I have become addicted to cheap fantasy.
(Muse: Knowing what you fantasize about, you can color me shocked.)
Not that kind of fantasy, you nattering buffoon. Spec-fiction fantasy. A few months back, Mrs. Axe gifted me with a Kindle card and rather than download one magnum opus from a big author for $20, I decided to experiment and try some lesser-known authors, who had put their books out there at a low rate, hoping for a nibble. Basically, I shot low to see what I would get, in terms of quality. Going into this I did have a few ground rules:
1) I set my upper limit for any one book to a soft $2.99, though I could be persuaded a little higher.
2) I did look for books with good reader reviews, and lots of them. Someone with two reviews, both of which were five stars, could easily be the author themselves under dummy accounts. When they had two hundred, it seemed less likely. 3 stars was about my cutoff.
3) I would read at least one quarter of the book before passing judgement – and if I didn't like it, I would not feel guilty about finishing, since I paid little for it.
4) I will eventually go leave my own Amazon reviews, to help others as the reviews help me. (This, I have not done yet.)
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The books – and authors were a mix. Some caught my attention; others aroused no more than polite interest, even though they were put together well. A few blurbs:
Night of the Wolves (The Paladins #1), by David Dalglish. This was an interesting little jaunt. The story concerned two main characters, Jerico and Darius, Paladins from opposing orders, who are both assigned to a rural countryside area, where they preach their faiths and attempt to win the approval of the townsfolk. In the meantime, the leader of a roving pack of intelligent wolf-like monsters from beyond the river attempt to unite the tribes of his kind, in best Genghis Khan style, for an attack on the human lands. I rather liked this one. The characters were distinct and full of flawed doubt and questioning. The setting – while not inspiring – was functional and consistent. There are other sub-plots moving around, including an apparent war between the paladin factions, straining the relationship between Jerico and Darius, even as they deal with the wolf problem. The story is told in multiple limited third-person view, so you get a view from a number of character heads (though it was about two more than was comfortable). Dalglish's website lists a number of books, so he's been quite prolific for the last few years. This first book was free, so for those who like old-fashioned sword-n-sorcery battle tales, I recommend it. I plan on getting the other two books in this series and going from there. Amazon review rating: 4 stars, which seems about right.
War of the Fae, Book 1 (The Changelings) by Elle Casey. This is a YA novel (which I didn't realize when I got it – so much for careful scrutiny of the reviews, right?) and as such, I think it's serviceable. The tale opens with smart-mouthed Jayne Sparks, an over-smart teenager with a quick mind and quicker mouth. After she and a male friend run away from trouble, they find themselves caught up in remote wilderness with several other runaways, where they are tormented by a variety of mythical creatures. This one was okay. I get that I was not the target audience, so maybe that's why I saw the twists and turns coming pages before they happened. The writing and the gauntlet the characters run were a little reminiscent of Hunger Games (which was itself inspired by the Japanese novel Battle Royale). Jayne is too precocious and sure of herself for me, especially for some of the character wrinkles that are later revealed. The other characters come off as tentative or lacking individuality. Technically, the book is well-paced and descriptive, and I stayed entertained long enough to make it to the end. I can imagine teenaged girls really liking this one; as an old fart, I thought it was decent but that's about it. Amazon review rating: 4.5 stars, whereas I'd give it 3.5.
The Black God's War (Splendor and Ruin, Book I), by Moses Siregar III. The plot concerns the son and daughter of a king, both of whom inherited powers of war and peace by virtue of their ties to the Gods. When their father insists on a sustained war with their ancient enemies, they ply their gifts as best they can, though the girl Lucia is beset by visions of yet another God, who torments her with promises of doom and death – for her and all her people. You know, I should have liked this one. The Amazon page acknowledges a few awards & praises the book has earned, the plot concept is sound. It was right in my wheelhouse. But try as I might, I just could not get into it. I read about 100 pages in and finally put it down. I am not sure why but it just wasn't my cup o'tea. Amazon review rating: 4.5 stars but I can't give it one.
Adrianna's Fairy Tales: Erotic Retellings, by Adrianna White. Okay, I am still not sure why I read this. The book retells three classic fairy tales from an erotic point of view: Naughty Cinderella, Riding Red Hood, and Beauty and the Beast with Two Backs. Up front, I would say there isn't enough erotica in the stories to justify the title. When I want some smut, I expect some smut. Even the notoriously bad 50 Shades series had more sex in it, page for page, than this did. The writing was technically sound and the dialogue between characters felt natural but the characters themselves felt uni-dimensional and were not very interesting. Plus, too much direct exposition. We learn Cinderella is street walker because the author says it outright, rather than letting the described events make the point. Even though it has a sale price now, it was free when I grabbed it – but I cannot recommend spending $4.99 on it. Amazon review rating: 3 stars, but I would have to go 1.5.
I have a handful of others that I have not yet finished reading or yet discarded but when I do, I will be back with some more reviews.