Cover Reveal: Shattered Secrets, by Krystal Wade

Shattered Secrets Cover

Also by Krystal Wade

Krystal WadeKrystal Wade can be found in the sluglines outside Washington D.C. every morning, Monday through Friday. With coffee in hand, iPod plugged in, and strangers – who sometimes snore, smell, or have incredibly bad gas – sitting next to her, she zones out and thinks of fantastical worlds for you and me to read.How else can she cope with a fifty mile commute?Good thing she has her husband and three kids to go home to. They keep her sane.

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Guest Post by Aoife Marie Sheridan – Where Saskia Came From

edenForest-bigI have always written but mostly poetry, it’s always been my way to deal with my emotions, no matter how big or small. Two years ago I lost two people I was close too. I had never lost anyone before, so I didn’t deal very well with it. One night I had a dream of a man and women on a horse, passing through a wall of fire. The dream lingered with me, as did my grief. So instead of writing poetry I started my story. My starting point was my dream and I worked my way from there. Eden Forest helped me once again deal with death, and all that comes with it. So in a way I am very grateful for this story.

I always wondered why God created us and what was our purpose, but those questions are unanswered. So in my story I give you the answers for this world called Saskia. In the story God creates a world parallel to ours, for four fallen angels.

Death is something that I also question now, like why do we die, is 60 to 90yrs of life enough, imagine having immortality what would one do to gain it? And that’s where a lot of my plot lies. The greed for immortality, for power’s that only God should wield, drives Saskia into war.

God decides to give one person all the powers that anyone could possess to banish evil, before it destroys Saskia and Earth. This one person happens to be a young lady called Sarajane Anderson who lives in the mortal world (Earth) but is actually from Saskia.

Click here for Aoife Marie Sheridan’s Book Blogger Fair – Summer 2013 page.

Excerpt: The Puppet Spell, by E.L. Adams

puppet spell coverWe’d only been at our new house five minutes and, predictably, Lucinda had already run off.

Throughout the journey, she had complained nonstop about how unfair it was that we were moving again, that she preferred our old house and that she’d be going back there today whether anyone else was living there or not. I’d heard it a million times before, and even Uncle Devon turned up the car radio to muffle her complaints.

‘For heaven’s sake, Lucinda,’ he said. ‘You’re fifteen, not five. Stop being so dramatic.’

Lucinda ignored him, as usual, and continued to mutter to herself, casting dark looks at the rows of houses we passed. They looked like cardboard cut-outs, all identically tall and narrow, like lines of blunt pencils. Everything around us was grey, as if someone had forgotten to add colour to the picture. It matched Lucinda’s mood perfectly.

We drove round in circles for at least an hour before Uncle Devon finally spotted the sign that read ‘Ivory Crescent’. I felt like making a sarcastic comment as he parked the car, but Lucinda got there first.

‘Well, isn’t this wonderful,’ she said, looking around disdainfully, like a queen who’d just been relocated to the slums. ‘I thought the last place was bad enough.’

For the last couple of months, we’d lived in what you might call a ‘rough area’. It was pretty bad, even by our standards. On one occasion, someone had even lobbed a brick through our window. However much Lucinda might complain now, I knew she was as relieved as I was that Uncle Devon had announced the move. Even if it was barely a ten-minute drive away from the estate.

‘Let me guess, you’ve forgotten which one it is,’ she said, as Uncle Devon studied the row of dilapidated terraced houses in front of us. Weeds were the only plants in the run-down gardens, and rubbish bags were scattered everywhere, spilling their contents onto the pavements. The smell of rotting food pervaded the air, making us wrinkle our noses in disgust. Even the lamp-posts looked like they were wilting on the spot, drooping like old men over the cracked paving stones.

Uncle Devon fitted right in here. Even when dressed in his best he always seemed dishevelled. He had the appearance of a bedraggled mop, with his curly greying hair and narrow face, and always wore the same grubby faded jeans and a t-shirt the same colour as the pavement.

‘It’s definitely one of these,’ he said, frowning.

Lucinda gave one of her famous melodramatic sighs as I spotted our cat, Spider, sitting on a doorstep. At his feet was a chipped plate bearing the number ‘27’; it had clearly fallen off the wall.

Looking relieved, Uncle Devon pushed open the gate. Spider yawned, in a way that said It’s about time. I’ve been waiting ages for you.

‘That cat,’ I said, ‘is psychic. How many times is this now that he’s found our new house before we have?’

‘I brought him here in the removal van,’ said Uncle Devon, by way of an explanation.

I wasn’t convinced. Spider seemed to have a better memory than Uncle Devon, let alone other cats. I knew that cats could have an amazing sense of direction, but Spider’s nose was like a tracker dog’s.

At that moment a water balloon flew out of an upstairs window. It hit Uncle Devon right on the head, drenching him from head to toe, and splattering me and Lucinda. Laughter echoed from above.

Lucinda let out a shriek. ‘There’s someone already in there!’

‘It’s just the students,’ said Uncle Devon, shaking water from his hair like a dog. ‘You know, the ones who live in the upstairs flat. They’re nice enough, they just enjoy a joke.’ All the same, he cast a disgruntled glance at the window above, from which laughter was still issuing. ‘I’ll have a word with them,’ he said.

‘We’re living with them?’ said Lucinda, with an expression of horror. ‘You’ve got to be joking. I don’t see why we have to share a house with other people anyway.’

‘Luce, we’ve talked about this,’ said Uncle Devon. ‘I told you, this is a one-off. As soon as I start earning more we’ll find somewhere else.’

‘You always say that,’ said Lucinda. ‘It’s a lie, as usual. I’m not living here.’

She stalked off, heels clacking on the uneven pavement

‘How’s she supposed to find her way back? The place is a maze,’ I said to Uncle Devon. I too wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea of being hit by projectiles every time I stepped out the front door.

He grimaced. ‘How far will she get in those ridiculous platform shoes? I tell her, but she does insist on wearing them. Come on, we need to start unpacking. She’ll find her way back – or she’ll call me to come and get her.’

He was right, of course; Lucinda always made a scene like this. We got on with unloading the car.

The hallway was carpeted in threadbare green rugs. A wooden door at the far end led into a small, dingy living room that smelt of old furniture. Like those in the hallway, the walls were off-white and unembellished, the paint flaking away in places like dead skin. There were three armchairs grouped around a fireplace, and another door at the back opened onto the kitchen.

‘Our rooms are up here,’ said Uncle Devon, opening another door. He heaved the suitcases he was carrying up a staircase that curved around a corner.

My new bedroom wasn’t the shabbiest I’d seen. True enough, it wasn’t much bigger than a cupboard, but as long as it was habitable I was happy. Lucinda would doubtless find fault with everything from the curtains to the wallpaper, but I was fairly certain that she’d find something lacking even if there were gold taps and marble floors.

I threw down my bags on the bed by the window and went to help Uncle Devon unload the rest from the car.

I’d long since mastered the art of unpacking swiftly and ruthlessly – anyone standing nearby risked being hit in the face by a book or DVD. In ten minutes half the shelves and one chest of drawers were filled. Uncle Devon set up the computer in the corner, a job only he could do since I was clueless about technology.

I made sure to put my scrapbook right at the back of a drawer, hidden under a pile of magazines, first checking to make sure nothing was out of place. The last time Lucinda had decided to ‘have a look’, all my postcards had ended up completely jumbled. I hadn’t spoken to her for a week afterwards, more out of principle than anything. It was hardly an artistic achievement, just a collection of pictures of places I’d never been to. Marlon and I had always planned to travel the world. There wasn’t any hope of getting as much as a short holiday at the moment; what little money Uncle Devon made went on rent.

On cue, my phone vibrated. A message from Marlon:

‘Hey Lexa :) Have you moved in yet?’

‘Just finished unpacking,’ I typed.

‘Cool. You still OK for me to come over tomorrow?’


‘What’s your new address again?’

’27 Ivory Crescent. I wouldn’t memorise it, we’ll probably move again in a month. See you tomorrow. :)’

All in all, I thought, our new house wasn’t too bad, even if it did feel like the hundredth time we’d moved. At least we were no longer living out of suitcases, as we had for a while. When Lucinda and I had lost our parents in a sailing accident when we were seven, our Uncle Devon – our only surviving relative – had turned up at the orphanage to take us in. Before then he’d been a traveller, an elusive figure who came to visit at Christmas every year, bringing with him strange gifts and an oddball sense of humour. Now he was our guardian.

Unlike Lucinda, I thought the whole nomadic-lifestyle-with-an-enigmatic-uncle-guardian thing was pretty cool. Even if he told us absolutely nothing about himself. He never quite fitted in with regular life, and didn’t seem to have any friends. Lucinda forever bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t simply find a normal job and instead worked freelance doing ‘odd jobs’ for people, generally involving computers. He also called himself a researcher, which might have been an excuse for the old books he occasionally brought home.

But I trusted Uncle Devon, in spite of his peculiarities. When I was younger, I’d come up with theories as to his real occupation. Marlon had suggested that he was actually a secret agent, which was amusing to picture seeing as Uncle Devon was the least likely candidate for heroics.

Click here to view E.L. Adams’ Book Blogger Fair – Summer 2013 page.

Guest Post: C.J. Brightley on Writing as a Man

The-King's-Sword-bigMy first book, The King’s Sword, was written in first person from the perspective of Kemen Sendoa, a retired military officer in the fictional country of Erdem.

Writing a story with a deep perspective can be challenging. Writing a story from the perspective of a character of the opposite gender can be even more challenging. I’ve gotten compliments on Kemen’s voice, and some people assume that I must be male to have written in a male voice so convincingly.

If you’re a male trying to write a female character, or a female trying to write a male character, and you’re concerned that you’re not getting it, here’s what worked for me. I’ve written this for women writing male characters, but some of the suggestions can be flipped around for men writing female characters.

First, recognize that characters, just like real people, are individuals. People are not stereotypes, caricatures, or tropes. Good characters aren’t either – they have depth and individuality. However, many (not all!) people conform to certain general trends. Some of those trends are related to gender. Understanding those trends is important to understanding your characters.

Understand How Men Think

First, a caveat: the generalizations below are just that – generalizations. There are plenty of individuals who don’t follow the general trends I’ve listed below. The info below isn’t meant as a rulebook, but rather a helpful set of possible factors to consider when writing your characters.

Men are people, too, and they have fears, desires, and hopes just like women. However, some of the ways they express those fears, desires, and hopes are different. Men are less likely to talk about their feelings than women, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings. They may be less likely than women to enunciate emotions or the reasons for emotions, even to themselves.

They tend to place a higher priority on giving and receiving respect than on giving and receiving affection (as compared to women). Obviously, humans all need both love and respect, but men and women feel the need differently.

They tend to be visually stimulated, as opposed to women who tend to be stimulated more by touch, words, and other signs of affection/love/lust.

The majority of men feel a deep responsibility to provide for their families. Yes, there are deadbeats out there, but there are also a vast number of men who take on tiring, dangerous, or frustrating jobs in order to meet this responsibility.

Men are more insecure than women often realize, and a woman’s support is invaluable.


If you’re not sure if your character is ringing true, read about men (or women). Specifically, check out marriage advice books – they tend to be written with the goal of helping each partner understand the other better. The sections written for women to understand men are obviously helpful, but also read the parts written for men to understand women better. Those sections can give you a picture of what men often don’t understand about women (which would be useful for your character too!).

Books that I’ve read and thought useful include Love and Respect (Emerson Eggerichs), For Women Only (Shaunti Feldhahn), and His Needs, Her Needs (Willard F. Harley, Jr.). These are Christian books, but the advice is backed up with rigorous studies including both non-Christians and Christians – whether you engage with the Biblical advice or not, the data can give you a picture of where misunderstanding and miscommunication can occur, both in romantic relationships and in general. They also have informative websites if you want to look them up online.

I’m sure there are other books out there that would be helpful, but unfortunately I don’t know which ones to recommend.

A-Cold-Wind-bigBeta Readers

If you’re a woman writing a male character, I suggest at least three or four male beta readers who focus on the character and his voice. For this purpose, your beta readers don’t need to be writers or critiquers; they just need to be readers who are willing to tell you if and where your character doesn’t sound “right.”

For other beta readers, I’d also suggest a woman (or women) who is happily married, preferably for a long time. Successful long-term relationships can help women explain things to other women that men may not catch.

Tips and Tricks

The first time, try writing a character who, aside from gender, feels familiar, perhaps similar to you in personality. Kemen is strong but insecure in specific areas (check!). He’s a military officer (I am a civilian, but I’ve spent most of my career in the Pentagon or intelligence world.). Kemen’s voice felt natural to me because his personality was similar to mine, although his experiences and background were very different.

Last Thoughts

Keep in mind that your character is your character, not just “a man.” He’s an individual, and individuals vary wildly across the spectrum of personalities.

If you want him to be a certain way, you are the author and you are in charge.

Click here to view C.J. Brightley’s Book Blogger Fair – 2013 page.

Ten Best Sidekicks Ever with Author A.E. Howard #bbf

I asked A.E. Howard who were the best ten sidekicks ever. Here’s what she said:
  • Samwise Gamgee (Lord of the Rings)
  • Mike Wazowski (Monsters Inc)
  • Gabby (Roy Rogers westerns)
  • Buzz Lightyear (Toy Story)
  • Pinky (Pinky and the Brain)
  • Donkey (from Shrek)
  • George and Bess (Nancy Drew)
  • Barney Rubble (Flintstones)
  • Doc Holliday (Tombstone)
  • Rachel Brooks (Justified)

I’m partial to Doc Holliday, myself. Be sure to check out her book “Flight of Blue” by clicking the link below.

Click here for A.E. Howard’s Book Blogger Fair – Summer 2013 page.

Evolution Sunday: S.M. Boyce

Hello, lovely readers! It’s been a while since I posted an Evolution Thursday, and today’s is extra special. And not just because it’s Sunday. I’ve tossed out the standard questions. Today’s interview is completely unique and tailored specifically to SM Boyce and her epic fantasy series, The Grimoire Trilogy. 

Treason is the second book of The Grimoire series. When we leave Kara and Braeden in Lichgates, they have found a deserted village. It gives them some time and space away from the rest of Ourea to catch their breath. Treason picks up about a week later, and Braeden and Kara are due at a gala event.

WR: Ms. Boyce. The gala is talked about during the last third of Lichgates, so clearly you knew where you were going with the second book well before finishing Lichgates, but the plot of Treason takes off like a rocket.

What gave you the idea for The Grimoire? Did you have many of the ideas in Treason before you finished the Lichgates? Or did you take the gala piece and build off of it?

SM: I’ve been building The Grimoire Trilogy since 2006…it was one of those ideas that sparked with a single thought and then snowballed into something epic. I’ve been designing the world, which is pretty complex, all this time. In fact, I really only sat down to write Lichgates in January 2011. So that was a long time spent on designing the outlines, character sketches, and world building.

I had all three novels outlined before I sat down to write Lichgates. Now, an outline has to be flexible, and rewrites in Lichgates forced changes in the subsequent books. But I knew the general outline of Treason before I ever released Lichgates. Likewise, even though Treason released October 27, I had the full Heritage outline written long before I finished Treason.

WR: So, we can check “plotter vs pantser” off the list. What was the single thought that became The Grimoire?

SM: The Grimoire Trilogy actually started when I was a kid playing with some clay in my aunt’s basement. I started making these “spellcasters” (tripped-out wands, really). While I made them, I started fabricating these different cultures, each with their own caster. Eventually, I created special coins that gave the casters more power, and that led to other tools that gave the casters even more power. All in the course of an afternoon, mind you.

This got me thinking. What sort of people used these casters? What were they like? Where did they live? Did they have crazy pets?

Those people became the yakona in my Grimoire Trilogy. The casters disappeared as the story evolved, and I’m honestly glad I didn’t keep them. The story is stronger for it. But I still have those casters in my closet after all these years. It’s fun to go look at them now and again and see how the story evolved from some easy-bake clay and a wild imagination.

WR: I want to talk to you a little about your leads. Let’s start with Braeden. Boy, the dude can take a hit. And a kick and an insult too. And that’s just being thick-skinned. He’s a complex guy to start, but in Treason you make him face more of his demons. By the end, he’s either going to be a smear on the wall or a candidate for sainthood. Braeden thinks the former is likely, but still, he fights the good fight. Why? What’s in it for him?

SM: Yeah, Braeden is one tough man. For the longest time, even he doesn’t know why he fights. He’s spent his life running, lying, and trying to redeem himself for it. Yet when we get to Treason, he has to face what he is for the first time and truly fight against the dark nature that has ruled him since he was born. I mean, his instinct is to kill people. He enjoys murder, but hates himself for liking it. It’s a terrible curse, and he fights because he just wants to be a good person.

For ages, Braeden thought being a good person meant breaking his ties to the throne and to the family that gives him this natural propensity for murder—but when he realizes that’s not possible, he almost gives up. I think if he hadn’t met Kara, he probably would have given up. But she brings laughter and fun into his otherwise dark life, and he’s never had that before. He can trust her with anything, and he’s never had that leisure before, either. As the story progresses, he starts to discover more reasons to fight.

In his journey through Treason, Braeden learns what it will take to rule and starts to believe he has what it takes to lead the subjects he’d originally condemned as evil. For the first time in his life, he has real hope that he can overcome and truly be a good man.

WR: I think it helps that Kara’s American college student background helps. Generation Y has been taught to accept other people as they are. Most of them even seem to get it, and Kara certainly does.

Kara literally stumbled into her role as the vagabond and to her credit, she’s embraced it. And being the vagabond has bad sides, namely the ghost of the old vagabond in her head becoming vocal at inopportune moments. My question about Kara actually has to do with Deirdre (a soul-stealer) as well. In Lichgates, Kara’s dad was about to tell her something important before he met a gruesome fate. Kara seems to have forgotten. When will we come back around to the family’s secret and how will it impact the story?

SM: As you all remember from early on in Lichgates, Kara’s father told her to find a small wooden chest that he’d hidden in a photo cabinet near the stairs. She did find it, if you recall, but Deidre interrupted her chance to open it.

I know the chest from Kara’s father is something that seemed left unresolved in Lichgates, but I promise it was entirely intentional. Kara certainly didn’t forget the chest, but she never had an opportunity to go back and get it because Carden’s men kept a close watch on her old rental home. In Treason, though, we finally see what’s in the chest…and discover what it means.

WR: Before we go, I want to talk a little about the Blood heirs. You’ve mentioned Braeden’s growth. He used to hate what he was, but he’s coming to understand that there’s more to him and to the role he plays. Other Blood heirs are changing in ways that would surprise other people. Gavin, the young Blood of Hillside, in particular, but also Aurora, the Kirelm heir, who I feel has been criminally underestimated by everyone. Is this indicating a change in Ourea’s power structure, or is this just what happens when these kids come into their own?

SM: This is an incredibly insightful question, and you’re spot on. War changes lives, especially those who lead during tumultuous times. On top of that, each generation brings with it its own distinct set of beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses. The youth of a nation will bring with them new ideologies and methodologies when they take over. So with all of these factors combined, we see the power shifts that shape Ourea’s future and emerging leaders.

It’s clear that the power structure that has existed to this point hasn’t worked. Not really. Ourea has been at war for thousands of years but it’s always been behind the scenes. This is really the final war. It’s the first all-or-nothing fight that’s included every major player in the kingdoms, and that pressure is changing the way the Bloods think.

WR: I typically ask a list of questions during Evolution Thursday, but today I have just one. After Treason, there will be Heritage, the conclusion of The Grimoire Series. But what’s next? What story idea is sitting in the class right now, raising his hand madly, begging you to call on him?

SM: Oh man, and he is waving his hand like mad.

I actually have a crazy little plan: I’m going to write Heritage and the first in my new series—an urban fantasy/fairytale blend called Wispvine—at the same time. They’ll both release in Fall 2013. After that, I’ll release 2 books a year: one novella from the Grimoire Trilogy, and one more novel in the Wispvine series. It’s a tall order, but I think I can do it!

I only have about three novellas planned for the Grimoire Trilogy bonus journals, but about five prepared for Wispvine. That means once I finish the Grimoire books, I’ll probably switch to a third series I have brewing in the back of my mind: a paranormal horror with ghosts, ghouls, and demons that will keep you up at night. H’oh boy, I can’t wait for that one!

Me: Neither can I. It’s been lovely having you here today. Lovely readers, keep your eyes out for Treason. It’s an awesome ride.

Book Review: Keir, by Pippa Jay

Keir, by Pippa Jay
Lyrical Press, May 2012

Outcast. Cursed. Dying. Is Keir beyond redemption?

For Keirlan de Corizi—the legendary ‘Blue Demon’ of Adalucien—death seems the only escape from a world where his discolored skin marks him as an oddity and condemns him to life as a pariah. But salvation comes in an unexpected guise: Tarquin Secker, a young woman who can travel the stars with a wave of her hand.

But Quin has secrets of her own. She’s spent eternity searching through space and time with a strange band of companions at her back. Defying her friends’ counsel, Quin risks her apparent immortality to save Keir. She offers him sanctuary and a new life on her home world, Lyagnius.

When Keir mistakenly unleashes his dormant alien powers and earns instant exile from Quin’s home world, will she risk everything to stand by him again?

A broken, emaciated man lies in the shadows of a sewer, trapped behind iron gates. Persecuted every day of his life for the color of his skin, Keirlan de Corizi is taunted even in his last, lonely hours. He wishes for death to claim him. Death denied him. When an odd young woman named Quin is tossed into his cell, he is confounded by her light regard for her situation. She claims she can get out of anywhere and promises to take him with her. At the moment, he doesn’t have enough energy left in his body to hope that she can. There’s much he doesn’t understand in their first day together. Why does she drag him out of the sewer to freedom? Why does she care for him after their escape? Why does she refuse to leave him behind when his deteriorating condition guarantees she will be recaptured. But, she keeps her promise and takes him home with her. The man known as the ‘Blue Demon’ of Adalucien has one moment of peace and is grateful for it even as he fades away.

Keir wakes up in a strange room where he is treated gently by a woman with purple hair and fangs. She gives him clothes and introduces him to others in the compound. They are all very different…from him, the Andalucian, and each other. Strays, the kind woman calls them. He finds his savior, Tarquin Secker sitting alone in a garden. He wants to be near her. Having avoided other people all of his life, the desire terrifies him.

I seldom cast books as I read, but in this case, both leads quickly acquired living models. For me, Keir is Orlando Bloom in Nightcrawler (X-men) make-up, complete with symbols carved and inked in his skin. Quin is Bryce Dallas Howard channeling the 12th incarnation of Dr. Who. That’s more about me than Pippa Jay or her delightful novel, but I felt like sharing.

Keir is a clever amalgamation of science fiction plot devices, fantasy realms, and literary themes. It is built within a construct of futuristic devices, fantastic locations, and alien power sufficiently advanced to be considered magic. At it heart, though, it is a character driven story about embracing differences. Over the course of our lives, humans acquire memory, fears, and regrets. We either overcome our mistakes and our losses, or they overwhelm us. The one thing we cannot turn time back on them. We cannot abandon or undo them, as much as we’d like to. They become part of us, define who we are, and inform our relationships with other people. Keirlan de Corizi symbolizes a personal demon, and finding in Quin a kindred soul, he feels drawn to her and trusts her well before he learns the first details of her many secrets.

First, they must survive Keir’s home planet, a world contemporary with pre-Industrial Europe, where everyone is human, where the powerful rule the masses by force, superstition, and fear of things they don’t understand. In Pippa Jay’s universe, Andalucian is the exception, not the rule.

Keir reminded me of Dr. Who in many ways, Stargate SG-1 in others. I would sincerely recommend this book to fans of either series.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Book Review: The Curse of Gremdon, by Ciara Knight

The Curse of Gremdon, by Ciara Knight
Crescent Moon Press, December 18, 2011

In a world where marriage is forbidden, sex is only granted to male warriors, and the outer realm is full of murderous creatures, Arianna fights to protect the life of her only living relative, her brother.

Tardon, an elite warrior, is granted anything he desires by the Elders, but finds little joy in the voluptuous women presented to him. Born for the bloodlust found only in battle, complicated emotions emerge when he discovers his equal in the alluring warrior, Arianna.

Charged by the Elders with saving the castle from attack, Tardon and Arianna risk the curse when they traverse the vast outer realm to retrieve serum from the Tree of Life. If successful, the Elders have promised Tardon the right to marry and Arianna the cure for her brother’s death fever. Will their love carry them through or will the discovery of a great deception be their ultimate demise?

“A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”

Those words were spoken two centuries ago by American founding father, Thomas Jefferson. (Or Benjamin Franklin. Depends on who you ask.) It popped into my head several times as I read The Curse of Gremdon. The first time was when Tardon, a celebrated warrior, was condemned to burn at the stake for a small carnal act. The Elders allow him moments of release, but this wasn’t a designated time and Arianna was never intended to be a “gift.” In fact, the female warriors aren’t permitted sex at all. He claims responsibility for the incident, as he was the one who initiated, but the people believe that she bewitched him. Tardon stares down his fellow warriors as a vicious mob demands that Arianna burn as well, and he tells them, “These are the people we fight for.”

The question implied in his statement is clear: Are these people worthy of the risks they take? The answer is not so clear.

The kingdom depicted in The Curse of Gremdon is a harsh, cold place. Fog covers their skies most days. There are no small animals or abundance of plant life. Sex is forbidden to all but the male warriors, who earn these gifts by performing well in battle. Marriage is an exceedingly rare privilege. There are no children. The people have few choices. They may train to earn status among the warriors that guard the walls. They may provide a function for society, such as keeping shops or healing the sick. They may please deserving warriors. If they cannot, or will not, do one of these things, they starve in the streets of the inner court. Some rot in the dungeon. Others are tossed in fire pits. Every breath of their lives is spied by a council of Elders, who have laid down inflexible laws that are strictly enforced. As most of the citizens were children when their families sought refuge within the walls, they grew up grateful to the mysterious Elders and repay their debt with obedience.

What laws would you break to protect your family? To be with your lover? To save his/her life? What would you sacrifice to cure your sibling’s illness? To protect your heart from breaking? What would you risk to defend your people from a terror that lurks beyond your borders? What if those people didn’t deserve it?

These are just some of the questions that the author asks her leads to answer. Arianna and Tardon are two disciplined warriors who demonstrate a willingness to burn before lying, to die so the other may live. Naturally, the Elders find their devotion to each other threatening. And useful.

At its heart, Gremdon revolves around the illicit romance between Arianna and Tardon, but it’s built on a complex skeleton of illusion, lies, and pent-up lust. Nothing in the story is what it seems, from the very first scene, when Tardon discretely throws a sword fight, letting Arianna (and the Elder who was judging her) believe that she beat him. From then on, there were only two things that I was certain of as I read the book.

One, Arianna so loves Tardon that if he were mortally wounded, she would cut her heart out of her chest and shove it into his if there was a .1% chance the gesture would save his life.

Two, the Elders were bad guys. They may have saved the people of the kingdom, sheltered them in their castle, and kept them alive all those years, but nothing benevolent asks for so much simply because they can. And as the story progresses, the Elders’ price goes up.

The Curse of Gremdon is a tense, frustrating, heart wrenching romance, set in a fully realized world whose barriers against a zombie-apocalypse are weakening. In a world where hopeless people are surviving on instinct, Arianna and Tardon are bright, rebellious stars, with the strength and temerity to fight for their freedom, and everyone else’s too…whether or not their service is truly appreciated.

Ciara, please tell me there’s a sequel.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book Review: The Grimoire: Lichgates, by S.M. Boyce

The Grimoire turns its own pages and can answer any question asked of it, and Kara Magari is its next target. 

Kara has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she stumbles across the old book while hiking a hidden trail. Once she opens it, she’s thrown into Ourea: a beautiful world full of terrifying things that want the Grimoire’s secrets. Everyone in this new world is trying to find her, and most want to control the new-found power the book bestows upon her. Even if Kara does escape, Ourea will only drag her back.

Braeden Drakonin grew up in Ourea, and all he’s ever known of life is lying. The Grimoire is his one chance at redemption, and it lands in his lap when Kara Magari comes into his life. He has one question to ask the book—one question that can fix everything in his broken world—and he’s not letting Kara out of his sight until he gets an answer.

There’s no going back now.

This book is an enchanting high fantasy that draws on the essence of both The Neverending Story and Alice in Wonderland, plot devices from Stargate SG-1 and Narnia, and a quest like that of Luke Skywalker’s. One of my first thoughts while reading it was if I were a filmmaker recreating this story, I would treat it in a matter similar to Watership Down…showing the human dimension in live action, and Ourea’s scenes animated (Final Fantasy style at that). Simply, it would be very hard to render a world as beautiful as the one Ms. Boyce has created on Earth. Soaring towered cities…one of them UNDERWATER. Even the elements that are brutal are beautiful.

The author balances the wonder out by injecting a healthy dose of humanity at its worst. None of the people trust each other, as main character Kara discovers early on. In what I consider the strongest scene of the book, a slender queen on an afternoon stroll finds herself face to face her people’s worst enemy…a man easily four-times her size and she battles him with wits and steel. Lorraine is beautiful, wise, capable of unconditional love and forgiveness, but beneath her skin, she is ruthless as her opponent. Every ruler of Ourea is, because every throne requires it.

But, Lichgates is not without its problems. The ratio of narration to dialog (with far more narrative) is unusual in a Young Adult novel. I also found the chapters to be unbalanced. The main character’s struggle with guilt and death is appropriate, and expertly handled by the author, as are the philosophical questions regarding free will and genocide. But as the story requires introducing the reader to settings, races, creatures, magic, all while following the main character on a quest that runs parallel to this, plus rounding out an number of characters, the author was almost required to “tell” much of the story opposed to “show” to get it all in a YA length story. I felt a bit let down by how quickly events and discoveries came. Also, in the prose, there are brilliant passages that ignite all of the senses, followed by sections I refrained from skimming. They didn’t hold my interest, but because the author drops very subtle hints, I was concerned that I’d miss something important. However, this was not frequent.

At the end, I was very happy to have picked up this book and delighted with the story when I finished it. I am looking forward to the next book in The Grimoire Trilogy