Saturday, June 19, 2021

 A Killer of a Story.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

An epic title introduces what turns out to be an equally impressive story, in which we meet Ardor Benn – con artist. He’s out to rob you. In fact, he lives for the thrill of the scam. But only if you’re important. A ‘someone.’ A name. An icon. A prominent part of an institution that will help him promote what’s truly important: himself!

The back cover blurb helps set the scene quite nicely.


Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief - a master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When he gets hired for his most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he'll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there's more at stake than fame and glory - Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.


It’s incredibly difficult to write about this epically proportioned, 729 page tome without giving the game away – an unforgivable sin, where this story is concerned – as it’s just so darn enjoyable. But I’ll do my best.

First off, it’s important that you appreciate the magic system Tyler Whitesides dreamed up to add foundation to the world he’s created. Grit. A substance obtained – in its simplest terms – as a byproduct of the waste of dragons! Genius eh? I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a magic system built around what is basically, dragon poo. Awesome!

With a mind like that, I just knew I was going to love what followed. And I did.

Ardor is always looking for the ultimate scam. Something that will confirm he’s the best of the best, no matter how outrageous or dangerous it is. Nevertheless, when he’s hired to carry out what he considers will be the greatest test of his abilities, it turns out there’s a whole lot more involved than establishing his supremacy as a ruse artist.

Kings might fall. Religious hypocrisy might expose those at the very highest levels. The very foundations upon which society has been built might crumble. Everything mankind has built might end up in ruins.

And why?

People have been lied to. That’s why!

However, to understand the depth of that deception, you’ll have to immerse yourselves in the world of Ardor Benn and join him on his adventure. And boy, you’ll be glad you did. Though a self-centered, out and out rogue, Ardor is a charmer with a heart of gold. He’s amazingly loyal to those he trusts. And no one is closer to him than his boyhood friend and accomplice, Raekon Dorrel.

Together, they lead an amazing cast of characters who are as down to earth and relatable as they are freakishly funny. Each has their own weaknesses and skeletons in the closet. But it’s those weaknesses that highlights their humanity and charm, making them believable.

And there’s the key.

This is a long and comprehensive caper. But Tyler Whitesides doesn’t rush you through it. He carefully lays out the foundations. And, having done so, continues building from the ground up, adding layer after layer to a complex and fascinating story that not only draws you in and involves you from the outset, but will keep you busy until the stunning finale.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn. Outstandingly original, with twists and turns and timely revelations sprinkled in along the way, to you guessing until the very end.

Explosive exploits & fiery fun! Don’t miss it.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

 There's No Hoping About It
This Story Works - And Then Some.

A Fool’s Hope

The Egril.
Cruel. Savage. Monstrous barbarian killers.

The trouble is, they’re cunning too, with a penchant for strategy that always keeps them one step ahead of the game. And when that game centers on world domination, it turns out the Egril are grand masterclass players. Not the kind of thing you want to discover when you’re trying to bring your nation back from the brink of destruction.

With a premise like that, you begin to appreciate why I’ve been chomping at the bit, waiting for this sequel to We Are The Dead to arrive. And Mike Shackle doesn’t disappoint.

Take a quick peek at the back cover blurb:


From Tinnstra, it took her family and thrust her into a conflict she wanted only to avoid. Now her queen's sole protector, she must give all she has left to keep Zorique safe.

It has taken just as much from Jia's revolutionaries. Dren and Jax - battered, tortured, once enemies themselves - now must hold strong against their bruised invaders, the Egril.

For the Egril intend to wipe Jia from the map. They may have lost a battle, but they are coming back.

If Tinnstra and her allies hope to survive, Jia's heroes will need to be ready when they do.


So, what does A Fool’s Hope bring us?

Well, our favorite characters from the first book are still there: Tinnstra, Dren, Jax and Yas. We watch them evolve through pain and fire to become the kind of people Jia needs to survive . . . though not everyone will make it. This is war, after all.

Those we’ve met before in passing also get fleshed out: young Queen Zorique; the mage Assagod; Captain Ralasis, to name a few. As you will see, they become much more integral to the overall story arc as time passes. Helping you relate to their individual circumstances in a graphic, often personal way.

We’re also given a greater clarity of what life is like for the invading Egril, through the eyes of a new character, Mateon. A clever move, as through him we discover the true futility of war, especially where everyday folk are concerned. Mateon has been raised from birth to be a soldier, and the perfect instrument of his bloodthirsty god, Kage. Yet he struggles to reconcile the rhetoric of his superiors with the unjust treatment of the Jian people, and the brutality vested upon them. But will he suffer for such a blasphemous viewpoint?

Even better, the waning magic of this incredible world – only hinted at or rarely seen in the first book – is brought to the fore and given center stage. And Shackle does so in the most dexterous of ways. (Genius really, and not what you’ll expect).

Yes, war can and does bring out the best – and very worst – in people. Loyalty costs nothing, but it’s a priceless commodity in an arena where life is cheap, and betrayal is cheaper still. . . (Keep an eye out for the criminal element left in Kiyosun city, the Weeping Men).

A Fool’s Hope presents you with great narrative from a new writer who has become an instant favorite of mine. Believe me, I know a great story when I read one, and Mike Shackle will soon be up there with the likes of Joe Abercrombie and George R. R. Martin.

This is gripping fantasy set in a world rent by war, discarded ethics, and a savage, ‘stay alive in any way you can’ philosophy. The characters are human. Damaged and flawed and disappointing in all the right ways. But somehow, they hold it together and survive . . . barely!

Marvelous stuff – and a definite candidate for your reading list.