The Baen Big Book of Monsters

For our current book spotlight, I’m going big. It’s hard not to love stories about giant monsters. Seeing this recent rekindling of interest in them has made me a very happy man. THE BAEN BIG BOOK OF MONSTERS, edited by Hank Davis, is a terrific anthology that collects a bunch of classic giant monster stories from legends in the fields of speculative fiction and adds in a handful of new stories from current authors like Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt…and Steven Diamond.

Wait, what? Maybe you are wondering if you read that right.

You totally did.

That’s me, baby. I managed to get accepted into this anthology. I’m super excited.

What this means is that I can’t review the collection. I’ll have someone else here at EBR do that eventually. But I couldn’t help but draw attention to this anthology. I’ve had a number of stories published in small press anthologies, but this is my first published large press story. It’s a big huge deal to me. And since I have a measure of control over EBR, I’m totally going to abuse it for a bit.

In all seriousness, I’m extremely proud of my story, and I’m beyond thrilled to have been added to the Table of Contents. Just go look at who is there. Holy crap, but it’s still a bit surreal to me. Hopefully those of you that read the collection feel that I’ve added to its awesomeness. If not, well, the rest of the anthology is absolutely killer. And I must say, working with the folks at Baen was a pleasure.
So yeah. Go grab it. Tell me what you think.


Kyra wants to kill the princess.

There was even an attempt, but she missed with her poison dart, and now she’s on the run from the king’s soldiers. She wants to finish the job, but the princess has gone into hiding and Kyra needs the rest of the poison potion she made at her old apartment where her former business partners still live.
Did I mention the princess used to be Kyra’s best friend? 

POISON by Bridget Zinn is about a 16-year-old young woman whose latent magical ability warns her about the death of the land after the marriage of the princess to her betrothed. Now Kyra’s set on killing her best friend, because if she doesn’t then the kingdom is in danger. She seeks the help of the local crime boss, who gives her help to find the princess.

That introduction doesn’t make this book sound like the super cute book that it is. Until you learn that the crime boss gives Kyra a piglet with the special ability to find anyone she’s tasked to find. Kyra puts up with the little thing because it’s a means to an end. Little does she count for becoming attached as well as meeting a new friend along the way, handsome Fred from the next kingdom over who’s out to explore for the fun of it. Kyra’s PoV narrative is snarky and adorable in equal terms as she comes to realize things about herself. Fred (and later on Princess Ari) are fun additions to Kyra’s circle, and watching them interact with each other was entertaining.

We follow Kyra as she traipses across the kingdom to find the princess, and in the process we learn the back history behind their friendship, Kyra’s love of potions (and why she chose it over her magic), and the perception of magic in the kingdom (no wonder she prefers potions).  Zinn breadcrumbs much of the story, we’re left in the dark on a lot of things at first, and we have to be patient to find out what’s really going on; at least we don’t get annoying infodumps. There are some plot holes and inconsistencies, the forest Kyra moves through is typical fantasy setting, and the magic isn’t groundbreaking–but the quick pacing allows readers to gloss over those problems, which I suspect the target audience won’t notice anyway.

The best part was that Zinn didn’t take the story (mostly) in a predictable direction, and I was pleasantly surprised with how the story resolved itself. If your Middle Grade girls enjoyed books like ELLA ENCHANTED, then POISON is another fun book to read.

Recommended Age: 10+ (mostly for girls I’m guessing)
Language: None
Violence: A couple of scenes but they lack detail
Sex: A kiss and some teenage crushing

The Archived

When people die their memories and experiences are archived  in a special library that few people know about. But sometimes those memories wake up, the restless and violent kind especially, and someone has to return them.

That’s where Mackenzie Bishop comes in.

Four years ago, when Mackenzie was twelve, her grandfather introduced her to the Archive, where the people’s Histories are stored, to learn about the job of a Keeper and take his place. She’s spent the years since his death doing just that, finding Histories assigned to her by the Librarians at the Archive and returning them to their rest.

Mackenzie keeps this part of her life secret from her parents, and she has to be careful how she lies; so life goes on normally whether it’s convenient to her or not. Her parents decide to move to the Coronado, an old hotel converted to apartments, where her mother dreams of re-opening the main floor coffee shop. But old buildings often have a story to tell, and it doesn’t take her long to discover the murder that occurred in her apartment over fifty years ago.

You can tell from page one that Victoria Schwab has a deft command for prose and storytelling. It was easy to imagine the Coronado, Mackenzie’s relationship with her parents, her relationship with her grandpa, and how she views her responsibility as a Keeper. We learn early on that her little brother Ben died in a tragic accident recently and her loss still affects her and her parents. Mackenzie loved her brother so much she tries to get the Librarians  in the Archive to let her see him, but it’s forbidden, and some of the Librarians disapprove of her as a result. Her PoV narration is easy to read and succinct, and it isn’t hard to understand her motives.

But the mystery of the Coronado is bigger than wondering about the murder of a girl all those years ago. Suddenly more and more Histories are showing up, someone is removing parts of sleeping Histories’ memories, and the Archive itself is in turmoil. This isn’t normal, someone is doing this, but who? She finds an ally in newfound friend Wesley, but her Librarian advocate Roland insists she not tell anyone what’s she knows for her own safety and theirs. All these lies are starting to catch up with her.

The pace starts out slowly at first and takes its time building, until about the final third of the book when things really get going and I finally got sucked in to the story. There are a few blips in the narrative where Schwab’s succinct prose works against itself and becomes terse enough that I had a hard time following character movement/placement. But that’s a minor complaint compared to the story as a whole, which was interesting and fun to read.

Schwab slowly reveals the inner workings of the Archive and the roles of Keeper, Crew, and Librarian. As a Keeper, Mackenzie inherits the ability to read the history of things, places, and people–all she has to do is touch it. Unfortunately this means even touching her own parents means being inundated with thoughts and feelings. There’s also the ability to see the doors that lead to the Narrows and the Archive, and she has a key to these doors given to her by her grandfather. Schwab keeps the world-building pretty straightforward, and it’s through the mystery of the Coronado that we learn more about the magic of the Archive and those involved in the History inherent in people when they die. I was still left with a few questions by the end, but I suspect they are the kinds of questions that will be answered in book 2.

Recommended Age: 12+, although the boys probably won’t like the kissing parts
Language: None
Violence: A fair amount throughout, Mackenzie must struggle with Histories that don’t want to be returned
Sex: Teenage kissing and hormones

Honor’s Knight

After the exciting events from FORTUNE’S PAWN (EBR review), Devi has found herself without a partner and several of her recent memories. It drives her crazy that she can’t remember what happened when Cotter died, or why her fingers sometimes turn black, or why little blue critters appear on the ship that others can’t see. But she’s determined to not let any of that stop her from doing a good job. She doesn’t want to give Caldswell a single excuse to dump her at the next available space station.
Devi helps hire Cotter’s replacement, an old pro named Rashid whose gear and experience seems too good to be true. But the idea of having someone with those qualifications at her back is too hard for Devi to turn down. As they work together, despite his professionalism Devi can’t help but wonder about some of the inconsistencies of Rashid’s story.

But she doesn’t have time to worry about Rashid between the ship’s unusual destinations, attacks by mercenaries, and a strange revulsion to the ship’s cook–while at the same time compelled to be with him. The strangest of all is being attacked by a giant space squid (you know, the kind that can destroy planets) that no one else but Devi can see. And with that knowledge everything changes.
As in book 1, the pace moves quickly, the story told from Devi’s PoV. The prose is as succinct as before, and we learn more about our characters and the universe in which they live. All the hardship Devi went through in FORTUNE increases ten-fold in HONOR’S KNIGHT. After spending the first quarter of the novel with her memories gone (a part of the plot I didn’t understand the purpose of; and even though it was explained, it still felt unnecessary and overwrought), she justly feels betrayed when said memories are returned to her. But there’s a reason why Caldswell returns her memories. During her fight on the dying xith’cal tribe ship she was bitten by a plagued alien and now she carries a virus that may save the universe.

Now Devi must decide whether she feels betrayed enough by Rupert and Caldswell to join the enemy or if she should trust their plans. Either way she may need to work closely with the savage xith’cal in order to figure out how to use her plague to save the universe from other invisible space squids. I feel sorry for her, things only get worse and worse. Of course that makes for a compelling story as she tries to figure out who she can trust and where she should go and how (if) she can control the plague raging inside her body. Here the story gets circular and there were times where I didn’t understand why Bach took the character/plot the direction she did–really Devi stays clueless for too long. But like some Urban Fantasy I’ve read (I mentioned in the FORTUNE’S PAWN review that I thought it had more an UF feel than a military SciFi feel) the pace moves quickly and the main character is compelling enough that I’m willing to not be nitpicky.
The ending is exciting and kicks up the stakes so high I don’t know where the series is going for book 3, HEAVEN’S QUEEN, so I for sure want to read it and find out.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Very little
Violence: Devi is a little bloodthirsty, she likes guns and shooting people, and when she can’t shoot people she uses her thermite sword
Sex: Referenced

Soda Pop Soldier

As an Advertising/Public Relations major and a lifelong gamer, Nick Cole’s SODA POP SOLDIER immediately appealed to me. The premise of the novel revolves around professional matches being waged online over choice advertising real estate in the real world. Told from the first-person perspective by a character known only by the gamer tag PerfectQuestion, SODA POP SOLDIER is pitched as Call of Duty meets Diablo. The gaming segments of the novel deliver on the action packed promise of the book’s description. Unfortunately the sections of the book that take place in the real world lack the same punch.

I appreciate the respect for video games that Nick Cole brought to the writing of this novel. You can always tell when someone writes about games and has no real understanding of them. WarWorld, the Call of Duty‘esque game at the forefront of the novel comes across as the ultimate First Person Shooter, with a level of environmental destruction to marvel at. The battles are so large and dynamic that you can’t help but wish to play them. One of my favorite parts of the novel happens early on, when PerfectQuestion is tasked with obtaining a special bioweapon…a crossover marketing event to create hype for the reboot of James Cameron’s Aliens. It’s a cool homage to the movie considered responsible for giving the world “space marines.” WarWorld is the highlight of SODA POP SOLDIER and there’s plenty of it to go around as PerfectQuestion’s employer ColaCorp engages in a fighting retreat across multiple massive maps.

ColaCorp’s losing streak has consequences for PerfectQuestion in real life and that’s where the second game comes into play. PerfectQuestion needs rent money and it’s looking more and more likely that he’ll lose his pro-gamer status and be fired from ColaCorp. Desperate to make ends meet he buys into an illegal open source Diablo‘esque Black game. In these games depravity reigns supreme. Part snuff, part pornography, and part MMORPG, PerfectQuestion (playing as the samurai Wu) endures the horrors of Wastehavens in hopes of cash rewards. The premise is pretty twisted and for the most part Cole manages to pull it off, though the world is so interactive that it would have been far more believable as a Virtual Reality game. The game tests PerfectQuestion/Wu’s resolve and values. Our protagonist’s early relations with other players in the Black are chilling. Unfortunately it gets less creepy as the game goes on, becoming more and more like a traditional RPG — albeit with massive cash prizes. Both of these games are unique and interesting in their own ways, and both have effects on PerfectQuestion’s life in the real world.

And it’s the real world that lessened by enjoyment of SODA POP SOLDIER. I failed to invest in PerfectQuestion as a character from early on. He’s a pro-gamer that drinks scotch, smokes cigarettes, has an apartment he can’t afford and a girlfriend problems. There’s not much more to him than that, not even a real legal name. In WarWorld he’s a competent soldier and in the Black he’s a noble samurai but in the real world he’s…a place holder. I believe that his crumbling relationship is meant to humanize him, meant to allow readers to sympathize with his plight, but it never does. We never get to see any of the good in his love interest. We don’t see much of her at all, except for a bit at the beginning where she dismisses how he makes a living before shooting off for a private party. Then PerfectQuestion spends the rest of the novel missing her and readers can only wonder why.

The real world conflicts caused by the PerfectQuestion’s actions in-game are difficult to take seriously. This part of the plot is necessary because it ties everything together, giving weight to what would otherwise be fun escapism. This part of the plot is also the most over-the-top. And that’s fine. Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH is nothing if not over-the-top, but in a more cohesive manner. The villain of SODA POP SOLDIER is especially ridiculous, and while that might be the point it makes the high stakes seem less staggering. There’s some vague “master plan” that PerfectQuestion throws a kink into but I couldn’t help but wonder how it would lead to world domination.

It’s worth noting that SODA POP SOLDIER isn’t a bad novel. There are a lot of really cool ideas peppered throughout the book. I found the ideal of an illegal Role Playing Game full of drugs, sex, snuff, and cash prizes to be highly appealing, and Cole’s portrayal of a First Person Shooter had me reaching for my XBox controller. The WarWorld and Black segments are incentive enough for any gamer to pick up SODA POP SOLDIER.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Mild
Violence: Tons, especially in the Black.
Sex: Suggested but not detailed, though once again the Black has its eccentricities.

Fortune’s Pawn

Devi Morris is a mercenary and she knows how good she is at her job. Her ambitions mean one day becoming one of the king’s own Devastators, but she must prove herself. She signs up for a year-long stint aboard the Glorious Fool, a trader ship captained by the infamous Caldswell, who attracts bad luck wherever he goes. If Devi can survive the year, then her chances of becoming a Devastator are pretty good. There’s also a pretty good chance she won’t survive.

It doesn’t take long for Devi to notice a few oddities. How little Caldswell sells his shipments for. That a clan of alien xith’cal called a blood feud on him. The strange behavior of his daughter Ren. Also odd are his varied crew, from the xith’cal doctor, the bird-like aeon navigator, and a ship’s cook who is unusually strong.
Working aboard the Glorious Fool turns out to be more than she anticipated, and Devi finds herself in more than one fight with terrible odds. But it turns out it’s not the enemy who will test her resolve…

You need to know straight up this is not military SciFi even if it looks like it. Think more…Urban Fantasy set in a spaceship. I’m not going so far as to stick it into the Books for Chicks category because I think it has enough to offer the guys, but it does lean more UF, despite the frequent weapon/armor/mercenary references. And I know the girl crushing on the guy thing may annoy some male readers (especially since it does feel a bit forced), but the story does not revolve around the love angle.

FORTUNE’S PAWN is about Devi, our first-person narrator. She knows she’s good at her job, and makes no apology for her shoot-and-talk-later attitude. Rachel Bach writes tough female characters with a deft hand, without making them into men with boobs who have occasional emotional outbursts (as in the frustrating Kris Longknife books) or annoying know-it-alls (see AN OFFICER’S DUTY review here). Devi is smart, but she’s not perfect and it does get her into trouble. Not only is our main character interesting, but I also enjoyed the secondary characters: the gruff captain, the mysterious and handsome cook Rupert, the grouchy aeon alien, stereotypical mercenary partner, and so on. They are enjoyable characters who are all integral to the story and bring out the best and worst in Devi.

Bach’s prose is crisp and fluid. I read this (and its sequel) very quickly. There are no wasted words, but the description makes it easy to imagine the universe Bach is creating. The world-building isn’t anything groundbreaking, but that’s ok, because the story is about Devi, and the setting exists to make her life more interesting. It’s never infodumpy and the aliens aren’t tacked on for fun but are an integral part of the story. Like the prose, the pace has great flow, moving quickly with frequent exciting scenes and just enough character/setting between action. The fight scenes are easy to visualize; issues with armor/weapons is integrated with problems battling aliens, all woven together in a way that made me believe Devi’s competence without feeling gimmicky.

In all I’d say the book is fun to read–not meaty, but not fluffy either. Devi is a great narrator, her observations are entertaining, and her behavior realistic. Despite the cliffhangerish ending, I was excited to read book #2 (HONOR’S KNIGHT EBR review), which I was lucky enough to have waiting for me on the shelf.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Hardly any
Violence: Yes, she’s a little gun happy
Sex: One detailed scene

The Broken Eye

War. Revenge. Intrigue. Secrets. Magic. Everything you love about Brent Weeks' Lightbringer Series continues in THE BROKEN EYE.

This is what you've been waiting for.

Like I said with THE BLINDING KNIFE (EBR review), trying to read BROKEN without having read the previous books will leave you lost and floundering, the sequence of events lacking real impact. If you love epic fantasy with complex characters, creative world-building, and fast-paced action, then yes you should read this series, starting with THE BLACK PRISM (EBR review) (read the first three chapters for free here!). What follows will contain spoilers if you read them out of order. You have been warned.

At the end of BLINDING everything changes for our heroes. Gavin has lost his ability to draft and now finds himself a slave on a pirate ship's galley. Kip escapes sociopathic half-brother Zymun to return to the Chromeria a changed man. Teia finds herself mixed up with a group of fanatic vigilantes, her ex-slave status in jeopardy. Karris mourns the disappearance of her husband, but must find a new purpose to her life as the wife of the Prism.

A lot happens in BROKEN, covering months as Gavin tries to escape, Kip continues his training, and Lord Guile manipulates the politics of the Chromeria. Without Gavin there and the White's health quickly deteriorating, no one can check Lord Guile's ambitions. But I'll be honest with you, despite a lot happening, BROKEN feels like a middle-of-the-story novel. The pace slows for almost the entire book as characters' situations are suspended in uncertainty. Will Gavin escape? Should Kip trust his grandfather? What is the White's plans for Karris? Is Teia entrapping herself to the Order of the Broken Eye?

Part of the cause of this slower pacing is a focus on the politics of war and power. Certainly there's the Chromeria, but what happens when the Prism disappears and there's a vacuum of power? What happens when a (supposedly) altruistic Color Prince makes his way through the various countries to free them from the thumb of an oppressive Chromeria--but will do anything and kill anyone in order to achieve his goals?

Another reason for the slower pace is the in-depth character development. After two books of setting up our characters and who they are, BROKEN delves into what makes our heroes tick. I really, really enjoyed this about BROKEN, when usually extra characterization is something that drives me batty because nothing happens--fortunately Weeks's characterization is never boring. I was hooked as I watched Kip struggle with the changes in Lord Guile and try to reconcile the loss of his father with his current standing among his peers (as a result of the last battle in BLINDING)--all with his usual snark. I loved that there was more Karris screen time and how she becomes involved in the White's spy network. Teia is a fascinating character whose self-doubt isn't annoying, and she fights to overcome it in realistic ways. Weeks is fantastic with his female characters, they are truly well done. Gavin's struggle to not be bogged down by discouragement in his situation was frankly inspiring. Unfortunately, though, we don't see much of Liv, and only hear secondhand accounts of the Color Prince's army and their exploits. But I'm hoping that in following books we aren't left in the dark about our villains.

There isn't as much world-building this time around as in the last two books, although there's some new tidbits that will satisfy even the most staunch epic fantasy readers. Weeks carries forward the loose threads from BLINDING and adds to them, weaving into the story exciting new possibilities.

Weeks also seems to have more control of his action sequences, making it feel less showy and more like what I'd expect from these characters and what we know they can do--alone and as a team. There was tension, excitement, surprises (Weeks can't help himself when it comes to his twists and surprises). And of course the consequences that we may not yet see the whole of for some time. As a result the conclusion, as in past books, was amazing and game-changing. I'm eagerly anticipating THE BLOOD MIRROR...2016 can't come fast enough.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: A few f-bombs per chapter
Violence: Several violent episodes, variously bloody
Sex: Referenced; teenage hormones

Find this exciting series here:




Night Broken

The latest in Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series has her heroine face her most terrifying adversary yet. This opponent is tougher than the river devil that almost killed her; more cunning than the local vampire queen; and a better baker than Mercy herself: Adam's ex-wife Christy.

Christy comes running to the Tri-Cities werewolf pack for a reason. She's being stalked by a dangerous playboy she met in Vegas who won't take "No" for an answer, who's knocked Christy around, and who may have been the one to kill her boyfriend. Unfortunately he turns out to be more than your run-of-the-mill psycho guy, and it's Mercy and the pack who must deal with the fallout.

Seriously, this series only gets better and better. In NIGHT BROKEN Briggs isn't afraid to shake things up for Mercy, who despite being a confident woman experiences some self-doubt when faced with the near-perfection that is Christy. Many of the pack feel protective over their alpha's ex-wife, her skills of manipulation and victimhood even messes with Mercy's head. It's been no mystery that some of the pack don't like Mercy and feel that a coyote shifter doesn't belong in the hierarchy. Will Christy successfully worm her way back into Adam's good graces and cause havoc with Mercy's standing in the pack?

Then, of course there's the mystery surrounding Christy's stalker. Where did he come from? Who is he really? And why is is so focused on Christy? Is he somehow related to the killings the local police want to pin on the werewolves? The clues begin to stack up and when Christy's stalker visits Mercy at her garage she discovers that he's more than he seems...a lot more, and it's scary enough that she wonders if they will ever be able to solve Christy's problem.

We get to see old friends and meet a few new ones. Other than the pack regulars, we get to see Stephan back in form, Tad returns as cool as ever, and even Coyote has to be called for help when a Grey Lord comes asking for the fae walking stick that used to follow Mercy around.

I enjoyed watching Mercy as she moved through the story, reacted to events, interacted with friends and enemies, and then proceeded to do what she does best: doing whatever it takes to keep her family safe. If you're a fan of the series then NIGHT BROKEN is a must read.

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: None
Violence: A couple of scenes, one kind of gruesome
Sex: Referenced

Find this awesome series here:









Blood and Iron

I've been thinking about the concept that lies at the crux of this review for quite a while now. I've come across it a couple times in the recent past--the most recent while watching Disney's Frozen--and each time my realization as to why I wasn't enjoying the story as much as I should have been eluded me for quite a while. Hopefully I've learned something about this concept after having seen it in action for the third time.

BLOOD AND IRON is the first in a new fantasy series by Jon Sprunk and feels like a step in the “larger” direction after his Shadow Saga novels. This novel immediately felt bigger to me, as the story being told was about large-scale wars, and nations, and phenomenal cosmic powers (bonus points for the reference on that last one...).

The story begins with Horace--a soldier from the west--in the midst of a storm at sea, and en route to a war with the foreign Akeshians. Instead of war though, he finds his way to solitary capture, enslavement, and then to opulent establishment. This due to the fact that he's a latent sorcerer, and comes into power after coming to this new land.

Also at the forefront of the story is Jirom, an ex-mercenary from far-off Zaral, that is biding his time as a gladiator until he can find his way to freedom. Quickly though he meets Horace and is affected by him in a way that he can barely describe. Their meeting and time together is brief, but after they part he finds himself seeking out this man from the west.

Two women also share some of the page time, although considerably less than Horace and Jirom. Byleth, queen of Akeshia, and Alyra, her hand-maiden and court spy for forces outside of the reigning nobility.

The strengths of the novel are easily the amount of action and overall pacing. These are strengths that Sprunk brought from his previous novels. The dude knows how to write action. The story jumps from one scene to the next and there's always something happening. If I'm being honest, some of the action near the beginning of the book felt a little forced. With Horace getting overly angry and lashing out without thinking about what he was doing. Almost like something was driving him to be angry, and I was hoping that it wasn't just the author needing to throw some more action in. A couple times I was pretty surprised when Horace's captors didn't just off him, as other slaves around him were getting some pretty steep punishments indeed. Still, good action, good pacing.

Something that Sprunk improved on in this book over his previous trilogy was his descriptions. There were very few times when I was reading and wouldn't know where a character was, or who was in a scene. Especially some of the more large-scale descriptions about the countryside through which Horace traveled while getting to his ultimate destination were well-done. They portrayed a good sense of scale for the world in which the characters reside.

World-building was completed on a similar scale, although not in quite as much detail. There is some sense of history and larger battles being fought between forces both external and internal to Akeshia. This aspect could definitely have been better and would have been the perfect fit to Byleth's character, if more time had been spent with her.

One of the weakest aspects of the book was the magic system. Horribly cliched: earth, wind, fire, and air-based magics, with a bit of a void-magic to boot. Even though there is time for Horace to be taught, for him to develop his powers (which is good--I hate it when newbies are never really newbies), the magic falls completely short of being anything approaching interesting. Only very basic ideas about how the magic is controlled are approached, and it felt like anything he could come up with could feasibly be whipped out at a moment's notice. The magic saves Horace's bacon repeatedly with him having no notion of what he's doing or how he's accomplishing it. Quite frustrating.

The crux of the problems with this story falls to a single issue: this story doesn't belong to Horace. It is, in fact, Queen Byleth's. In much the same way that the story in Frozen belongs to Elsa (Think about it--if you've seen it. Whose choices does every significant branch of that story turn on? Elsa's. Also, it's no coincidence that the story is based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen. Aka: not Anna.), the story told in BLOOD AND IRON belongs to Queen Byleth and not Horace.

And yet, Horace is ostensibly the main character, as he gets the most face time in the book. Even the summary on the back of the book focuses on Horace and the changes that he's going to make to Akeshia. The really difficult part is that Byleth gets so little POV time that it's hard to even realize that it's her story until nearly the very end. Even more difficult is the fact that Horace and Jirom don't even feel like secondary characters, because they're not directly influencing anything to do with the main story line. Instead, they end up feeling kind of like cameras, sent to show us what is happening along the way. Horace hangs out with Queen Byleth and we see what she is doing and what is going on in court, and Jirom hangs out with a group of rebels and we see what they are doing in the battle against the ruling nobility. This makes Horace and Jirom boring, even if we do see lots of action and interesting things through their eyes. Alyra was a great secondary character though, with her own motivations and fears, that interacted with the queen's story at a very basic level.

Although I gave this one a fairly low rating overall, I think that things could totally be saved by addressing the single issue of who the story belongs to. There are some really good aspects of this novel and others that show marked improvement over previous books. I mean, come on. If Disney can make a mistake like telling a story from the wrong character's perspective, then I think anyone can. The important part will be the process of learning from the past and doing better next time, and that is something that I think Mr. Sprunk has proven that he can do. Because he's done it with every book he's written. Progress and improvement are hallmarks of the best.

Recommended Age: 16+, profanity and violence
Profanity: Somewhat sparse, but it can got strong a few times
Violence: Crazy violent during the battles and gladiator fights
Sex: Some implied relations, no scenes though