Book Review: The Monster of Mordwin: A Tale of the School of Spells and War, Book 5 by Morgon Newquist

Alis and Cahan are back with another adventure through Thillon with The Monster of Mordwin, the fifth tale in Morgon Newquist’s series of short stories, The School of Spells and War. Here, the wizard Alis and the warrior Cahan are sent to Mordwin College to investigate the appearance of a strange, moaning, and rather muddy golem that’s been menacing the lands near the school.

The format of the series has settled into a pattern–the odd-numbered books are adventures, and the even-numbered books are more interstitial character studies set at the titular school (the Scholae, as the characters call it). At least, this has been the pattern so far.

And it works, since Alis and Cahan are both employed by the school as investigators who help those facing some sort of unsolvable crisis, magical or otherwise.

It’s a fun series, especially if you’re into no-frills, fast-paced fantasy with a gentle sense of humor and a dash of “will-they-or-won’t-they?” romance. Mrs. Newquist is a lean writer, and you won’t find many wasted words here. Even better, her characters are likable and heroic.

Without revealing the plot, I will say that I like how the villains in these books are rarely cartoonishly evil: They are often sympathetic and have reasons for doing what they do, though these reasons don’t excuse what they’ve done. And there is an overarching threat, first encountered in book one, that looms over the entire narrative, the strange beings of darkness called the Formless.

That said, I do wish there was a little more sword-fighting and magic-slinging. I’d love to see Cahan finally get a chance to let ‘er rip and slay some baddies. He seems kind of sidelined by the magical nature of the problems he and Alis have checked out thus far.

I also want to see more of the Formless, but this is a minor quibble. I’m sure they’ll be popping up again sooner or later.

The Monster of Mordwin is another fun entry into the School of Spells and War series. Do yourself a favor and check them out if you’re into traditional fantasy told well.

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Book Review: Making Peace by Adam Lane Smith

A romance writer gets embedded as a journalist with a group of peacekeepers on a brutal, technologically stunted though strategically important planet and has to deal with a war between the two most powerful ruling trade families? And there’s magic, assassin’s guilds, and lots and lots of sword fighting? Sign me up.

Making Peace is the debut novel from Adam Lane Smith, and he enters the burgeoning indie author market with a splash. Or given the nature of Making Peace, should I say explosion.

The framing device Smith uses is particularly unique: Belkan Candor is a famous romance novelist from the lush, civilized planet Garden. For some reason, a mysterious and wealthy benefactor pays a lot of money to Belkan’s publisher to send him to the city of Tiers on the planet Sivern to write about the Peacekeepers, a group of dedicated warriors tasked with investigating the crimes among, and preventing a war between, Sivern’s ruling houses.

Sivern is an interesting place, particularly for a foppish dandy like Belkan. Technology is artificially suppressed, leading to a world that’s quasi-medieval, though nano-mages are still allowed. Sivern is also the galaxy’s sole producer of the super-strong ceramic called Sivernite, as well as a decorative plant called Ripplewood. And commerce rules everything, with power held firmly in the grasp of the trade houses. The planet is so vital  and powerful, the fact that slavery exists is tolerated for the sake of commerce.

The houses are constantly jockeying for power, status, and influence, as well as the sweet profits of trade, and this competition tends to grind down the poor and powerless of Tiers between its grinding gears–and in Tiers, “poor” and “powerless” means nearly everybody else. This is where the Keepers come in.

It takes Belkan a while to warm up to his new companions, but slowly he learns about their backgrounds, how they ended up in a place like Tiers in a group like the Keepers, and grows to like and trust them. Which is good, because although he’s supposed to be a mere chronicler of events, Belkan ends up becoming an integral part of the Keepers’ investigation into a string of brutal murders in the First House.

Continue reading “Book Review: Making Peace by Adam Lane Smith”

Book Review: The Witch’s Gift: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 4 by Morgon Newquist

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Yes, I review books by other people who don’t have the last name “Newquist.” It just so happens that I’m a pretty fast reader and I like to pass along the word about good stuff I think readers of this blog might enjoy. Which brings me to the fourth book in Morgon Newquist’s The School of Spells & War series, The Witch’s Gift.

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Morgon Newquist

The Witch’s Gift is another of those interstitial character pieces like book two that seem to fall between the more weighty adventuresThe Witch’s Gift picks up after the wizard Alis and the warrior Cahan return from successfully ridding the remote village of Ashfern from the spirit of a malovelent witch. Alis is testing her new powers out on the titular school’s ground when–BOOM!–she causes a gigantic explosion.

It turns out that the witch from Ashfern imbued Alis with her power, and the results are hard to control. Not only that, they’ve caught the attention of the school’s headmaster . . . Continue reading “Book Review: The Witch’s Gift: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 4 by Morgon Newquist”

Book Review: Vigil by Russell Newquist

If pious, globe-trotting, gun-wielding demon-hunters aren’t your thing, this review won’t mean anything to you. But if the are, I think you’re going to enjoy Vigil.

Vigil by Russell Newquist continues the tale he began in War Demonsalthough is more of a side story than a direct sequel. Michael Alexander, the hero of the previous book, is nowhere to be found. Instead Vigil features Peter Bishop, the bearer of the sword of St. Michael, and his demon-hunting friends in pursuit of the dragon that terrorized Athens, Georgia in War Demons. This dragon absconded with Peter’s girlfriend Faith. Or at least the girl Peter wouldn’t mind being his girlfriend.

Tracking the dragon to a small village France, Peter and his friends discover that the church in town covers dark, ancient secrets. And I don’t mean the kind of dirty laundry that tends to pile up in small towns. I mean actual, literal dark and ancient secrets that threaten more than just the down. While Faith tries to keep her head in the dragon’s layer, Peter and his comrades fight a desperate battle while under siege in the church during the traditional Catholic Easter vigil. Unfortunately, the church’s old priest is not quite as Godly as one would hope, and threatens to sabotage the whole operation . . .

Author Russell Newquist
Russell Newquist

Yes, as in War Demons, Christianity plays a central part in Vigil‘s story. And like in that book, as well as the other Tales of Peter Bishop short stories, Russell is able to pull this off because the religious elements are a part of the story, and the book is not preachy.

And you know what? I see what Russell is trying to do here, or at least I think I do. And I approve: Continue reading “Book Review: Vigil by Russell Newquist”

Book Review: A Midsummer’s Party: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 2 by Morgon Newquist

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Not too long ago, I reviewed a book called Down the Dragon Hole by author Morgon Newquist. In that review, I discussed the way Mrs. Newquist both embraces and plays with traditional swords and sorcery conventions:

It sounds basic, but the set-up works for such a short story. And while there are plenty of genre tropes to satisfy your fantasy itch–mystical creatures, magical spells, swordfights, and magic battles–it’s the non-genre elements that give Down the Dragon Hole it’s heft. There are bigger themes at play than dragon-hunting, themes like expanding one’s moral and intellectual horizons, fighting off extinction, and what is lawful versus what is right.

Ms. Newquist also twists some genre conventions in the forms of Alis and Cahan themselves. They embody the stereotypes of their roles while at the same time breaking free of them, making both Alis and Cahan fun characters I’d like to read more about.

Well here we are, and I’m finally getting around to exploring the world of Alis and Cahan more.

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Morgon Newquist

A Midsummer’s Party is the second book in Mrs. Newquist’s School of Spells & War series, and while this is a short work focused on one night at the titular university, it serves as an interstitial character piece leading into the next volume, The Cinder Witch. The set-up is as simple as it gets: The warrior Cahan and the wizerd Alis have been adventuring partners since their adventure in the first book. During Midsummer break, when most students are partying outside, Alis is in the library studying. It isn’t until two of Cahan’s warrior friends, Saer and Elyas, and her own wizard friend Brien interrupt her that she learns it’s Cahan’s birthday. And she hasn’t gotten him a gift. Continue reading “Book Review: A Midsummer’s Party: A Tale of the School of Spells & War, Book 2 by Morgon Newquist”

Reset: Chapter 24: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (5)

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Students in varying states of chemical enhancement poured in and out of downtown Hollister’s various establishments, scarfing down pizza, drinking from bottles hidden in brown paper bags, and generally causing commotion. Every once in a while the scent of cloves or cigarette smoke wafted by, and even marijuana. In short, it was the perfect place to get lost in.

“What’s this girl’s name, anyway?” Joe asked as they knifed towards Hollister House of Pizza, shoulder to bouncing shoulder with their peers.

“Stephanie or something,” said Jonesy.

“Huh,” said Joe. “Steve and Stephanie.”

“Yeah, Steve and Stephanie, sitting in a tree,” said Nick. “You can serenade us later, Cyrano. Where are we going?”

“Who’s Cyrano?” asked Jonesy.

“Cyrano! You know! The guy with the nose?!” said Nick “Don’t they teach you kids anything anymore?”

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“What are you even talking about?” said Carlos, his surliness on full display.

“What does it matter, anyway? The point is that this is a bad idea.”

Joe sighed. “Since you couldn’t come up with anything better, I don’t want to hear it.”

“What do you mean, I couldn’t come up with anything better! My plan made a hell of a lot more sense than this, I can tell you that.”

In no mood to fight, Joe hung his head, hoping beyond hope that they would all just make it through the night alive. “Let’s just get a seat.”

Inside the pizza shop, Carlos scanned their environs, a sour twist to his mouth. “What seat?”

“We’ll stand somewhere,” said Joe. He pointed towards an empty spot near the pool table where some students were involved in a serious game, twenty dollar bills laid across the table’s edge. “Over by the wall.”

“There’s no room,” said Jonesy, standing on his tiptoes in a bid to look around the players.

“Is that Journey on the jukebox?” said Nick. “We’ve got to get out of here. I told you this was a terrible idea!”

“Again,” said Joe, “if you have a better suggestion, I’d love to know.”

“There was no Journey involved in my suggestion,” said Nick.

“What I want to know,” said Carlos, “is where those guys got all that money.”

“Your mom,” said Nick, before quickly raising his hands. “I’m sorry. That was a terrible joke. ‘Your mom’ jokes are not, nor have they ever been, funny.”

Jonesy laughed all the same.

“Whatever,” said Carlos, his crankiness ratcheting up a few levels. “Let’s go somewhere else. Nick’s right: this is a dumb idea.”

“Yeah, it’s much smarter to let yourself get cornered,” said Joe. He stepped into one of the three lines before the counter. “Tactical brilliance.”

“What are you standing there for?!” said Nick. “Don’t tell me you’re hungry.”

“It’s kind of rude to come to a restaurant and just stand here without ordering anything, isn’t it? You’re the one with a pizza place. You should know pizza etiquette.”

Jonesy turned to Nick, his face scrunched up with puzzlement. “There’s pizza etiquette?”

“Yeah,” said Nick, “Pay for your food and get the hell out. That’s the strategy.”

Tactically speaking, if you have no food to pay for, then what are you doing there in the first place?”

“He has a point,” said Carlos.

“Nobody asked you,” said Nick.

“I’m pretty hungry,” said Jonesy.

“Of course you are,” said Joe. “Look, I’ll pay. You guys just go sit down.” He waved a hand at the tables, all full.

“Again: where?” said Carlos.

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“You’re a pretty godawful general,” said Nick. “Patton my ass.”

Anger surged like vomit. Joe could understand Jonesy and Carlos acting like kids, because they were kids. But Nick? No matter how he looked or felt, his mind was still that of a grown man. He should know better.

Unless he was going native.

The thought was terrifying. Hadn’t he himself felt a little like a kid, his mind and body awash in a sea of late-teen hormones? Especially when he was around Gwendolyn. She had a way of making him feel once again like a hapless kid. But it was intoxicating; he had forgotten how good it felt to be young, how vital.

“Then we’ll sit outside,” said Joe. “Or stand. I don’t care. Just stick together, alright?”

“Sure,” said Carlos, blessedly taking the initiative and leading the others to the door. “Let’s go.”

Joe stood for just a few minutes, the line moving with agonizing slowness, when he heard Nick’s bellow soaring above the din. “Back off, alright! Just back off!”

The sound of the crowd changed in that way crowds did when they smelled the prospect of violence. The buzz grew sharper, quieter, a dagger in the hands of an assassin. His guts turned cold, Joe abandoned his place in line and, fighting the crowd, made his way outside. Continue reading Reset: Chapter 24: Thursday, September 6, 2001 (5)”

NaNoWriMo 2017 Wrap-Up: A Victory in My Mind

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I’m declaring a W this year for National Novel Writing Month. No, I didn’t actually log my 50,000 words in on the NaNoWriMo servers, but I did write 50,000 words. More, in fact. I just so happened to be in a place with no Internet access when I hit that mark.

So yeah, technically I lost, but in a way I technically won, because I did write 50,000 words. Anyway, I’m being a lawyer here. The important things are that I had funI learnedsomething, and I wrote another novel.

That’s right: Though it took me a few days after the formal close of NaNoWriMo, I have put the finishing touches on my seventh unpublished novel. 

You read that right, I said seventh. Of these seven, (1) one, The RustMan, is currently being edited by a professional, (2) another, The EnlightenmentMachine, I finished a week before NaNoWriMo began is being (slowly) revised by me, (3) another, Reset, is being serialized on this here blog, (4) another, Symphony for a Lost World: PartI, is in drastic need of an edit (but it’s over 800 pages, so cut me some slack), (5) another, Uncollectable, was written in 2011, shelved for being too far-fetched, but now in 2017 seems disturbingly prophetic and is something I should edit one more time and publish, maybe here on the blog, and the last (6) Sahara, New Hampshire, is the first novel I ever completed, written from 2008 to 2010, and is a pile of hot garbage which will never see the light of day unless it gets some heavy rewrites.

So what does this tell me other than I really need to take my writing to the next level, i.e., publish this stuff? That’s what this post, and National Novel Writing Month in general, is about. It’s not the destination, man, it’s the journey and stuff. Man.

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Man.

Here are the biggest things I learned about writing, and about myself, during this year’s National Novel Writing Month: Continue reading “NaNoWriMo 2017 Wrap-Up: A Victory in My Mind”