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What does Great Barbarism mean to me?

I chose to prioritise writing and developing Great Barbarism above editing past published novels, writing sequels, and even other new works that I shared 2 years ago. There are a few main reasons. In a sense, it’s the story I’ve been working towards writing from 2012. It can trace its lineage from Marcellus stories written in 2012, 2013, and 2016, including the published novel Marcellus: The Mantle. I think the reason behind this is that writing about a real believable hero has not been an easy feat. Though I’ve a great passion for the fantastical, a hero’s roots should be genuine and solid, rather than lost and desperate, even if we’re discussing an anti-hero.

Great Barbarism represents main character anti-hero Warlord Aerol’s early success adapting his skills for survival on a surface where the peril of soldiers, warlords, and rogues are ever-present. Unlike my earlier models of heroes, he’s not setting himself against the world, galaxy, society, or organisation in an attempt to retain his independence and his values. Warlord Aerol knows that working within the system or changing it is his best chance of survival and success.

The story represents my cynicism with fitting in, and that’s why the sorcerer Arch Banuk exists and he’s difficult to fathom for Aerol, and impossible to reach and understand as an equal. Arch Banuk’s roots also go deep, historically, and the consequences of his outlook are evident in his superior manner.

I often feel trapped, and so does Aerol. This feeling manifests itself in frustration and aggression with his soldiers, everybody else who gets in the way, and those who he cannot understand or empathise with. Aerol’s fortress is really a last stand against a world that has betrayed his trust and is more group-centric – though he sees himself as an individual. His ‘warlordship’ is an example of a system he had created to respond to group warfare and because it was a novelty when he founded it, it gave him early victories against rivals.  However, it presents its own leadership challenges and he is burdened by rules and routines.

Ultimately, I wanted to write about a character that had strengths: to know what they were and why. It wasn’t enough for me to say he was a ‘fantastic hero just because!’

Great Barbarism – Ch1 and 2 – Beta Version 1

Please let me know your feedback on my chapters by sending me an email at contact@alexjamesnovels.com.

Lighthouse School Visit

Thank you for your welcome!

Lighthouse School Photo 1


Lighthouse School Photo 2 Lighthouse School Photo 3

(Some of my books photographed in the Lighthouse School library, as well as a display.)

On 4th November 2016 I had the pleasure of visiting the Lighthouse School, which is a school in Cookridge, Leeds, for young people with an autistic spectrum condition or related communication disorder.

I was kindly invited and welcomed by teachers Caroline and Lisa. I was there to speak about my experiences as a writer in the hope that I could help encourage the students. I had an informal talk with several of the students, who asked well considered questions, such as how long it takes me to write a story, how I keep my writing going, and what advice I would give to young authors. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the school and meeting the teachers and students; there was a nice atmosphere and I would be happy to visit again.

I hope the students continue with their interest in writing, and I’m sure they have a lot to write about 🙂

Is Inkitt the right platform for writers?


Kroll Magnificence Image1 (2)Are you a writer looking for reviews or thinking about getting published? Actively approaching reader communities is a good way to get feedback on your complete story, or for a sample or excerpt. Engaging reader community websites might be your next step towards adding those finishing touches, reaching new readers, or getting published. The following blog post will cover my experience of data-driven publisher and reader community Inkitt, and their recent Story Peak Contest, where three writers can win a publishing offer from them. I’ll address the positive and the negative aspects of the contest and what my thoughts are on Inkitt as a publishing company, which will hopefully give you some insights into how to make the most of the contest in achieving your writing aims or book marketing aims.

Should I enter the Story Peak Contest? That was the first question on my mind. A little research on Google on what other sites say about Inkitt leads to quite mixed results, and there wasn’t enough convincing information on either side to encourage me to fully decide one way or the other. The sites that were positive cited how amazing the platform was for connecting with readers and getting their stories noticed, and that some writers were going to eagerly upload their latest story to future contests. However, I spent more time looking at the negative points on sites, to see if there were any valid concerns before I entered their latest contest. Some cynical sites will tell you they are notorious spammers, that you’re giving away first English language rights by uploading your content to their site, or that it’s silly to ‘publish’ your story on Inkitt for them to maybe offer you a ‘publishing’ deal afterward. Some of us have become so suspicious of new start-up publishing companies that our attitude is to dismiss them out of hand, and based on what I’ve experienced or seen I can understand.

Before I entered their contest, I asked a few questions to see if they could clear up some of my concerns about the above points. The responses I got were prompt and friendly, though perhaps a little vague. Sometimes different people would answer my questions, which was confusing, but at least they had names and job descriptions. I was soon wondering if I was asking stupid questions. The reason for this is because the instructions on their website are short and simple, Spartan one might say and we writers like to ask questions and worry about the details. A few things came back to my mind to reassure me: All Rights Reserved was posted beside the writer’s name on every story uploaded to the Inkitt website; and on the few occasions in the past when they have contacted my writer website, they have been friendly and reasonable. I haven’t been spammed by Inkitt on Twitter.

I entered the Story Peak Contest early August 2016, with my title Kroll: Magnificence, in the hopes of getting feedback from prospective readers. In the contest, only 100 readers can reserve copies of your story, so if you’re concerned that the entire reading community out there are going to read your latest creation, then don’t be. Those who don’t reserve a copy can only see a short sample. Your job is to build your readership from the ground up, persuading your already existing fans or maybe new fans to reserve their copy, read your story, and leave feedback on the Inkitt site, in the space of about a month. No, you don’t have much time, and if you haven’t got many friends and family who are willing to read your story, you’re going to really have to put in the legwork if you’re going to get anywhere. Indeed, my experience in this contest taught me the same lesson again about reaching readers: the onus is on you. Readers aren’t going to magically gravitate to your story, and then go out of their way to read your story and leave feedback; they need a reason and you need to give them that reason. As a result, getting through the ‘first round’ is not the cakewalk you’d expect it to be. 15 copies of my title disappeared like hot cakes, and I had a real belief I was overtaking the other titles and would get through with ease, but I was wrong. After my preliminary efforts, only 3 more copies were reserved for the remaining three weeks, and I only had myself to blame for my lack of effort. I don’t see it as a failure because it gave me an excuse to ask for feedback on Kroll. More on that below…

Okay, so the positive

Inkitt do take on board writer feedback. Their contest rules, including prior and existing contests, have changed in response to writer feedback, which shows they are prepared to listen and adapt accordingly. Despite their supposed reliance on an objective algorithm, they aren’t uncompromising with writers.

During the contest, I was emailed to be informed I was given a second chance to build my readership when a ‘second round’ to the Story Peak Contest was going to be added, extending the contest. Inkitt also gave writers more control over who was allowed to reserve a copy, encouraging a system whereby only those who submit feedback/reviews would keep their copy. I welcomed this change because it meant writers could control their involvement in the contest and build reader loyalty. After all, 100 readers is the official aim of the contest, but reviews are the main goal of every writer and could well determine success if you manage to get your 100 readers and move to the second round.

Inkitt does provide a handy dashboard for analysing your analytics, and a promotion to-do list that points writers in the right direction to build a readership. It encourages you to succeed, and doesn’t discriminate (at least until the second round).

Whenever I asked Inkitt questions, the people responding would reply in a friendly and efficient manner, and were happy to address my issues. I was under the impression Inkitt were a writer-friendly company determined to adapt to succeed. Though some have doubted their publishing experience and background online, they have a drive to succeed by interacting with a multitude to writers and they seem to be catching on how to we think and responding positively to our needs by changing contest models.

Entering the contest was a worry for me at first. Do I upload my whole unpublished story? Is it wise to do that on a website I know so little about? However, it gave me the motivation to ask friends and family for feedback, and some were more than happy to be asked, for which I was thankful. In a publishing industry where there are no guarantees with book marketing, the simple goals of the contest gave me the push I needed to make an effort on my own behalf to get some reviews. Thanks Inkitt! I went into the contest with nobody having read more than a chapter of Kroll, and came out of the contest with over five people having read at least five chapters, if not the whole thing. It doesn’t sound vastly impressive for a writer, but considering Kroll: Magnificence is an unpublished story that I haven’t shared, I did feel I made reader connections with friends and that I came out of the contest with a sack (of reviews).

The negative parts

When you have your 100 readers, and hopefully, some well earnt good reviews, you advance to the next round where Inkitt will decide who gets published based on their algorithm/system for measuring reader engagement. ‘Algorithm’ can be off-putting for writers, who many mistrust exactly how Inkitt will perceive your story’s success to make it more of a success… Furthermore, it is a source of anxiety what will become of your story if you make it to the next round. Do you just sit tight and wait, and how long do you wait for? How will the second round be carried out? These questions are not answered on the Inkitt website.

Personally, I like to see a publishing company that specialises in certain types of books because it gives me the confidence that my story, and me as a writer, would fit with what the publisher stands for or publishes. Inkitt’s positive every-writer-is-welcome was nice, but if I was offered a publishing deal would I be convinced I was with the right people and company? In their contest description, they do imply they can act as a bridge between A-list publishers and writers, but there are no guarantees here. I’m sure the arrangement would work very well if your story has an exploding readership. Coupled with Inkitt’s promotion, it could work to your advantage. But if readers and reader engagement ebbs then you’re going to see the contest, or your efforts in promoting the contest, as being the main reasons you built a decent readership. I suppose in some ways it depends on the publishing contract and what they can do for you.

Some readers I was in communication with felt it was inconvenient to read from the Inkitt website, which is a problem that may be somewhat rectified once the Inkitt app has been released. Some also were put off by the idea of reading a whole story in approximately one month, but for the sake of a contest I don’t see how this feature could be improved.

On the Inkitt website, I had overlooked the fact that they imply that in a publishing contract you would give your rights to Inkitt, presumably instead of licensing them, and you would get them back if Inkitt didn’t sell 1000 books in twelve months. Some writers might be uncomfortable with this arrangement, but this is only if you are offered a publishing deal. To reiterate, you don’t surrender any rights by uploading your excerpt or your entire story onto the Inkitt website.

Overall verdict

The people who work at Inkitt are writer-friendly in that they listen to writers’ needs, change their contest models, and are happy to explain any issues with prompt replies. This gives me confidence and trust in their company. Their contests are amazing concepts for bringing readers towards their website, and therefore for fostering a future reading community, like Wattpad perhaps. Not only are the contests improving, but they keep targeting different types of readers, which is smart of them.

The people I reached out to were curious about Inkitt, and wanted to learn more. Writers end up being advocates for Inkitt in the hope they can translate this into advancement in the contest, and crucially, more feedback for their complete story.

If you’re looking for a fast way to gain new readers automatically, forget it! You must put in the time to promote your story and reach out to existing or new readers, even if you’re using Inkitt’s handy dashboard. Though it doesn’t state that the reader must read the entire story to write a review, I would recommend asking them to read the first five chapters, especially if they have to read on the Inkitt website.

What happens if you have 100 readers and some decent and positive feedback, after all your efforts? You might get a publishing deal with Inkitt, which might be a good thing, once you’ve seen what it entails and how they can help you reach even more readers. They do the editing, design, and even run the marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, more details or at least an FAQ section isn’t available to view, so I’d recommend to Inkitt that they write something to that effect. Their new website design states that they are a revolutionary literary agent, which is a well-considered angle, if they hope to pitch your story to A-list/traditional publishers, where your story would be published a second time and Inkitt would be the middle-man. If you trust Inkitt, they could work well as literary agents, but you need to be sure they can deliver as literary agents, who usually have a lot of connections and past experience in publishing or are members of an association. They also need to write why they are best placed to become your literary agent. At the moment, there is no guarantee that an A-list publisher would make an agreement with Inkitt, though they have done for past titles published by Inkitt (Bright Star by Erin Swan for example) as is currently visible in a slideshow on their website. As a writer I assumed popularity would interest A-list publishers, but exactly how much popularity is necessary? No, I’m sorry but we writers need more than just a “maybe” made clear to all of us. We need to know in detail what’s great about being published by Inkitt, what’s great about Inkitt as our literary agent, and what’s great about our chances of being published by an A-list publisher in terms of what they can do for us. It might give us writers more motivation to succeed in the contests.

http://www.inkitt.com

Kroll: Magnificence five-chapter excerpt on Inkitt

(If you liked this article, please consider reading my five-chapter excerpt of Kroll: Magnificence on Inkitt and providing me with feedback.)

“How to Get Published” at Bradford Literature Festival 2016

On Saturday 21st May, I went to the Bradford Literature Festival to attend a panel about How to Get Published. I got the impression that the idea of the festival was to reach out and encourage new voices in under-represented groups. Indeed, there appeared to be a diverse mix of people in the audience, and I gathered from the questions asked that many seemed to be unpublished writers. Overall the event was 1h15 minutes long and went smoothly.

On the panel were two authors: Nikesh Shukla and Michael Stewart, who was also moderating. There were two publishers: Lisa Milton, executive of HarperCollins Harlequin Division, and Kevin Duffy, founder of independent publisher Bluemoose Books.

Upon the commencement of the panel’s talk, it was difficult to hear some of the speakers at first, but after somebody complained this was no longer a noticeable issue. As can be expected there was a lot of advice about dealing with rejection. If I recall correctly, Michael Stewart said something on the lines of rejection being a good thing because it can strengthen your submission. I agree with this to an extent, but let’s face it most literary agents do not provide feedback on your submission. You’re left in the dark wondering why you were rejected; indeed there might not have been anything particularly wrong or unappealing about your submission; perhaps your idea was not right for the literary agent’s subjective tastes or they were looking for something else. It would have been interesting to hear scheduled speaker Nelle Andrew’s (literary agent from PetersFraserDunlop) opinion on this, but she was missing from the panel for some reason.

There was a bit of good-natured back and forth between independent publisher Kevin Duffy and traditional publisher Lisa Milton. It was not unexpected, and some of the exchanges did remind me a bit of Labour and Conservative at Question Time, but thankfully it wasn’t that annoying. Kevin Duffy asked Lisa Milton about whether money influenced which books she selected for publication, but she cleared this up quite well by insisting that publishers always have to make a case for every book they choose before approaching sales/marketing teams.

A female writer demanded to know why she had been rejected by Kevin Duffy, to which he supposedly replied, “It wasn’t my cup of tea”. There was good advice given to her about the importance of getting people you trust to give you honest and constructive criticism/feedback. It must have been tough to hear this from the panel, and the panel maybe jumped to conclusions about the type of writer the lady was because she had written her manuscript in such a short time, which might have been unfair (even if what they said were things a lot of writers need to hear). However, in the defence of new writers, what the panel didn’t state was how difficult it is because not every writer has a network of trusted friends who are prepared to read through an entire novel for them and give them honest feedback. Finding “trusted, reliable, and honest” people who are willing to go out of their way to spend time to help isn’t easy. Perhaps some more profound advice on this could have been given, other than directing us to the latest Writers and Artists Yearbook. Furthermore, once new writers have written a story, they are told repeatedly to look back through it, but to know how to do this you need to understand or research about writing craft. Just telling new writers to look at it again with fresh eyes might not be enough. They might need to read about revision, take courses, or begin similar professions.

This sparked a debate on making sure your writing is ready for submission. Nikesh Shukla was very vocal here, and much of what he said made a lot of sense and chimed well with my experience of writing: you’ve got to develop your idea and message, and understand your work to make sure that you know what you’ve written. I agreed with his points. It’s no good having nearly one-hundred thousand words on a page if you don’t understand the significance of what you have written, why it’s unique, or if your planning and research might not be expressed the way you intend it to be. At this point, Lisa Milton concurred with, “You’ve got to know your whole story, even before you write it”.

Part of the point of the event was intended to encourage new writers, and break the cycle of mainstream publishing where ethnic minorities and women are often excluded. One lady spoke up about whether an agent or publisher needs to know the gender of the writer, which just goes to show the fear that if you are a female writer then you might have less chance of being represented by an agent or published. I don’t think you need to explicitly state your gender in submissions, and if you have a name that is neutral it might help, even though sometimes literary agents and publishers insist on you using your real name. However, I believe you have more chance of securing an agent if you are able to convince them that you know your subject well, and for this you might have to include who you are, background expertise, or achievements. Understandably this means you don’t have to mention your gender, but the recipient of your submission will likely have enough information to know who you are. Yet this doesn’t mean I think you should go out of your way to hide your gender if the need arises! I’m not knowledgeable about the submission process for Bluemoose Books, but all of this is contrary to what Kevin Duffy said about his only having the information about the book upon which to judge submissions. Regarding ethnic minority under-representation, somebody in the audience complained that successful books from African, Asian, or Indian writers typically have to have a strong current of magic, mysticism, or an overly strong protagonist to be taken on board by publishers rather than if they would submit a story being from the point-of-view of an ordinary person.

Nikesh Shukla was strong on these arguments as well, insisting that unless people from the aforementioned groups submit to agents and become a part of the industry, rather than distancing themselves from it by seeing the books currently on shelves as unrepresentative of their writing and perspectives, then the cycle will continue with similar authors being published. Lisa Milton said she encourages writers from different backgrounds, which is nice to hear, but unless Lisa Milton is starting initiatives to help encourage unrepresented groups or unless HarperCollins has open submission periods, then I’m afraid little will change. That being said, it was still nice of her and the panel to make time to come to Bradford and for an appearance, which does enable transparency between what could be seen as the bottom and top of writing and publishing.

At the end of the event, most stragglers wanted to speak to Lisa Milton, which I wasn’t surprised at, being the executive of a traditional publisher. I didn’t have any pressing questions to ask the panel, but a few ladies approached me and handed out leaflets about a new publishing company (Dandylion Publishing) they have launched, for which they are looking for new writers. What I liked about them was the motivation and drive they had, competing for the writers, some of whom only had eyes for the panel.

I happily took a leaflet, and looked up the Dandylion Publishing website. It just goes to show that despite new perspectives on the traditional route to publication; Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, submitting to an agent, rejections; there are other ways to publish and get maybe get feedback if we are open-minded to book publishing as a whole. It would have been very interesting if the ladies of Dandylion Publishing had been on the panel, and to hear what they would have to say about improving writing and preparing material “good enough” for publication. I say this as well because, though Nikesh Shukla had experimented with crowdfunding, presumably his non-traditional route, most of the panel seemed to channel the conversation in the traditional submitting to an agent route, as if all writers had been thinking about that exact route.

There can be opportunities at such events for aspiring and existing authors.

(@s are on Twitter.com)

Bradford Literary Festival – @BradfordLitFest and bradfordliteraturefestival.co.uk

Dandylion Publishing – @DandylionReads – dandylionpublishing.co.uk

Kevin Duffy – @Ofmooseandmen

Bluemoosebooks.com

Lisa Milton – @Lmrhjb

Nikesh Shukla – @nikeshshukla

Michael Stewart – @headspam

Trinity by David Wind – 3/5 Stars

Trinity by David Wind

Today I’m reviewing the third book in epic fantasy series Tales of Nevaeh, a series which I’m a fan of. Please also see my reviews for the first and second books in the series by clicking on the links at the bottom.   

The third book in Tales of Nevaeh, David Wind’s Epic Fantasy series, focuses a lot more on magical realism by taking paranormal psychic warfare to the next step. This opened speculative possibilities about what would be real unless psychic-warrior partners Areenna and Mikaal took action to prevent the Dark Masters’ conquest of Nevaeh. This is made difficult by the fact that both Areenna and Mikaal become increasingly distrustful of The Eight sorceresses and other grand supposedly benevolent natural forces, who they must rely on to prevail. The Dark Masters know who Mikaal and Areenna are and plan to use their fondness for one another against them both. However, what the Masters’ don’t know is that there is a mysterious third person giving the psychic-warriors the edge in battle that could well thwart their conquest of Nevaeh.

As with Born to Magic, the first book, Areenna and Mikaal must contend with a witch; this time the witch’s (Lessig) background and relative importance as an evil rising power is made clear at the outset. I liked the visions provided by The Eight, which showed what would happen if Lessig was tackled in different ways. Trinity is split into two parts, Book One and Book Two, the latter being where the adventure really began for me and it did so with astounding revelation of Nevaeh’s past and present. The last 25% was rife with raw anticipation, as the final battle looms and strategy meets counter-strategy. Through third-person omniscient point-of-view and ever reliable mutant-animal aoutems such as the flying Gaalrie; we experience the glorious battles and impending fate of Nevaeh. The extremely well-conceived epic battle at the end had excellent build-up and delivery of outstanding writing.

Criticism: The language ‘I know not how’, though sounding authentic, was done a bit too often and gave a stilted effect. Some common themes slowed the progression of the plot: the movements of the numerous characters and the devotion between Areenna and Mikaal sometimes didn’t represent change in their relationship. Entering forests, discovering deception, and then aiming for a resolution repeated often. Admittedly this could be because this is the third book in this series I have read and the themes are becoming very familiar. Born to Magic #1 and Dark Masters #2 had evil coupled with great journeys of discovery, but I felt Trinity was a psychic game of chess until the battles commenced.

Overall, there was much in Trinity to applaud. There was revelation about the state of Nevaeh, and possibilities about what evil plans could befall it as the forces of good and evil prepare for a final clash. I immensely enjoyed the final battle, which is comparable in impact to the one at the culmination of the Lord of the Rings. My reservations about Trinity were because of its focus on psychic powers and preparation than on adventure. However, if you’re into this series as I am then there isn’t a compelling reason to not read Trinity.

Born to Magic by David Wind #1 – 5/5 Stars – Review

Dark Masters by David Wind  #2- 5/5 Stars – Review

Earth – Last Sanctuary by Christian Kallias – 5/5 Stars

Earth Last Sanctuary Christian Kallias
(Universe in Flames #1)

Earth — Last Sanctuary is the first in a science-fiction space-opera series where pilot Chase is the main protagonist and must use his incredible piloting and strategic improvisation to survive the decimation of the Star Alliance by the Obsidian Empire. The immediate parallel to make is with Star Wars, but don’t let the terms put you off, for there were many resonating influences that shaped Earth – Last Sanctuary: Independence Day, Star Trek Original Series (in that there was a protective moralist deity); and maybe there were ideas borrowed from the Serenity film or Farscape series.

I liked the moral thread running through the novel, of letting go of money, fame, and lust for power and to embrace foremost the development of the human race through technology. This ideology was a prerequisite for eliminating poverty, to cure illness, and save the environment. Its idea does stem from the basis of putting the needs of the many above the needs of the few, but the author delivered this new ideology in a convincing way.

My analysis was extremely positive. I loved the connection between characters Chase and Earth pilot Sarah Kepler and the way Alliance technology was introduced in a simple and yet absorbing way. It made perfect sense why the Alliance would be as developed economically and militarily when compared with what Chase sees as “human recreational activities”, which involve movies, sex, and food. In this way Earth seems to have prioritised the development of entertainment. Because Chase’s point-of-view showed he didn’t at first understand human indulgences, and for all his similarities to humans in language and appearance he was emotionally detached. This made me empathise with the author’s message, seeing the setting as a bridge that must be crossed for human and humanoid happiness.

Minor criticism: there were a few instances in the final space battle that were reminiscent of the attack on the Death Star in Star Wars A New Hope, and a single line “They’re up to something, I can feel your presence now”, made me think I knew where the series was going, however the author dispelled such notions at the end.

The dogfights were astounding, the space battle strategy imaginative, and there was a conceivable chance either side, Alliance or Empire, could have prevailed. There were easily relatable characters, a writing style that makes otherwise complex terms easy to digest and understand. Some of the writing, especially when Aphroditis spoke, was so impassioned, I felt the words speak to the soul, the writing was that powerful. It was as if I was there! Don’t turn Earth – Last Sanctuary down if you see it anywhere. Actually, if you’re reading this review, download or order it now and begin reading. You won’t regret it.

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves – 5/5 Stars

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves by Jesse Baruffi

Vigorously entertaining science-fiction super-villain adventure parody that may at first seem like a cross between Naked Gun and Austin Powers, but with a serious and strong plot. In his astounding debut novel, author Jesse Baruffi shows us the ridiculous and far-fetched way heroes are presented, as inordinately stupid supermen who can brush any affliction aside and who mindlessly fight for democracy and freedom, defying natural laws, and of course being unfaithful to their girlfriends!

We have Otto Von Trapezoid, a mad scientist supervillain who is emotionally stunted and has a short temper that sometimes leads to inadequacy and poor short-term decisions. Otto’s personality archetype exaggerates the problems scientists cause when they don’t think while at the same time possessing devastating weaponry. There’s Esmerelda, a master thief who has comical martial arts reflexes, being more concerned with style and appearance, and she has a hilarious disregard for incongruity. While Otto must decide between emotions and drones, Esmerelda must contend with her nasty family.

When the villians meet during a particularly memorable dinner, it is to have a civilised conversation, while of course plotting to end one another’s lives. Otto’s failed attempts were funny because he was so agitated and awkward that he missed his mark and managed to casually thwart Esmerelda’s attempts to do away with him. The protagonist point-of-view focus was well-balanced as we see the developing enmity between both, and the story develops with amusing and crucial incidents that cover betrayal and of course their run—in with Jake Indestructible (no introduction necessary). The villains were imaginatively created; mirrors that deflect projectiles, remote controlled boomerang, ROPE (rocket-operated punching explosive), etc. The villains were not overly negative and when they were treacherous it was artfully done, not cynically, and splashed with inventive humour. Though the main traitor was obvious much earlier in the novel, the scenes were delivered with excitement and energy. There’s a serious adventure beneath the puns, jargon, and mocked clichés that is a battle between good and evil where the reader never really switches sides.

Criticism: I didn’t get all of the humour, or why some sub-characters were presented in the ridiculous way they were, such as Otto’s parents. It’s clear many of the jokes were about exaggeration, and as I continued to read and the main plot developed, I must have got used to the style and found much of it humorous. Also, I thought the distrust between Otto and Esmerelda wasn’t fully explored, even if they did occasionally question each other’s secrecy or motives.

Overall, you do not need to understand all the humour to experience this wildly entertaining read that glues our perceptions of heroes and villains into something original, compelling, humorous, layered, and with a plot that continued to evolve at just the right pace. Astounding!

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves on Goodreads

Shadow of a Dead Star by Michael Shean – 5/5 Stars

Shadow of a Dead Star by Michael Shean

Shadow of a Dead Star is science-fiction cyberpunk, set in a future America called Wonderland, where over-reliance on dark technology fuels society, and sexual and materialistic fantasies are prevalent. Commercial status even determines human rights: the population of Seattle is divided between poverty-ridden Old City, the tumultuous Verge, and the dazzling New City; where lights, advertisements, and simulations overload the senses. I was fully immersed in the opening scenes and the author’s technology of the future was concise and clear. There was no room for ambiguity. After 17%, the writing breaks free from minor rigidity, and then the investigation unfolds with tension.

Federal Agent Walken is the exception, or so he believes; he’s a man of flesh who distrusts the widespread implicit faith in machines. Walken must investigate a case of Princess Dolls, little girls modified into sex toys, a practice that infuriates him. When the Princess Dolls are hijacked, Walken is ordered to investigate dubious sources to trace their location. However, he must work alongside “Civilian” Protection (CivPro) officers: who are unsympathetic and uncooperative because corporate interests masquerade behind most civil and public services. All Walken has is his instincts; and they haven’t let him down yet… I easily sympathised with Walken’s remarkable point-of-view, and liked his tough-guy persona.

Shadow of a Dead Star is a terrifying glimpse into a world where individual independence and initiative has been made obsolete: doors with no handles; administrative workers physically connected to the machines they use; and soldier helmets with view-screens instead of visors. Body “branding” is commonplace. Indeed, faith in machines is absolute to the extent that Walken sees himself alone, apart, and distinct from everybody. For readers worried about the rapid technological invasion in the information age, Shadow of a Dead Star reads like a political statement: cyberpunk realism if you like. Expect a few familiar cyberpunk elements, such as brain-riding (hacking), virtual reality, and an “underground” movement. Many of the main and sub-characters appeared typical of cyberpunk, but with relief the author fast-forwards past all pretence.

The sudden injection of first-person thriller action in the latter half kept me enthralled; it was like a first-person shooter video-game. Don’t expect an average plotline either. Just when you think it’s going to lapse into predictability, it takes a sci-fi/horror twist that is so “out-there” that I was horrified, stunned, and yet fascinated because the conclusion made perfect sense. Shadow of a Dead Star concluded but it didn’t fully end, which is something that will no doubt be cleared up in the sequel. Overall, what an experience! What was life like before this meteor-impact of a novel?

Dark Masters (Tales of Nevaeh 2) by David Wind – 5/5 Stars

Dark Masters by David Wind
Dark Masters is an epic fantasy adventure sequel set in Nevaeh, the future of Earth’s western civilisation. It’s about young psychic-warriors Areenna and Mikaal, whose quest to save Nevaeh can only be achieved by a perilous passage to the Frozen Mountains to learn of an ancient secret. Much of Dark Masters followed a similar formula to its prequel Born to Magic, where Areenna and Mikaal are hunted by unseen or not easily perceived dark forces. These forces test their magical and physical defences, attempting to delay their quest long enough for the Dark Masters to invade. On their adventure, doubts about their abilities and purpose will surface, the most remarkable being why Mikaal has the psychic abilities of women.

In comparison with Born to Magic: David Wind has an increasingly strong grasp of Areena and Mikaal, their emotional and psychic connection, as well their role. High King Roth and High Queen Enaid were included, which was comfortingly familiar and also pleasingly different because they were thrust more often into the plot and action. I liked the greater focus on aouteums, which are like animals that have magical bonds with psychics and are telepathically communicated to, sometimes with an ‘asking’ for requests. It was a clever idea, and warmed them to me. There were some stylish sword-fighting scenes and skirmishes against enemy pawns. I especially liked the magical clashes between good and evil, which were visually atmospheric and convincing. Yet, I would have liked a bit more of this action throughout. Perhaps more so than Born to Magic, I found Dark Masters to have more emphasis on symbolism, with actual symbols and prophetic fore-tellings. In a way, I interpreted it as being that while religious extremism can be a pervasive force of evil, belief systems can unite the ‘good’ Nevaens through ancestry, common purpose, and tradition. Sometimes the storyline captured me so fully, that I forgot of its link to modern-day terrorism and extremism. The author must be applauded for a series of tales that read like they actually happened; they’re that believable!

When the reader learns more about the Dark Masters and of the origins of Nevaeh, the writing and adventure becomes absolutely sensational. As a reader, I was swept into the battle, and there was magic galore. David Wind sets a spectacular final scene, tying the characters, plot, battle, and the greater truth of Nevaeh into a solid, pulse-pounding finale.