Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Hidden Face by S.C. Flynn

Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another.
That, right there, is an ambitious opening to a cover blurb. It promises BIG things, with a mythology that doesn't just color the world, but which dominates it. It's risky, and I likely would have passed, were it not for the fact that I'd beta read the first 100 pages earlier this year, unencumbered by the blurb.

Having said all that, The Hidden Face (the first book of the Fifth Unmasking) does live up to its blurb. S.C. Flynn has crafted an historical fantasy that is as innovative as it is exciting. He establishes a culture that is just familiar enough to be accessible, but enhanced with a wealth of little details that make it all his own. Similarly, the mythology (and the accompanying history) is absolutely fascinating, so much so that there were times I almost chafed against being drawn back to the story.

At its heart, this is something of a quest fantasy, complete with riddles and puzzles that challenge the reader almost as much as they do the characters. I hate to make the comparison but, yes, this is like a fantasy version of The Da Vinci Code, by way of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, taking us through hidden rooms, mysterious tombs, and forgotten corners of the empire. It's prophecy-heavy stuff, which may turn off some readers, but it doesn't feel cheap or overused here - it's an aspect of the mythology that just fits. It's also a book that's heavy on dialogue and exposition, but that aspect is necessary to the solving of the mysteries. For every reader who might complain there's too much talking through puzzles, I am sure there'd be two more who would complain it all came too easily if we didn't have visibility to those thought processes.

In terms of characters, the rivalry between Dayraven and Astolf is a driving force behind the story, right from the opening pages, but there is a solid backstory to their shared animosity. I took a little longer to warm up to Sunniva, more because it was so clear that she and Dayraven were 'meant' to be together than anything to do with her, but she is a kick-ass heroine who grows as the story races along. The Twister, however, is one of my favorite characters (next to, perhaps, Malombra), and definitely the most intriguing. He is clearly damaged goods (if not outright mad), with a weirdly erotic sort of power fixation on his hump, but he's one of those characters who make you smile every time they step onto the page.

Although there are some dark themes and some violent scenes, The Hidden Face is a fun read that has something new and unique around every corner. I might have liked a little more clarity in the world building, and remain immensely curious about its mythology, but I loved the puzzles, and the characters were what kept me reading.

ebook, First, 350 pages
Published November 25th 2017 by The Hive

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dagon Reviews The Hidden Face by S. C. Flynn

Today’s post is written by Dagon, head of the Clovian dynasty, who were once emperors of Faustia. Here he is, as first shown in “The Hidden Face”:

Dagon, head of the Clovian dynasty, looked out over the moonlit hills and ran his twisted fingernails over the gold bees stitched into his robe, enjoying the scraping sound. A light breeze ruffled his long hair. His hand rested on a golden bull’s head standing on a table next to him. The world outside was peaceful for now. One day, there would be war again, before a long-lasting peace: the peace of the Second Clovian Empire.

The voices of his ancestors rang in his ears yet again. Always the same questions. When? When? How much longer must we wait?

‘It will not be long now,’ Dagon said. ‘The power that was once yours will soon be ours again.’

So you always say. Yet still we wait. No one deserves the favour of the Sigel more than us.

And here is Dagon’s view on the novel:

Yes, there will be war before our peace, but I, Dagon of the Clovians, must condemn this story.

A book of thieves written by a lover of thieves.

My ancestors are outraged by this book, and rightly so. It focuses almost entirely on the thief emperor Calvo and his followers, with our dynasty given only a minor role.

The Sigel chose us to rule. No one can change this.

As the ancestors say, the sun god chose us centuries ago to rule the Faustian empire. The thief Calvo’s father stole the throne from us, but the Sigel will restore us to our proper place. The next book will no doubt show our return to power, but this one spends too much time on the adventures, love lives and mystery solving of other characters. Some may find all this exciting and intriguing, but we wish only to see the story of our eventual victory.

A book without respect for us and our past.

We also hate the depiction of an ancestor’s tomb for the entertainment of readers. The magical objects, star charts and piles of golden bees are presented to satisfy the curious, without regard for our traditions; to present these things to the masses is desecration.

Our time will come again.

When the throne is ours, the emperor thief Calvo and his supporters will pay the price.


About the Author

S. C. Flynn was born in a small town in South West Western Australia. He has lived in Europe for a long time; first the United Kingdom, then Italy and currently Ireland, the home of his ancestors. He still speaks English with an Australian accent, and fluent Italian.

He reads everything, revises his writing obsessively and plays jazz. His wife Claudia shares his passions and always encourages him.

S. C. Flynn has written for as long as he can remember and has worked seriously towards becoming a writer for many years.

THE HIDDEN FACE is his second novel and the first book in the Fifth Unmasking series.

S. C. Flynn blogs at www.scflynn.com. He is on Twitter @scyflynn and on Facebook.

Join his email list to receive exclusive advance notice of new releases and offers.


About the Book

by S. C. Flynn

A face without a face - an unmasking that leaves the mask.

Once every few hundred years, the sun god, the Akhen takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal death of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a warrior woman named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

Powerful enemies want the secret as well, including a dynasty of magician-kings who were thought to have died out long before, a mad, murderous hunchback and a beautiful, deadly woman who is never seen. Sunniva and Dayraven fight to survive and to solve the mystery while their own pasts come back to life and the attraction between them deepens.

The Hidden Face is a fantasy mystery drenched in the atmosphere of the Early Middle Ages and in Kabbalistic riddles, and is the first book in the Fifth Unmasking series.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Fantasy Review: Helen's Daimones by S.E. Lindberg

The Dyscrasia novels by S.E. Lindberg are deep, intricate reads that harken back to the pulp days of Lovecraft, Howard, and others. They are heavy with words, stories that exist as much in the telling as they do in story. These are reads that are not to be glossed over or skimmed, but carefully digested, and with your full attention. Rush through it, and you'll not only miss the details, but the nuances that define it.

The third book to be released, but the second in the series (chronologically), Helen's Daimones is actually a "gateway novella" that can be read first. There's a trippy kind of logic there, and if you can appreciate it, you'll have no problem with the read.

Lindberg's first two Dyscrasia novels were defined by their ideas, their themes, and the overall mythology. This is no different. The characters, while fascinating, tend to be a little too cold and too harsh to be easily relatable. While the focus on children this time out makes the story a little more accessible, it also makes the story an even more difficult read, especially when the ghosts of murdered children step to the forefront.

What this chapter did for me was breathe real life (no pun intended) into Lord Lysis. He becomes a sympathetic character here, especially in his encounter with a tragic young woman (buried alive so many years ago), the ghosts of her children (hung for their corruption), and their army of dolls (crazy, dangerous dolls). He's still a monster, a fearfully powerful being, but he's also a personality here. As for Doctor Grave, he was already a full-fledged character, but he becomes a little more chilling here as new layers of mystery leave us to question his deeper motives.

Helen's Daimones is weird fantasy, weirdly told, for weird readers. As the strongest of the three stories to date, it makes for a great introduction to Lindberg's world, and creates more than enough interest for a fourth entry.

Paperback, 214 pages
Published September 29th 2017 by IGNIS Publishing LLC

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fantasy Review: Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Having had a few days to reflect on it and collect my thoughts, I am still of two minds regarding Oathbringer, the 3rd massive tome of Brandon Sanderson's epic Stormlight Archive. There is a significant change of focus here, both in terms of characters and storytelling, and while parts of it worked very well for me - extraordinarily well, in fact - others fell flat or just felt tedious.

For starters, this volume belongs to Dalinar and Shallan, resigning Kaladin (my favorite character from the first two books) to the background. In Dalinar's case, it turned out to be a surprisingly rewarding change, with extended flashback chapters that expose his darker, far more violent past, and which shed new light on his actions and attitudes over the first two books. We come to see him in an entirely new light, with a contrast between personalities so jarring that it's often painful to watch. Part of that is due to the presence of his wife, a woman whose name and face have been a gaping hole in his memories for so long, and part of that hinges on his pursuit of The Thrill, which made something of a monster of the man. Outside those flashbacks, his story is rather slow, full of politics and philosophical discussions that really weigh down the first half of the book, but they do lead us to some incredible revelations regarding the magic and mythology of the Desolation, the Voidbringers, the Heralds, Honorblades, spren, and more.

In Shallan's case, while we get a lot more action and some genuine character development, I found her to be a rather tiresome character. It's a shame, because there is so much potential within her, especially with how her various roles and guises begin to bleed through to one another. Her personality just rubs me the wrong way, and even scenes that should be sweet or amusing come across as bland tripe. It doesn't help that a significant aspect of her character arc is completely undone in this volume, a revelation that I guess we should have seen coming, but which struck me as a cheap way of restoring conflict to her role. It's much-needed conflict, and does make her a little more interesting, but not enough to justify her page count. The only redeeming grace is her spren, Pattern, who never ceases to trigger my amusement and curiosity.

Although it is Dalinar and Shallan who dominate the novel, I would also argue this is a story of minor characters taking on major significance. It's hard to talk about that significance without spoiling any aspects of the story, but characters like Renarin, Moash, and others get a chance to shine, and what happens to or around them is sometimes the most fascinating part of the story. Bridge Four has an important role to play here once again as well, but - for me, at least - their scenes just emphasize how far Kaladin is from the center of the story this time out.

Oathbringer marks a lull in the series, but it's an important lull. As much as we may chafe against the pacing and the character point of views, we finally get answers . . . and we get a lot of them. So much of what was hidden or hinted at in the first two books is exposed here. We get answers, we get mythology, and we finally get some wider sense of world-building. It is here that the story begins to move away from the epic saga of ruling dynasty, and into the epic saga of a world on the brink of extinction. Having said all that, the last arc of the book is vintage Sanderson and well worth sticking around for. All the book's flaws are forgiven as all the threads come together and we realize, in hindsight, just how and why so many little things were significant. The final three-hundred pages (a novel on its own for most authors) are all climax, and they are some of the finest that Sanderson has ever written.

So, not a perfect book, and probably the first time I really noticed the page count in a negative way, but I'm glad I had the time to linger over it, take my time, and digest it along the way. And, of course, I remain just as excited for the next installment.

Hardcover, 1248 pages
Published November 14th 2017 by Tor Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Horror Review: The Rest Will Come by Christina Bergling

A black comedy, with moments of bloody horror, The Rest Will Come is an interesting read. It is really two novels in one, which presents something of a challenge (depending on your reading tastes), but Christina Bergling is a strong enough writer to nudge us from one genre to another.

The story starts out strong with a date gone wrong, an accidental murder, and some authentic post-traumatic panic. We immediately get a sense of Emma as a likable young woman, caught in a bad situation, who reacted in an unfortunate manner.

After that chilling opening, however, the story shifts gears into contemporary romantic drama. We flashback to Emma's wedding, the dissolution of her marriage, the support of her best friend, and the agonies of electronic dating. All of that is well-written, further establishing Emma's character, and setting us up for her impending emotional break, but it takes a long time to play out. A very long time. I'll be honest, I started to lose patience with that aspect of the story, and I really feel the book would be better served by cutting about half of it.

Fortunately, patience is rewarded, and the story kicks into high gear once it finally circles around to reconnect with the opening, taking us through Emma's anxious drive home, the dismemberment of her date, and the disposal of the body. It's bloody, grisly stuff, but as the dates continue, psychological horror gives way to the black humor of the ultimate revenge fantasies. It's a guilty pleasure the rest of the way through, especially when Emma finds a guy foolish enough to hike up a mountain for a first date campout. After far too many easy murders, things finally hit a snag, and that's when we stop wondering about Emma and start worrying.

The prolonged romantic drama at its heart may test some reader's patience, but it is worth sticking around, because (as promised) The Rest Will Come. As for the ending, I suspected something along those lines was coming, but it was just about perfect.

Kindle Edition, 276 pages
Published August 8th 2017 by Limitless Publishing LLC

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Run for It by Christina Bergling (Guest Post)

You need to start running. Now.

I know. I know. I can hear you already. I hate running. I only run if something is chasing me. Running is stupid. Why don’t you go f—

I am not trying to improve your health or lower your blood pressure. I am not concerned with how clogged your arteries are or how many hours you spend stagnant on the couch. I am coming at this from a horror perspective.

In a horror situation, one of two things is happening:

1. You are fleeing a killer.
2. You are becoming the killer.

In both scenarios, you need to be running. How do you think the horror greats like Michael and Jason outwalk their frantic and desperate victims? I guarantee it is not by spending forty hours a week lashed to a chair in front of a computer. These determined killers are hitting the cardio. They are running. And whether you are trying to get away or trying to keep up, you need to be running too.

Now, let’s say you’re a traditionalist, just an innocent person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most likely a randy teenager just trying to explore your base instincts in an opportunistic scenario. Welcome to the victim pool. As potential carnage candy, running is the most important to you.

This killer is motivated. Regardless if you have personally wronged them or not, they are not going to rest until you are no longer breathing, which means neither can you. In fact, your odds of survival increase if you do have a personal relationship with the killer. Final survivors are rarely just bystanders.

So, you say you only run if something is chasing you? I say something is about to be chasing you. You cannot rely on adrenaline alone to spirit you off into survival. You might get a good burst, but in the third and fourth encounter with the killer, those bags of potato chips on the couch will start to betray you.

It is time to be proactive. Run now to live later. Not because it makes you healthy but because it is your only chance at escaping a motivated killer in a horror scenario.

But, wait. No. You’re not the victim type. You are not simply lolling through life, oblivious to the threats all around you. You are the threat. You are a bottomless pit of shapeless rage and angst that grows darker as all the small infractions of the world heap upon you.

You feel like there is only one answer: murder.

Yet you can’t just go around killing people. I mean, who does that? Aside from the moral implications, there is so much surveillance these days. How would you even get away with it? Better to not even tempt fate.

So how to you deal with all this pent-up rage and frustration? How do you cope?

Start running.

Yes, my friends, endorphins are an amazing thing. That miserable death sensation you get as you slug your legs beneath you is only temporary. Once you push yourself to the brink of physical hell, you discover an intoxicating and rolling high on the other side. Run enough and you can alter your very brain chemistry, harness your demons, find a new and “healthy” obsession.

Every time your boss pisses you off at work, do not bash him in the head with a stapler. Go for a run. Every time your spouse fails to appreciate your housework, do not stab him with a kitchen knife. Go for a run. At this rate, you could run yourself into a half marathon by the end of a year.

Run, run, run. Until it becomes therapy. And then until it becomes normal, the effects numbed by familiarity, leaving you back with that nagging urge under your skin.

Who are we kidding? Running is not enough to quench murderous ideation. It surely did not work for Emma in The Rest Will Come, but you had to try. Conveniently, you are already conditioned for chasing those irritating little survivors from all the runs when you tried to outrun your true self.

As an active killer, you have to commit though. Not only do you need to be able to chase down virile teenagers sprinting for their lives, but you have to make it look effortless. You can’t be panting and slobbering and puking while your intended victims are trying to figure out how to cut off your head. Nothing is scary about an assailant bested by cardio.

So, let’s face it. The horror scenario is coming. You are going to be a victim running for your life or a blossoming killer running to stay sane and without trespass who ultimately becomes the killer chasing down victims. All roads lead to running. So, lace up those shoes and get out there.


About the Author

Colorado‐bred writer, Christina Bergling knew she wanted to be an author in fourth grade.

In college, she pursued a professional writing degree and started publishing small scale. It all began with “How to Kill Yourself Slowly.”

With the realities of paying bills, she started working as a technical writer and document manager, traveling to Iraq as a contractor and eventually becoming a trainer and software developer.

She avidly hosted multiple blogs on Iraq, bipolar, pregnancy, running. She continues to write on Fiery  Pen: The Horror Writing of Christina Bergling and Z0mbie Turtle.

In 2015, she published two novellas. She is also featured in the horror collections Collected Christmas Horror Shorts, Collected Easter Horror Shorts, Collected Halloween Horror Shorts, and Demonic Wildlife.

Her latest novel, The Rest Will Come, was released by Limitless Publishing in August 2017. Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado Springs. She spends her non‐writing time running, doing yoga and barre, belly dancing, taking pictures, traveling, and sucking all the marrow out of life.


About the Book

The Rest Will Come
by Christina Bergling

Murder can be risky...and not just for the douchebags on the business end of Emma’s power saw.

Men only let Emma down. They cheat, and they lie. They send unsolicited pictures of their genitals. Ready to give up hope, Emma decides to go on one last date. Then it finally happens—she finds the thing she loves most of all.

Killing clueless jerks she finds on the internet.

Lost in a happy haze of hunting her victims, devising increasingly-clever killings, and streamlining her dismemberment process, Emma gets careless.

As her need for her murderous outlet grows, she runs an increasing risk of getting caught...or worse—falling for one of her victims.

Murder might be her one true love...

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Can't Wait Wednesday - Hellraiser: The Toll by Mark Alan Miller

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

Hellraiser: The Toll by Mark Alan Miller
Expected publication: February 28, 2018 by Subterranean Press

Hellraiser: The Toll tells the story of what happened between Clive Barker’s iconic works The Hellbound Heart and its follow up, The Scarlet Gospels.

Thirty years after Kirsty Cotton escaped from the clutches of the Hell Priest, Pinhead, and lived to fight another day, her life has never been the same. Every few years she fashions a new name, a new identity, and a new home for herself; She is a woman who is running from her past at all costs, which is why it comes as such a surprise when she receives a mysterious letter in the mail, addressed to the woman she’s been running from over half her life.

Answering the letter’s query, she begins a descent down a rabbit hole to the ultimate confrontation. Her actions stir something unnamable in the ether, and throw her into a game where nothing—not even what she sees in front of her very eyes—can be trusted.

With equal parts economy and eloquence, author Mark Alan Miller brings to life the beginning of the end as The Toll expands the Hellraiser universe, and shows that before Harry D’Amour’s adventures in The Scarlet Gospels, there was a first witness to Pinhead’s infernal plan.

Although it's only 96 pages, it's a new Hellraiser novella with a story and illustrations by Barker himself, written by Miller, who has definite history with Barker's works, most recently with Clive Barker's Next Testament: A novel (which I am still pining for).