R.M. Prioleau – Firebrand (2012) | Book Review

R.M. Prioleau FirebrandEver since the whole Harry Potter multimedia empire began, stories about young wizards and various other magic-tinged fantasy novels have become a dime a dozen. Whereas previously just about every work of fantasy had been trying really hard to be the next Lord of the Rings, the trend in fantasy now is to try to be the next Harry Potter.

Firebrand, the first in a planned trilogy by R.M. Prioleau, fits comfortably into the mold of these young-boy-becomes-wizard stories. The keyword here is “comfortably,” for better or worse. The story follows a young man and his little brother, who are sent away by their completely unlikable parents to be part of a magic school, where they are trained from a young age by essentially a very angry, bitter Dumbledore/Gandalf-type wizard.

The storyline itself follows typical progression. There is some early struggle, but Kaijin, the protagonist, gets a hang of the power and becomes an above average wizard. Very few stories are told of the wizard whose abilities are just “meh.” Naturally, evil is a foot and there is much fire and undead creatures and general ne’er do-welling.

Although the picture painted so far doesn’t scream excellence, there is still some merit in Firebrand. R.M. Prioleau’s prose is above average, and aside from a few moments that felt a bit cliched, the dialogue is pretty good too. Unlikely so many self-published works, there aren’t any times in Firebrand when the writing ability of the author, or lack thereof, gets in the way of a reader’s ability to enjoy the story.

Firebrand may be highly derivative, but it is certainly readable and will probably appeal more to young readers who don’t mind revisiting territory that has already been revisited too many times before. The target audience isn’t grown-ups, and it isn’t the kind of young adult read that will cross over to readers of all ages, but it’s certainly the kind of thing that younger readers will eat up. It’s well-written despite its “been there, done that” feel, and it very well may become more interesting as the trilogy goes on. Fantasy aficionados with a taste for young adult literature will find something to enjoy in Firebrand.

Rating: 3 stars (of 5)

Firebrand is available in eBook form from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, and in paperback form from Amazon. Check out R.M. Prioleau’s website, and follow her on Twitter.

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Lindsay Buroker – Hunted (2011) | Book Review

Lindsay Buroker - Hunted Flash Gold ChroniclesHunted, the second entry in self-publishing superstar Lindsay Buroker‘s Flash Gold Chronicles, is a steampunk adventure novel that picks up right where Flash Gold left off. Although Flash Gold was enjoyable, it was ultimately forgettable. Hunted improves on every aspect of the original, including stronger character development, even better prose, and dialogue that is vastly improved.

The heroes of the story are the same as the first; Kali McAllister is still trying to avoid being killed for the recipe to her father’s invention of flash gold, an energy source used for fantastical machinery. Her partner in crime is a grizzled mercenary slash bodyguard called Cedar, although that isn’t his real name. They are both well-developed characters with real, nuanced personalities that lend a surprisingly realistic feel to a clearly science fiction piece.

In Hunted, Kali is being stalked by a mysterious villain who apparently has a serious bone to pick. Meanwhile, she is invited to a mine by her ex-fiancee, a jackass named Sebastian. Without spoiling the actual plot of the novella, there is a lot of action and Kali and Cedar end up facing off with a villain that feels straight out of a Silver Age comic book—in a good way.

With strong female characters being so hard to come by in science fiction, the series as a whole is a big breath of fresh air. Kali is an instantly likable heroine, with great depth of character considering the brevity of the first two novellas and the extraordinarily high amount of action in each. Hunted is definitely worthwhile reading, and shows how talented Lindsay Buroker really is.

Rating: 4.5 stars (of 5)

Hunted is available for less than two dollars on Amazon and Smashwords. Be sure to check out her website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Daniel Powell – The Silver Coast and Other Stories | Book Review

Short story collections as a rule are a bit more difficult to do well. On average, you’re relying on around a dozen stories to keep the reader’s interest, and one or two duds can really drop the overall thoughts on a collection. As it so happens, Daniel Powell‘s collection The Silver Coast has issues, but consistent quality of readability is not one of them.

All of the stories have some kind of science fiction element. Powell shines especially when dealing with post-apocalyptia, including a touching story about the few remaining survivors of a small town in a zombie apocalypse. Another tells of a man escaping prison to find his lost love in a post-nuclear world, not knowing one way or another if his partner even survived the disaster. This story in particular feels a bit too brief, however. If it were stretched to closer to a novella length Powell would have had better opportunity to highlight the troubles of the search and make the payoff a lot more satisfying.

Other stories, such as one about a man’s obsession with an old car he sees parked on the side of the road, have a good twist but don’t grab the imagination quite as vividly a the better parts of the collection. That said, Powell is a solid writer with good dialogue that moves things along, with his biggest strength being his ideas. Although not every story is brilliant, his ideas are consistently interesting enough to inspire continued reading.

Strangely enough, there are some stranged formatting problems in the eBook edition. The first few pages are nothing but weird tags that don’t register as anything but jumbled HTML on the basic Kindle. For the entirety of the collection, full empty lines are used between each paragraph, which doesn’t really come across well in a book such as this. If you can get past the formatting issues associated with the ebook (which we cannot verify are also present in the print edition), this is a strong collection. It seems that if Powell were to do a full length novel that gives him more time to build his characters and work through his wonderful ideas, he could write something really special. The Silver Coast and Other Stories is at the very least a readable and enjoyable collection, but has a few stories that stand out as borderline excellent.

Rating: 3.5 stars (of 5)

Review: Flash Gold by Lindsay Buroker

Flash Gold by Lindsay Buroker
Self-published, 2011

Rating: B-

In a steampunky alternate history of the Yukon, a young woman named Kali McAllister enters into a steam-powered sled race with an intention of winning a sizable cash prize so that she can get away from a life in an appropriately boring-sounding town of Moose Hollow. Almost immediately, however, her plans are shaken up by the fact that mecenaries, bounty hunters, and general ne’er-do-wells are trying to hunt her down for the secret to an alchemical breakthrough discoverd by her father called flash gold that is apparently worth her head.

Lindsay Buroker is one of the success stories to come out of the self-publishing revolution. With just about a dozen novels under her belt now, almost all of which have very good to excellent reviews, she is one of the talented few that has managed to make a livable income from writing without going through traditional publishing means. She is essentially living proof that if you are talented and good at marketing, you can make a living off of writing without having to get lucky enough to have a publisher actually say yes. Although she is not the only one to achieve this, it is a rare breed of writer that pulls it off.

Flash Gold is not an amazing novella by any stretch, but has a lot going for it in terms of pure entertainment. The action starts almost immediately, and it basically never relents. It has the pulpy escapist feel that so many readers look for from time to time, and its brevity makes it an easy read. Although the basic plot is sort of simplistic, it redeems itself because the main character is so likable. Being that this is the first book in a series, Buroker has laid a strong foundation with Kali, a fiercely independent and plainly kickass chick who has surprising depth considering the length of the work.

There are times in the novella where the dialogue is a little iffy, but the prose is consistently strong. When action and movement of story are the focus, it is good to be strong but utilitarian in writing style, and Buroker manages to do that here. Never was her prose a distraction from the novel, and that is more than can be said for an enormous majority of self-published science fiction and fantasy writers. While I wouldn’t say that Flash Gold is indispensible reading, it is an entirely enjoyable novella that will appeal to steampunk readers and general fans of action-driven sci-fi and fantasy.