Review: Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest

helentroyquestI used to read humorous fantasy all the time when I was younger: John DeChancie’s Castle Perilous Series, Craig Shaw Gardner’s trilogies, and Robert Lynn Aspirin’s Myth series being some of the books I read and reread several times. Somewhere along the way, though, I fell out of the habit of reading funny books.

Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest, by A, Lee Martinez, definitely falls into the humor fantasy category. I might not have picked it up except for it being the book chosen for a local book club I am going to attend for the first time. I won’t say it has rekindled my love of the genre, but it was good enough that I’ll sprinkle similar books back into my reading queue. (Since I’ve had Terry Pratchett recommended to me more times than I count, that seems like a good place to start.)

So who are Helen and Troy and why are they going on this epic quest? Without revealing too much, Helen is a minotaur and Troy is your usual perfect hero type. They live in our world, if myths and legends were true and the fantastical had long since become commonplace. Their Call to Adventure comes by way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, where they end up being tasked with a quest by an insane god.

In other words, just another day in the fantastical world Martinez has created. Of course, everything is taken so much for granted and treated with a dry, been-there-done-that attitude, that the book doesn’t have much of a sense of wonder. Instead, it’s a by-the-book quest to get the McGuffins, and it wears this on its sleeve. The characters themselves are aware that they are on a quest and must abide by certain tropes.

It’s done with a dry wit and gentle touch, spending as much time on building the friendship between Helen and Troy as on describing the mythical beings they encounter along the way.

Above all, it’s a quick read that kept me amused me and worked by itself and as a meta narrative on the nature of heroic quests.

Manga & Graphic Novel Challenge

Mother Gamer Writer

The fine folks at Mother/Gamer/Writer have been hosting a Manga/Graphic Novel/Video Game Novel Challenge for a few years now, and I’m going to join in this year.

I’m going to shoot for the stars and enter at Level 5 (read a total of 45-55 books). The actual reading should be easy. I tear through manga and graphic novels on a regular basis (and I’m skipping the video game novel portion of the challenge). But keeping up with reviewing each book? That will be a challenge. Let’s see if I can keep up or I fall flat on my face, shall we?

I better get myself to the library and get some manga and graphic novels checked out, because if there’s one thing I can’t do, it’s afford to buy all of the books I am going to read! If you’re of a mind to help me in that department, maybe you’d consider buying one of my books or stories? (What, you thought I’d miss a chance for a shameless plug?)

Review: Talus and the Frozen King

Talus and the Frozen King by Graham Edwards

£7.99 (UK) ISBN 978-1-78108-198-3

$8 .99/$10.99 (US & CAN) ISBN 978-1-7810-8-199-0

Published by Solaris Books



I started to read Talus and the Frozen King right after A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp, and at first I worried it would be too similar, a fantasy buddy adventure. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised when I realized the book was not really an action-adventure story, but rather a murder mystery. Now, if I had read the book cover, which proclaims that the book introduces the world’s first detective, maybe I wouldn’t have been surprised, but then again I might not have given it a chance because mysteries aren’t my first choice of reading.

At its base, Talus and the Frozen King is much like a familiar Sherlock Holmes and Watson story, except in this case, Holmes is a bard named Talus and Watson a former fisherman named Bran.

Talus is emotionally-stunted but clever and insightful. Bran, his sidekick, is more rough-and-tumble. He may not figure things out as fast as Talus does, but he understands human motivations in a way the bard-sleuth does not. It’s a familiar trope but both characters are fleshed out well enough that I had as much interest in them as in solving the mystery.

The details of the world building kept me interested at first, especially as I was going into the story blind, unsure of what type of fantasy it was. Interestingly, the level of magic in the story is open to interpretation. Many of the characters believe in it, but as it is a historical fantasy, this could simply reflect that many people in our history believed in magic and spirits.

While the world-building pulled me in to the story at first, the mysteries surrounding the frozen king’s murder eventually grabbed hold of me. By the halfway point of the novel, with mystery piling on top of mystery, including those in Bran and Talus’ past, I found myself racing to the end. I’d definitely buy the next book in the series, because while the book works as a stand-alone mystery, I definitely want to know where Talus and Bran’s adventures take them next.

Reviewer’s Note: I received a review copy of this book but as always this review is my honest reaction. I use Amazon Affiliate links so if you follow the link and buy the book, I might someday make enough to afford to buy a book on Amazon. :)

Book Review: Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom
by Tim Byrd (
ISBN-13: 978-0989443302
Amazon: Paperback | Kindle
Doc Wilde on Goodreads


I picked up Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom during its Kickstarter, where it pledged to “recapture the magic of classic pulp adventure stories, with lost worlds, ancient ruins, weird science, evil villains, and daring heroes, bringing them into the 21st century with contemporary themes, modern scientific notions, the wonders of a close family, and a deep appreciation of literature and of the thinking life itself.”

I’m not sure about the last two items on the list, but the book mostly delivered on its promises. Doc Wilde and his children Brian and Wren are more like gods than humans: in superb physical shape, masters of many languages and scads of obscure knowledge, trained in the most useful mental and physical martial arts. They have nary a negative trait, drawback, or disadvantage amongst them, which definitely gives the book an old-time feel.

The Wildes are joined by rough-and-tumble pilot/driver Declan mac Coul and quote-spewing Phineas Bartlett. Yes, the man named Bartlett is full of quotes.

The adventure begins when the Wildes learn that Grandpa Wilde has gone missing. All they have to go on is an idol of a frog and a picture of Grandpa smiling as he stands before the open maw of a giant frog with shark-like teeth. The family’s reaction to this news is “Grandpa was missing again. Cool!”

The adventure takes off from there and involves peculiar frogs, a cliché South American dictator, dark matter, and more impossibly amazing inventions than you can shake a nanobot at. The book is heavy on exposition at times, but the chapters are short and it moves along at a fast clip.

The sheer perfection of the main characters means that they are rarely in any believable danger, so after a few cliffhanger chapter endings that turn out all right, a lot of the suspense is leeched from the story. That’s okay, though. The outcome is never in doubt, but the fun is seeing what mental discipline, physical feat, or novel technology the Wildes will use to save the day.

Doc Wilde is primarily for young adults, but it could also work for adults who enjoy over-the-top pulp adventure. There is nice artwork throughout by Gary Chaloner, but reading on the Kindle Paperwhite, I found the artwork to be quite tiny. After zooming in on it a couple of times, I mostly ignored it for the rest of the book.

Purchase Doc Wilde on Amazon.

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

Book Review: vN

So, I haven’t blogged in a while as I have been busy on other writing projects. However, I have some time, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on a book I enjoyed recently, vN by Madeline Ashby.

vN refers to “von Neumann-type humanoids,” but it might be easier to think of them as replicants (if you are at all familiar with Blade Runner, that is). vN is the story of one such replicant, Amy, who is thrust from childhood to adulthood in an instant (and oh what an instant!) and whose adventures in the great wide world make up the majority of the book.

Let me back up, though. The book’s prologue begins with a focus on her human “father,” Jack, and her mother, Charlotte. It was a little difficult for me to get into, with lots of information to digest about vNs and the near-future world that vN is set in. To summarize: Amy is a clone, or iteration, of Charlotte. She will eventually be an exact physical copy, but her parents are keeping her diet controlled to keep her growing at the same rate as a normal human child, which is a controversial decision. If Amy is given enough food, she would grow into her adult form almost immediately; to keep her child-like, her parents are sort of starving her.

So where did vNs come from in this world? The answer is kind of messed up. A religious zealot created them to remain on Earth after the rapture to serve the remaining humans and make their life easier. And “serve” is true in every sense. As one character explains to Amy later in the book: “That’s why you’ve got all the right holes and such. So people can indulge themselves without sin.” To ensure that vNs serve properly, they have a failsafe built in: if they see a human get hurt, they literally lose their mind and shut down. Not only that, this means that they have a built-in need to love humans and make them happy.

Yes, it is a bit sick and twisted, and much as in Blade Runner, this sets up vNs as second-class citizens, to be used and discarded as needed. Indeed, there are questions of whether or not vNs are even truly sentient, i.e., would they pass a Turing test? Jack is sure they would, but his vN wife Charlotte sometimes doubts that he is. Or is she programmed to express doubt to appear more sentient? Not even the vNs themselves are sure.

Once I got my head around the happenings in the prologue, I was able to read through the rest of the book much faster. The story is like the flip side of Blade Runner. Instead of being told from the bounty hunter’s point of view, we see the world through Amy’s eyes as she flees her hunters. Why is she being hunted? Well, it has to do with her grandmother, who is able to commit violent acts against humans. This means the built-in failsafe is not working for her, and if not for her, it might not be working for Amy either, since Amy belongs to the same clade as her grandmother. Understandably, the thought of a super-strong vN who can freely do violence to humans is something the human ruling class is fearful of, especially given the way vNs are treated.

vN is full of fantastic ideas and philosophical questions, which I enjoyed, but it is the plight of the all-too-human Amy which kept me reading in order to find out what would happen next. While vN is only Book One in The Machine Dynasty, I was satisfied with the book as a stand-alone novel (although I will definitely read any sequels). There were a few odd jumps from one scene to another in the book, but nothing I couldn’t figure out. If you like stories about artificial intelligence and  the question of what it means to be a person and a human, check out vN when it is released on 7/31/12.

Note: I received vN as an e-book Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher, Angry Robot Books. Why did I get an eARC? Long story short, after reading and enjoying a couple of other Angry Robot releases (Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights), I was exploring the Angry Robot website and found out about their Angry Robot Army, signed up, and was accepted. So here we are. Yes, I got the book for free. No, that doesn’t mean I am going to say I loved it if I didn’t, but in this case I actually liked vN a lot.