Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Seems every few years or so, sword and sorcery goes and tries to reinvent itself, rebrand itself, see if it can’t get a new generation of readers and writers. As someone who has spent more than a little time reading, writing, and publishing sword-and-sorcery – I get it. There can be a sense of toiling in the shadows of giants (while also fighting against a general disposition to view swords-and-and-sorcery as some lesser version of fantasy fiction – more thud and blunder than literary, and maybe not offering much in the way of cognitive nutrition. Okay – but dammit, sometimes a body just wants to be entertained, and that’s okay as well.

Evidently – this concept of a New Edge grew out of a discord discourse about what could be done to help revitalize the genre, maybe shed some of the old tired tropes and predilections of the past, and help the genre move forward into the 21st century. They are hardly the only ones, but kudos to the editors for bringing more voices to the table. Part of the result is this, the inaugural issue of New Edge Sword and Sorcery Magazine. It is a decent sized volume, featuring six new pieces of fiction as well as seven non-fiction articles that any aficionado would do well to sink their teeth into. Some spoilers follow as to the fiction pieces.

Read more: Magazine Review: New Edge Sword and Sorcery #0

The Curse of the Horsetail Banner by Daniel R.A. Quirogue – A khan betrayed by his blood brother discovers that an ancient tomb has been desecrated, a banner stolen, and a curse unleashed on the land. What follows is a tale of curses and sorcerers and dark magic… and the persistence and stamina of the main character which may be his greatest virtue.

What makes this story unique (other than the departure from your typical Euro-centric Western fantasy) is the central character’s moral dilemma when it comes to the object of the quest. Does he take the banner for himself and assemble a host such has only been seen once before? Or does he return the banner to its rightful resting place and lift the curse from the land? It is this central moral quandry that helps elevate this particular story, and leaves the reader wondering what choice they would make in that situation.

The Ember Inside by Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams – Ymke, a writer, or at least a storyteller of one kind or another, is invited to meet with a like-minded individual- a one Sigismond, evidently because he misses the company of other “literary minded individuals.” However, Sigismond is less interested in sharing craft tips as he is to plunge Ymke into a dreamscape and plunder her dreams. What follows is an exploration of a life-not-lived, the alternative branch of choices not taken or maybe simply what happens when a coin lands on heads and not tails. How different would Ymke become as a result? While it made for an interesting tale, by the end I found the tale somewhat lacking. the way the dream scape worked, the way the story resolved at the end – it left me wondering “What are the stakes here? What is the danger? What does Ymke stand to gain? What might she lose?” While the ending, and Sigismond’s fate, did bring a smile to my face, the fact that at the end most of the story was little more than a dream left me feeling unfilled as a reader, and wanting more. I want to see Ymke in her native element, the way she is now, and felt like I received little more than a taste of that within the story.

Old Moon Over Irukad by David C. Smith – a pair of adventurers – Virissa and Edrion – agree to take on a commission. A simple enough job to escort a man to a tomb and stand guard while he retrieves a certain scroll from within. There is a twist to the plan, but it isn’t one that comes as any great surprise. There is a good sense of the weight of history within the story, of old secrets and older evil buried just under the surface. Virissa and Edrion make for a decent pair of rogues, and it would be interesting to see where else their adventures take them.

The Beast of the Shadow Gum Trees by T.K. Rex – An ecological allegory wrapped in a fantasy story, of how the only constant in life is change. Moth is an engaging character, as I am always intrigued by how writers handle characters who have prolonged lifespans, and who they end up seeing the world around them. It might be too bold to state this acts as a meditation on love and loss and the process of letting go… but there is a bit of that as well. The action, however, is muted, but it provides a different take on a guardian of wild places than what one usually sees.

Vapors of Zinai by J.M. Clarke – A tale of an itinerant wanderer, dark magic, old gods and foul demons – so you know this one is like catnip for me. Set in an analogous Africa, it follows Kyembe of Sengezi and how he comes to be employed by the Priestess Takhat to slay a demon. Clarke does a masterful job of setting up competing interests and factions through the course of the story and manages to give enough of a taste of the world (objects of power, gods and demons, named warriors out for hire) to leave the reader wanting to delve deeper into the lore behind the story. The final battle with the demon Kyembe is pitted against is appropriately danger wrought, and the resolution does not merely rely on Kyembe’s strength of arm, but also his wits.

The Grief-Note of Vultures by Bryn Hammond – What happens when a caravan is forced to take shelter from monstrous vultures? How do you battle something that refuses to die? If it is a curse, is it one that can be lifted? A great story where the main character, Angaj-Duzmat, gets by on her wits and her knowledge, and is able to carry the day, and where what seems like a just and fit punishment ripples through the years to create new atrocities. Again, there is a strong sense of a broader world and a consistent set of rules applied that hints to some deep world building by Hammond. However, she does a fantastic job of using it to inform the story, rather than hitting the reader with it.

The non-fiction pieces also deserve a special mention, with my two favorites being Cora Buhlert’s profile of C.L. Moore and Nicole Emmelhaniz’s deep dive into Robert E. Howard’s Dark Agnes.

This issue, as I understand it, was a bit of experiment to see if there was enough interest to support the idea. As a result, you can pick up the issue for free at payhip – link is below. The layout is well done, with plenty of illustrations to break up the text as well advertisements for other like-minded publications.

You can grab a free copy here.

You can also grab a dead tree version (paperback or hardback) at Amazon:

The Blazing Chief by [Matt Spencer]
Cover to The Blazing Chief

Matt Spencer wraps up his Descembine Trilogy in spectacular fashion, wrapping up the trials and tribulations of Rob Coscan, Sally Wildfire, Sheldon and the rest.

The first part is a bit bloated and drags in places, with the feeling that Spencer had so much he wanted to cram into the book that I’m a little afraid to see what was left on the proverbial cutting room floor. The worldbuilding and detail is highly original, eschewing the typical fantasy standards of elves and dwarves, or their urban equivalents in ghosts and werewolves and vampires. The downside to the originality is that at times stumbles with weaving the backstory into the narrative. If a writer says “vampire” or “werewolf” or “zombie”, you’e got a pretty good idea as to what to expect. But Crimbone? Or Spirelight? It’s going to take a bit to get into it. As a result, there are a number of infodumps that come across as intrusive and overwhelming and wishing Spencer would get back to the action.

And that is where he truly shines – when he cuts loose and lets the action (and blood, and gore) flow. There’s a Robert Howard-esque feel to the violence, less of following each sword stroke and parry, and more for a visceral sense of action and motion. And yes, I’m going to admit a certain bias to that. Some of the gore and viscera at times borders on the gratuitous, as if Spencer is letting out his inner ‘80s splatterpunk self, but it fits with his barbarian type characters – grinning through a veil of blood from their foes.

Spencer also has a more clear-eyed view of his characters this time, the fact that what is viewed as typical heroic (or even superheroic) actions can well be viewed as sociopathic behavior by others, and how some people can be the shining knight and the bloodied berserker all rolled into one. As a result, some of the villains feel like they walked straight out of a death metal album given how how black and gore soaked they can get (looking at you Balthazar).

This is definitely fantasy through a dark lens, at times bleak and hopeless, but it never (in my opinion) goes full grimdark. There are still innocents in this world, and the sides aren’t exactly black on black and at most, the heroes stay a light grey throughout, even when they find themselves at odds with each other.

If you are looking for a fantasy trilogy that’s going to kick you in your teeth, then yeah, this is what you’re looking for.

You can grab a copy at Amazon.

EconoClash Review #5 edited by J.D. Graves

ECR 5 continues its crusade to bring cheap, quality thrills to the masses, throwing a smorgasbord of genres and writers into a blender and straining it out into a pint glass. Overall, I found the issue entertaining and at the level I’ve come to expect from editor J.D. Graves. I should also mention that I’ve had a story published by ECR in the past and I occasionally grace the ECR page with reviews.

“California Communion” by Cynthia Ward is a weird bit of sci-fi about a teenager stoner who ends up getting abducted by aliens… and discovers that they get drunk off water. Which makes Earth the equivalent of a free keg for passing aliens. The protagonist’s chemical predilections leaves it open as to whether the events of the story actually occurred or were the fevered imaginings of an altered state of consciousness. Either way, the dialogue and the narration is entertaining in and of itself.

“Silo” by Cameron Mount. Okay, so I read this piece a few years back when Cameron was still developing it, and it still gives me the creeps now. The thought of being shut underground, away from all human contact, and the only thing standing between the world as it is now and nuclear Armageddon is me not screwing up. Ahem. Yeah. There’s enough in this story to leave the reader questioning how much the narrator was imagining, and how much there was going on outside of his head. Either way, it makes a good cautionary tale regarding nuclear weapons and who we put in charge of them.

“Mr. Muffin” by E.F. Sweetman is a woman PI recounting one of the first cases she ever took on… that of a missing cat. Only the case quickly snowballs, and our intrepid detective finds herself in over her head and dealing with a pair of serial killers. The biggest strike against this story, for me, was the framing device. You already know the main character survives the events of the story which always sucks a bit of the tension out of a piece for me. That said, the actual narration is fantastic and the characters more than memorable. Sweetman always finds a way to entertain and this story is no different.

“The Retcon” by R. Daniel Lester is a great piece of sci-fi noir with a premise I didn’t expect. The main character has a unique skill set to delve into other people’s memories, to tease out what they know. Only the particular job he’s on is a personal one, as he dives into the memories of someone who once encountered his estranged daughter. I remain impressed by the world-building and setup that’s accomplished in such a short piece, but even more so with its emotional weight and gravitas.

“Luck be a Bullet” by Aeryn Rudel follows a hit man’s up and downs over the course of a night a his luck changes as often as hands over a long night of cards. If there’s any big take away from the story is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad your luck is during the course of things, but what the balance is at the end of the night. The big downside to the piece is that the characters come across as fairly stock for the genre: the bloodthirsty gangster, the talkative hitman with nerves of steel… The set-up is okay, but I didn’t read anything truly innovative or different in this story.

“The Bridesmaid” by David Rachels – what do you do with a no good nephew who wants to prove that he can be somebody in organized crime, but is probably more trouble than he’s worth. Well, why not send him off to try and kill someone who, in all likelihood, would get to him first? That’s the sordid tale of Lucien, a hapless assassin so pitiful he couldn’t even kill himself right. This is definitely a story who like their humor black as Turkish coffee.

“Hell Yeah!” by Die Booth – while an entertaining story, the overall premise didn’t quite work for me. A bunch of teens are able to make a wish, and they end up wishing for pizza anytime, anywhere they want. From that simple wish grows an entire pizza empire, only there’s a catch. It turns out the pizza is a trick from Hell, and anyone who partakes ends up damned. While it is an interesting idea, it ignores the whole concept of free will and well, taking a bite of pizza shouldn’t negate a lifetime of good works. Yes, I realize I ended up overthinking this story, but it still bothers me.

“Service with a Smile” by Adam Furman – a thoroughly disgusting PI is hired by the court to track down an individual. Yeah, that’s the framework, but the story dives straight into the transgressively absurd, working hard to shock the reader out of a sense of normalcy. For the most part it works, but, to be honest, I felt very little for any of the characters involved, though a few stand out moments in the narrative did entertain more than I necessarily thought they would.

“The Sleep-Tights” by Aristo Couvras is a creepy little horror story about a pandemic that strikes only when people fall asleep. Everyone goes to dramatic lengths to keep awake as the only known link between people disappearing is that it happens when they fall asleep. Finally, it is discovered that the true culprits are bed bugs on steroids who are pulling full grown people into the fabric they are infesting. Couvras manages the impressive task of telling a full cycle story in the short format where are other writers might have left the actual conclusion in the air. Probably not a story to read right before you drift off though.

“Aid and Comfort” by J. Manfred Weischel was the story I was least impressed with in this outing from ECR. It’s post alien invasion and the humans and the aliens are learning to try to get along. One Rillian ends up holed up in a human household and an attempt is made at integrating the alien, only it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. The writing in this felt heavy handed and awkward, and a key piece of the story relies on what is an overextended poop joke. Sorry, ECR, but it might be cheap but it didn’t give me a thrill.

The issue is available via Down & Out Books as well as Amazon.

Hellcrafter (Kendra Temples: The Demonic Diaries Book 2) by [Harms, Eve]

HELLCRAFTER is the sequel to 2018’s THE SECRET NAME by horror writer Eve Harms. As a result, this review contains spoilers for the first book. You’ve been warned. I did receive an ARC of this book for free for the purpose of giving an honest review.

HELLCRAFTER picks up where THE SECRET NAME leaves off, as Kendra Temples finds herself jobless and near broke after she inadvertently let an evil spirit named Mhaqal out in to the world, but at least she has her boyfriend Carlos, so something is going right. She takes a job at a float spa, which is comprised of sensory deprivation tanks that people can rent to get away from the world. One of the perks of her job is she can use the tank so long as it’s not taking time away from her other work and it’s not interfering with a client.

There’s a slight hitch, though, in that she tends to psychically project into a hellscape when she goes into the tank. There, she discovers that her former boyfriend (now deceased) is trapped there, skinless, with only a goat headed humanoid for a companion. What follows is Kendra’s quest to save her ex-boyfriend while trying to balance work and her relationship with her new boyfriend. It involves her going back to the house where all the trouble originated and digging deeper into the occult. Eve Harms does a fair amount of work detailing the djinn that inhabit the prison, and there are enough twists to keep the reader going.

Like the first book, HELLCRAFTER is constructed of a series of blog posts, so Kendra fully takes advantage of breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly. While the more relaxed and casual tone works for the most part, it makes some of the action set pieces more questionable. Plus, the reader has to determine if the action is really what is happening or if Kendra is deliberately exaggerating her life and fabricating the more exotic details. Finally, since it is a series of posts, unless they suddenly cease (or another narrator somehow takes over) some of the narrative tension is lost because you know she has to survive to write the story.

All that said, HELLCRAFTER is a quick and enjoyable horror romp with a nice splatter of gore.

It is currently available for preorder at Amazon and is releasing February 12.

4 out of 5 stars.

The Network People
by Bob Freville
Psychedelic Horror Press

I recently had the chance to read  digital ARC of this book. My review follows, but the book could be triggering as it does depict child abuse.

Bob Freville’s writing hits like a baseball bat to the back of the skull… in the best possible sense. THE NETWORK PEOPLE collects three separate stories, all separate and disconnected but for the common thread of holding a mirror up to the worst of human behavior. The writing is sharp and powerful and pulls no proverbial punches. At times it’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion… beauty in the wreckage.


What do you do when everything around you is fake, when everything is a simulation of the real world around you and everything is plastic? What do you do when you are fresh out of jail and feeling more exposed than your first night behind bars? Who’s going to want to hire a felon anyway? Less a story and more a reflection on how cheap modern life can be, and the dangers of walking into a store with a sign that says “Hiring?”


“First they taunt you, then they haunt you.” A fortyish actor travels to LaLa Land, pursuing his dreams of making it to the big time. But he doesn’t count on the swift erosion of his soul at the hands of the titular Network People. Part cult, part conspiracy and utterly inhuman and uncaring, the Network chews up the young and spits out the old in a mechanical basis. As the poor actor finds out, it doesn’t take much for it to get its hooks into you, and you’ll end up pulling yourself a part trying to get free. The only other thing I’ll say is the human sacrifice bit doesn’t even top the most disturbing part of this particular story.


A Clive Barker-esque body horror bad trip in the spirit of THE BOOKS OF BLOOD. When a suburban couple has done everything that they can with each other, what do they do when ennui sets in? What other sensations can they pursue together, and what happens when one of them decides to continue on a journey of sexual exploration without the other? It would be too easy to dismiss this as lurid horror, but buried beneath the grotesque is a moral about communication in relationships, and maybe coming to terms that you can never truly know what another person finds attractive.

THE NETWORK PEOPLE is currently available for preorder directly from Psychedelic Horror Press.

Celebrity Terrorist Sex Bomb
by Bob Freville

All right, so this is a bit of a first for me, seeing as how out of the blue, Bob Freville drops me a message asking me if I’d like to review his latest novella, CELEBRITY TERRORIST SEX BOMB. Now, just reading that title, has probably got you put on at least half a dozen government watch lists, so just imagine how many I’m on given that I’ve googled that phrase more than I would care to admit. 

You aren’t here to read about my trials and tribulations though, are you? Nah, you want to know if this quick hand grenade of a novella is worth your time. I’m not going to spoil you with a plot, but here’s the thing: with a work like this, it isn’t about the plot. It isn’t even about the characters, as much fun as a foul-mouthed Indian-American not-quite white dwarf starlet is, or her John Stamos-esque suicide bomber enabler. This is a rapid fire indictment that’s bound to offend at least everyone once.

Freville takes a machinegun approach to his blasting of culture, media obsession, how we treat celebrities (especially pretty young women), American militarism, extremism-in-the-name-of-Islam, sex, drugs, and pop music. Through his main character, Priya, he takes the brakes off a full scale indictment of the world as it is, while offering the occasional glimmer of how much better we all could be. It is foul-mouthed, irreverent, and you’ll never think of kegel exercises the same way again.

To be honest, some of the writing jumps around more than a tick on a hot cast iron stove, and you might find yourself wondering just why you decided to tap into what reads like a speedfreak mainlining CNN, MTV, and Lifetime all at once. But if you are reading something CELEBRITY TERRORIST SEX BOMB for the plot, well, I think we all know you made a misstep somewhere, don’t we?

Celebrity Terrorist Sex Bomb is currently available at Amazon… and other places too, if you think your search history can handle it.

Got a novel, novella, or magazine (hey, I don’t judge), you want me to check out? Hit me up on twitter or facebook (left side of your screen). My preference is for indie and small press, especially fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and bizarro lit.

Demonslayer (Book 2 of The Psychonaut Trilogy)
by Tom G. H. Adams
Writing in Starlight Publications

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I hadn’t been waiting for this book for a while. I originally reviewed the first book in the trilogy, The Psychonaut, back in 2016, and to say that this is a strong follow-up is an understatement. I’ll also come out and say that yes, you really do need to read the first book in the series to make heads or tales of what is going on in this book.Demonslayer: Book 2 in The Psychonaut Trilogy by [Adams, Tom G.H.]

It picks up where the last book left off. Merrick Whyte, former corporate negotiator, has come into his own power as a Psychonaut, one that can traverse different realms and can use the power of his mind to well… kill people. A new threat is on the horizon, however, as a demon threatens to Uncreate everything. Meanwhile, there is an anti-occult group with designs on Merrick and his friends, and there is a police officer who has decided that Merrick must die, damn the collateral damage.

What follows is an intricate story that weaves between the colliding plots and subplots. Demigods, fanatics, and the end of the world (isn’t it always?) combine to make a truly thrilling tale that will keep readers on edge. And yes, having some knowledge of Thelema and Aleister Crowley does help with a deeper appreciation of the story.

The biggest downside for me is I really wished Adams had developed some of the secondary characters a bit more. Also, there are some momentous events that occur that get little more than a summation by the characters. Obviously, there are always choices to be made in writing, but I for one hope to see more of Adams’ cast of characters rounded out.

As always, Adams does not shy away from the grotesque, but DEMONSLAYER wasn’t nearly as graphic as THE PSYCHONAUT, but his villains still manage to feel threatening.

Highly recommended if you enjoy thrillers and urban fantasy that weighs heavy on the occult.

DEMONSLAYER is available on amazon.

Death Pacts and Left-Hand Paths
by John Wayne Comunale
Grindhouse Press

You know, I didn’t make any New Years’ resolutions this year, in the main because they have a way of petering out around the middle of February. But one goal I am setting for myself is to read more indie press work. And hey, you know what an advantage is to running your own indie mag? Getting exposed to a bunch of new writers that would otherwise fly under the radar.

One such writer is John Wayne Comunale[1], a Texas based three-way threat who performs with the horrorpunk outfit johnwayneisdead. I decided to see if his long form fic could hold up to the promise of his short fic, and he didn’t fail to deliver.

DEATH PACTS AND LEFT-HAND PATHS follows the travails of a small-time loser, stuck in a dead end job and lusting fruitlessly after a co-worker. His solution? Rather than looking to better himself, he decides to take the short cut of summoning an otherworldly entity, a foulmouthed, chain smoking perverse imp. And yeah, the imp can help… but there’s always a catch. And someone’s going to have to pay it.

What follows is ramping up of death and disaster as our helpless anti-hero ends up more and more beholden in his pact. But the imp isn’t the only otherworldly creature out there, and our protag’s imp has to answer to a master of his own. The only question then is when you fall is how far down is it going to take you?

Comunale doesn’t shy away from the gore, and there’s no way I’d recommend eating this before, after, or even thinking about lunch. There’s not much redeemable about our hero other than to see a reflection of how your own mistakes can snowball into tragedy. You also might look askance at taking public transit… or at least you might end up looking over your shoulder more often.

Do I recommend this book?

Whole heartedly. So, show Comunale some love and pick up this novel, and while you are at it, check out what else he’s got cooking. You can also follow him on twitter at


[1] His short story “Compartments” appeared in issue 3 of Broadswords and Blasters.

Coffin Dodgers: A Sci Fi Horror Book by [Adams, Tom G.H. ]

What would happen if THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME was set in the future, on an alien planet? What if instead of one person set loose in the wilderness, it was a team of competing extreme athletes?

That’s the simple premise behind the latest from Tom G.H. Adams, the aptly named COFFIN DODGERS. A group of extreme athletes and thrillseekers, here designated T-types, are sent to a newly discovered world, there to compete for a fat cash prize.

Soon, however, they discover that they are competing for more than money as they are being hunted and killed in a sadistic hunt. As I’ve come to expect from Tom, he leans way in on the horror, sometimes seeming to bring the gore for gore’s sake, but never ignoring the impact it has on his characters. While I do feel the motivation for his villain(s) is a bit over the top, I can appreciate how he worked the interplay of sex and violence into his text. He does an excellent job of getting into some of the characters heads, and I will say for villain of the piece, that was an insight I did not rightly relish.

Tom does an excellent job of setting up the tension between the hunters and the prey, and while there are elements of the chase I wish he would have explored more (how were the hunters tracking the other contestants? why didn’t the contestants realize something was fishy about the “contest” sooner?)

The novella did fall a little short for me in places. Given how it is set in the future, I would have appreciated a more diverse group of characters. All of them come from Earth, with no real delving into how a Mars colonist might compete. Some ethnic stereotypes are given broad strokes as well (the Australian pilot being the most glaring example). The planet as well, while interesting, relied heavily on it being an Earth analogue, albeit one still going through its own prehistoric development… complete with creatures that looked an awful like what you might find in Jurassic Park. I would have appreciated creatures perhaps a bit more alien, or at least flora that was less benign than what our contestants encountered here.

Overall, for a quick read, it is very enjoyable. 3 and a half stars.

You can pick up your own copy here on Amazon, and you can check out Tom’s website here.The book is releasing Feb 2nd.

Beasts, Brutes and Abominations by [Adams, Tom]

This collection of short stories and penny dreadfuls is a great addition for any aficionado of horror. Most of the stories are told from a first person point of view, inviting you to dive into the perspective of characters whose heads you might want to otherwise avoid, forcing you to confront the darkness in yourself.

The strongest story in the collection, in my opinion, is The Creche, a rumination on the afterlife and whether redemption is within the reach of everyone. Some of the stories come across more as fragments than as self-contained stories, but Mr. Adams acknowledges that, and even teases that they could well be developed into longer stories. I did enjoy the author notes following each of the longer stories as well, but that might be a quirk of my own as I enjoy seeing the thought process that went into the stories creation.

In short, if you are a fan of horror, you are doing yourself a disservice by not picking up this book post-haste.

You can pick up your own copy here on Amazon, and you can check out Tom’s website here.