aurelia Leo, for the review copy on Netgalley.



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