Thursday, November 20, 2014

Review: Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell

Thief’s Covenant
Author:  Ari Marmell
Series:  Widdershins Adventures 1
Publisher:  Pyr, February 21, 2012
Format:  Hardcover and eBook,  273 pages
List Price:  $16.95 (print)
ISBN:  978-1-61614-547-7 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher
Cover Illustration:  © Jason Chan

Once she was Adrienne Satti. An orphan of Davillon, she had somehow escaped destitution and climbed to the ranks of the city 's aristocracy in a rags-to-riches story straight from an ancient fairy tale. Until one horrid night, when a conspiracy of forces—human and other—stole it all away in a flurry of blood and murder.

Today she is Widdershins, a thief making her way through Davillon's underbelly with a sharp blade, a sharper wit, and the mystical aid of Olgun, a foreign god with no other worshippers but Widdershins herself. It's not a great life, certainly nothing compared to the one she once had, but it's hers.

But now, in the midst of Davillon's political turmoil, an array of hands are once again rising up against her, prepared to tear down all that she's built. The City Guard wants her in prison. Members of her own Guild want her dead. And something horrid, something dark, something ancient is reaching out for her, a past that refuses to let her go. Widdershins and Olgun are going to find answers, and justice, for what happened to her—but only if those who almost destroyed her in those years gone by don't finish the job first.

Brannigan's Review

Ari Marmell opens with a bang, introducing a mystery at the beginning of his newest fantasy series. The setting is the city of Davillon, which could be swapped out with any European city set around the 17th Century. Widdershins or Adrienne, depending on the time frame of the book, is either an orphan, noble-in-training or a thief. Shins, as she's known by the few friends she has, is a loner who attracts several different friends in her life, depending on the time frame of the story. She comes across as a rough and tough thief, but has a heart of gold. She's a fun character to spend time with, but I never felt connected to her. I also felt that most of the supporting characters were not fleshed out as well as they could have been. That being said, I still enjoyed my journey with Shins for pure entertainment value. I really enjoyed the fact that the thieves guild was a major part of the story as I always seeing how an author creates a guild's leadership structure and headquarters. Plus, I always enjoy a good rogue's tale.

Olgun, an almost forgotten god, spends all his time focused on Shins, who is the last person to count herself as a believer. Olgun aids her by performing simple acts of 'magic' that end up being little more than giving her a little extra luck. There's no other real magic used in the story other than the magic from gods. One of the most interesting questions posed in the book is 'what happens to a god when there is no one left to believe in him any longer?' I wished the author would have spent a little more time exploring this idea, but there's a chance he does in the other books of the series.

Marmell did a great job of pacing his story with plenty of action with moments of humor. The only thing that worked against his pacing was the structure of the story. Marmell bounced back and forth between the past, further past and the present. It got a little excessive and I was unable to see any real need for it. It didn't add to the story or create any tension or add to the climax of the story. I would have enjoyed a clean chronological progression of the story much more, especially with all the identity changes the main character takes throughout the story.

Thief's Covenant is a fun quick read for anyone who enjoys spending some time with a bunch of rogues. Even with the few issues I had with the book, I would really enjoy reading the other books in the series. Marmell's ending was rewarding while still leaving plenty of open questions to be explored in future books. There are acts of violence and minor language, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommended it to teens and adults. If you like a fast-pasted rogue's tale you'll enjoy Thief's Covenant.

Additional Novels in the Widdershins Adventures
(Clicking on the novel image will take you to 
the publisher's page for that novel)

June 26, 2012

December 3, 2013

Coming February 3, 2015

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reviews: Alchemystic, Stonecast and Incarnate (The Spellmason Chronicles 1 -3 ) by Anton Strout

Series:  The Spellmason Chronicles 1
Publisher:  Ace, September 25, 2012
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN9781937007799 (print)


Alexandra Belarus is a struggling artist living in New York City, even though her family is rich in real estate, including a towering Gothic Gramercy Park building built by her great-great-grandfather. But the truth of her bloodline is revealed when she is attacked on the street and saved by an inhumanly powerful winged figure. A figure who knows the Belarus name…

Lexi’s great-great-grandfather was a Spellmason—an artisan who could work magic on stone. But in his day, dark forces conspired against him and his, so he left a spell of protection on his family. Now that Lexi is in danger, the spell has awoken her ancestor’s most trusted and fearsome creation: a gargoyle named Stanis.

Lexi and Stanis are equally surprised to find themselves bound to each other. But as they learn to work together, they realize that only united can they save the city they both love…

Stacey's Thoughts

This is a great book! It is original, funny, and full of action. Lexi Belarus has lived in New York City her whole life. Her family has lived there for many generations and has a successful real estate business there. Lexi’s great-great-grandfather, Alexander Belarus, left quite a legacy for his family, but not in real estate…in art. Alexander was a great stone sculptor but he also knew magic. He was a spellmason. He could bring the stones to life. Before his death, he left a protector for the family behind him: Stanis…who happens to be a gargoyle. (Don’t worry…he’s a handsome gargoyle!)

Lexi’s older brother has just been killed in an accident and now it’s up to her to take up the family business of real estate. Sadly, it rips her away from her true passion: art. Up in the study that belonged to Alexander she learns about the true family legacy and how to work spellmasonry. When Lexi is attacked, questions arise. Was her brother’s death really an accident? Who could have wanted to hurt the Belarus family? With Lexi’s friends Rory and Marshall (who delightfully remind me of Clary and Simon from The Mortal Instruments Series) Lexi finds out things she did not want to know about her brother and her great-great-grandfather’s past before he came to America.

Stanis, the stone flying man (who prefers to be called a grotesque…like that somehow is better than gargoyle!), is a pretty awesome character and quickly learns about the fragile humans in his care, emotions, and Lexi. He feels a strong bond with “his maker’s kin” and always knows when she is going to be in trouble. Don’t worry, this book was not about a helpless damsel in distress with a strong man to save her. Lexi and Rory kick some ass themselves but gladly use Stanis as backup. Even though it is dangerous, Lexi makes it her mission to restore four pieces of his soul that were removed, placed in stones, and hidden around New York City.

The ending of this book was totally unexpected…I’m going to start the second one tonight. I’m already chomping at the bit for the third installment. I love it!

Series:  The Spellmason Chronicles 2
Publisher:  Ace, September 24, 2013
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:   9780425256404 (print)


Alexandra Belarus was an artist stuck working in her New York family’s business…until she discovered her true legacy—a deep and ancient magic. Lexi became the last practicing Spellmason, with the power to breathe life into stone. And as her powers awoke, so did her family’s most faithful protector: a gargoyle named Stanis. But when a centuries-old evil threatened her family and her city, Stanis sacrificed himself to save everything Lexi held dear.

With Stanis gone, Lexi’s efforts to master Spellmasonry—even with the help of her dedicated friends—are faltering. Hidden forces both watch her and threaten her, and she finds herself suddenly under the mysterious wing of a secret religious society determined to keep magic hidden from the world.

But the question of Stanis’s fate haunts her—and as the storm around her grows, so does the fear that she won’t be able to save him in her turn.

Stacey's Thoughts

The story opens up about six months after Alchemystic wraps up. During this time, Lexi has been studying the spellmason ways, but sadly, without Stanis. We still get Stanis’s point of view in this story, which I think is a really great feature. It really shows off the author’s skills to switch characters like that, especially because they are so different! In Stonecast, a new character is introduced. Is he a friend or foe? Whose side is he on? Can he be trusted? 

Rory and Marshall are still best buds with Lexi, along with the cool little creation, Bricksley. Awww. I love that little guy. With Lexi experimenting in animating stone, especially more life-sized creations, life gets a little dangerous for the fragile humans…including Lexi. A creepy secret society presents itself and demands Lexi help them, which understandably leaves everyone on edge. To make matters worse, the Servants of Ruthenia are still causing trouble and Devon with them! But the biggest problem: the magical binding agent to bring stone to life, called Kimiya is running out. Without that, there can be no more spellmasonry…ever! Despite all of her great-great-grandfather’s works, books, and puzzle boxes, there doesn’t seem to be a recipe for it anywhere. Is this going to be the end of the Lexi’s spellmasonry, even though it just started?

This series makes me smile. I love the witty comebacks, the nerdy references, and the mystery of the grotesques. I’ll have you know that Mr. Strout writes one hell of a woman! I was about halfway through with the first book (Alchemystic) when I flipped to the back of the book and discovered the author was a he! His writing only gets better in Stonecast.

Series:  The Spellmason Chronicles 3
Publisher:  Ace, September 30, 2014
Format:  Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
List Price:  $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780425273555 (print)


When Alexandra Belarus discovered her family’s secret ability to breathe life into stone, she uncovered an entire world of magic hidden within New York City—a world she has accidentally thrown into chaos. A spell gone awry has set thousands of gargoyles loose upon Manhattan, and it’s up to Lexi and her faithful protector, Stanis, to put things right.

But the stress of saving the city is casting a pall over Lexi and Stanis’s relationship, driving them to work separately to solve the problem. As Stanis struggles to unite the gargoyle population, Lexi forges unlikely alliances with witches, alchemists and New York’s Finest to quell an unsettling uprising led by an ancient and deadly foe long thought vanquished.

To save her city, Lexi must wield more power than ever before with the added hope of recovering a mysterious artifact that could change her world—and bring her closer to Stanis than she ever thought possible…

Stacey's Thoughts

And the bad guys just keep on coming! Alexandra, Rory, Marshall, and Stanis have been trying to gather the new grotesques that have been flying around NYC, and it’s no easy task. The gang is glad to do it since the spell that made the grotesques did save their butts six months ago. Spirits who did not pass on are now inhabiting Alexandra’s great-great-grandfather’s work and not all of them are friendly! A murderer’s spirit is now in a heavenly and nearly indestructible form and he’s picked up right where he left off when he was alive.

Can’t everything just be like it was? Oh, how I long for the good old days! Everyone has messy, busy, crazy lives right now: Alexandra is with Caleb now but once Alexandra finds out about an interesting conversation Caleb and Stanis had, is he even worth it? Marshall is now a budding alchemist with his own tricks but has he been hanging out with the right crowd? Stanis and Emily. Are they meant to be?

I’m very sad that this will be the last we hear from the gang. I will miss them a lot! The bickering, gaming and nerd references, and yes, even the fighting. I sincerely hope Strout will consider continuing this world, even if is just with ebook shorts. Until then, I’m making up my own sequels. Thank you Anton Strout for a wonderful series!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Interview with Jessica Leake, author of Arcana - November 18, 2014

Please welcome Jessica Leake to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Arcana was published on November 11th by Talos.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Jessica:  Thank you! I really enjoy this blog, so it's surreal for me to be here. I was first asked this question by my agent, and when I sat down and thought about it, I had a memory of this yellow legal pad filled with an epic fantasy about a unicorn. I think I must have been about 10 or 11 at the time, so we can say that's when I started my love-affair with writing, though not in a professional sense by any means! As for why, I think the main reason is really rather simple: I would crave a certain type of story, and when I couldn't find it, I'd just write it myself.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Jessica:  I will make a very loose outline of major plot points, but I predominantly fall into the pantser writing category.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jessica:  Time! I know many have given that answer, but it's especially true for me with three little ones to take care of every day. But aside from making the time, there's also the challenge of using that time wisely. I usually write during my kids' nap time, but there are of course many other things I could be doing during that block of time (both productive and unproductive!), so I have to force myself to really be disciplined.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Jessica:  Oh, so many! As an early reader, I loved Roald Dahl, Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry, and as I got older, I read R.L. Stine, L.J. Smith, Christopher Pike. Throughout high school, I read any romance novel I could get my hands on, but I loved Julia Quinn, Judith McNaught, and Julie Garwood. I also loved Dean Koontz. Most recently, I'm into all things YA: Maggie Stiefvater, Cassandra Clare, Suzanne Collins, Kristin Cashore, Stephanie Perkins. My favorite authors change over time, but I have a few constants: JK Rowling, Jane Austin, Robin McKinley, and C.S. Lewis.

TQ:  Describe Arcana in 140 characters or less.

Jessica:  An Edwardian-era debutante must keep her powerful abilities hidden not only from society but a dangerous organization who seeks her kind.

Jessica:  TQ: Tell us something about Arcana that is not in the book description. The novel is described as "genre-bending." What genres does it bend?

One thing the book description fails to mention is just how family-centric the book is. A lot of Katherine's decisions are made because of, or for the good of, her siblings. It's been described as genre-bending because it is a mix of historical romance and fantasy, without truly falling into either category--those are my favorite genres, and I love books that blend them together!

TQ:  What inspired you to write Arcana? Why did you set the novel in Edwardian London?

Jessica:  I knew I wanted to write a historical--there's just something so romantic and beautiful about that setting, plus I knew throwing hidden abilities into such a rigid society would have some inherent conflict. I chose the Edwardian era because it's such an opulent and beautiful time--and I absolutely love Downton Abbey.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Arcana?

Jessica:  So much research! But it was all a lot of fun--everything from what people ate in the early 1900s (the aristocracy enjoyed decadent 10-course meals) to how they spent their time (London while Parliament was in session, and hunting and sporting in the country during the summer). It always surprised me to learn just how many technological advances they had: trains, cars, the subway in London, electricity.

TQ:  In Arcana who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jessica:  Katherine and Lord Thornewood were both the easiest to write because they had such strong voices. Lord Blackburn probably gave me the most trouble just because he has some secrets to keep hidden.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoliery lines from Arcana.

A deep tug at the core of me, and my power unfurls, sliding over my skin like silk. The familiar smell of energy releasing washes over me, like the refreshing scent of the earth right after it rains.

TQ:  What's next?

Jessica:  This isn't official news yet, but there WILL be a second book set in the Arcana world--though Katherine and Lord Thornewood are present in the book, the focus will be on Lucy, Katherine's sister. It's tentatively slated to be released Spring of 2016.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jessica:  Thank you so much for having me!

Talos, November 11, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages

A romantic, suspenseful, genre-bending debut set in Edwardian London.

Amid the sumptuous backdrop of the London season in 1905, headstrong Katherine Sinclair must join the ranks of debutantes vying for suitors. Unfortunately for Katherine, she cannot imagine anything more loathsome-or dangerous. To help ease her entrance into society, Katherine's family has elicited the assistance of the Earl of Thornewood, a friend and London's most eligible bachelor, to be her constant companion at the endless fetes and balls. But upon her arrival in London, Katherine realizes there will be more to this season than just white gowns and husband hunting.

Through her late mother's enchanted diary, Katherine receives warning to keep hidden her otherworldly ability to perform arcana, a magic fueled by the power of the sun. Any misstep could mean ruin-and not just for her family name. The Order of the Eternal Sun is everywhere-hunting for those like her, able to feed on arcana with only a touch of the hand.

But society intrigue can be just as perilous as the Order. The machinations of the fashionable elite are a constant threat, and those who covet Katherine's arcana, seeking the power of her birthright, could be hiding behind the façade of every suitor-even the darkly handsome Earl of Thornewood.

With so much danger and suspicion, can she give her heart to the one who captivates her, or is he just another after her power?

About Jessica

Jessica Leake has been in love with historical England ever since her first literary crush: Mr. Darcy. After embarking on a quest to bring her own intriguing and headstrong characters to life, she decided to quit her day job as a clinical therapist and spend her time weaving arcana with words. She lives in Greenville, SC with her brilliant husband, three painfully cute children, and two mischievous dogs. She invites you to visit her at

Website  ~  Twitter @JessLeake  ~  Facebook  ~  Google+  ~  Pinterest

Monday, November 17, 2014

Guest Blog by Erik Williams: Horror Dressed-Up like Noir - November 17, 2014

Please welcome Erik Williams to The Qwillery. Demon was recently published by Harper Voyager Impulse.

Horror Dressed-Up like Noir

I like to think of Noir as Cosmic horror without any elder gods. In both a Noir and Cosmic horror story, the main character(s) discover some horrible truth about the world, a truth they have zero control over and cannot effect any change, and often they either die or descend into madness as a result. Oh, and both feature some form of a detective prominently.

So, basically, every Noir story out there is really a horror story. Also, if you think about it, this eliminates the film version of L.A. Confidential as a true Noir movie because it has a happy ending (versus a film like Chinatown, which you could argue, does feature an elder god).

On that note, here are the five Noir novels that can easily be read as Horror.
  1. The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy. Yeah, it’s got a ton of stuff about corruption, the Red Scare, and other what-have-yous but it also has a murderer who disembowels his victims by biting into them with animal teeth. So there’s that.
  2. The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. So there’s this normal, young, everyday sheriff who likes to needle people. Oh, and is also a sadistic sociopath who’s all about sexual abuse and killing people. Not one to read to the family around the fire.
  3. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West. This one’s not a crime novel. Instead, it’s an examination of Hollywood, heartbreak, and what’s real versus imagined. And boy does it have a dark ending.
  4. Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. Probably the best Noir novel that actually features the supernatural. Also has one of the best endings in popular fiction.
  5. Progeny by…me. Hey, I couldn’t resist. It features a hard-boiled detective-type, a missing girl, and one helluva femme fatale. Oh, and death cults in Mexico. Talk about dark, yeah, I got you covered.

Harper Voyager Impulse, November 11, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
(eBook published on Sept. 30, 2014)

Mike Caldwell is a CIA assassin who thinks he's finally got a real case to work on. At a remote construction site in Iraq, something deadly and dangerous has been unearthed, and Mike believes he's dealing with a powerful pathogen that turns the infected into primal killing machines. The truth, however, is far worse.

The ancient prison of the fallen angel Semyaza has been uncovered, and for the first time in thousands of years he is free to roam the earth, possessing the bodies of the humans he hates. And everywhere he goes, Hell is sure to follow.

Now Mike is on Semyaza's trail, hunting a demon whose mere presence turns every living thing near it into a weapon of mass destruction. Both merchants of death are on a collision course, while the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

About Erik

Erik Williams is a former Naval Officer and current defense contractor (but he's not allowed to talk about it). He is also the author of the novel Demon and numerous other small press works and short stories. He currently lives in San Diego with his wife and three very young daughters. When he's not at his day job, he can usually be found changing diapers or coveting carbohydrates. At some point in his life, he was told by a few people he had potential. Recently, he told himself he's the bee's knees. Erik prefers to refer to himself in the third person but feels he's talked about himself enough and will grant your eyeballs the freedom they deserve.

Website  ~  Twitter @TheErikWilliams