Audiobook Review: Bloodlines (Book 1 of the Empire City Series) by Peter Hartog

By: Peter Hartog

Narrated by: Todd Menesses

Series: Guardian of Empire City, Book 1

Length: 13 hrs and 54 mins

Unabridged Audiobook

Categories: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Fantasy

Those dark and terrible things from your nightmares are VERY real.

They walk among us, masquerading as your neighbor, your lover, even your friend. You see, Empire City is full of them…if you only know where to look. How do I know this? Well, for starters the name is Detective Tom Holliday. I work homicide for Special Crimes. My friends, what few I have, call me Doc.

And the other reason?

I’ve got magic of my own.

Welcome to Empire City, where magic and technology co-exist, and humanity endures behind walls of stone and spell-forged steel. A place where danger lurks around every street corner, and anything is possible.

When former hotshot homicide detective Tom “Doc” Holliday is recruited to join Special Crimes, he trades in his boring desk job for a second chance to do what he does best: hunt down killers.

And his first case doesn’t disappoint—a murdered woman with a bogus past, her body drained of blood, and two eyewitnesses wasted on the designer drug goldjoy claiming a vampire did it. Armed with a fickle clairvoyance and saddled with a team whose past is as checkered as his own, Holliday embarks upon an investigation through a dystopian landscape filled with bio-engineered vampires, interdimensional shadow parasites, and the magical masterminds behind it all.

But to solve this murder and safeguard his city, Holliday will have to uncover the truth behind an ancient shadowy conspiracy and confront a destiny he never wanted.

Fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London and Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files will fall in love with Empire City.

Audible | Goodreads | Amazon

My Review

I listened to an audiobook sent to me by the author – thank you very much Peter! This is an honest review and all opinions are my own. Any misspelt character/place names can be blamed on the fact that I was listening to, rather than reading this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed the narration of this book by Todd Menesses. He had a great dramatic range of voices. The mortician, Stentstrom had an amusing creepy note to his British accent and the Vellan, Besim sounded both exotic and feminine. The barrista, Moonbeam was convincing as a young hipster type. He was able to imbue the action sequences with the perfect level of tension to sustain the excitement. I will definitely look out for him as an audiobook narrator in future!

Bloodlines is a futuristic murder mystery told in first person perspective from the point of view of Tom “Doc” Holliday, a coffee-loving detective:

“Java was the only religion I could get behind.”

“Doc” is named for his Ph.D in classical literature more than his resemblance to the cowboy of the same name. He quotes from Shakespeare among other classics, which was a touch that I loved. The poor guy describes himself as having “a face for radio” and comes across as a jaded version of his former self. Once one of the top detectives in Empire City, now middle-aged, Holliday has been seduced by booze and drugs and is no longer as sharp as he once was. He describes his descent from greatness as being partly caused by the death of his beloved Kate, which resulted in “a collage of excess and abuse”.

In Bloodlines Holliday has to come to terms with this past in order to fulfill his potential as a detective. He is almost a typical noir type detective, reminiscent of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, apart from one important detail: he can use magic! He has “The Insight” an ability to see certain paranormal beings no one else can see and to relive things that have happened in the past, which is an undeniably useful crime-scene tool. Due to these unusual skills he is transferred to a department that investigates more unusual crimes, with his first case being a murder without any blood. Eye witnesses blame a vampire for killing Vanessa Mallory.

Peter Hartog must be applauded for a great variety of fully fleshed-out characters in Bloodlines, who wield wonderfully entertaining turns of phrase and distinct personalities. Holliday is assigned an alien consultant as a member of his team, one of the Vellan, who just happen to be inter-dimensional aliens with magical abilities. She is also a famous singer known as Besim Saranda who has extraordinary hearing abilities and is a quiet and insightful member of the detective team. There are musical references intertwined throughout the story which made me think that music must be important to the author. Halliday’s team also comprises Leyla, a talented young computer hacker and a magic user and Deacon Cole who is a gruff tough guy described as a confederate, who has worked with Holliday before and they have an entertaining working relationship.

In addition to the wonderful characterisations, Bloodlines is also full of solid, well-depicted world-building, showing the reader the seamier side of Empire City with its fair share of drug addicts, homeless people and ordinary folk working ordinary jobs and oh yes, aliens living amongst the humans. The world of Empire City is a post-apocalyptic version of New York City with magic, futuristic technology such as holovision and transport by pod. The world as we know it has changed following a nuclear disaster, but there are still many recognisable elements left behind.

The action in this urban science fantasy story starts fairly early on and continues at a steadily fast pace throughout the book. It is both tense and exciting and keeps you hooked right up until the end. The only reason I stopped listening halfway was because my headphones needed charging! There are plenty of red herrings and twists in the plot as well. Just when you think you can solve the mystery you realise you didn’t have all of the information you needed after all, or more likely you had been lead down the wrong path intentionally…

Bloodlines is a fantastic debut from this author and a really fun read with a few nods to ’80s culture which is something I always enjoy – I can’t wait to continue my time in Empire City by reading the sequel, Pieces of Eight. Just look at the beautiful covers:

About the Author

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Peter has spent the second half of his life in the Deep South. Despite being an unapologetic damn Yankee, that hasn’t stopped him from appreciating mild winters, Southern hospitality, or SEC football.

Peter has been an insurance professional for too many decades, which means before smart phones and the internet. Yeah, he’s THAT old, but he still enjoys all manner of science fiction and fantasy media, MMOs, reading, playing tennis, cooking, musicals, cheering his beloved New England pro sports teams, and the occasional good cry. He’s been playing tabletop RPGs since the golden age of The Keep on the Borderlands (which he still owns and has been kept in pristine condition). 

BLOODLINES and its sequel PIECES OF EIGHT are Peter’s first attempts at novels but won’t be his last. A blend of science and urban fantasy mixed with dystopian crime thriller, his work has been lauded by Kirkus Reviews as “a riveting multi-genre tale with sharply drawn characters in a striking futuristic world.”

When he’s not reveling in geek nirvana, you can find Peter with his wonderful wife, two amazing sons, three fuzzy rescue cats and one fluffy golden retriever doing whatever it is a menagerie like that does.

You can find him as @althazyr on Twitter, as Peter Hartog on Goodreads, or visit his website at to find out what he’s currently reading or his thoughts on writing, life and other random stuff.

Read my interview with Peter Hartog here.

Website | Twitter | Blog | Goodreads

Sample Chapter from Bloodlines

Another side effect of the nukes had to do with spatial frequencies shifting on Earth that created the doorway the Vellans used to pass from their universe to ours. Apparently, there are an infinite number of these parallel dimensions, too.

Yeah, I don’t get it, either.

Anyway, they’d also suffered from wars that had devastated their world. To avoid extinction, the Vellans came here. Our Earth was chosen because they’d discovered our reactivated Nexus nodes. Turns out their tech runs on the same energy, tapping into the Nexus nodes and converting the magical energy into recyclable fuel. The Vellans provided to all the enclaves the blueprints to build these machines, in exchange for peaceful asylum on our world. They also taught us how to fabricate spell-forged steel, a blended compound infused with magic to create an alloy far stronger and more durable than any man-made metal.

Once everyone overcame the initial shock of meeting interdimensional aliens, we stowed the guns—within easy reach—and it was business as usual. Relations with the newcomers improved to the cautious friendship of this particular meeting. Unfortunately, bigotry and ignorance remained two of humanity’s least favorable traits. Difference, be it skin, color, religion, or pointed ears still scared stupid people, and there were a few enclaves who wouldn’t allow the Vellans inside their borders without an armed escort. One guess which of the American enclaves fell into that category.

In a short amount of time, the Vellans learned all of our languages, and spent decades acclimating to our world. Although geneticists determined early on the two races couldn’t reproduce, that didn’t stop us from getting better acquainted. I’m told sex with a Vellan is quite the sensory experience, if you can stay conscious for it.

However, none of that explained why there was one at my crime scene.

She towered over me. Almond-shaped, gray eyes, wider than a human’s, framed an oval face with delicate features and a thin mouth. A colorful bandana clung to her head from the constant rain. She wore an unbuttoned black longshoreman’s coat over a blue peasant top and ruffled patterned skirt that reached her ankles. Open-toed sandals covered feet whose toes were adorned with small silver and gold rings. Her toenails and fingernails alternated between red and orange polish.

I was hard-pressed to call the Vellan attractive, but she wasn’t ugly either. And then there was the makeup. Her face was covered in it, as if caked on by some stoned bricklayer. It sloughed off her face in viscous, colored rivulets. Even her hair was dyed a dark color, the ink staining a ring around her scalp where the bandana ended.

Now that was interesting. Every cop studied Vellan culture back at the Academy to better understand our interdimensional friends. It helped with any disputes involving them, although I’d never heard of a Vellan breaking any of our laws.

Theirs was a caste system, a hereditary lifestyle that included occupation, social status, economic wealth, you name it. Hair color was one key component of determining societal rank, and they were forbidden to alter its natural pigmentation.

Was she trying to hide the fact that she was Vellan?

Oh, no, that wasn’t weird.

“Detective Holliday.” She approached me, extending her hand in greeting. It was a very human expression. “I am Besim Saranda. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Despite a thick accent, her voice was musical, every word trembling with elements of tone and rhythm.

I gripped her larger hand in response. The handshake was firm, and I was surprised at her strength. She examined me dispassionately as if I were one of Stentstrom’s tissue samples. I shot a furtive glance at Deacon. He squatted beneath the large canopy ECPD had set up last night to study the ground.

“Doctor Saranda,” I acknowledged.

“Please, call me Besim.” She offered me a demure smile, the ghastly expression resembling melted wax. “Rarely do I employ the title.”

I eyed her disheveled appearance and offered her my umbrella.

“No thank you, Detective,” she replied, gesturing with a smile. “I enjoy the water. It cleanses both body and mind.”

“Uh, sure.”

Deacon chuckled. He stepped around the crime scene as if it were a mine field.

“I have already examined the ground, and the walls to either side,” the Vellan said with mild reproach, joining Deacon beneath the canopy. “Their policemen are correct. There is no trace of blood.”

“Yeah,” Deacon grunted. “But you ain’t got the first fucking clue what you’re looking for.”

The Vellan frowned but didn’t respond. Instead, she produced a thick handkerchief from one of the heavy coat’s inner pockets. She wiped at her neck, cheeks and brow with fastidious care, the movements precise and economical. The wreckage of her made-up face transformed into something less freakish and more, well, alien. Her face bore no wrinkles, almost piquant, like a fox. Across her forehead, down her cheeks, and along the sides of her neck were elegant markings, her familial tattoos, reverent inscriptions denoting her lineage and standing among Vellan society. It was their version of a fingerprint, a kind of artistic genetic code.

It was bad juju to cover them up too.

First the hair, and now the tattoos.

Curiouser and curiouser, eh, Alice?

“The wound described in the report, as well as the images provided, indicate a blood spray of a certain volume, angle and distance,” the Vellan said, her tone cool. “I find it remarkable that no such spray occurred, nor any presence of blood on the ground.”

“That’s why they call it a ‘mystery’,” Deacon replied easily. “If everything in life were that simple, y’all wouldn’t need cops.”

“Such is my point. I do not believe—” she began.

“Whoa, people.” I held up both hands. “This is my crime scene, and, no disrespect ma’am, you aren’t ECPD. So, before I let you contaminate things any further, I need to see your credentials.”

Besim held my gaze but didn’t blink. She folded the handkerchief into a neat square and returned it to the coat’s inner pocket. Then she produced a silver shield akin to the one I had on my belt, offering it to me. I stared at it hard.

“Will this suffice, Detective?” she asked mildly, one sculpted eyebrow quirking higher than the other.

Well, of course she has a fucking badge.

“I am assisting William with this investigation,” she continued, unperturbed. “He felt my knowledge would be of use to you. It was my understanding he made you aware of this arrangement at your meeting earlier today.”

“Well, William neglected to mention a few things.” I glared at Deacon, who ignored me.

“Then I must apologize to you, Detective Holliday.” She stiffened, a troubled frown creasing her face. “It was not my intent to insult or intrude. If I have caused—”

“Are you two done yet?” Deacon demanded. He peered up one wall. “This fucking rain is really pissing me off.”

Stepping under the canopy, I knelt near the holo-outline. I opened my bulky metal case to remove a larger version of the p-scanner. Dropping the umbrella, I waved the business end of the scanner over the ground in a slow arc, noting the readout. I spent several minutes maneuvering the device in wider arcs from the outline, outside of the canopy, along both walls for several feet, and then further along the alleyway in both directions. The alleyway extended the length of the two buildings, spilling out onto another street across from which was a Metro station.

I returned to find the others at the opposite end of the alleyway admiring a small security camera attached to one wall.

“The scanner is no replacement for CSI, but for what it’s worth, it confirmed no trace of blood,” I said. “And the rain obliterated any quality footprints.”

Something else occurred to me.

“An anonymous caller alerted ECPD. But with weather like we’ve had the past few days, how could anyone see anything? Uniforms arrived in time and almost nabbed our killer. I know our response time is fast, but that’s impressive even for the guys downtown.”

“Somebody must’ve heard something,” Deacon said, frowning at the camera. “Bill’s got officers canvassing the tenants of the bank and apartments. Maybe it was one of them.”

“Maybe,” I answered, unconvinced.

I surveyed the walls, noting the presence of the closest windows with the best vantage point. Then I glanced at the camera. There was scoring around its housing, but I couldn’t tell if it was rust, or something else.

“I’m going to check the other end to see if there’s a twin to this one,” I said.

I trotted back and found another with the same discoloration. That couldn’t be a coincidence.

“It’s the same,” I said as I walked up to them, and pointed at the device. “See that? It looks fresh, like a lightning strike. It didn’t storm last night. Something fried the circuits in both boxes. I need to see the bank’s security footage.”

We walked around the corner to find Grissom with a cup in hand, drenched and more miserable than before. We exchanged a few words, then made our way to the bank’s entrance. I felt bad for the kid. The rain wasn’t letting up. Hopefully, someone would relieve him soon.

The three of us were quite the sight strolling into Empire City Savings and Loan. Several customers gawked openly, and a few gave us a wide berth as they exited the building. I didn’t blame them. Bedraggled as we were, I expected the bank’s security to escort us out before I could show them my badge.

We were midway across the lobby when Besim was manhandled by a short, middle-aged woman in a dark business suit. The two embraced, somehow managing it without looking too awkward. As they disengaged, the woman fawned over the Vellan.

“Doctor Saranda!” she gushed. “What a delightful surprise!”

Besim smiled, her face transforming from cold and aloof to beatific in the blink of an eye. Color appeared in her cheeks, and her economical mannerisms became languid and relaxed. Even her mismatched clothing somehow seemed to match, as if her fashion sense was in tune with her sudden mood change.

“Darlene!” Besim crooned. “It has been too long. You look fantastic! How is Edward?”

The two wandered away, chattering happily with their arms linked.

I stood there blinking several times.

“What just happened?” I asked.

The two settled into Darlene’s office, carrying on like old sorority sisters. Their laughter flittered out in tinkling bursts. The banker stood up to close her door.

“Saranda’s got a lot of friends,” Deacon replied, amused by my reaction. “She don’t look it, but between her music and other business interests, she’s loaded.”

We tracked down the bank’s head of security, a portly man in a cheap suit named Bines. After questioning him and several of his technicians, they confirmed that something had overloaded the exterior cameras, including the one in the parking garage they shared with the apartments above the bank. Bines handed me a microdrive with last night’s footage, we said our goodbyes, and returned to the main banking floor.

We rescued Besim from the tearful clutches of the banker. After several embraces, a blubbery farewell (on the part of Darlene), and vague promises for get-togethers in the future (also by Darlene), we exited the bank.

“I trust your meeting with the security director went well?” she asked politely. Gone was the lively and ebullient musician, replaced by the demure, analytical doctor.

“It’s a start,” I replied, but didn’t elaborate.

I was annoyed and had no interest in answering any questions from our “consultant.”

On the walk back to the pod, a quick check with EVI confirmed Besim’s authorization to be on board. I tossed the umbrella onto the floor with a scowl and crashed in a command chair. Rubbing my face a few times with both hands, I turned to Deacon. He gave me the microdrive, then lit up another smoke. Besim sat next to me, hands folded in her lap. Ignoring her, I plugged the drive into the control console.

“Detective, while I process the data, I have completed collating the decedent’s pertinent information,” EVI informed me.

An instant later, Vanessa Mallery’s online history appeared in my eye.

I reviewed it, but nothing leapt out. Vanessa was an active participant within the online community. I presumed her position as an analyst at Hughes Advertising required a high level of social immersion as well. But none of the interest groups were unusual, nor did it appear she was involved in anything controversial.

Vanessa owned a modest savings account, student loans, small amount of credit debt, no liens or criminal record. She paid her taxes, owned a brownstone, but no car. She wasn’t outwardly religious or political, nor did she follow any e-Sports. Vanessa enjoyed live acoustical music, followed several artists, and hosted a website devoted to her paintings. Her work consisted of seascapes, and to my untrained eye, she was talented.

There were no excessive purchases or deposits, although she owned a cat. I found several receipts from Pet Depot and Butters Animal Hospital in Bay Ridge. And then there was Armin’s Coffee House. Six receipts from there in the past three weeks. Perhaps a connection between the killer and one of those places? My money was on Armin’s, because, well, coffee, and the fact the coffee shop was located a couple of Metro stops from the crime scene.

“Anything useful?” Deacon asked. A thick haze shrouded him.

I instructed EVI to increase the pod’s air filtration and halted the information stream.

“Vanessa was a boring girl,” I said, then recounted what I’d seen. “We’ll go to Armin’s after we interview the eyewitnesses.” I turned my full attention on my unwanted consultant. “And as for you, let’s get a few things straight.”

She met my hostile stare with a placid one of her own.

“Of course, Detective,” Besim said in a matter-of-fact tone before I could continue. “You wish for me to remain out of the way. I am not to handle, or otherwise jeopardize the investigation because of my inexperience. You expect me to maintain a low profile, as much as someone of my…distinctiveness…is able. You will listen to my opinion, but only when asked, and solely out of respect for William, your commanding officer. Have I omitted anything?”

“Yeah.” My smile was unpleasant. “Try not to get killed.”

Besim inclined her head.

“Review complete,” EVI announced.

“Patch it through here, please,” I ordered aloud.

The front windshield turned opaque, then lit up with the bank’s recorded security feed.

“The images produced insufficient data,” EVI said over the pod’s speakers as we watched the black-and-white footage. “I did not detect any obfuscation or alteration. Sunday, at 9:58 PM, the cameras in the alleyway were disabled. At 10:23 PM, the cameras in the parking garage were disabled in the same manner. There is a shadow depicted in the parking garage footage. It is of indeterminate size and shape. The flash which followed its appearance before the camera was disabled is a result of an overload to the internal wiring systems of the camera. The cause of the overload is unknown. Do you require anything further?”

I heaved a heavy sigh.

“No, EVI, we’re good for now. Thanks.”

The windshield became translucent once more.

“Looks like our vampire has spooky powers over technology,” I remarked dryly.

Deacon’s smile was grim. Somehow, that didn’t make me feel any better.

Indie Spotlight – Nathan Hall

Today I am welcoming Nathan Hall, author of An Altar on the Village Green into the Indie Spotlight – over to you, Nathan:

After reading The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist and The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan as a teen, I just KNEW I had to be a writer. I started immediately on my first novel, which was terrible. Sometime later, I started on my next novel, which was less awful, and in late 2017 I started on what would eventually become An Altar on the Village Green, book one in The Chained God.

I’ve spent several years as a freelance fiction editor, working with authors like Sarah Chorn and Michael Wisehart. I’m also known for my reviews, ramblings, and writer Crash Course series on my website.

I live in Indiana with my wife, two cats, and one sassy bearded dragon.

Website | Twitter

Good morning, Nathan, and welcome to my blog!

What made you decide to publish your book independently? What was your path to publication?

An Altar on the Village Green sits pretty evenly between Fantasy and Horror, and draws inspiration from video games, such as respawning on death. The first person narrative contains third person visions (Lances from the past amid their own supernatural Horrors) whenever the main character dies. This kind of experimental story is a perfect fit for self-publishing.

The path from concept to completion was a strange one. The series started as an idea for a video game I was dabbling with. But very quickly the story behind it grew into something I had to tell as a novel. Or, by the time I’m finished with it, four novels.

What made you decide to write in your specific genre rather than other genres? (What’s your inspiration?)

I’ve always been into Fantasy and Horror. From reading Goosebumps and Edgar Allan Poe to The Hobbit, The Riftwar Saga, and the Wheel of Time, I’ve felt at home in both genres.

The biggest inspirations for Altar are video games, actually. Dark Souls is the obvious one, but readers will probably see a lot of themes in common with the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, as well. Hope in a hopeless situation, helping people who are perhaps doomed to suffer, risking and sacrificing out of compassion even if it doesn’t gain you anything.

Do you only read the genre that you write?

I read in many different genres. After Fantasy and Horror, my favorite is probably Thriller. I love a shorter book that pulls me through the whole story in one afternoon.

What are you currently reading? Watching on TV? Video Game you are playing? Is there a type of music you listen to for inspiration?

I’m finally getting to read The Forever King by Ben Galley! It feels like the kind of old-school Epic Fantasy I fell in love with growing up, and I’m having a great time.

Recently, I watched I Care a Lot, which is a treat if you enjoy rooting against despicable characters. Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage remind the world that they’re world-class actors.

You can always catch me playing Dark Souls. Every few days I think up a new way to play that game. But in the last week I’ve been obsessed with Hades, which just dropped on PS4. It is gorgeous, fun, and addictive as hell.

I listen almost exclusively to video game music while I write! Undertale, Xenoblade Chronicles, and of course the Skyrim soundtrack. I also want to shout out AdLibPiano on YouTube. Check out Sayoshigure, Sunrise, and Twilight.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Enjoy it. That sounds like pat advice, but it is vital. It is so easy to get bogged down in the process that you lose the spark. And if you do, it can be difficult to get it back. So, love writing. Throw yourself into it with reckless abandon. Keep going.

The more you write, the better you’ll get. Sure, there are tips on craft I could give, but if you love it, you’ll get to those.

What are you working on right now and what can we look forward to seeing from you next?

I’m working on The Hanging Tree, a more traditional Epic Fantasy.

Criminals are hanged from the Godtree. Those that survive are healed of all ills, granted invulnerability, and are driven by their god to fulfill a unique, divine purpose.

However, when a young man accidentally kills one of the Hanged, it sets off a mad scramble. To catch him, to save him, to find answers. How did he kill someone who can’t be harmed? Could he do it again? And would he?

It’s a story about trauma, grief, and how our obsessions can drive our lives off the rails.

This all sounds very intriguing! I wish you well with all of your future projects. Thank you so much for taking part in my blog series today, Nathan!

An Altar on the Village Green (The Chained God Book 1)

“If one suffers, I suffer. If one is chained, I am chained.”

My faith called me to become a Lance. My compassion drew me into one of the fallen lands. Through my connection with the Chained God, I alone can find and destroy the Horror that stains the land.

Death can no longer chain me.

But I couldn’t have imagined the madness waiting for me in this village. I’m not sure my faith can withstand the secrets I’ll uncover. Or that my compassion can survive the violence to come. This Horror may swallow me whole.

Death can no longer free me.

A creature stalks in the dark. Buildings burn. People die. An altar has been built on the village green.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | goodreads

Who is next on Indie Spotlight?

Taught to read at the age of three, words have been central to Marian L. Thorpe’s life for as long as she can remember. A novelist, poet, and essayist, Marian has several degrees, none of which are related to writing. After two careers as a research scientist and an educator, she retired from salaried work and returned to writing things that weren’t research papers or reports.


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The Fellowship of the Flame (A Chronicles of Purpura Novella) by A. R. Silverberry

A deadly hunter …
A boy with an ill-fated dream …
Only one can survive.

Caggril, ruthless mercenary and tracker, needs enough gold to release himself from the Purpuran army. Only then can he leave war behind and seek the near mythical land of Aerdem, by all reports a paradise.

Cap, a ten-year-old street urchin, knows it’s mad to attack the brutal queen of Purpura. But he’s hell-bent on realizing his dream, to join the Purpuran resistance, and one bold action might just do it.

Bent on revenge for Cap’s raid, the queen promises to free Caggril from his bond if he brings the boy back. But Cap has other problems. He learns that the queen is setting a trap for the resistance. With a wolf on his tracks and time running out, he has to warn the Fellowship. Or good people will die.

From the boundless imagination of A. R. Silverberry comes the first book in a breathtaking new fantasy series, The Chronicles of Purpura, tales of the brave deeds leading up to his award-winning novel, Wyndano’s Cloak.

Goodreads | Amazon US

My Review

I was sent a digital copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much, A. R. Silverberry! I am reviewing The Fellowship of the Flame on behalf of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team #RBRT. Thank you Rosie!

The Fellowship of the Flame is a short YA prequel novella set in the fantasy realm of Purpura, the same setting as Silverberry’s award winning novel “Wyndano’s Cloak”.

Despite its short length it is engaging, exciting and has a main character, Cap who is a wholesome ten-year-old hero who is full of heart. Brave and kind, we meet him stealing breakfast from the evil usurper Queen in order to feed his gang, and the hungry children of the slave village, ‘Desperation’. During this escapade, the Queen ends up with whipped cream on her face, much to the delight of Cap’s gang when he tells them about it. The resistance to the queen’s rule is known as the ‘Fellowship of the Flame’, and Cap longs to become a member but alas, they do not accept children.  He thinks his stunt with the queen’s breakfast may change their leader’s mind however and hopes to find the location of the Fellowship’s next meeting:

“On her face?” Rabbit asked. “Dripping off her nose,” Cap replied. They stared at him as if he were a god. “That oughta cinch us a place in the resistance,” he said, when he’d finished his tale.

A younger version of Robin Hood perhaps? He is certainly full of empathy and compassion. Cap’s Gang of four comprises himself as leader,  Falcon, Rabbit and Sparrow. I especially liked Rabbit’s endearing pronunciation of potato as ‘tapato’. The gang brought to mind the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, with their brave and fearless daredevil leader.

The Queen is understandably none too happy about her breakfast being stolen and the fact she ended up with whipped cream on her face so she recruits a relentless tracker, Caggrill, to hunt down Cap and bring him to her:

Caggril the Great, Caggril the Tracker, Caggril the Man Hunter, who mopped up four battalions with a handful of soldiers.

From this point the pace of the novella picks up and an exciting chase takes place through varying types of countryside:

Maybe he could lose Caggril in the brush. The man was stronger, his legs longer, but the low shrubs would slow him down, and the silky darkness would obscure signs of Cap’s flight. He took a random course through thickets, zigzagging, circling, scurrying left and right, gradually climbing higher. Let him puzzle that out!

The world-building in this story is excellent, with locations ranging from a medieval style town, the Shady Bone tavern, a castle, forested land and a dangerous swamp. I loved Silverberry’s descriptive turn of phrase:

The biggest danger in the swamp were the insects—mosquitoes, poisonous spiders, and especially devil babies. An old gypsy told him that when a group of them sang, like rattling bones, it was an omen of someone’s death.

Makken is the brave and fearless leader of the Fellowship and Tich is his second in command whose name means “friend” in the common tongue. Tich is sent to accompany Cap while they try and figure out if he is genuine or a spy. We see Cap struggle with a moral dilemma regarding his tracker and make the right decision, albeit one that is not so great for his own chances of survival.

The Fellowship of The Flame is definitely worth spending a couple of hours with – I thoroughly enjoyed it and went straight to the author’s website to see what else was available.  I am hoping my thirteen year old will read and enjoy it as much as I did.

Buy here | Add to goodreads

About the Author

A. R. Silverberry writes fantasy adventures and science fiction for children and adults. His novel, WYNDANO’S CLOAK, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Awards gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. THE STREAM, his second novel, was honored as a Shelf Unbound Notable Book, and was a ForeWord Reviews Indie Fab Awards finalist. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing.

Website | Twitter

Behind Closed Doors by Catherine Alliott

BehindClosedDoors copy

Welcome to the release of the North American edition of Behind Closed Doors by bestselling author, Catherine Alliott! Read on for book details!


Behind Closed Doors

Original Publication Date: March 4, 2021

Genre: Women’s Fiction/ Romance

From the outside, anyone would think that Lucy Palmer has it all: loving children, a dashing husband and a gorgeous home.

But when her marriage to Michael comes to an abrupt and unexpected end, her life is turned upside down in a flash.

As the truth of her marriage threatens to surface, Lucy seizes the opportunity to swap her house in London – and the stories it hides – for a rural escape to her parents’ farmhouse in the Chilterns.

But Lucy gets more than she bargained for when she moves back to her childhood home, especially when it throws her into the path of an old flame.

Coming face-to-face with her mistakes, Lucy is forced to confront the secrets she’s been keeping from herself and those she loves.

Is she ready to let someone in? Or will she leave the door to her past firmly closed . . .

Available on Amazon

About the Author

Catherine with Chickens

Catherine has sold over 3 million bestselling novels worldwide and is translated into eighteen languages.

The first of these novels Catherine started under the desk when she worked as an advertising copywriter. She was duly fired. With time on her hands, she persevered with the novels, which happily flourished.

In the early days she produced a baby with each book – but after three – stuck to the writing as it was less painful.

She writes with her favorite pen in notebooks, either in the garden or on a sofa.

Home is a rural spot on the Hertfordshire border, which she shares with her family and a menagerie of horses, cows, chickens, and dogs, which at the last count totaled eighty-seven beating hearts, including her husband. Some of her household have walk-on parts in her novels, but only the chickens would probably recognize themselves.

All her novels are published by Penguin Random House internationally, and by No Shooz Publishing in America.

Catherine Alliot | Instagram | Facebook


Book Tour Organized By:

R&R Button

R&R Book Tours

Book Tour Schedule

Please be sure to check out the posts from these other amazing bloggers and bookstagrammers:

October 18th

R&R Book Tours (Kick- Off)

Liliyana Shadowlyn (Spotlight)

Stine Writing (Spotlight)

@greeneyedgirl0704 (Review)

October 19th

@isbn_reading (Spotlight)

@lianne_the_bibliophile (Review)

Paige Warren (Spotlight)

Sue’s Musings (Spotlight)

October 20th

Nesie’s Place (Spotlight)

Reads & Reels (Spotlight)

Dash Fan Book Reviews (Review)

Harley Wylde (Spotlight)

October 21st

PoptheButterfly (Spotlight)

Bunny’s Book Reviews (Review)

Books + Coffee = Happiness (Spotlight)

Rambling Mads (Review)

October 22nd

@bookishkelly2020 (Spotlight)

Kristin’s Novel Café (Review)

@amyd_apa (Review)

@biblio.jojo (Spotlight)


Searching for Jimmy Page by Christy Hallberg

This week will see the launch of Searching for Jimmy Page by Christy Hallberg. This is a book I reviewed a while ago. Read my review here. Below you can watch a video promo for the book:

Message from Christy Hallberg:

Find out more about the novel, preorder, read reviews/blurbs, listen to podcasts on which I’ve been featured, check out my blog posts, and find out where I’ll be giving readings at my website:

I was just featured on NPR/Blue Ridge Public Radio! Have a listen:

One more FYI: My first reading will be at NYC’s famed KGB Bar/Red Room on October 21 at 7:00 p.m.! I’m so excited. If any of you live in the NYC area, please come by. I’d love to meet you.

Searching For Jimmy Page

The unraveling of eighteen-year-old Luna Kane’s haunted past begins in the winter of 1988, when her dying great-grandfather, a self-proclaimed faith healer, claims he hears phantom owls crying in the night.
“Them owls, like music. Can you hear the music?” he implores her in his final moments, triggering Luna’s repressed memory of her dead mother’s obsession with Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s legendary guitar wizard. Desperate to learn the truth about her mother’s suicide, to tease fact from family lore in order to weave her own personal narrative, Luna embarks on a pilgrimage from her family’s farm in the pines of eastern North Carolina to England, to search for the man whose music her mother held sacred, Jimmy Page.

About the Author

Christy Alexander Hallberg is the author of the novel Searching for Jimmy Page, forthcoming October 2021 from Livingston Press. She is a Teaching Professor of English at East Carolina University, where she earned her BS and MA in English. She received her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Goddard College. She is Senior Associate Editor of North Carolina Literary Review and a former editor of #FridayFlash at Litro USA. Her short fiction, creative nonfiction, book reviews, and interviews have appeared in such journals as North Carolina Literary Review, The Main Street Rag, Fiction Southeast, Riggwelter, Deep South Magazine, Eclectica, Litro magazine, STORGY Magazine, Entropy, storySouth, Still: The Journal, and Concho River Review. Her flash story “Aperture” was chosen Story of the Month by Fiction Southeast for October 2020. The editors of the Best Small Fictions anthology series chose it for inclusion in their 2021 issue.

Website | Twitter

Cover Reveal! Thunder, Blood and Goats (Tales of the Nine Worlds) by Lyra Wolf

Today I am excited to be working with Storytellers on Tour to help reveal the cover of the new novella by one of my favourite authors, Lyra Wolf: Thunder Blood and Goats. As with the other books in the Nine Worlds series it revolves around everyone’s favourite trickster god, Loki. I was lucky enough to be sent an arc of this book and I absolutely loved it, thank you again Lyra! Read my review here.
Thank you to Justine and Timy for having me along on this Cover Reveal!

Killing one measly dragon wasn’t supposed to be a problem.

It seemed like a good choice, if not practically heroic, to join Thor on a quick mission to rid the realm of Alfheim of a minor dragon infestation. It all goes wrong when Thor insists on bringing the goats. And then it gets worse when Elénaril—an elf with an attitude and a crossbow—steps on the scene.

Loki finds her absolutely charming. And so does Odin. He craves Elénaril for his army in Valhalla. Loki sees this as a (second) chance to secure his place in Asgard and impress the gods.

He wants to show them he isn’t as bad as they say.

But if Loki does what Odin wishes, it might not necessarily prove he isn’t as bad as they say, but prove that he is.

And now what you have been waiting for….without further ado…drumroll, please…the fabulous cover! It fits right in with the covers of the Nine World’s Rising trilogy and will look amazing on any bookshelf:

Book Information

Thunder, Blood & Goats by Lyra Wolf

Series: Tales of the Nine Worlds

Published: November 9, 2021 by Ravenwell Press

Genre: Norse Fantasy, Action & Adventure, LGBTQ+ Fantasy

Book Cover Art: Dominic Forbes (

Goodreads | Buy Now

Author Information

Lyra Wolf is a Swiss-American author of fantasy and mythic fiction.

Raised in Indiana, home to a billion corn mazes, she now lives in Central Florida, home to a billion mosquitoes. She enjoys drinking espresso, wandering through old city streets, and being tragically drawn to 18th century rogues.

When Lyra isn’t fulfilling the wishes of her overly demanding Chihuahua, you can find her writing about other worlds and the complicated people who live there.

Lyra has earned a B.A. in History and M.A. in English.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok

Blog Tour Review: A Ritual of Flesh (The Dead Sagas #2) by Lee C. Conley

Today is my stop on the Storytellers on Tour blog tour for A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C. Conley. Please be sure to check out the posts from the rest of the awesome bloggers and bookstagrammers on the tour by clicking on the banner below. Thank you once again to Justine and Timy for having me along on this tour. There is an International giveaway later in this post – so stay tuned for that!

Book Information

A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C Conley
Series: The Dead Sagas (#2)
Published: October 10, 2020
Genre: Fantasy Horror
Pages: 476
CW: Strong horror themes, Gruesome gory scenes, Child/infant death (mostly implied and not described in detail), Cannibalism and eating of people, Zombies, Desecration of the dead, Some swearing, Emotional scenes

Book Description

As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone.

Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son.

Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more.

In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night.

The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead.

Amazon | goodreads

My Review

I was sent an audiobook copy by the author and an ebook by Storytellers on Tour in return for an honest review. So I was able to try a spot of ‘immersive reading’ – listening to the audio at the same time as following on the ebook. Thank you to Lee C. Conley and Justine and Timy.

The audiobook is once again narrated by RJ Bayley who I really enjoyed listening to in the previous book A Ritual of Bone and the same comments I made about its narration stand true for the sequel:

“R.J. Bayley has an excellent, dramatic voice which conveys tension brilliantly. I really appreciated all of the different voices he gave the characters. Truda, Nym and other females were just high pitched and feminine enough to be believable and my favourite was the rich throaty accent given to Bjorn the hunter/tracker. I prefer fantasy narration to be with a British accent – I tend to get more distracted when the narrator has an American accent. So R.J. Bayley was perfect for this.”

The voices of the characters inside the tavern in A Ritual of Flesh were hilarious – particularly Toothless Maud – and the narration leant a definite spooky, eerie feeling to the sequences with the Apprentice and the mysterious hooded figure who whispers eerily in the Apprentice’s head. RJ Bayley is a very talented narrator and voice actor who I will look out for on other audiobooks.

A sample of the audio for A Ritual of Flesh can be found here on the Amazon page.
Listening time: 20 hrs 4 minutes

A Ritual of Flesh was the perfect book to read/listen to in October to get me in a Halloween-ready mood. The atmospheric feel of this dark fantasy is decidedly spooky and the tension rises as the country becomes increasingly overrun by the deadly plague as well as the risen dead. The dreadful action picks up pretty soon after the end of A Ritual of Bone and the author has included a useful ‘Story so far’ section at the beginning of the book which I greatly appreciated. It’s been a couple of months since I read Book 1 of the Dead Sagas so this really helped jog my memory. The book is set in an ancient Norse inspired world with longboats, and authentic feeling villages and culture which the author must have researched thoroughly to make it so horrifyingly immersive.

I am not usually a big fan of horror books but I do enjoy Norse fantasies and zombies despite that, and A Ritual of Flesh delivers those in blood chilling spades, starting as early as Chapter 1:

Galen’s eyes widened as he realised the man was no looter. The body at his feet lay torn open, its innards spilled into the mud. The man kept chewing.

He is eating the dead.

The twisted mystery of the Apprentice continues from A Ritual of Bone. He is being haunted by a hooded figure who whispers menacingly in his head and appears to be able to control what he says in order to keep secrets he does not want the Apprentice to reveal to the College council. This story arc is both fascinating and spooky (that hissing voice!! It makes the Apprentice question his sanity) it was my favourite arc of the book. The Council members at the college are typically bureaucratic and self-serving, disbelieving the Apprentice’s story of dark experiments and terrifying reanimation. They are full of distrust of anything they do not understand or that cannot be proven to them and are frustrating in their lack of flexibility when it comes to his apprenticeship, many of them wanting to deny him the title of Master now that Eldrick is dead. Luckily Master Luthor is not so inflexible and takes him on as his own apprentice. We see a large change in the Apprentice from the unconfident helper we saw in A Ritual of Bone to a much more maniacally self-assured Master with his own devious plans by the end of A Ritual of Flesh.

Nym has now moved to the city and is struggling to control her wayward younger brother who has taken to thievery. Her part in the story helps illustrate the lives of normal townsfolk amid this horrifying situation and the rising panic around the plague:

There was a body every few strides now, laying in the gutter, the twisted dead frozen in their final agonised throes. Stiffened, bloody death masks, nightmare faces choked with dark blood and flies. Many houses had been daubed in red paint, a sign that all inside had fallen victim to the blood plague.

Conley is a master at describing the world of Arnar in great detail, using sights, sounds and smells to evoke the scene, helping the reader to easily immerse themself in the locations and situations he describes so cleverly:

The hunter looked out into the valley below. His hair dripped in the rain and the faint smell of decomposing wood and damp permeated the air. He imagined, now the rains had come, the winding valleys, gullies and gulches would quickly become a tangle of stinking mire and choking branches.

Through the multiple points of view we get to see how widespread the plague has become and how daily life is being affected. There are so many bodies piling up they are now being tossed carelessly into the river which is affecting the drinking water supply. The pyres are causing a thick smog to hang over the city. Everyone is distrustful and fearful of walking through the city in case they catch the plague. People are even starting to wear plague masks, their long beak-like noses filled with nice smelling herbs to fight off the ever-present stench of death.

In addition to the plague we have the continued conundrum of the cannibalistic Stone Men of legend and Bjorn the Hunter is still accompanied by Tung, a Stone Man who is not a savage like the others. I was intrigued by this story arc and since it wasn’t really concluded I can’t wait to see where it will lead in the next book. What with plague, cannibalism and the dead walking, Arnar is not a healthy place to find oneself and the various different POV groups all eventually converge on the citadel, hoping it’s fortifications will be their salvation.

I really enjoyed being spooked out by the horror elements of A Ritual of Flesh and will be on the lookout for the next installment in this story, A Ritual of Blood, which I understand the author is currently working on. I can only imagine where his imagination will take us next – but I’m sure it will be a thrilling, horrifying ride!

*** International Giveaway ***

Prize: A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C Conley – International
Grand Prize: A signed hardcover
Runners-up: Choice of audiobook or ebook
Starts: October 10th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: October 17th, 2021 at 11:59pm EST

Click here or on the banner below to enter.

About the Author

Lee is a musician and writer in Lincolnshire, UK. He lives with his wife Laura and daughters Luna and Anya in the historic cathedral city of Lincoln. Alongside a lifetime of playing guitar and immersing himself in the study of music and history, Lee is also a practitioner and instructor of historic martial arts and swordsmanship. After writing his advanced guitar theory textbook The Guitar Teachers Grimoire, Lee turns his hand to writing fiction. Lee is one of the founders of Bard of the Isles literary magazine and is now also studying a degree in creative writing while working on his debut fantasy series The Dead Sagas, which includes the novels A Ritual of Bone and A Ritual of Flesh, as well as also generally writing speculative fiction and horror.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Reddit

About the Narrator

I’m RJ Bayley, audiobook narrator and voice actor. I’ve been using my voiceover and production skills to earn audiences and profits for internationally known brands like BBC, Nick Jr, Johnson & Johnson, TalkSport and Smooth Radio. I’ve also been helping authors realise their dreams for their books with my professional audiobook narration and production services.

I am represented by Sam Roberts at In Both Ears, Great British Voices, International Voice Group, Great British Voices, Wolves America and Matinée Multilingual.

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Indie Spotlight – John Gerard Fagan

Today I am welcoming John Gerard Fagan into the Indie Spotlight.

John Gerard Fagan is a writer from Scotland and the author of the memoir Fish Town – a book about leaving everything behind for a new life in rural Japan. He writes in Scots, Scottish Gaelic, and English. For more information see and follow him on Twitter @JohnGerardFagan

Welcome to my blog, John!

What made you decide to publish your books independently? What was your path to publication?

Once I had finished my manuscript, I made a long list of agents and some independent publishers that I felt would be a good fit for my book. Guts Publishing was my first pick from the Indie publishers for several reasons and by some stroke of luck they got back to me first. I was really impressed with the owner Julianne Ingles in that she ‘got’ the story and what I was trying to do with the experimental form. 

I knew it was likely that I’d be asked to change the book’s form to something more traditional if I went with a big publisher, so that was the tipping point that swayed me towards signing for Guts. I signed the contract within a week of sending the book off in January 2021 and three months later it was published. It has been one of the best decisions I have made and I wouldn’t change a thing. 

What made you decide to write in your specific genre rather than other genres? Have you ever written in other genres?

I had never written a memoir before. I had written diaries when I went travelling but nothing that wasn’t for my eyes only. I wrote Fish Town just to get down some memories about my time in Japan as I was leaving and it just rolled into a memoir that I felt was a good story to share. I’ve written in a variety of other genres, which includes Japanese literature, crime, horror, sci-fi, and mad wee Scottish stories. I don’t like to limit myself to one genre and don’t really think about the genre until the story goes in a certain direction. 

Do you only read the genre that you write? 

No, I read far and wide. I’ve read a lot of great Scottish memoirs by the likes of Limmy, Frankie Boyle, and Aidan Martin, but this year, for example, I’ve read Japanese horror, including Abe’s Woman in the Dunes, Russian lit in The Idiot by Dostoevsky, and a fair few noir novels like Drive by James Sallis.

What are you currently reading? Watching on TV? Is there a type of music you listen to for inspiration?

I usually have two or three books on the go at the same time. I’ve just finished Wyndham’s classic post apocalyptic novel The Day of the Triffids, which I thought was excellent and one of the best in that genre. I’ve just started two intriguing books from two brilliant Scottish writers: The Knitting Station by Kristi Wishart and Boyle’s Law by L. G. Thomson. I had been meaning to read more Scottish writers since I returned from Japan and not just the well-known ones. Both are great finds.

TV-wise, I’m currently re-watching Twin Peaks and nearing the end of season 2 and it’s better the second time around. Other TV shows I like to watch are It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Scrubs, Freaks and Geeks, and I’m looking forward to the next seasons of The Boys and The Mandalorian. Depends what mood I’m in. Over lockdown I watched the American version of The Office and it’s now one of my favourites.

In terms of music, for inspiration, I listen to Ludovico Einaudi to get me into a calm and relaxed frame of mind before writing. If I’m writing fast-paced scenes I’ll throw on some Slipknot or Pantera. I also like to write with white noise playing in the background too. Depends on the story.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Be willing to put in a number of years before your writing is any good. Don’t take rejections to heart. And if you are serious about being a writer, don’t give up. It took me 16 years to get to where I am now. And finally, don’t be afraid to throw your first novel in the bin; I binned my first five and am glad I did. 

What are you working on right now and what can we look forward to seeing from you next?

I have just finished a novel set in Yaizu, the fishing port where I first lived in my memoir. It’s about a lonely factory worker who is losing sense of reality and is hearing mysterious chimes at night. I am currently querying this novel with agents and it will be my debut novel. In the meantime, I’m working on an 11th century Japanese novel and several short stories. 

Thank you so much for taking part in my Indie Spotlight, John and good luck with your novels and short stories!

Fish Town

“Disillusioned with life in Glasgow, I sold everything I had and left for a new life in a remote fishing village in Japan. I knew nothing of the language or the new land that I would call home for the next seven years.”

Goodreads  | Buy from publisher | Amazon UK | Amazon US

Who is next on Indie Spotlight?

After reading The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist and The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan as a teen, Nathan Hall just KNEW he had to be a writer. He started immediately on his first novel, which was terrible. Sometime later, he started on his next novel, which was less awful, and in late 2017 he started on what would eventually become An Altar on the Village Green, book one in The Chained God.

Related Posts

Ark of the Apocalypse by Tobin Marks

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Ark of the Apocalypse by Tobin Marks.

Book information

Title: The Ark of the Apocalypse
Series: The Magellan II Chronicles
Author: Tobin Marks
Genre:  Post apocalyptic fantasy
Print length: 426 pages
Age range: This is an adult book but suitable for mature teenagers 16+
Trigger warnings: No
Amazon Rating: 5 star

Earth is on the verge of becoming a dead planet.

The polar ice caps melted long ago, and it’s been decades since the last raindrop fell. Ocean levels rise a dozen meters, and forest fires rage on a global scale. Eleven billion people dying of thirst wage water wars against each other as extinction looms.

Humanity needs a new planet. As Earth deteriorates, the nation states desperately work together to build a mechanism for recolonization. And so the Magellan II is born, the first starship capable of interstellar travel.

The future of the human race is tasked to ten thousand colonists-now homeless but for the vastness of space and the decks of Magellan II. A distant planet offers hope of survival, but it’s a strange, watery world inhabited by giant reptiles.

Humanity is starting over, but survival isn’t guaranteed.

Amazon | goodreads

My Review

I was given a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Tobin Marks, Blackthorn Tours and Henry Roi PR.

At the very beginning, this novel feels like historical fiction, with the mention of real figures from history such as Leon Trotsky, Hitler and Stalin. This is all part of the scene-setting, however and at about the sixth chapter the story proper begins. Set in the near future, the Earth as we know it is suffering from climate change with much higher temperatures, oceans devoid of life, beaches having been reclaimed by the sea as the water levels rise, fresh water unavailable in many countries due to no more rain, no more snowfall in the mountains leading to the costs of water being astronomically high. The human race will die out if something isn’t done soon. Ark of the Apocalypse is a lesson for its readers on the environmental apocalypse we are heading towards.

Certain parts of the world such as Siberia and Northern Canada are not suffering, but instead are becoming more inhabitable:

Woodland had replaced tundra that once dominated this barren land. The forest continued to spread out for hundreds of kilometers in every direction. It wasn’t just the people who were healthy in Koryak, but the land itself.

In Siberia an invention has been kept closely guarded since the time of the Nazis. This technology will be the key to humanity escaping a burning world and finding a new place to live among the stars. After many decades of work on this technology they have the Magellan II, an interstellar craft set to take ten thousand people of child-bearing age to a distant watery, dragon-inhabited planet seen in visions by a prominent geneticist named Nadya. Their aim is to start again and escape the death of planet Earth, much like Noah’s Ark in the Bible:

The last of the Amazon rainforest was burning, as were those in the Congo. They could clearly see dark smears of smoke and the glow of flames.

The reality of Earth’s condition was most evident looking down from orbit. But the starkest confirmation was the radioactive dead zone of the Far East. From space it looked like a malignant black cancer had infected Eastern Asia.

The pace of this novel is fast and exciting as we jump between a number of main characters on different continents, and listen in on the conversations between world leaders who are scrambling to find a global solution. Tobin Marks clearly knows his stuff when it comes to recent world history, geopolitics, modern day warfare and the background of organizations such as NATO. His knowledge comes through in his writing, making everything that happens in the first two thirds of the book seem possible and believable. The characterisation is excellent with believable characters showing typical cultural traits from all over the world. Mother Olga was deliciously machiavellian, with her astral projection skills allowing her to sit in on political meetings on every continent and even enter the minds and memories of whoever she chose, allowing her to manipulate events in order to put her family in the best position to survive and thrive despite an apocalypse she helps to engineer.

The worldbuilding on the reptile-inhabited planet the humans colonize and decide to call Aqueous is descriptive and easy to visualize clearly. The crystal mountains sound beautiful and the reptilian life forms sound fearsome. Little do most of the humans realize there is another intelligent species on the planet which has been pulling their strings resulting in a few interesting and unexpected twists in the story! Ark of the Apocalypse was intelligent, gripping and I found it difficult to put down. I will be looking out for its sequel!

Praise for The Ark of the Apocalypse

Rating: 5 out of 5. Each new and imaginative chapter opened doors to situations and realities that were impeccably crafted as this epic tale unfolded. It is hard for me to review this book in detail without spoiling the ever expanding plot. If you’ve ever wondered what a hybrid book encapsulating and blending the visions of Ray Bradbury, Tom Clancy and J R R Tolkien would be like, read this novel. Amazon review

Rating: 5 out of 5.  I was spellbound the entire time. Exquisitely written beautifully edited. A must read. I finished it in 3 days. It was impossible to put it down. And now I’m left feeling bereft because book 2 is not out yet. Amazon review

 Rating: 5 out of 5.   The many characters are properly fleshed out and I was on the edge of my seat all the way until the end of the book. It has an ending that rounds of the story well, while leaving plenty of space for one’s imagination to create a vast number of follow-up scenarios. Absolutely fantastic! Amazon review

About the Author

Marks is a world traveler who grew up in a household of rocket scientists. As a boy he had a front row seat observing many NASA and NOAA projects. He writes science fiction novels from his home in north west Baja, and you can usually find him on Twitter @tobinmarks.

ARC Review: The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald

Wonder swirls beneath murky water

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease. But when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, even their seasoned guides get rattled.  

The mystery of the swirls lures them on to seek the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.  

The Living Waters is a sword-free fantasy novel featuring an ethereal love story, meditation magic, and an ancient book with cryptic marginalia.

Release date is October 15th
Published by Shadow Spark Publishing

Preorder here | Add to goodreads

My Review

I was given a digital arc by the author to read in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Dan!

Gilea and Temi

The Living Waters is a character driven “sword-free” fantasy. In the world of The Living Waters there are two main societal classes – the nobles and the less well-off. The nobles put such value on having pale skin that they paint their faces with thick paint to stop the sun’s rays from penetrating and affecting their skin tone. Their skin tone is assigned a number depending on their pallor and that is then used as a bargaining chip for marriagability. Because of this they constantly wear hats, gloves and shoes for protection. Before settling into their chosen profession or getting married they are sent on a “roughabout” which is a rite of passage to show young adult nobles a little bit of the world outside their city and help them understand what life can be like for the less privileged. I found the detail of this race’s customs and culture fascinating and would have liked to have spent more time among them.

Temi is the very likeable main female character. She is a gentle yet strong-willed painted face noble, whose family has fallen on hard times and whose mother hopes her pale skin will help her to find a husband who might disregard their family’s debt. She is also a gifted illustrator and appreciator of nature, who paints pottery, which is her family’s source of income.

She and Sylvan, another painted face noble, who is a scholar, a recently graduated doctor of life sciences and obsessed with creatures of the river, are paired together for their roughabout. They have been assigned a minder to protect them on their journey, a certified herbalist called Gilea, and their riverboat will be captained by the affable nature lover, Leo, and his dog Sea Wolf. 

Sylvan is gifted a book by his mother before he leaves on his coming of age journey – a beautiful copy of a text he has already studied at university, with sketches and descriptions of all of the life forms seen in and along the river and the mythical wetland area known as The Living Waters which few people believe actually exists. There is also some mysterious writing in the margins which seems to suggest the book’s author may have never visited The Living Waters but that the writer of the marginalia has been there. They briefly mention creatures previously unknown to Sylvan, called the ipsis, sitri and duni in the marginalia and he becomes compelled by the thought of discovering what these creatures might be – if they even exist I found the idea of this book fascinating and would like to see some sample pages! It reminded me of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden, but with a river theme.

The four travelers embark on their journey and the reader is treated to brilliantly evocative descriptions of the river – a calm place for mediation, fishing and reading.  The tone of the story is very blissful and peaceful as they float downstream, even when the nobles are working hard building a cabin on the boat, fishing, then gutting the fish and rowing, all tasks they have never attempted up until their roughabout, earning themselves blisters on their previously pristine hands.

Before long they begin to notice mysterious swirls in the water which don’t seem to have any cause. Leo soon becomes obsessed with them and he and Sylvan are determined to get as far down the river as the wetlands, where they believe the Living Waters are located, in the hope of discovering more about these swirls:

They saw a handful of swirls heading downstream from the creek, with a reddish tint. They moved in clusters of two and three, in sync, though they occasionally swapped positions. One pair, in particular, moved in a kind of dance, side to side, then one in front of the other, then circling around each other. No one said anything about them, but their eyes were all watching, studying the swirls’ movements.

On the way the nobles have a disturbing episode with some parasites which made me cringe really badly!  Temi also becomes so ill they think she might die if not treated soon and they witness increasingly weird behaviour from the swirls, which Sylvan begins to think might be the duni from the book. 

The author’s imagination and love of nature are to the fore throughout this book as the travelers encounter weird and wonderful sentient creatures who are concerned they have been discovered by humans:

The water churned and bubbled in zigzags and circles, which moved toward the center of the pool, then around the edges, splashing waves up onto the stone, which slithered back into the roiling mass. The water rose up in an unruly column, which flailed and morphed into a furious array of wild shapes, growing taller and thinner, the top billowing like an uncontrolled chemical flame. The sides of the column grew straight and smooth, the tongues of water at the top grew smaller and less frantic, and the column froze in place, more than ten feet tall, glistening in the sunlight filtering in through the clouds.

There is also a lot of emphasis on the soothing practice of mediation, whether preparing for medical intervention or even to enable communication and mind reading and this aids the peaceful, calm tone of the book. Gilea is a skilled practitioner of meditation and is able to teach Temi how to relax her mind and open herself up to the healing powers of their new friends.

Leo has to go through some traumatic experiences but he is happiest on the river:

Leo slept on the roof that night with Sea Wolf, who stretched along his leg, snoring contentedly. He could almost feel the starlight bathing his body like a million cooling suns. As he stared up into the infinite spiderweb of the heavens, he was struck by his own insignificance, a feeling he knew all too well.

My favourite character in The Living Waters was Temi. She underwent hardship and health probems without complaining and was curious about Sylvan and Leo’s discoveries and about Gilea’s meditation practices. Her character evolves during the story, becoming more independent and able to stand up for herself against her mother and the expectations of her society by the end of the story: 

“What would be a shame is for me to live in fear of how people perceive me, or to marry someone who only valued me as a shade seven.” Temi lowered her eyes and her voice, which had grown unexpectedly loud. “I’ll be fine, mother.”

I really enjoyed this book – it was easy to keep on reading, there were not too many names to have to remember, no gore or gratuitous sex (or any sex actually) – although there was both love and conflict. I would have liked a map as I found myself a little geographically confused at one point in the story where Leo is on his way to undertake a task and I couldn’t figure out where he was in relation to the other characters. It would also have been interesting to see how far down the river they had travelled from their home town.

For fans of the other books written by Dan Fitzgerald, there are some links between this and the Maer at the end of the story which will no doubt be explored in the future. I can’t wait to see where Fitzgerald is going with those.

About the Author

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories). The Living Waters comes out October 15, 2021 and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds arrives January 15, 2022, both from Shadow Spark Publishing.

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.

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