Monday, April 9, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Shrouds of Darkness by Brock Deskins

Author: Brock Deskins

Pages/Length: 217 Pages/ 7 hrs, 41 mins. (Audio)

Publisher: Dingo Dog Publishing

Release Date: May 8, 2013/ November 30, 2017 (Audio)

Narrator: Steven Jay Cohen

With the slew of vampire urban fantasy that has hit the shelves in recent years, from romance with vampires to gritty urban grimdark, I wasn't sure where this would fit into that group. While the idea of a vampire detective isn't new, Brock Deskins' Leo Malone is definitely a great character who brings an added dimension of humor and determination you don't see in a lot of this type of character.

When a mob accountant is accosted outside his office by a gang of rival thugs, things get hairy, literally, as he turns out to be a werewolf. That's bad, since supernaturals are supposed to keep it hidden, and shredding some gangsters isn't very subtle. The vampire leadership is quite keen and strict about keeping it hidden from the humans. 

This brings Leo Malone onto the case when the accountants adult children hire Leo to find out what happened to their father. The case turns out to be much more complicated that its seems, Since it seems there are forces that don't want him found, and will do anything to keep him from being found. Leo's complicated relationship with the vampire Elders isn't helping, as they would rather see him dead if they could than anything else. As he delves further into the disappearance, he discovers a much larger conspiracy that that threatens not only his life but exposure of the supernatural community in general, which could have far reaching consequences for all the supernatural nations.

Like his other books, Shrouds is a character driven book. The urban setting is fun, and you get immersed in it, but the characters are where the action is at, especially Leo. His attitude towards life and the vampire nation in general really make him a sympathetic character. You really root for him, even as he snarks his way from one discovery to the next. The secondary characters are well fleshed out as well, and the plotting if fast paced and never lags.

Steven Jay Cohen does his usual excellent job of bringing the story and characters to life. His Leo voice may be my absolute favorite he does. Just the right amount of snark for the part. His narrative pace is spot on, and smoothly flows throughout the book. He is definitely a reason to consider getting the audio version.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Eleven Must Reads in 2018

Its funny, we always seem to get lists throughout the year of the big new releases, the must reads. How many times did you check them out, and find yourself disappointed, thinking, I'd rather have read that book from a couple of years ago from so and so that looked interesting? I get that a lot and suspect  a lot of you do too. While there are some big traditionally published new releases like Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld and Ed McDonald's Blackwing that are justifiably held in high regard and are big hits, they really don't need my recommendation, being known by fandom at large. I decided to make my own list of must reads, series that you may have overlooked, first books in series that you will hopefully enjoy and consider picking up the rest of. I have to thank Charles Phipps, who writes a variety of series under the name CT Phipps, for encouraging me to do so, since we spend so much time recommending various series to each other. I have discovered so many good series thanks to him and met some fantastic people along the way. 

The vast majority of the books on this list will be by independent authors or small press, although there will be some traditionally published authors as well, especially the older series. I have just really enjoyed the variety and creativity of a lot of the indy market recently and I hope you will agree. On that note, lets get started.

The Rules of Supervillainy (The Supervillainy Saga Book 1) by [Phipps, C.T.]

The Rules of Supervillainy by C. T. Phipps

Imagine if you received the magic cloak of the greatest hero (The Nightwalker) of your city (Falconcrest City) in the mail. Imagine the cloak gave you fire and ice projection powers, levitation, intangibility and limited invulnerability, as well as the ability to see spirits. Would you be inspired to take up the Nightwalkers mantle and go fight the forces of evil?

Well, then you would be the exact opposite of Gary Karkofsky, the man who actually received the cloak. Heroism is for chumps, especially when crime pays so well! It is on this hilarious premise that Gary's story proceeds, as he becomes Merciless, the Villain Without Mercy!™️ and now five books later is still going strong, with all the pop culture reference the author has become justifiably known for. It will keep you turning the pages and wanting to get the next book in the series.

The Garden of Stones (Echoes of Empire Book 1)

The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes

This is literally my favorite fantasy trilogy of all time. It is epic in scope, with 10,000 plus years of history as backstory. There is an incredible group of characters which will resonate with the reader, even the villains, of which there are a few. There is magic, called disentropy, on a grand scale, and even a nod to gunpowder fantasy and steampunk! There is something for everyone in this deep, richly written darker fantasy epic. 

Grudgebearer (THE GRUDGEBEARER TRILOGY) by [Lewis, J.F.]

Grudgebearer by J. F. Lewis

Imagine an immortal race of elflike beings creating an immortal  race of warriors called the Aern, basically magic proof, steel boned, intelligent killing machines, to do their fighting for them. Now imagine the warriors were compelled under a geas to honor all oaths made by and to them, and to violently deal with people breaking oaths with them. Now, imagine if you will, what would  happen if the king of those elflike beings casually broke an oath made to the Aern, forcing their retaliation under their geas.

If your imagination said fire, destruction and death for oathbreakers, as they came to be known by the Aern, then you guessed correctly. The story starts centuries after a peace has finally been made between the two sides, as old menaces start rearing their head, and a headstrong prince breaks the truce by his hubris. The story skyrockets from that point as The Aern must decide if they must finish what they started all those centuries ago, and what that will leave of the word if they have to bathe it in flame and destruction once again.

Darkstorm (The Rhenwars Saga Book 0)

Darkstorm by M. L. Spencer

A series that makes no apologies for being grimdark, this formidable entry into the genre is a shot across the bow, take no prisoners tale of epic destruction, deception, betrayal, heroism and swerves that would make a grand prix driver dizzy. When an apprentice mage discovers her guild master is in a cabal determined to bring about the rise of dark magic, she and her mentor, as well as several others, are thrust into a race against a conspiracy that has world shaking, and possibly destroying, consequences. Along the way there are betrayals and revelations you literally will not see coming, even with this warning! Fantastic characters and plotting will keep you turning the pages.

The Eighth God (The Orcslayers Book 1) by [Lavender, Paul S.]

The Eighth God by Paul S. Lavender

Another Grimdark entry to the list, this particular debut takes a different tack. Taking standard fantasy tropes like Elves, Orcs and wizards, he amps them up and makes them his own. These elves and orcs are as far from the fairly sterile versions in Lord of the Rings as you can get. The elves are arrogant, bigoted snobs to the extreme, while the Orcs make Ghengis Khan's hordes look like little old ladies on their way to church. They are feral intelligent monsters, with no conscience at all. They are just villains you can hate. The wizards are powerful and use the flashy magic so many books downplay now. Also, there are some funny moments sprinkled throughout, lightening up the tone a bit to keep it from becoming a depressing dirge. Definitely a series you should consider checking out.

God Touched (The Demon Accords Book 1) by [Conroe, John]

God Touched by John Conroe

This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. Chris Gordon is a rookie NYPD cop. He also happens to be able to exorcise demons, who possess bodies and haunt dwellings. When he and his buddies go to a club one night, Chris's life is changed forever when he stops a demon from killing a woman in the club. Turns out the woman, Tatiana Demidova,  is a vampire, the most important one in the world, being the only born vampire ever. After biting Chris in a reflex to being hurt, she an Chris find they are bound together by a power far greater than themselves, and Chris goes through a lot of changes as he bonds the vampire virus without becoming a vampire. The series continues on as they fight a variety of demons, vampire politics, other occult menaces and corrupt elements of the US government. Definitely a fun read and you really get invested in the wide cast of characters. 

The Secret King: Lethao

The Secret King: Lethao by Dawn Chapman

I discovered this series from a promo copy of a prequel novella in the series. This is the first full length novel in the series, dealing with the remnants of a human like alien race, the Aonise,  on the run from the enemy that is bent on their destruction. While traveling in their four Arks towards their last refuge, their king, Kendro, has to face challenges to his right to rule and deal with threats to their very existence.

Their chosen refuge,  Earth, presents its own challenges as the vastly more powerful and advanced Aonise must deal with a vastly inferior but numerically superior human race. I keep comparing this series to a combination of Game of Thrones mixed with 70's Era Battlestar Galactica, with just a dash of Kevin J. Anderson's Seven Suns Saga. Great plotting and characters will keep you turning pages and wanting more.

Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough

Aral Kinglsayer is a broken man. Once a priest of Namara, the Goddess of Justice, he was an assassin, bonded to a shadowy wraith, Triss, as all her priests were, smiting the mighty when they became unjust. Namara was cast down by the other gods and their proxy priesthoods, and most of her priesthood were hunted down and killed. Now living in hiding, he is a drunk and works as a kind of fixer, working as a courier and petty criminal, doing collections. When a noble lady approaches him about a job, he is swept up into a conspiracy that will bring him face to face with his past life and force him to make hard choices. Can their be justice when the very embodiment of justice has been murdered? If Aral and Triss have their way, there will be justice again. With a great cast of characters, especially Aral and Triss, as well as fantastic plotting and setting that are original in a sea of Tolkien knockoffs, this series should appeal to a wide range of fantasy fans looking for something a little different.

The Ivanhoe Gambit (Timewars Book 1)

The Ivanhoe Gambit by Simon Hawke

First in a 12 book series, The Ivanhoe gambit deals with one of my favorite sci-fi topics, time travel, in a creative way. After the discovery of time travel, world governments decided to do away with war in the present, instead sending soldiers into the past and inserting them into armies of the past as foot soldiers, then having arbitrators decide the outcome of the soldiers work. It's this scenario this book starts in, as Sgt. Lucas Priest of the US Temporal Corp is tasked with an unusual task, assisting in a timeline adjustment, as something has gone on in a previous time that has altered the course of history.

That something occurred during the time of King Richard I of England, and through cosmetic surgery, Lucas, Private Finn Delaney and others are inserted in to replace certain historical figures, Including Lucas taking Ivanhoe's place and Finn  replacing Robin Hood. They discover there is a rogue Temporal Referee tinkering with time and it is up to them to stop him before his plans come to fruition. Excellently plotted, it has non stop action and deals with time travel in a very analytical way, trying to maintain consistency with its own rules at all times. The characters are excellent, and some later additions in the series, including a recurring villain, really add some spice and keep you wanting more.

BRUTAL: An Epic Grimdark Fantasy (BRUTAL TRILOGY Book 1) by [Alderdice, James]

You know the old Western movie trope of the man with no name riding into a border town with two gangs feuding over control of the city, and going out and cleaning house? Well, James Alderdice takes that old trope of many a Clint Eastwood movie, places it in a medieval type setting, then proceeds to turn the whole thing on it's head and make it his own! This leads to the creation of a unique, brutal, dark and at times humorous story with an interesting collection of characters.
This book has everything I look for in a fantasy book. Its dark tonally, with just enough humor to keep it from becoming brooding. The setting is well drawn out, reminding me of classic hives of villainy and scum like Lankhmar and Sanctuary without being a knockoff of them. You really get a feel for the city, feeling as though you are right there on the streets. The characters are all very well written, from the mysterious Sellsword to the Duchess through all the other supporting characters. The villains, of which there are several, are some of the best I can remember in recent memory for a small scale story that isn't world shaking. The reasons behind their actions are reasonable in their own minds, and actually make some of them even a bit sympathetic. Sellsword, though, is the star of the show. He is a mystery, but you can piece together the mystery of his identity with the clues you're left. He is definitely
 I would rank it up with Nicholas Eames's Kings of the Wyld, Ed. McDonald's Blackwing and CT Phipps Wraith Knight as my favorite reads of the last year. Definitely a recommended read!

It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World (Bad World  Book 1) by [Lawson, Curtis M.]

It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World by Curtis M. Lawson

This wild, funhouse ride of insanity has everything you could look for in an action/mild horror hybrid. A Rhodesian Mercenary with ethics, a militant Catholic nun assassin, a terminally ill pair of serial killers, a guy who destroys peoples lives for cash, as well as dirty cops, junkies, pervs, and a pair of daggers that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler and Jack the Ripper, known as the Fangs of Wallachia. As you can imagine, everybody want to get a hold of those and the power they hold. With an interesting cast of characters, excellent dialogue, some quirky plot twists, and crazy action and horror touches, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, from urban fantasy, horror and thriller fans.

I am considering doing a part 2 of this list, depending on feedback, so please feel free to leave comments about what you think of the list.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Bad World 2: To Kill An Archangel by Curtis Lawson

Author: Curtis M. Lawson

Pages: 160

Publisher: Black Pyramid Books

Release Date: March 18, 2018

Being a huge fan of the first book in this series, It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World, I was justifiably excited to see if the author could top his previous effort, or suffer the dreaded sophomore slump. I was happy to discover this topped Bad World 1 in every way. More action, faster pacing, and the occult elements are just so much more intense!

Five years after the end of book one, the various characters are living much different lives. Marcus, the cop's son saved of a wasting disease by the Fangs of Wallachia is a street kid, living with his gang. Cora, who's mom was murdered by the assassin nun, is living with yet another set of foster parents. The Rhodesian is taking contracts guarding high value shipments. Marcus and the Rhodesian are still tied in to daggers, which they get visions of what the current wielder is using them for: murder.  This is where the story starts, and the wild ride begins. Marcus and the Rhodesian are now searching for the daggers, which are drawing them towards them, because the entity that is actually the source of the Fang's power, the Archangel Samael, is about to be released if the Rhodesian can't do something to stop it. Meanwhile, a new murder nun has been assigned to track down and kill all those who know about the daggers and retrieve them. She is even scarier than the first one!

The story proceeds at breakneck speed as Marcus, the Rhodesian and the nun all search for the Fangs, and the Rhodesian and Marcus end up in Rome, trying to find something that can destroy the Fangs once and for all. They even meet a famous person who turns out to be much more than he seems and gives the Rhodesian all he can handle in combat! Meanwhile, back in America, the Nun is on the trail of Cora, who has a destiny even she could have never imagined. It all ends in a huge climactic way that has terrible consequences for the world to come!

Characters. That is the true strength of this book. Yes, the plot is fast paced, the occult elements are interesting and the setting is so well drawn you feel as though you are walking the halls of the Vatican yourself. That being said, the story of Marcus, the Rhodesian and Cora are what sells this story. Whether it being Marcus fighting the effects of wielding the Fangs, the Rhodesian finding a bit of humanity after a life of tragedy and blood, or Cora finally finding a measure of peace after a life of turmoil, you really become invested in them. You hope Marcus can overcome the call, the need for violence and death the Fangs call out to him for. You hope the Rhodesian can find peace in a life that has only known war from such a young age. You hope the worst Cora has to worry about is if that boy at school really likes her. Unfortunately, you know something else is probably going to occur, and that's what makes it so interesting and engaging.

The ending made it clear that there will be a third book. it ended on a satisfying note, and hints at an even crazier third book, and I for one can't wait. I can't even compare this series to any other, since it has elements of horror, thrillers and urban fantasy. I can't recommend this series highly enough!

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Brutal by James Alderdice

Author: James Alderdice

Pages/Length: 278 Pages/ 8 hrs, 55 mins (audio)

Publisher: Lost Realms Press/ Tantor Media (audio)

Release Date: July 11, 2017/ February 20, 2018 (Audio)

Narrator: Liam Gerrard

You know the old Western movie trope of the man with no name riding into a border town with two gangs feuding over control of the city, and going out and cleaning house? Well, James Alderdice takes that old trope of many a Clint Eastwood movie, places it in a medieval type setting, then proceeds to turn the whole thing on it's head and make it his own! This leads to the creation of a unique, brutal, dark and at times humorous story with an interesting collection of characters.

The book starts out with the man who becomes known as Sellsword attacked by bandits on the way to the small city of Aldrith. He dispatches them like the boss he is, although his horse falls off a cliff during the fight. Shame, it was a good horse. He then travels on foot towards Aldrith, and discovers the city, although it has a Duke, power is actually split between two warring wizards. There is also a group of dark cultists in the mix, as well as a dark version of the kingdom's religion stirring the volatile mixture of power politics.

Arriving at the Duke's manor, Sellsword finds the Duke gone, but does meet the Duchess. Receiving a note, the Duchess leaves suddenly. It turns out The Duke was murdered, setting off a chain event of actions as people, including the Duchess, scramble for power. Sellsword starts to approach each party offering his services. This leads to some epic fights, as Sellsword goes and proves his worth to the various parties. The best, and both most hilarious and gory, example of this is when he goes to the local casino run by one of the wizards and asks to see the wizard. when told no, he tells the guards to disarm themselves or he will. all six of them then rush him, where he proceeds to disarm them by removing all their arms! This type of dark humor runs throughout the book. He also runs into the town Paladins, basically the constabulary, who are corrupt and work for the highest bidder, and has several run ins with them.

This is the mix the Sellsword has to deal with, as alliances shift, plots are hatched and tensions boil to the breaking point as each side jockeys for the ultimate power in the town, with an unseen menace over it all providing even worse danger. With some epic city battles, betrayals on all sides and shocking revelations, the plot rushes forward headlong into the final confrontation that will determine the fate of the city!

This book has everything I look for in a fantasy book. Its dark tonally, with just enough humor to keep it from becoming brooding. The setting is well drawn out, reminding me of classic hives of villainy and scum like Lankhmar and Sanctuary without being a knockoff of them. You really get a feel for the city, feeling as though you are right there on the streets. The characters are all very well written, from the mysterious Sellsword to the Duchess through all the other supporting characters. The villains, of which there are several, are some of the best I can remember in recent memory for a small scale story that isn't world shaking. The reasons behind their actions are reasonable in their own minds, and actually make some of them even a bit sympathetic. Sellsword, though, is the star of the show. He is a mystery, but you can piece together the mystery of his identity with the clues you're left. He is definitely one of my favorite characters in recent memory. 

I had never heard Liam Gerrard narrate before, but I was extremely happy to discover him. He has an excellent range, and he really brings the various characters to life. He uses a variety of tones and accents to differentiate the characters, and he has excellent pacing on the narration parts. I am definitely keeping an eye out for his work in the future.

Overall, this is one of the top stories I've read in the last couple years. I would rank it up with Nicholas Eames's Kings of the Wyld, Ed. McDonald's Blackwing and CT Phipps Wraith Knight as my favorite reads of the last year. Definitely a recommended read!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk

Author: Jon Sprunk

Pages: 427 pages

Publisher: Pyr

Release Date: March 11, 2014

I was really looking forward to reading this, and I was not disappointed! Jon Sprunk has taken elements from multiple fantasy tropes (Holy crusade, gladiators, fish out of water discovers magic talent, foreign magic empire) and blends them into a compelling narrative that had me hooked from the first minute. This book most definitely falls into the subgenre of grimdark, popularized by writers like Glen Cook, George RR Martin and more recent authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence. This book, like the authors previous Shadow Series compares well with any of those authors.

The characters are well written, with realistic strengths and weaknesses that make them believable, not always something you see in a fantasy novel. The world building is good, with the conflict between the nations defined well, although I'm hoping to learn more about the surrounding nations in future books. There is real emotion invested in the characters, and you can sympathize with them. Even the villains are realistic, with nary a mustache twirler in the bunch.

Politics and intrigue abounds, and magic is the great equalizer. This one has lots of flashy magic too, which makes for exciting fight scenes. I can't recommend this highly enough. Any fans of Peter V. Brett, Anthony Ryan or Brian Stavely should enjoy this series. If your in to audio books, this one was done in Graphic Audio full cast format, which only ratchets up the tension and excitement. Go out and get a copy today!

The Bookwyrm's Review of Darkstorm by ML Spencer

Author: ML Spencer

Length: 304 Pages/ 9 hrs, 5 mins (audio)

Release Date: January 19, 2017/ January 22nd, 2018 (Audio)

Publisher: Stoneguard Publications 

Narrator: Simon Wright

I had this series recommended to me by several friends who told me that it takes one fantasy trope after another and smashes them to pieces on the alter of Grimdark.Well, being a huge fan of grimdark, I got excited by the idea of something original, not just another Prince of Thorns or Before They Are Hanged knockoff...err, homage. I am happy to report that not only was this true, but the author took those tropes and burned them to ashes. What is left is an original, swerve filled race to a conclusion you just will not see coming. On that note, we'll get into the review.

When apprentice mage Merris finds out she is going to be kicked out of the mages guild, she follows the head of her guild out one night to try and dig up some dirt on him that would allow her to use the information to fend off her removal. What she discovers instead of some midnight assignation or other such scandal puts her life, and the very fate of the world, in jeopardy. She comes across a group of mages not only from her city-state of Aerysius, but from the neighboring city-state of Bryn Calazar, which are a hairs breadth from war with each other, involved in a dark ritual with netherworld powers. After she escapes, she goes to see her mentor, Sephana, who she discovers is having an illicit romance with the ambassador from Bryn Calazar, Braden, who helps her escape to Bryn Calazar by sending her to his brother Quin. How much this helps is debatable, since Bryn Calazar is most definitely a patriarchy, unless you have status as a mage as a woman. The problem is, Quin is a drunken wreck. 

After convincing Quin of her bonifides,  Quin and Merris approach the head of his mage guild, and this is where everything goes pear shaped, as they are unexpectedly betrayed in the guild hall and end up on the run. Meanwhile, in Aerysius, Braden and Sephana are captured trying to spy on the cabal, and they are transported to a secret base in Calazar lands. The conspirators, all high ranking mages, explain to Braden what they are about. They are trying to head off the end of magic and civilization as they know it, as magic is going to have a polarity shift, killing all mages and destroying anything created with magic, like buildings in cities. The cabalists have decided the power of the dark god in his Netherworld will allow them to hold the polarity shift off for a thousand years. All it will cost them is their souls, and a bunch of human sacrifices...

This leads to a wild second half of the book, as Quin, Braden, Sephana and Merris try and work against the cabal, which has power throughout the highest levels of both kingdoms. There is epic magic battles, giant cavalry battles as there is an uprising against the cabal by  Braden's people, which all leads to the final confrontation between the cabal and those trying to stop them. There is also a huge betrayal you don't see coming which costs those trying to stop the evil a member, and which definitely effected the outcome.  Definitely a grimdark ending, although there may be a ray of hope, however slight, even with the sacrifices made.

The characters are the true strength of this book. While the setting was well described and gave you a feeling of being there and the plot is fast paced and never lagged in the slightest, what happens with the characters is really what hooks you. Whether it's Quin's self destructive behavior, Braden's quest to do right for his kingdom whether it wants it or not, or Merris trying to maintain the life she has, you really care about what happens to them. When you find out the details from their past's it really humanizes them. Even if some of it makes them less sympathetic, Their flaws just make them that much more believable. The villains, who are actually trying to do what they see as right, are well drawn out, and even somewhat sympathetic. They do evil for a greater good, which you don't see too often. There isn't a mustache twirl in the group. It really is a well thought out group of characters.

I had never heard Simon Wright narrate before this book, but I found him to be a compelling voice. He really put the effort in to bring the characters to life, whether male or female, no matter the voice or accent. His pacing on the narration is spot on, and he keeps you engaged in the story, waiting to see what happens next. Definitely a voice to check out.

All in all, this is a fantastic addition to the grimdark fantasy ranks, as good as anything put out by the big names like Cook, Martin, Abercrombie and Lawrence, and actually maybe a hair better than a couple of those! This is a prequel to a larger series, so it will be interesting to see what the decisions made in this one lead to in the future of the series.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Bookwyrm's Review of The Sorceror's Ascension by Brock Deskins

Author: Brock Deskins

Pages/Length:  337 Pages/ 9 hrs, 55 mins (Audio)

Release Date:  January 19, 2014/ December 1, 2017

Publisher: Dingo Dog Publishing

Narrator: William Turbett

I went into this one without any preconceptions, other than knowing I had enjoyed the author's urban fantasy novel Shroud of Darkness. I found that though this is a completely different book, it was just as enjoyable. After reading this, I felt that this was what The Name of the Wind should have been if the main character wasn't a complete Mary Sue.

When Azerick, son of a wealthy sea trader, has his father executed after he was framed for treason, He and his mother lose everything to the local Duke. They end up living in an inn his mother works at as a server. When she is violently murdered and he is thrown out, Azerick returns after dark, breaks in gets his stuff back, and after struggling with and incapacitating the innkeeper who stole their belongings, burns the inn to the ground. 

This sets Azerick on a path he could never have foreseen. Squatting in an abandoned building, he is found by a group of squatters and joins their ranks. When a dispute with the thieves guild destroys his new family, Azerick declares war on the thieves, getting his revenge in the cruelest way possible. After a series of run ins with the Mages guild, it is discovered Azerick has magical ability and he is allowed to start training at the guild academy, where the children of rich and noble scions train. Obviously, as a poor orphan, he butts heads with the other students, especially the biggest bully boy, Travis. As you can expect, a boy used to living by his wits and strength on the street is not going to take bullying lying down. This theme continues throughout the book, as Azerick, who is very smart and understands magic theory very well, struggles to cast spells beyond a certain simple level, although he does excel in academic subjects and alchemy.

This changes when it is discovered that Azerick is a sorcerer, not a wizard, meaning his spell casting is self determined, not cast by rote spells. With this revelation, and a new master to tutor him, his spell casting is greatly improved. As time passes, and his rivalry with Travis reaches its final climax in a duel, Azerick discovers a secret that may effect the safety of the world, and he must determine what he needs to do and where his loyalties lie. This ties into a side plot dealing with the kingdoms founding as it's dragon overlords were overthrown with the help of five suits of magic armor that are now in play in a power play for the throne.

The characters are a real strength of this book, especially Azerick. His struggles after his families fall and subsequent successes and failures really tempered his personality. He is a hard young man, willing to take the harshest measures for revenge and to protect those he loves. What he did to the man who killed his mother and to the thieves guild show that no measure is too radical to achieve his goals, for good or ill. The secondary characters, from his best friend  to his mentor are well thought out and have well rounded personalities. The villains, whether Travis or the Duke and his henchmen, are loathsome but believable, being drawn to power and the ability to abuse it.  

The setting is well thought out and well described, with lots of detail without going overboard. The plot and prose flow well, with lots of action, but some introspection as well, as the events unfold to show the grander conspiracy and how it connects to Azerick.The final portion of the book is like a roller coaster ride leading to Azerick and Travis's inevitable confrontation, and has a satisfying payoff. All told, a dark but enjoyable beginning to a series.

I was unfamiliar with William Turbett's narration before this book, but I am happy to have discovered him. He brings each character a unique life of their own, with a variety of tones and accents, and his pacing is very solid. He makes you want to keep listening as he brings the story to life.

I have heard that this book was compared to The Name of the Wind in a negative way. I find that odd, since while it deals with similar characters, it goes in very different directions, with the characters having different methods and motivations. I would recommend this story to anyone who would like a different take, a darker one, on a coming of age tale, with well rounded characters and real struggle and pathos.