Tag Archives: book review

Brimstone Angels by Erin M. Evans

Source: http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Brimstone_Angels?file=Brimstone_Angels.jpg
All the shades of Farideh

All the shades of Farideh (via slushlush.com)

 

Havilar and Farideh are twin tieflings abandoned at birth and raised by dragonborn. Careless Havilar has an innocent soul and a penchant for trouble, and careful Farideh feels the weight of the world, her tainted bloodline – and her sister – on her shoulders.

In a summoning ritual gone wrong, Farideh ends up bound in a warlock’s pact with a handsome but sadistic cambion devil, and they are thrown out of the village. A lone dragonborn accompanies them out of compassion, and the three adventurers, often perceived as monsters themselves, begin to make a name for themselves as monster slayers.

But once they reach the encampments in the ruined city of Neverwinter, their simple plans of slaying monsters to make a living get tangled up in a devilish snare six layers deep. It will take every ounce of the twin’s skills – and some borrowed besides – if they are to have any hope of staying afloat in the deadly designs around them.

As far as plot goes, without ruining the book for anybody, the description is pretty much it. We follow several characters throughout the book, but the main two are Farideh, the twin who entered into a pact with a devil for reasons she can’t quite articulate; and Lorcan, the cambion with whom she made the pact.

Evans weaves us into the lives of the twins as they are forever changed and the unconventional family must flee their home village, becoming bounty hunters to survive as they seek out a way to get Farideh out of the pact. Meanwhile, Farideh seems to develop ideas of her own about her pact, the fiend who offered it to her and the exact use of the powers she gains along the way. We are taken along on the journey and brought into the minds of our heroines and their counterparts to explore the meaning of family, the burden of power and heritage and to find out just how far we will go to attain personal freedom whilst trying to “do the right thing”.

The villains are a great bunch, too. We have on one hand, villains who seem to be evil because it’s their nature and they really enjoy it; on the other we have a villainess-in-waiting who’s evil is more a matter of perspective. And, of course, we have Lorcan. He’s devious, self-interested and definitely up to no good, maybe with a touch of evil thrown in… but a few times you find yourself wondering just how despicable is he, really?

So, before I get carried away and ruin the book for you… let’s get into the highlights, eh?

Versatility- Evans manages to write a book which appeals both to long-time lovers of D&D and the Forgotten Realms setting and to newcomers to both D&D and fantasy.

Explanations of what things like tieflings are, and the hierarchy, history and politics of the Nine Hells are woven into the story so that newcomers feel comfortable (not too comfortable, though. It’s a dangerous place!) and familiar with the setting. At the same time those of us who’ve campaigned our way through Faerun once or twice don’t get bored with long-winded descriptions of the history of Neverwinter, every fantastical creature that crosses our paths and what the Spellplague is.

Realism- I know it sounds strange to say that a story which follows the adventures of the tainted descendants of a powerful and evil warlock, their scaly, fire-breathing adoptive father, and a runaway kid with sketchy access to divine magic following the making of a deal with a half-devil from the Sixth layer of the Nine Hells… is realistic. But you’ve just got to trust me on this one.

Writing believable characters and story arcs is difficult in any genre but when you delve into fantasy it’s tempting to throw away any sense of rhyme and reason and have things happen simply because it’ll look cool. Evans does a wonderful job of depicting characters who have realistic reactions to their situations and surroundings.

Our late-teen heroines are, predictably, crushing hard over boys who are best left alone. Our badboy extraordinaire, Lorcan, doesn’t suddenly and inexplicably reform his manipulative ways and heal from literal centuries of physical and emotional trauma simply because he meets a girl. And nobody is exactly forthcoming with the deeply personal and sordid details of their past just because it’d be nice for all our heroes, heroines and antiheroes to bond over a camp fire.

‘Regular’ people are also suitably sceptical and suspicious of folks with black pools for eyes and horns on their heads. Just because you’re in a fantasy setting, doesn’t mean that everyone is comfortable with horned and scaly people running around doing magic and wielding weapons with deadly precision.

Characterisation- Related to the above point, Evans builds strong and relatable characters.

I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies (oh, the sparkles!) that were let down by poor character analysis and development. Evans’ characters don’t feel like caricatures or stand-ins for concepts. They feel like people. Farideh and Havilar are separate and distinct personalities in their own rights, but as is so often the case with twins, you get the feeling that they’d be incomplete and miserable without each other. Even though they fight and misunderstand each other constantly, when push comes to shoving a claive into an enemy’s torso they’re inseparable. Their adoptive father Mehen is clingy and overprotective in the way that you’d expect someone who’s lost all the people they ever loved to be. As for that shady priest and the runaway… they’re interesting people, too.

Because I’m an impatient reader, especially when there’s an event that’s been foreshadowed and I’m trying to get to it ASAP… I’ll admit I skipped a few pages. I can’t say there was anything wrong with the pace of the novel. In fact, the fact that I only skipped literally a few pages is a testament to how engaging the book was.

Recommendation: Put on your most epic music playlists (I’m a fan of Versus Music on YouTube), call in sick from work or school for the next day or two, arm yourself with a large selection of snacks and enter into one of the most iconic fantasy settings of all time with your new friend Farideh and the badboy extraordinaire, Lorcan.

Trivia: I looked up the meaning of a few of the names in the book. I didn’t find anything for Havilar, but Farideh is apparently Persian and means “delightful” whilst Lorcan is Irish and means “silent”, “fierce”, or “little fiery one”. You learn something new every day!

I’ll finish up with a cautionary note. The book not only contains some explicit content, but also some rather mature context. I’m not saying not to gift it to your 15 year old nephew or niece (I dearly wish somebody had given me this type of book when I was 15), but it’s definitely not a kids’ book. I’d say it’s a 14+ kind of novel, and there’s definitely no upper age limit.

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You can find Erin M. Evans on her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook from there.

Get Brimstone Angels and its sequels at your nearest bookstore  or from an online distributor.

If you’re interested in finding out more about D&D, check out Wizards of the Coast’s website and the Forgotten Realms wiki

 

The Holy Dark by Kyoko M.

Sarcastic demon-slayer extraordinaire Jordan Amador has been locked in a year-long struggle to hunt down the thirty silver coins paid to Judas Iscariot. The mere touch of these coins is enough to kill any angel.
Jordan’s demonic opposition grows more desperate with each coin found, so they call on the ultimate reinforcement: Moloch, the Archdemon of War. Moloch puts out a contract on Jordan as well as her estranged husband, the Archangel Michael. Now Jordan and Michael will have to find a way to work together to survive against impossible odds and stop Moloch’s plan, or else he’ll wage a war that will wipe out the human race.

I typically don’t like anything written in 1st person. It feels funny. And if I’m honest, reading the first installment (The Black Parade) was a labour of love for diverse SF/F (Science Fiction/Fantasy). It was Kyoko M.’s first book and of course you’re going to be rough around the edges (though I have a rough time forgiving the typos. Sorry, Kyoko) The characters felt a bit formulaic and I had to reinforce my disbelief suspension mechanism’s pully ropes for a fair share of the action.

BUT.

The story kept me hooked.

And then I read part two, She Who Fights Monsters… and I won’t burden you with the nervous breakdown the ending of that book gave me. It’s something you have to experience for yourself. Everything had gotten better. I mean – much better. A few times I even forgot that I was reading in 1st person. That’s how good it was. The plot became more intricate, the characters gained a few extra dimensions… And horry crrap the action!

So suffice it to say that when I got the chance to advance read part 3, The Holy Dark, I jumped on it. And now that I’ve had my pre-amble… Here we go!

Characterisation (9/10)

I was originally going to hand this section an 7, but then I realised I would be penalising the book for the sins of its forebearers. (Am I not merciful?) Our main character, Jordan Amador, has grown – even if she hasn’t actually changed much – in the year since we last saw her. She’s still sarcastic, still a huge nerd and still very much scarred. But she’s acquired a murky new layer of depth as well as getting a revamp of her pockets full of guilt.

Her hubby Michael has also matured and been fleshed out far more since we last met him. We finally get a look at this whole Commander / man dynamic he’s been wrestling with, as well as getting inside his head (no, I don’t just mean more narration from his viewpoint) and gaining insight into what makes him tick. Also, it was lovely to actually get to see he and Jordan interact. They finally felt like characters who were together because it was what they wanted and needed rather than being tossed together because it makes sense in the story universe.

Then there’s Belial. Complex, scheming and dashing as ever. I am not even going to sit here writing this review and pretend like he is not my HBIC (Head Bae In Charge) when I rank this series’s men in my head. Call me what you will. I’m #TeamBels and reading the fan fiction in which he finally switches back to the angelic side and gets a second chance at greatness will be the moment of my Black Parade fangirl life. He’s been, in my opinion, the most consistently complex and well-written character of this series and continued to be so in this book. I’m using my reviewer brain here, not my fan brain. *SPOILER* I was happy to see the author resist the ever-tempting urge to have it all end with the complex bad guy suddenly abandoning the Dark Side of the Force. Yes. I went there. *END SPOILER*

Supporting cast: we get to find out what can compel an angel to contemplate treason (other than love, of course), meet an old friend and make a few new ones. All in all, a good showing from our supporting characters.

So, where did we lose the point? It’s simple. As writers, it’s difficult to separate ourselves from our characters. Everyone writes something of themselves into their work. I guess the trick is not to write ourselves into too much of our work. Kyoko is a nerd. Her main character Jordan Amador is a nerd – that’s fine since it’s a stated part of the character. Her hubby is nerd-leaning, which makes sense because he’s married to a nerd. The problem is I found other characters in the book, who’s previous appearances have shown no nerdy leanings at all, suddenly making out of character pop culture references. Me no likey. It weighed heavy on my disbelief suspension apparatus.

Plotline (8/10)

This book really impressed me, especially for the conclusion of a debut offering. It managed to fit everything in nicely: character and relationship development, conflicts and resolutions, plot twists. Just when you think you’re coming to the end of a particular breadcrumb trail, the crumbs change colour and the path changes course. And maybe it was just me, but you really can’t guess what comes next at any particular point in the plot with any confidence. That made the book very exciting for me,

Where did we go wrong? Like I keep re-iterating, I’m an impatient reader and other than Mario Puzo and N. K Jemisin , quite literally no other authors have compelled me enough that I didn’t skip a single page of text. So it’s no surprise that I skipped a page here and there. However, I did end up skipping whole sections of text which felt as though they were descriptive simply for the sake of being descriptive rather than actually enhancing the reading experience. This could just be because I was rushing to get to the next Belial scene… but hey.

The Meta (10/10)

What if to walk the Earth, angels not only had to take on human bodies, but also all the hormones and emotions that come with them? Do the warrior-angels who have safeguarded humanity for millennia have PTSD? Can the bonds of brotherhood survive war, factionalism, despair, betrayal and the choice to fight on opposite sides of a war for the soul of the world?

Seems like a lot of questions to raise and address in one’s debut series doesn’t it? But Kyoko M. dared to do it and did a damn fine job of it, too. When I started The Holy Dark I wasn’t expecting an urban epic. I was expecting some kind of linear plotline which would lead to the neat and tidy resolution of what had thus far been an entertaining couple of urban fantasy books. I did not expect to find my mind blown in several different directions at the same time. But that’s what happened.

Whilst weaving a tale which will eventually *SPOILER* metaphorically and literally take you through hell and back, *END SPOILER* Kyoko manages to subtly ask some really hard questions about loyalty and love, the actual difference between our darkest demons and the things we believe will save us, and just how far, how much, and how often would we be willing to sacrifice to attain inner peace. Don’t believe me? Read The Holy Dark. Even if you don’t read any of the other books, just read this one.

Overall: 9/10

Yes, I loved this book. I actually did. It surmounted the handicap (you have to understand how much I typically loathe 1st person writing) of the 1st person narration perspective. In this case, the lack of omniscient narration actually enhanced the story and the reading experience. All in all, the ride and all its twists and turns were probably really bad for the longevity of my life… but I’m so glad I read this entire series, and this book in particular.

Recommendation: OMG, READ IT. That is all.

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