Friday, May 31, 2019

#Review - Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto #YALIT #Fantasy

Series: Crown of Feathers
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: February 12th 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Historical

I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

"Sometimes the title of queen is given; sometimes it must be taken. And sometimes the honor becomes so drenched in blood and betrayal that it is slippery to the touch, but we reach for it nonetheless, poison on our fingers and vengeance in our hearts."

Crown of Feathers is the first installment in author Nicki Pau Preto's Crown of Feathers series. Sold as An Ember in the Ashes meets Three Dark Crowns, this debut fantasy novel tells the story about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to join a secret group of warriors that ride phoenixes into battle. Once upon a time, there were a group of people called Phoenix Riders who went down in flames spectacularly after their Queen, Avalkyra Ashfire, tried to do too much too quickly and were defeated by the Golden Empire.  

16-year old Veronyka and her sister Val have been nearly inseparable since their grandmother died. They are both curiosities in that they are animages capable of understanding and communicating with animals. While Val is the dominant, manipulative sister, Veronyka dreams of one day becoming a Phoenix Rider. Both sisters are also shadowmages which are prohibited in this realm. The sisters have been in hiding and moving from place to place for years. When they're not hiding and moving quickly, they hunt for Phoenix eggs. 

They discover two eggs but only one hatches. The one that hatches, Xephyra, chooses Veronyka to bond with instead of the elder sister Val. But, a shocking betrayal by Val pushes Veronyka over the edge, driving her to strike out on her own. Grieving deeply, she disguises herself as a boy in order to join the legendary ranks of the Phoenix Riders since they have a rule against girls joining their ranks. But, we haven't seen or heard the last of Val just yet. Not even close! 

The second main character is Sevro. Sev is a soldier by choice after his parents, Riders, were killed in the last war doing what they do best. One could say that he has loads of regrets and anger simmering waiting to explode. Anyone who is an animage is either pressed into service for life as a bondservant, or killed. In the time we visit with Sev, he meets with Veronyka and her Phoenix and helps her escape. He encounters (2) bondservants who are plotting against the Empire and push him into helping. Sev makes a choice to offer a warning to the small contingent of Riders who are hiding from the Empire while also giving them hope for the future. 

The third character is Tristan. Tristan is a Phoenix rider who’s afraid of fire and he feels like he’s a constant disappointment to his father. Phoenix riders have a bad rule in place that doesn't allow girls to join them. This is exceptionally hypocritical since the original riders were all women. Tristan's relationship with his father could be called tumultuous, it could also be called toxic since the father doesn't have much faith in his own son. It isn't until Tristan meets Nyk, Veronyka in disguise as a boy, that things take an interesting twist.  

Interspersed throughout is the story of Avalkyra Ashfire, the last Rider queen, who would rather see her empire burn than fall into her sister Pheronia's hands. Now, 16 years later, it appears as though the Riders are attempting to regather and take a stand against the Golden Empire which despises them and seeks to end them once and forever. At the end of each chapter, there are points that tell the story of the two sisters who ended up on the opposite sides in the last war. The similarities between the warring queens and Veronikas relationship with her sister Val was interesting as well as leaving questions which needs to be answered.




Joints of venison blackened and burned on the spit, and racks of ribs stewed so long that they were dry and brittle as driftwood. She dug through rotten lettuce and potato peelings for tiny, sharp-as-daggers fish bones and the hollow, delicate bones of birds.

The small owl perched on her shoulder hooted softly in distaste at her most recent discovery. Veronyka shushed him gently, piling the bird bones inside her basket with the rest and standing.

It was late evening, the cool night air threatening frost. The village streets were empty and quiet, with no one to notice the solitary girl digging through their garbage heaps. The clouds above glowed iron gray, obscuring the full moon and making it almost impossible to see in the darkness. That was why she’d called the owl to be her guide. His eyes were precise in the black of night, and with a nudge to her mind, he showed Veronyka the way over rocks and boulders and under low-hanging branches. In her haste, she tripped and stumbled anyway; Val had told her to hurry, and she knew better than to keep her sister waiting.

Excitement and anticipation crackled in her veins, tinged with no small amount of fear—would tonight finally be the night?

Veronyka’s breath created clouds in front of her face as she made her way back to the cabin she and Val shared. It was small and had been deserted when they’d found it, the bright blue paint peeling on its front door and the shutters broken, probably used during the warmer months for hunting and then abandoned during the rainy winter season. The weather was getting drier and hotter with each passing day, so they wouldn’t be able to stay much longer. Another home, come and gone.

As the cabin came into view, Veronyka’s insides contracted. The thick column of smoke that had been billowing from the chimney when she left was nothing more than a thin stream of ghostly wisps. They were running out of time.

She ran the last few steps, the flimsy wooden door thwacking against the stone wall as she pushed her way into the single room. All was darkness, save for the orange flicker of the glowing embers. The smell of smoke was heavy in the air, the taste of ash bitter on her tongue.

Val stood in front of the round hearth in the middle of the cabin, turning at the sound of Veronyka’s entrance. She wore an impatient, agitated expression as she snatched the basket from Veronyka’s grip and stared in at its contents.

She snorted in disapproval. “If that’s the best you can do . . . ,” she said, tossing it carelessly aside, half the bones spilling onto the packed earthen floor.

“You said to hurry,” Veronyka objected, looking around Val to see that the fire burned hot and low beneath a pile of new kindling. These weren’t the boiled or spit-blackened bones of animals, though. These were large white bones.

Human-looking bones.

Val followed her line of sight and answered the unasked question. “And still you took too long, so I went looking on my own.”

A shudder ran down Veronyka’s spine despite the heat.

She tugged at the heavy wool cloak that was wrapped around her shoulders, and her owl guide, whom she’d completely forgotten about, ruffled his feathers.

The movement drew her sister’s attention. Veronyka froze, her muscles tingling as she awaited her sister’s reaction. Would she fly off the handle, like she often did, or would she let the animal’s presence slide?

The owl twitched nervously, shifting from foot to foot under Val’s gaze. Veronyka tried to soothe him, but her own anxiety was rippling across the surface of her skin. A moment later his clawed feet dug into Veronyka’s shoulder, and he glided soundlessly out the still-open door.

Veronyka shut it behind him, taking her time before she faced her sister, dreading the argument that was sure to come. They were both animages—able to understand and communicate with animals—but they had very different views on what that meant. Val believed animals should be treated and used as tools. Compelled, controlled, dominated.

Veronyka, on the other hand, felt kinship with animals, not superiority over them.

“Loving them is weakness,” Val warned, her back to Veronyka as she crouched before the hearth. She added some of the smaller bones from Veronyka’s basket to the growing flames, piling them carefully around the sides of two smooth gray eggs, blackened and streaked with soot. They sat amid the glowing hot embers in a bed of bone and ash, tongues of fire licking up their sides.

Though Veronyka couldn’t see Val’s face, she could imagine the fervor in her eyes. Veronyka expelled a slow, somewhat exasperated breath. They’d had this conversation before.

“The Riders didn’t treat their mounts like pets to be cuddled and fawned over, Veronyka. They were warriors, phoenixaeres, and their bond wasn’t love. It was duty. Honor.”

Phoenixaeres. Even with Val’s scolding, excitement blazed in Veronyka’s heart whenever her sister spoke about Phoenix Riders—animages who’d bonded with phoenixes. The literal translation of the ancient Pyraean word was “phoenix masters,” something Val often reminded her of. Only ani-mages could become Riders, because only through their magic could they hatch, communicate with, and ride the legendary creatures.

It was all Veronyka had ever wanted. To be a Phoenix Rider like the warrior queens of old.

She wanted to soar through the sky on phoenix-back, to be fierce and brave like Lyra the Defender or Avalkyra Ashfire, the Feather-Crowned Queen.

But it had been more than sixteen years since the last Phoenix Riders had graced the Golden Empire’s skies. Most had died in the Blood War, when Avalkyra and her sister, Pheronia, were pitted against each other in a battle for the empire’s throne. The rest had been labeled traitors for turning against the empire and were hunted down and executed afterward. Practicing animal magic without registering and paying heavy taxes had been made illegal, and animages like Veronyka and Val had to live in secrecy and squalor, hiding their abilities, in constant fear of being captured and forced into servitude.

During their glory days, the Phoenix Riders were guardians above all else, and for Veronyka, even the idea of them had been a shining beacon of hope when she was growing up. Her grandmother had always promised that one day the Phoenix Riders would return. One day it would be safe to be an animage again. And when her grandmother had died, Veronyka had vowed to become one herself. She wanted to be the light in the darkness for other poor, lonely animages living in hiding. She wanted the strength and the means to fight and protect others like her and Val. The strength she hadn’t had to protect her grandmother.

Maybe the Phoenix Riders as a military order were gone, but you needed only two things if you wanted to be a phoenixaeris: animal magic and a phoenix.

Veronyka moved around Val to kneel next to the hearth. The phoenix eggs nestled there were roughly the size of her cupped hands, and their color and texture were so similar to that of natural stones that they could easily be overlooked. It was a defense mechanism, Val had said, so that phoenixes could lay their eggs in secret and leave them unguarded for years until they—or an animage—came to hatch them. The Riders often concealed eggs as well, placing secret caches inside statues and sacred spaces, but many had been destroyed by the empire during the war.

Veronyka and Val had been searching for phoenix eggs for years—in every run-down temple, abandoned Rider outpost, and forgotten building they could find. They’d traded meals for information, sold stolen goods for wagon rides, and made other transactions Val wouldn’t let her see. After their grandmother had died, Val had been determined to get them out of Aura Nova, the capital of the empire, and into Pyra—but it hadn’t been easy. Travel outside the empire after the war had been closely monitored, as many of Avalkyra Ashfire’s allies had tried to get into Pyra to avoid persecution. In the years since, with the threat of bondage or poverty under the magetax, many animages had tried to do the same. Pyra had once been a province of the empire, but it had declared its autonomy under Avalkyra Ashfire’s leadership. With the death of its Feather-Crowned Queen, it had become a lawless, somewhat dangerous place—but it was still safer for animages than the empire.

Without proper identification, Veronyka and Val hadn’t been able to cross the border. Plus, they were animages—if their magic had been discovered, they would have been put into bondage. So they’d been forced to travel within the empire, Val leading, Veronyka following. They’d slept in ditches, on rooftops, in the pouring rain and the sweltering heat. Val would disappear—sometimes for days—then return with blood on her shirt and a coin purse in her hands.

Those had been hard times, but they’d finally bribed their way onto a merchant caravan and been smuggled into Pyra, their parents’ homeland. Veronyka had been certain that, finally, their luck would change. And after several long months, it had.

Val had found two perfect phoenix eggs hidden in a crumbling temple deep in the wilderness of Pyra. One for each of them.

Just thinking about that day brought a prickle of tears to Veronyka’s eyes, a surge of emotion that she fought to keep in check. Whenever Val caught sight of Veronyka’s euphoric smile at the prospect of what they were doing, she’d meet it with cold, hard truths: Sometimes eggs didn’t hatch. Sometimes the phoenix inside chose not to bond or died during the incubation process.

Even now, Val didn’t smile or take joy in the sight of the eggs in the hearth. Their incubation was as somber as a funeral pyre.

A bone snapped in the hearth, and a cloud of ash rose up. Veronyka held her breath so she wouldn’t inhale the dead, drawing a circle on her forehead.

“Stop that,” Val snapped, seeing Veronyka’s hand and swatting it aside. Her beautiful face was a severe mask, her warm brown skin painted with black shadows and swathes of red and orange from the firelight. “Axura’s Eye should not be called for some silly superstition. That’s for peasants and fishermen, not you.”

Val was never much for religion, but Axura was the god most sacred to Pyraeans—and Phoenix Riders—so she usually let Veronyka say prayers or give thanks. Still, she hated the small superstitions, turning up her nose and pretending she and Veronyka were somehow above the local villagers and working-class people they’d lived among all their lives. They hadn’t had a proper home since they were children, and even that was a hovel in the Narrows, the poorest district of Aura Nova. Right now they were squatting on the floor of another person’s cottage. Who were they, if not peasants?

“Have you eaten?” Veronyka asked, changing the subject. Val wore that fanatical look on her face again, and heavy bags sat under her eyes. Val was only seventeen, but in her exhaustion she appeared much older. Quietly Veronyka moved away from the fire to dig through their box of food stores, which were getting dangerously low.

“I had some of the salt fish,” Val answered, her voice taking on the familiar distant tenor that came over her after too much time fire gazing.

“Val, we ran out of the fish two days ago.”

She shrugged, a jerking twitch of the shoulder, and Veronyka sighed. Val hadn’t eaten since she’d found the eggs. For all her intelligence and cunning, she often lost track of the mundane activities that made up daily life. Veronyka was the one who cooked their meals and mended their clothes, who worried about sleep and nutrition and a clean home. Val’s mind was always elsewhere—on people and places long gone, or on distant dreams and future possibilities.

As she continued to search through their stores, Veronyka unearthed an almost-empty sack of rice. They’d have to find something worth trading in the village the next day, or they’d go hungry.

“You know we won’t,” Val said, speaking into the flames.

Immediately realizing her mistake, Veronyka closed her eyes. She’d been projecting her thoughts and concerns into the open air, where anyone—where Val—could snatch them up. While their shared ability to speak into the minds of animals was fairly common—one in ten people, Val said, though it was higher in Pyra—their ability to speak into human minds was as rare as a phoenix egg. Shadowmages, they were called, and for two sisters to have the gift was even rarer. Unlike animal magic, shadow magic wasn’t hereditary, and as far as Veronyka knew, most people thought it was a myth. It existed only in old stories and epic poems, a magical ability belonging to ancient Pyraean queens and long-dead heroes.

While they had to be careful with their animal magic since it had been outlawed in the empire, they had to be extra cautious when it came to shadow magic. People in Pyra would often let animages be, but if anyone were to catch Veronyka and Val using shadow magic, they would almost certainly be turned in. For every legend of a powerful Phoenix Rider queen with an uncanny ability to tell truths from lies, there was also a cautionary tale about a dark witch who corrupted souls and controlled minds. It was mostly nonsense, Veronyka suspected, but people often rejected and distrusted things they didn’t understand. She and Val were safest if they kept their shadow magic to themselves.

Of course, that didn’t stop Val from using it on Veronyka whenever she pleased.

Guard your mind, Val said, speaking the words inside Veronyka’s head rather than out loud. Like speaking to animals, shadow magic could be used to communicate, or it could be used to influence a person’s will: to order and command. Val often used the latter to get them food or clothes or shelter, but she only ever turned shadow magic on Veronyka to communicate. As far as Veronyka knew. Still, she could see Val was tempted sometimes, when Veronyka disobeyed and refused to listen, and she could understand the danger of such a powerful ability.

“I’m making dinner,” Veronyka announced, drawing her thoughts and feelings inward and putting up mental walls to surround and protect them, just like Val had taught her. She was usually better at keeping her mind guarded, but they’d been tending the fire for two days, and in her exhaustion, her emotions were raw and close to the surface. Cooking some food would help distract her from the alternating surges of fluttering anticipation and aching dread that were in constant flux inside her. The closer they got to the moment of hatching, the more terrified she became that it would go wrong, that it would all be for nothing.

Everything rested upon those two round rocks in the fire.

Veronyka lifted their heavy clay pot and hoisted it over to the edge of the hearth, the bag of rice tucked under her arm. “We’ve still got some onions and dried meat to make broth, and . . . Val?”

Veronyka caught the scent of singed fabric. Val crouched so near the flames that the hem of her tunic was smoking, but she was still as a statue, oblivious to the heat, a steady stream of tears making tracks down her soot-smeared cheeks.

Veronyka’s heart constricted, and she looked into the flames, expecting to see cause for concern. Instead the nearest egg twitched and rattled. Veronyka held her breath. The gentle sound of hollow scraping punctuated the hiss and pop of the flames.

A font of purest, powerful hope welled up inside her chest.

She looked back at Val, asking the question—begging for the affirmation.

Val nodded, her answer barely louder than a whisper. “It’s time.”

Thursday, May 30, 2019

#Review - Priest of Bones by Peter McLean #Fantasy

Series: War For The Rose Throne (#1)
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Ace
Source: Publisher
Genre: Dark Fantasy

“The first in an unmissable series, Priest of Bones is a fresh and compelling take on grimdark fantasy. Mashing together soldiers, gangsters, magic and war into a heady mix that is a hulking big brother to The Lies of Locke Lamora.”—Anna Stephens, author of Godblind

The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety heads home with Sergeant Bloody Anne at his side. But things have changed while he was away: his crime empire has been stolen and the people of Ellinburg—his people—have run out of food and hope and places to hide. Tomas sets out to reclaim what was his with help from Anne, his brother, Jochan, and his new gang: the Pious Men. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, everything gets more complicated.

As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the back-street taverns, brothels, and gambling dens of Tomas’s old life, it becomes clear:

The war is only just beginning.

Priest of Bones is the first installment in author Peter McLean's War for The Rose Throne series. If you like books in the grimdark genre, you will love this story. The publisher has compared this series to The Godfather with swords by way of peaky blinders which combines fantasy, gangster movies, and a pseudo-Tudor British industrial setting. Told in the first person narrative by Tomas Piety, it features a cast that includes a 12-year old wunderkind, a damaged brother, a spy for the crown who puts Tomas in an untenable position, and a woman who earned her way into becoming Tomas's second-in-command. 

For Tomas Piety, and his Pious Men, including his brother Jochan, his second-in-command Bloody Anne, and 12-year old Billy the Boy, the long war is over but the battle for the town of Ellinburg is just beginning. 3 days after the war ended, Tomas and his group return home to discover that someone has moved in and stolen away every single one of his businesses. Everything from a tavern, to a whore house, to a gambling house are now in the hands of a mysterious force that appears to be moving towards complete capitulation by those living in Ellinburg. Not Tomas.

Tomas has other ideas. Unfortunately for Tomas, there are others called the Queen's Men who know exactly what he is planning and manage to throw in a bit of a twist to the plot. This book is dark, bloody, action packed, and shocking to the amount of blood and violence that will be had in order to take back what Tomas lost when he was away at war. I appreciate that the author addresses an issue that has long affected those who went to war, but returned with PTSD or other health related issues. In this story, the author calls it battle sickness, but if you are a veteran, you know what he implies. It is fair to say that there are no real good, or real bad people in this book. They clearly reside in the gray area. In a world where survival is often dependent on wits, cunning and weapons, truth, decency and morality often are shoved aside in favor of survival instinct.

Chapter 1
After the war we came home.
Sixty-five thousand battle-shocked, trained killers came home to no jobs, no food, and the plague. What the fuck did Her Majesty think was going to happen?
“Drink up lads,” I said. “It’s on the house, now.”
“That it is,” Bloody Anne said as she threw the innkeeper out of the door and locked it behind him.
He had wanted silver, for food and beer barely worth half a clipped copper. That was no way to welcome the returning heroes, to my mind, and it seemed Anne had agreed with me about that. She’d given him a good kicking for his trouble.
“That’s done then,” she said.
Bloody Anne was my sergeant. Her hair was shorter than mine and she had a long, puckered scar that ran from the corner of her left eye down almost to the tip of her jaw, twisting the corner of her mouth into a permanent sneer. Nobody messed with Bloody Anne, not if they knew what was good for them.
“You drinking?” I asked, offering her a tankard.
“What do you think?”
She had a gravelly voice that had been roughened by the smoke of blasting powder and too many years of shouting orders. No amount of beer would soften that voice, but that didn’t stop her trying every chance she got. We sat at a table together and she took the cup from me and drained half of it in a single swallow.
A couple of the lads were dragging the innkeeper’s daughter up some splintery wooden stairs while the others tapped a fresh cask. Kant grinned at me from those stairs, his hand already thrust down the front of the girl’s kirtle. I shook my head to tell him no. I don’t hold with rape and I wasn’t allowing it, not in my crew.
I’m a priest, after all.
Over Anne’s shoulder, I watched Kant ignore me and drag the girl up onto the landing and out of sight. Those were the times we lived in.
All the same, there were limits.
I got to my feet and shoved the table away from me, spilling our wooden tankards of warm beer across the sawdust-covered floor of the inn.
“Oi,” Anne complained.
“Kant!” I shouted.
Kant stuck his head back around the rough plaster arch at the top of the stairs.
“Let the girl go,” I said.
“Good one, boss.”
He grinned, showing me his shit-colored teeth.
Bloody Anne turned in her seat and saw what was going on.
“Enough, Corporal,” she growled at him, but he ignored her.
It made me angry, that he thought he could ignore Anne like that. She was a sergeant and he was only a corporal, although that sort of thing didn’t matter much anymore. Kant was a head taller than me and maybe thirty pounds heavier, but I didn’t care. I knew that didn’t matter either, and more to the point Kant knew it too. There was a devil in me, and all my crew knew it.
“No,” I said, letting my voice fall into the flat tone that warned of harsh justice to come.
“You’re joking,” Kant said, but he sounded uncertain now.
“Come here, Kant,” I said. “You too, Brak.”
Spring rain blew against the closed shutters, loud in a room that was otherwise plunged into nervous silence. A smoky fire crackled in the grate. Kant and his fellow would-be rapist came back down the stairs, leaving the girl crying in a heap on the top step. She had maybe sixteen or seventeen years to her, no more than that, putting her at barely half my age.
I could feel Anne and the rest of my crew looking at me. Men set down their tankards and bottles to watch. Even Fat Luka put his cup down, and it took a lot to stop him drinking. The crew knew something had been ill done, and when something was ill done in my eyes there was always harsh justice.
Bloody Anne was giving me a wary look now. Sir Eland the false knight just stood there sneering at everyone like he always did, but he was watching too. Billy the Boy was halfway to drunk already, but then he was only twelve so I supposed I had to let him off not being able to hold his beer. Grieg and Cookpot and Black Billy and the others just watched.
I met Kant’s eyes and pointed at a spot on the boards in front of me.
“Come here,” I said. “Right now.”
A log popped in the grate, making Simple Sam jump. Kant glared at me but he came, and Brak followed in his wake like a little boat trailing behind a war galleon.
“Would you like someone to fuck, Kant?” I asked him.
Kant was bigger than me, huge and ugly. Kant the Cunt, the crew called him, but never to his face. His chain-mail byrnie strained across his massive barrel chest over a jerkin of boiled leather. The scars on his face stood out livid and red as he started to get angry right back at me. I remembered how he had earned those scars at Abingon, forcing his way through the breach in the west wall when the citadel fell. Kant had led his squad over a mound of corpses, and never mind the archers waiting for them. He had taken an arrow through the cheek for his trouble. He had kept fighting, had Kant, spitting blood and teeth as he swung his mace into this head, that shoulder, those balls, crushing and bludgeoning and forcing his way forward. Bludgeon and force, that was how Kant the Cunt made his way in the world.
Kant was a war hero.
But then so was I.
“Course I want someone to fuck,” Kant said. “Who don’t?”
“You want to fuck, Kant?” I asked him again, and this time my voice went soft and quiet.
All the crew had been with me long enough to know what that tone meant. That tone meant the devil was awake and there was harsh justice coming for sure, and soon. Kant was drunk, though, not booze drunk but rape drunk, power drunk, and I knew he wasn’t going to take a telling. Not this time.
“Yeah, I fucking do,” he said.
I didn’t like Kant. I never had liked Kant, truth be told, but Kant was a good soldier. In Abingon I had needed good soldiers. Now I needed good men, and the Lady only knows the two ain’t necessarily the same thing.
“Come here,” I said again. “If you want to fuck, come here and fuck me.”
I held Kant’s gaze. I wouldn’t have put it past him, under other circumstances. If I had been some other man, some peasant lad, I doubted Kant would have been picky. A hole was a hole as far as he was concerned, and if he could stick his cock in it then it made him happy.
“Tomas . . .” Anne started to say, but it was too late for that and I think she knew it.
The Weeping Women hung heavy on my hips. They were a matched pair of beautifully crafted shortswords that I had looted from a dead colonel after the last battle of Abingon. I had named them Remorse and Mercy.
My crew knew all too well what the Weeping Women could do in my hands.
“You didn’t ought to force yourself on lasses, it’s not right,” Black Billy said. He nudged the man beside him with his elbow. “Ain’t that so, Grieg?”
Grieg grunted but said nothing. He was a man of few words, was Grieg.
“Lady’s sake,” Brak muttered, scuffing his foot at the beery sawdust underfoot while Kant tried to stare me out. “We was only having a bit of fun, like.”
“Does she look like she’s having fun?” I asked.
Kant saw me point to the girl, he saw my eyes and hand move away from him, and he took his moment. I had thought he might, for all that I had hoped he had more sense. He was quick, was Kant, and he was brutal, but he wasn’t any kind of clever.
He lunged at me, his hand going to his belt and coming out with a long knife in it. I dipped and turned, and swept Remorse out of her scabbard and across his throat in a vicious backhand cut. Kant dropped in a great spray of red foam, bubbling and cursing as he fell.
I could feel Billy the Boy looking at me.
“Good fucking deal,” he said, his voice not yet broken, and he drained his tankard.
“Fuck,” Brak said.
“That’s what you wanted, Brak,” I said. “The offer’s still open. My arse, if you can come and take it.”
He looked at me, and at Kant bleeding out on the floor and at the length of dripping steel in my hand. He shook his head, and that was as I had expected. Brak was Kant’s second, but he had barely twenty years to him and he was only tough when he had the big man in front of him.
“Nah,” he said at last. “I ain’t in the mood no more.”
“Didn’t think so,” I said.
I wondered where this left Brak now, in the pecking order of my crew. Truth be told, I didn’t care. That was Brak’s problem, not mine. Staying boss was my problem—how they sorted out their own hierarchy was up to them.
Matters of rank and the chain of command had gone to the whores after Abingon, but I had been the company priest. That put me in charge of the crew by default after the captain died of his wounds on the way home. That and I was used to leading men, and no one else was.
Simple Sam stood looking down at Kant for a long moment, then gave him a hefty kick as though checking to make sure he was dead.
He was.
“What’s the colonel going to say about this, Mr. Piety?” Sam asked.
“We ain’t got a colonel anymore, Sam lad,” I told him. “We’ve been disbanded, remember?”
“What’s disbanded?”
“Means they’ve stopped paying us,” Anne grumbled.
She was right. Our regiment had gone from being three thousand paid, organized murderers to three thousand unpaid, disorganized murderers.
That had gone about as well as might be expected.
“Bollocks,” Sam muttered, and kicked Kant again to show us what he thought of that.
The Lady only knew what had happened to our colonel, but the rest of us had stayed together in a loose mass of independent crews as a matter of habit more than anything else. There were nearly three thousand men camped in and around this town, but no one was really in charge anymore. No, I wouldn’t be getting court-martialed for killing Kant. Not these days I wouldn’t.
I looked down for a moment and gave thanks to Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows for my victory. She hadn’t guided my hand, I knew that much. Our Lady doesn’t help. Not ever. She doesn’t answer prayers or grant boons or give a man anything at all, however hard he might pray for it. The best you can hope for from her is that she doesn’t take your life today. Maybe tomorrow, aye, but not today. That’s as good as it gets, and the rest is up to you.
She was a goddess for soldiers and no mistake.
“Well done,” Sir Eland the false knight said in my ear. “You’ve kept them this time, at least.”
He was a sneaky bastard, was Sir Eland. I hadn’t known he was there until I felt his hot breath on the back of my neck. I turned and looked at him, carefully keeping a bland expression on my face. Sir Eland had been the captain’s champion, this man who called himself a knight. He was nothing of the sort, I knew. He was just a thug who had stolen himself a warhorse and enough ill-fitting armor to carry off the lie. He was about as noble as my morning shit. All the same, he was dangerous and he needed watching.
“Sir Eland,” I said, and forced myself to smile at the false knight. “How gratifying to have your support.”
I turned away before he could say anything else. I could feel his eyes on my back, boring through my black hooded priest’s robe and my chain-mail byrnie and boiled leather jerkin and linen shirt all the way through to my heart. Oh, yes, Sir Eland the false knight would stab me in the back the first chance he got, I knew that much. It was my job to not give him that chance. That was what it was, to be a leader of men like these.
At least Anne hated him as much as I did, that was something. I knew she had my back, she always did. I made my way across the inn to the table where Billy the Boy was sitting. Kant was still lying on the floorboards in a spreading pool of his own blood, but no one seemed to be in any sort of hurry to move him. I sat down at the scarred trestle table across from Billy, and nodded to him.
The lad looked up, the light catching the smooth planes of a face that had never seen a razor. A slow smile crept across his moist young lips.
“Speak, in the name of Our Lady,” he said.
“I killed Kant,” I confessed to him, keeping my voice low.
“It was his time to cross the river,” Billy said. “The Lady knows Kant needed killing and she forgives you. In Our Lady’s name.”
He had, at that. No one would miss Kant, I knew that much.
Billy was only twelve years old but he wore mail and a shortsword like a man. I might be a priest, but Billy was my confessor, strange as that may seem. I bowed my head before the child.
“In Our Lady’s name,” I repeated.
Billy the Boy reached out and brushed the cowl back from my face to put a hand on my forehead. It looked ridiculous, I knew, me giving confession to this child-man. I was the priest there, not him, but Billy was special. Billy was touched by Our Lady, all there knew that. That was the only reason the crew left a young lad like him alone. I remembered when Billy had first joined us, an orphan refugee from the sack of Messia. The regiment had been recruiting by then, replacing its losses, and had taken Billy even young as he was.
Sir Eland had taken a shine to him at once. He liked lads, did Sir Eland. He had tried to get into Billy’s bedroll one night, to have his way with him. To this day I don’t know exactly what had happened, and to be sure Sir Eland was never likely to raise the matter in conversation. All I remembered was a campfire by the roadside. I’d had the watch that hour, and the rest of the crew were curled up asleep in their blankets as close to the fire as they could get. I remembered a sudden shrill scream in the darkness.
It hadn’t been Billy who’d screamed, but Sir Eland. Whatever he had tried to do to Billy, and I supposed really that was his business, his attention hadn’t been wanted. Billy had done . . . something, and that had been the end of it. That was how the pecking order got worked out, and no one had ever mentioned it again. The crew adapted and moved on, and after that Billy the Boy was one of us.
The one touched by the goddess.
“Thank you, Billy,” I said.
He shrugged, indifferent. So simply was atonement given. There was no expression at all in his flat brown eyes, and Lady only knew what went on in his head.
I got up and looked around the room, my gaze taking in the rest of the crew. They were drinking and laughing and cursing once more, throwing dice and stuffing their faces with whatever Cookpot had found in the kitchen. At some point the girl had run away, and I thought that was wise of her. Simple Sam was being noisily sick in a corner. All was well.
Right up until six armed men kicked the door in, anyway.
“Fuck!” Brak shouted.
It was his favorite word, I had to give him that.
I sat quiet and stared at the newcomers as my crew drew steel all around me. I knew the one who led them, but I hadn’t thought to see him again. I kept my hands on the table in front of me, well away from the hilts of the Weeping Women.
Six men shouldered their way inside with the rain blowing in behind them. Their leader shoved the hood of his sodden cloak back from his face and showed me a savage grin.
“Fuck a nun, Tomas Piety!” he said.
I stood up.
“Brother,” I said.
Chapter 2
My brother Jochan looked around him and roared with laughter. He was four years younger than me but taller and thinner, with wild hair and a three-day growth of beard on his prominent, pointed chin.
“Fucking priest?” he said, staring at my robes. “How are you a fucking priest? If I’m any judge half your crew are puking shitfaced and you’ve fucking killed one of them yourself.”
Thanks to the mercy of Our Lady, Jochan wasn’t a judge. Still, I had to admit he had the right of it this time. I showed him a smile that I didn’t feel.
“Those are the times we live in,” I said.
“Fucking right,” Jochan agreed, and turned to his crew. “Lads, this is my big brother Tomas. I ain’t seen him since the war started but he’s a fucking priest now, apparently. Still he’s all right, despite that. His boys won’t mind sharing, will they?”
That last was pointed at me, I knew. I shrugged.
“Be our guests,” I said. “Ain’t like we paid for it.”
If my crew could feel the tension between my brother and me they had the sense not to show it, and that was wise of them.
Jochan’s lads started helping themselves to beer and food, and he came and joined me and Bloody Anne at our table. I didn’t know any of his crew. Jochan and me had ended up in different regiments, and if he was here now I could only assume he had led his handful of men across country from wherever they were supposed to be to join us here.
“Oi!” he shouted. “Woman! Bring us beer.”
Anne’s head snapped around in anger, but he didn’t mean her.
One of his men came over with tankards for us, then went to rejoin the others. He was as rough-looking as the rest of them and there was nothing remotely womanly about the fellow, to my mind. I raised an eyebrow at Jochan.
“Woman?” I asked.
“Aye, that’s Will the Woman,” Jochan said. “We called him that because every time Will kills a man he weeps afterward. Mind you, he’s killed so many fucking men it ain’t funny no more, but you know how a name sticks.”
I did.
“He must have wept a lot, at Abingon,” Anne said.
“Aye,” Jochan said, and fell silent.
We had the war in common, us brothers, if little enough else. The war, and the memories of it, of home before it and of childhood things long past and best forgotten. We were nothing alike, me and Jochan. We never had been. We had worked together before the war, but I would never have called us friends. My aunt had always told me that I didn’t feel enough, but to my mind Jochan had always felt far too much. Perhaps between us we made a whole man. I wouldn’t know. That was a philosophical question, I supposed, and this was no time for philosophy.
I looked across the table into my brother’s eyes, and in that moment I realized what the war had done to him. Jochan had always been wild, but there was a feral quality to his stare now that I hadn’t seen before. I could almost see the flare of the cannon in his pupils, the clouds of dust from falling walls rolling across the whites into corners that were as red as the rivers of blood we had waded through. Whatever little sanity Jochan had possessed before the war, he had left it in the dust of Abingon.
“Brother,” I said, and reached out a hand to him across the rough tabletop.
Jochan lurched to his feet and drained his tankard in a long, shuddering swallow, spilling a good deal of it down the front of his rusty mail. He turned and hurled the empty vessel into the fire.
“What now?” he bellowed. “What now for the glorious Piety boys, reunited at the outskirts of Hell?”
He leaped up onto the table and kicked my tankard aside, spraying beer carelessly across Kant’s cooling body. He’d have looked drunk to anyone who didn’t know him, but I knew Jochan wasn’t drunk. Not yet, anyway. Jochan was Jochan and this was just his way. He’d never been quite right in the head.
“What now?” he roared, arms outstretched as he turned in a circle before the assembled men.
His own crew were obviously used to this sort of thing, whereas my lads watched him with a mixture of suspicion and barely concealed amusement. Best they keep it concealed, I thought. One thing you didn’t do was laugh at Jochan.
Simple Sam obviously never got that note, not that he could read anyway. He sniggered. I remembered this, from the schoolrooms of our shared, lost youth. I remembered how some of the other boys had laughed at Jochan, once.
Only once.
No one laughed at Jochan a second time. Not ever.
He launched himself off the table without a word, without a warning, and plowed into Simple Sam. Sam was a big lad but he was slow in body as well as mind, and Jochan caught him full in the chest with his elbow and slammed him back into the wall. He had Sam on the floor a second later, and then the beating started. His fist rose and fell in a merciless rhythm.
I couldn’t let that pass, brother or not. Bloody Anne made as though to rise, to make something of it, but I put a hand on her arm to tell her to be still. Sergeant she might be, but Jochan was my brother and that made him my problem, not hers.
“No,” I said, in that special voice that even Jochan recognized.
He knew what harsh justice looked like, and he’d felt it once or twice himself when we were young.
He let Sam go and turned to face me, blood dripping from his knuckles.
“No, is it, war hero?” he sneered. “What’s your big fucking plan then, Tomas?”
He was testing me, I knew that. Testing the limits of that harsh justice, with his men around him and mine with me. I’d like to say no one wanted a bloodbath, but I wasn’t sure that was true. Even though we outnumbered them better than two to one, I didn’t think Jochan could see that, or that he would care even if he could. I knew I didn’t want blood, though, not now. That wouldn’t help anyone.
“We go home,” I said. “We go home with my crew, and yours, and any of the rest of the regiment who’ll follow us. We go home and pick up where we left off.”
“Pick up what?” Jochan demanded. “The county is on its fucking knees, Tomas. There’s plague. There’s famine. There’s no fucking work. And we won this fucking war?”
“Aye, we won it,” I said. “We won, and Aunt Enaid has been keeping the family business for us while we’ve been away.”
“Away?” he roared at me. “We’ve been in Hell! We come home as devils, tainted with what we’ve seen.”
I looked at him, at the tears in his mad eyes.
Jochan had always felt too much, and I not enough. If the war had changed me I had noticed it little enough. Running the business back home, running a crew in Abingon, it was all the same to me save that the food was better back home and there was more drink to be had. I spread my hands in a gesture of conciliation.
“You have a place at my side, Jochan,” I told him. “You’re my brother, you’ll always have a place. Come home with me.”
He spat on the floor in empty defiance, then sniffed and looked down at his boots.
“Aye,” he said, after a moment. “Aye, Tomas.”
He had always been like this, after his rages left him. Quiet, contrite. Sometimes tearful, like now. I could see he was fighting to hold that back in front of his men, and that was wise of him. Will the Woman might get away with weeping in front of that lot, but I didn’t think Jochan would. Not if he wanted to stay the boss of them, anyway.
I looked at Simple Sam, sitting half unconscious in front of the fireplace with blood streaming from his broken nose and one eye already swollen shut. Anne got up and handed him a rag for his nose, but she held her peace about what had happened. Sam had been lucky, all things considered. He wouldn’t have been the first man Jochan had beaten to death with his fists.
So there we were, the Piety boys.
I had been intending to return home anyway, with my crew and any others I could raise from what was left of the regiment, return home and reclaim what was mine. Jochan’s lads would follow him, I was sure, and in time they would become my lads.
I might well need them. Aunt Enaid had been keeping the family business, I had told Jochan. I hoped that was true, but I wasn’t prepared to bet on it. I wouldn’t have bet a clipped copper on it, truth be told, not with the state of what I had seen so far since we had returned. That was only in the countryside, mind. The Lady only knew what the city looked like by then.
“Good,” I said. “That’s good, Jochan. Have another beer, why don’t you? There’s plenty.”
There was plenty, and that was good too. There was famine, as I have written, and the land south of there had been foraged to within an inch of its life. This inn, though, this nothing little country inn in the middle of this nothing little market town, this place still had barrels in the cellar and stringy meat and a few root vegetables in the kitchen. That meant we were ahead of the main march of the army, and for that I gave thanks to Our Lady.
I sat back in my chair, thinking on it while the boys drank themselves silly all around me. After a while Bloody Anne came and sat with me again, a fresh tankard in each hand. She put them down on the table and gave me a look. Anne wasn’t as drunk as the others, perhaps wasn’t drunk at all. It was hard to tell, with her.
She was my second, in my eyes anyway, for all that Sir Eland assumed that role was his. I didn’t know how much I could trust Anne, not really, but I knew I couldn’t trust Sir Eland at all. Oh, I would trust Anne with my life on the battlefield, make no mistake. I had done in fact, many times, and had been pleased to call her my friend, but now that we were nearly home? Now we were almost home and business was calling, that might be a different matter.
“Have a drink, boss,” she said.
She pushed one of the tankards toward me. I nodded and took it, took a swallow to say thank you even though I didn’t really want it.
“Did you notice what this town was called, Anne?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “Someone’s ford,” she said. “Harrow’s Ford? Herron’s Ford? Something like that.”
“Anything strike you as queer about it?”
Again, she shrugged. “Market town,” she said. “All the same.”
She was right; they were all the same. Burned out or starved out or everyone dead from the plague, every single one we had come across on our long, slow march back home. Until this one.
“This one isn’t,” I said. “This one’s not dead.”
“Soon will be,” she said. “There’s three thousand hungry men here.”
She had a point there, I had to allow.
Those were the times we lived in.
We might as well make the most of it while it was still there.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

#Review -The Phoenix Grail by Helen Savore #Fantasy

Series: The Phoenix Succession # 1
Format: E-Galley
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Publisher: Oberon's Forge Press llc
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Alexandrea’s family descends from King Arthur’s knights, the sole humans who can see the Fae. They’ve worked with Merlin’s forgotten apprentice for generations to stop Fae from leeching life.

Now she is the last, and must follow in the footsteps of the grail knights, seeking the Phoenix grail. Worse, the fae are visiting Earth more, including Alexandrea’s friend Jamie who sees visions predicting his patients deaths.

Can Alexandrea summon the Phoenix in time to regain what her ancestors lost and stop the deaths that plague our world?

The Phoenix Grail is the first installment in author Helen Savore's The Phoenix Succession series. This story actually features several key characters: Moralynn, the so called Phoenix Spark who was an apprentice to Merlin until his demise. Alexandrea Morgan, a Druid who was taken in by Moralynn to be her student and heir apparent. Jamie Penderson, a friend of Alexandrea's as a teen, an accolade of Alexandrea's father, and a trained doctor who has the ability to see phantoms who appear when people die.

This is a different take on the whole Arthurian mythology by adding Odin and Puck to the mix. In this reality, Arthur has not been seen in centuries, but it is hopeful that his return will save humanity. In order for Arthur to return, the Phoenix must rise to take back Arthur's sword which now rests in the hands of Odin. I really did take a chance with requesting and reading this book because I like stories about Arthur, Morgan Le Fey, and Merlin. This is a modern story that features descendants from Author's time fighting to bring peace to humankind while also dealing with Oberon, Puck, the Lady in the Lake and Adhomai who might be ally, or may have an ulterior motive. 

While Moralynn, Alexandrea and Jamie are searching for a way to bring back the Phoenix and balance to the world, there are those who stand in their way. At every avenue, it seems as though someone is one or two steps ahead of them. The conflict between Raebyn (aka Puck) goes back centuries to the point where she lost her life, woke after years in stasis, and found out that everything she cherished was gone. She is remanded to perform the rite of reincarnation to all fae who pass by Odin and Titania.

While Moralynn's memories slowly fade away, and a war is brewing in the fae realms, she's been fighting her own battles to bring back magic to the world and thus saving humankind from being overrun by the Fae. The Fae have all but committed genocide against the Druids leaving only a handful left in this world. With Jamie's help and a bit of surprises along the way, the allies will travel to many historical sights that you can easily look up on the internet to see what their significance was to Arthur and his hopeful return. 

Will I read the sequel? If the author and the publisher release a sequel I will. As I am looking at this on Goodreads right now, there seems not to be any interest in reading this book. I would definitely urge you to rethink not reading this book if you are a fan of Arthurian tales and mythology.

Unfortunately, there are no buy links for this book. If you would like to request the book, look for it on NetGalley.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

#Review - The Hallowed Knight by Jenn Stark #Urban #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Wilde Justice # 3
Format: E-Galley, 350 pages
Release Date: May 29, 2019
Publisher: Elewyn Publishing
Source: Author
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Romance

The world is full of magical things...

With a day job that requires her to hunt down psychics who use their metaphysical gifts as weapons, Tarot-reading Justice of the Arcana Council Sara Wilde has no time for fairy tales. So when her newest case pleads for her assistance against brownies, sprites, and pixie dust, she's more than ready to file it under "not a chance."

But these Neo-Celts mean business, with a boldly charismatic leader who vows to return the world to the iron-fisted rule of the ancient gods. That plan infuriates the fiercest member of the Arcana Council, Death, whose deep Irish roots hide more secrets than Sara ever realized, and draws the focus of the dark-eyed, seductive Magician, deftly weaving his ever more twisted schemes.

At the Council's behest, Sara plunges headlong into Irish folklore, fantasy, and the very real, very frightening truth of the spaces between worlds, where the darkest memories go to hide... Memories that could upend everything Sara's finally claimed as her own.

Travelers beware! The fairies will all come out to play when you chase The Hallowed Knight.

The Hallowed Knight is the third installment in author Jenn Stark's Wilde Justice series. The story picks up 5 months after Tarot-card reading Sara Wilde helped defeat a God which has lead to a major influx of magic. Sara is now Justice of the Arcana Council. The first Justice in 200 years. As the first Justice of the Arcana Council in two hundred years, Sara Wilde is tasked with taking out the most dangerous magic-wielding criminals on the planet. But, can she stand against Irish folklore and attempts to bring back old gods?

I'd like to point out that if you have not read the original Immortal Vegas series, especially Wilde Fire, than you really should. The reason is that events that happened in that series now resonant in everything that Sara and the Council does. While the Council is supposed to stand for balance, so far they haven't actually done anything that impressive. In this newest installment, Sara has her work cut out for her. After being contacted by a curious source, Sara finds herself dragged in conflict between Neo-Celts and spectral opposition warriors.

Rumors of a so called Green Knight or Hallowed Knight are spreading among the so called Connected. He is said to be a Druid blessed by ancient Gods to do their bidding. After her best friend Nikki Dawes is targeted, Sara is sent by the Council along with Simon (Arcana's Fool) to Ireland to take charge of the problem and solve it quickly before legendary Fomorians, supernatural race of Irish Myth, and opponents of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the other supernatural race in Irish mythology, find a way through old passageways into this world.

The best part of this story for me, was getting to know the mysterious Death better. There were, and are still a bunch of questions about her, but to gain a glimpse into her past, and what she is capable of doing, and who she once was, was enlightening. So, yes, there is the usual banter and sexy times with the Magician and Sara, and yes, the Devil has enough story time to keep things entertaining as well. The most interesting part of this new series is seeing an entirely different side of Sara. Yes, she does need training. But, she also some impressive powers which makes me curious what else she can do. 

I give you a fair warning. As a prerequisite of reading this story, the author has ask reviewers not to spoil what happens in this book, especially to certain characters, and how the book ends. So, I say to you who have read this series but who have not read this book yet. BEWARE for there will be an ending that you won't forget any time soon.

Friday, May 24, 2019

#Review - The Girl in Red by Christina Henry #SyFy #Apocalyptic

Series: Standalone
Format: E-Galley, 304 pages
Release Date: June 18, 2019
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction / Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic

From the national bestselling author of Alice comes a post-apocalyptic take on the perennial classic “Little Red Riding Hood”…about a woman who isn’t as defenseless as she seems.

It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….

Story Locale: Post-apocalyptic America

Author Christina Henry's The Girl is Red is a post-apocalyptic interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood. Red is a young woman of mixed-race ancestry with a prosthetic leg who is a fierce opponent for the fallen world's wolves. When the world is hit with a plague called the Cough, Red has designs on making it 300 miles to her Grandmothers house. In doing so, she will have to fight off not only other humans, but militias that kidnap women and children, and an army that carries classified information about really happened.

In the apocalypse, everyone should stay together no matter what. That is what Red learned over the years. But, Red hasn't even begun to witness the true horrors of what happens when nobody is around to witness the transgressions of those with agendas, and those who are just trying to survive at another persons life. With her distinct red sweatshirt, and her trusty axe, Red must travel through forests, over interstate highways that are breeding ground for rogue elements, while staying away from so called camps that everyone still alive is supposed to report to.

Red knows the camps are a bad place. It's a place that the so called Cough can easily spread from person to person. But, she isn't so cold that she will leave 2 innocent children behind to their own devices. Come hell or high water, Red is going to make it to her Grandmother's house even if it means killing every single bad wolf that crosses her path. This is a story that alternates between the present and the before as readers get a look at what happened to the country. Henry comes back to what she knows best; stories with twists on original stories like Alice and Lost Boy. But, there is a caveat. Once again, an author attempts to insert views on certain political agendas which just get in the way of the enjoyment of this well-plotted, swift-paced story of survival.