Book Review: Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings

We’ve reached the middle of the five book series, the Belgariad and as such, one significant event must happen in the story that changes the way the main character views the overarching goal of the series.

If you’re just joining us, here are handy links to the reviews to the first two books in the series:

The Story

At the end of the Queen of Sorcery, we left Garion after he is rescued from the snake people and is reconciled with his “Aunt” Polgara, who happens to be a powerful sorceress. At this point he’s just coming into a vague understanding that he possesses the ability to do magic, through a process called the Will and the Word.

It is in Magician’s Gambit that Garion finally receives his formal magical training, as Polgara judges that if he doesn’t, he might end up killing himself or someone else by accident. The critical moment of this decision comes when Garion brings a dead foal to life, something that the sorceress didn’t believe possible.

The party, now consisting of Ce’Nedra, Polgara, Belgarath, and Garion, learn of the Orbs resting place and spend the bulk of the book traveling through strange lands to get there, including the land of Maragor, who’s vengeful god Mara drives any invader insane, the Vale of Aldur where Garion practices mastery of the Will and the Word, and then to Ulgoland where the Orb is hidden.

The dramatic ending includes lots of magical fighting between the Angarak sorcerer Ctuchik who stole the Orb and Garion’s party. There’s a nice twist in how the fighting ends, which I won’t spoil for you.

My Review

I’m partial to books with magical training and deeper dives into how the magic actually works (which is exactly why Stonebearer’s Apprentice exists – I had to have that element in my own series). In the Magician’s Gambit training sequence, there’s a hilarious bit where Garion tries to move a boulder and ends up burying himself neck deep in the ground. There’s also this idea of spending eons studying something small, such as a feather, until it becomes more than an item but a study in studying.

As with all good stories, each of the stakes are raised as the party moves into more dangerous situations among more violent people. I mentioned that there had to be a critical change in the goal because this is the middle book in the series, and that change happens in a way that doesn’t feel forced, which is always nice. The party finally recovers the Orb, and now the remaining books of the series will be spent returning it to its rightful place.

There is still a feel of a fantasy trope checklist being checked off as the story moves from land to land. A pitfall of many fantasy stories is that they get stuck in one place. Part of the wonder in any fantasy novel is the nature of the place where the characters must move closer to their goals. When there are no new elements or places to explore, the interest of the story falls solely on the shoulders of the characters and their problems, which is more challenging.

Recomendations

The story, which up to this point has plenty of adventure and some peril, takes a darker turn as we get closer to the malice of the big villain that eventually must be conqured, Torak. The monsters get uglier, the motives behind actions get more malicious, and the bad guys get stronger. That said, this is still a safe read for young teens and up.

I give Magician’s Gambit 4/5 stars for being entertaining, although there are a few slow bits.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Magician’s Gambit today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Three weeks, three books in a trilogy. Mark this moment because it will probably not happen again anytime soon. That said, reading and reviewing a series from the beginning to the end is really satisfying, so I might have to try this again. We’ll see.

The Story

The Queen of Nothing brings the story of Jude Duarte to a close and thankfully its a satisfying one. We begin with Jude exiled to the mortal world where she is finding a way to support herself and her family without relying on faerie tricks, such as turning leaves into money. She would have stayed there as well, having found at least some sense of normalcy in what can only be described as a bizarre life.

But, we all know that can’t last. Intrigues at the court of Elfhame and all the layers of political scheming are still an ever present threat to her and young Oak, the heir to the throne. When Jude’s twin sister, Taryn shows up asking for a favor back in Elfhame, Jude carefully weighs her options. If she’s caught breaking her exile, it’s an offense punishable by death. On the other hand, if her sister is found guilty of the crime which she is accused, it would mean death for her.

Jude goes, not only to protect her family, but because she also craves to be back in the faerie world and learn who is pulling which strings in the court. She also is secretly thrilled to see Cardan again, although those feelings are mixed and turbulent. She can’t decide if she’s supposed to love him, or hate him. Typical YA romantic angst there.

She attends her sister’s trial, pretending to be Taryn and hoping her true identity isn’t discovered only to be rescued by her foster father, Maddox and taken deep into his camp preparing for war.

In her attempt to escape, she finds herself back with Cardan again as he shows hints of actually caring for her. This also can’t last. A dark curse is unleashed which Jude, as rightful queen, must find a way to end.

My Review

Of the three books, I think I liked this one the best. While there is still plenty of political scheming, it takes a secondary role to Jude’s story. Plus, we finally find a balance where it seems like she’s winning as much as she’s losing, which is nice. In the first two books, she went through an awful lot of punishment and loss and by the end it didn’t feel as if what she gained was big enough to justify the struggle. Here, there is a nice fat payout that makes all her pain and suffering pay off.

The writing itself is lovely and descriptive, the characters compelling and full of realistic foibles, and the conflict full of carefully orchestrated tension. There’s a reason these books are best sellers. So much good stuff inside.

Recommendations

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, this series is meant for older teens and the adults they let play. There is violence and blood shed and gore beyond what you’d typically find in a dark fantasy. Beyond that, there is also strong romantic elements, including an instance of tasteful on-page intimacy. The violence and the romance fit in with the story and don’t feel gratuitous.

I give The Queen of Nothing a rare 5/5 stars, an exciting tale and a wonderful ending to the series.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed The Queen of Nothing today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Beautiful prose, an amazing story, fascinating characters, Strange the Dreamer delivered an experience above and beyond my expectations. When a fellow writer, who also loves all the pretty words, gushes about a book, you know you have to go read it. A huge thank you to Candace for recommending it, you can go check out her review here.

The Story

Lazlo Strange, an orphan child raised by monks and librarians, possesses an unusual passion for a legend that most dismiss as a fairy tale. He dreams of a place called Weep, an unusual city held under an unusual curse – anyone who speaks or thinks the name of the city experiences a feeling of dread paired with the taste of ashes. But, unlike other people, Lazlo remembers a time when the town had a different name, a beautiful name that filled the mind with wonder and butterfly wings. He also remembers the day when that name was stolen from him.

It is this theft that drives him to study everything there is to know about Weep. He hopes that one day he can find that name that once filled him with so much delight. As he grows older, it is this study that gives him a unique understanding of the legendary city. When a delegation from Weep visits his city seeking adventurers and scientists, Lazlo feels compelled to go with them – and despite his lack of real skills, is allowed because he knows stories. The leader of this delegation, none other than Eril-Fane the Godslayer himself, seeks the best scientists to rid Weep of the floating citadel shaped like a massive seraphim who’s outstretched wings prevent sunlight from reaching the city.

When Lazlo reaches Weep he encounters a strange blue girl in his dreams named Sarai. Lazlo doesn’t know that this is a marking of the cursed godspawn and the two of them instantly form a bond that is beyond friendship. His glorious imagined vision of Weep fills her with such delight that she can’t help but want to be part of it and the man who envisioned a world filled with so much joy and magic.

Naturally, none of this can last. Every element that brings Lazlo and Sarai together will be challenged. Eril-Fane wants the citadel which is Sarai’s home, destroyed. One of the scientists, Thyon Nero, is determined to undermine Lazlo’s every step. Minya, Sarai’s sister, wants Eril-Fane and all that dare threaten the citadel including Lazlo, dead, and wants Sarai to do it using her godspawn power over dreams.

Does anyone get what they want? In the way that only a truly masterful storyteller can manage it, the answer is both yes and no. I won’t elaborate further. No spoilers for you. But, if you’re dying to find out, here’s an amazing synopsis that covers literally everything.

My Review

This book blew me away. I’m a huge sucker for gorgeous prose and metaphorical language, not to mention amazing sensory detail, so all the poetic phrases were indeed welcome. In fact, I loved it so much that I immediately sought out the sequel, Muse of Nightmares.

With fantasy titles there comes an expectation of a complex storyline. While Strange the Dreamer has a complex story, the reading experience doesn’t feel complicated. The story alternates between Sarai and Lazlo’s experiences and as they draw closer together, the experiences draw closer as well. The main conflicts are always clear in the characters mind so as readers we know not only what that character wants, but why it’s important.

What does feel complicated is how the prose is assembled. While most fantasy titles published today stick almost exclusively to third-person limited, where we witness the story through the eyes and experience of the main character in third-person, Strange the Dreamer swings in and out of omniscient. This is usually frowned upon, mostly because when done poorly it’s jarring and distracting – and it’s almost always done poorly. For Strange the Dreamer, it feels right. We flow from one character’s thoughts to the next and the technique in Taylor’s hands gives the prose a very appropriate dream-like feel.

The characters were expertly created to be not only unique and well constructed, but unusual enough in each of their motivations to give the story multiple layers of interest. There’s not an ordinary character in the entire book, and that’s impressive for an epic of this size. In addition, the settings were also crafted with the same amount of care making them not only unique, but supremely interesting as well.

So yeah. I’m kind of in love.

My Recommendations

This book is still in YA fiction, but it reads much older than that. The recommended reading age starts at 9th grade, and I agree. There’s just enough adult themes and yearning that it might be harder for younger readers to relate with. There’s no swearing, minimal and appropriate gore, and it does tease at nudity, but never actually gets there. The kissing scenes do get quite descriptive, but don’t progress to anything more.

I mentioned gorgeous poetic prose throughout the book. This might make it harder for those who struggle with metaphoric language to enjoy the story, simply because everything is drenched in it. It also slows down the pacing enough to frustrate those who really want to see what happens next. For me, this wasn’t a problem because the beauty of the journey was just as rewarding as getting there.

Also, if you don’t like fantasy because there are elements that are hard to believe, you might struggle here as well. All significant story elements are anchored in entirely speculative elements. However, all of the motivation is strictly tied to realistic emotional responses which humanizes the unfamiliar and makes it all easier to digest.

I give Strange the Dreamer a rare 5/5 for excelling in all critical storytelling elements and doing it beautifully.


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It’s ALIVE! Stonebearer’s Betrayal is back and better than ever

Back in October 2019, the ebook of Stonebearer’s Betrayal was removed from Amazon and hasn’t been available. While it was gone, the Stonebearer Saga brand underwent a huge renovation to renew and refresh its image in the marketplace. The biggest part of this was commissioning a fresh new cover that better represented my vision of the book.

Have I been crazy excited about this? Absolutely.

The story still revolves around Katira’s experience as she learns the truth about the magic which exists in both her world and her family, a truth which has been hidden from her.

Here’s the new back cover blurb:

Forbidden magic compelled Katira to live a lie, but learning the truth is far more dangerous than she ever dreamed.

When an innocent hunting trip turns into an attack, Katira’s world fractures. Her humble parents are actually legendary Stonebearers – immortal, powerful beings tasked with protecting the human world from creatures of the mirror realm.

Those cracks widen and shatter apart when the Archdemoness, Wrothe, escapes from her timeless prison and snatches Katira away, intending to use her as bait to destroy not only her family line, but the entire Stonebearer Society.

If Katira is to be made whole again, she must learn to trust the young stranger who’s trying to save her while finding the strength to accept not only her parents’ power, but her own.

Winner of the Quills 2019 Recommended Read

And yes, you can totally order it RIGHT NOW.

Head here for the newly branded ebook

Head here for the new paperback

Note – because the original book is still in the process of being removed from Amazon, be sure to use the above link to find the new paperback.


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Reflections on 2019

No. I’m not writing a goals post. I refuse. Not even the most persuasive chocolate bearing sweet-talker can talk me into one. So there. Ha.

Why? No one wants to read a goals post. Yes, I totally have a few (hundred) goals that I’m making plans to make happen, but waxing all poetic about it all over the blog feels, well, pretentious.

That – and of the hoard of goals I put into writing, I’ll probably completely forget about 70% of them before January ends. It took forty years to figure out that when it comes to personal goals, I tend to go a little crazy – and I can’t handle crazy right now.

Does this all sound a bit familiar? Yeah… I totally did it last year with my whole power word campaign.

Here’s a review of 2019

I really liked the idea of power words, but the idea faded out after the first few months. I still have two words posted here at my desk and I wouldn’t be able to tell you what they were. Note to self – don’t pick nine power words. Instead of digging deep into one idea, I was all over the place with a constantly shifting focus. It was an interesting experiment and if I did it again, I would approach it differently.

As a family, 2019 was busy. With all the kids in school but none of them driving, it means lots of being a mom taxi for me. We traveled quite a bit in our travel trailer, including heading down to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. Currently, the kids love video games, board games, and exploring new places.

At the beginning of 2019 I’d just barely survived putting my first book into the world and was already on the edge of a significant burnout. Most of January of 2019 consisted of 6-8 hour days contacting reviewers and learning how to best market a new product, all while being a mom to young kids and also maintaining a home. What made me more tired than anything was not knowing what needed to be done and and trying to do all the things anyway. I’ve learned a lot this year and going forward I have a better plan for future releases.

Which leads me to my most significant moment of 2019, the decision to request back my rights to my first book back and create my own publishing label – Stone Orchid Press. This was not a decision I entered into lightly. I agonized for months over the pros and cons of staying with traditional publishing vs taking up the banner on my own. In the end, the flexibility of setting my own deadlines combined with having more control over the quality of the finished project and the production schedule helped me make my decision.

Going into 2020

My big focus for 2020 will be to find balance between my career as an author, taking care of myself, caring for my family, and keeping the household in order. As we left 2019, I worked actively to find a way to handle my schedule in such a way that I could do all four things in a very intentional way.

My big kick off announcement for 2020 is the rerelease of Stonebearer’s Betrayal in preparation for the release of the sequel novel, Stonebearer’s Apprentice, coming later in the Spring.

You can totally order it RIGHT NOW.

Head here for the newly branded ebook

Or … here for the brand new shiny paperback (Note – the cover is still in the process of loading into Amazon, but this is the correct link)


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Rerelease Cover Reveal!

Just in time for the new year, Stonebearer’s Betrayal has undergone a massive face lift. This new cover captures not only Katira’s story in a new and powerful way, but also represents my growth as an author and my decision to become an independent publisher of my own works.

First, a huge thanks are in order to Fiona Jayde Media for transforming my ideas and thoughts into an image that represents everything I originally hoped the story to be. I loved working with her, and I’m looking forward to crafting covers for the rest of the books in the Shadow Barrier trilogy with her.

You’re probably wondering why I wanted to update my cover. It’s a long and complicated story that has everything to do with my writing goals and what needed to happen to bring them about. Long story short, after receiving a year of thoughtful feedback from people in the industry I trust, I knew a change was needed. Don’t get me wrong, the first cover was dramatic and moody and dark – which does represents some of the elements of the story . However, it didn’t capture Katira’s youth or insecurity and as she is the focus of the story, I wanted the picture to do that part justice.

A jaw dropping design by the talented Fiona Jayde.

The new cover shows Katira as a younger and far more feminine character. She holds the knife that Elan gave her in the beginning of the book and is encircled by magic symbolizing her plunge into the magical world. If you look closely, there are lightning-like lines skirting the outside of the image to represent the marks mature Stonebearers develop on their skin after years of working with the power. In the background are crumbling ruins, representing the Khanrosh where Regulus initially releases the demoness Wrothe and where the story’s climax takes place.

On January 2nd, the fresh new ebook and paperback of Stonebearer’s Betrayal, the first novel in the Shadow Barrier trilogy, will officially hit the shelves and be available for purchase once again.

Also coming soon, book two in the Shadow Barrier trilogy, Stonebearer’s Apprentice – hitting the shelves of online retailers on March 19th.


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Vision Board for The Path to the Tower

As much as I’d love to write an insightful and deep post about a topic which is dear to my heart, I’d much rather share some of the art and inspiration behind my current work in progress. That, and like I said earlier, posts this month might be short and sweet due to NaNoWriMo (just passed 36,000 words, woot!).

This is my vision board for The Path to the Tower (working title), a novella that center’s around Isben’s journey to reach Amul Dun, the tower of the Stonebearers. He makes the unlikeliest of friends, attracts a powerful enemy, and learns that life sometimes doesn’t go as planned.

Enjoy!

Fellow creatives, do you use any type of vision board to help you organize your thoughts as you work? I’d love to see it! Share links in the comments!


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Happy Birthday Stonebearer’s Betrayal!

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

Reminiscing…

Exactly one year ago today Stonebearer’s Betrayal, my very first novel, entered the world – and oh what a day that was. There’s something to be said about a dream you’ve worked on for years to finally happen. To be honest, I was more terrified and insecure about release day than for the birth of my own children. So much depended on things that were wildly out of my hands, everything from Amazon rankings, to generating a good public buzz, tp the people who ended up coming to my launch party. All I could do was try my best and watch and wait.

With my kids, I didn’t have to prove anything. My responsibilities revolved around keeping them healthy and happy and success was easily measured. The world had nothing to do with their well being, as well it shouldn’t.

Yeah, not quite so true with books… Authors are expected to flaunt their book babies to the unsuspecting public at literally every turn. Even more so, we are supposed to go flaunt it to complete strangers and beg, remind, and cajole them to tell us what they think in the form of a review. We spend hundreds of hours seeking out ways of making connections with as many people as possible, because the health of our book baby depends on it.

The Challenges of First time Authoring

Some authors are much better at it than others. One of those tragic truths about creative people is that we’re good at what we do because we thrive on spending time with words and ideas and finding ways to make them exciting. Most of us struggle to reach out to strangers by the hundreds to find ways to share our message.

For me, this entire year has been eye opening to say the least. Leading up to last year’s release, I spent hours and hours learning about all aspects of authoring books, including researching marketing needs. There is something to be said about learning by doing vs. learning by any other means. While taking classes and reading books about the subject is an amazing way to get a general feel for what needs to be done, it feels like each challenge or obstacle is a burning match and the solutions are as easy as blowing it out.

On the other hand, learning by doing, especially when it comes to marketing your own products, is more like being thrown into a building that is on fire. It’s dramatic, scary, and sometimes you feel like you might die from the sheer volume of what needs to be done. No matter how hard you blow, the flaming challenges keep coming back.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

I quite literally burned myself out. During the four months leading up to the release and then the six months after, I spent anywhere between 4-6 hours every single day working to find opportunities ranging from identifying people who would be interested in giving reviews to tracking down podcast hosts and pitching them show ideas. Over the course of the year, I showcased over a combined sixty different artists and authors on my blog as I tried to spread good karma.

Don’t get me started on the amount of time I spent trying to find my voice on social media. I still stink at that… But I’m learning!

Worse still, I lost the time to do the parts of authoring that I truly loved. I couldn’t find the time to write down new shiny stories and then polishing them up until they shone. The sequel novel didn’t get the attention it needed, not to mention the dozens of short story projects that I wanted to be a part of but simply didn’t have the time or energy.

Give me a new baby any day. Actually, I take that back. With my young kiddos still at home, I’m still balancing their needs into my working day.

The Future

All that said, the future of the Stonebearers brand is shining bright and I’m excited at all the plans that are coming together as I write this.

The biggest announcement, is that the sequel to Stonebearer’s Betrayal, Stonebearer’s Apprentice is slated to come out the second week of March 2020. Stay tuned for sneak peaks and other amazing stuff I’m planning for its release.

I’d like to thank all of you who have taken this journey with me. It’s been one wild ride, and will only get better. Thank you dear readers. I couldn’t do it without you.


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Stonebearer’s Betrayal Sequel Update

For those of you keeping track, I officially started editing the rough draft of the sequel novel to Stonebearer’s Betrayal back in March. During the writing phase, I’d experimented with both speech-to-text and using a stand alone drafting keyboard, which made the draft messier than usual.

Note to self – when using speech-to-text, correct the mistakes the same day you dictate. Also, teach your software your character’s names early. Katira’s name changed into all sorts of crazy, like cuchara (Spanish for spoon).

I encourage anyone learning a new skill to experiment and find what works best for them. While I spent hours and hours going back and fixing misheard lines and words (and sometimes trying to divine what on earth I might have been thinking…) I know now how effective using dictation software is for me at this point. If it wasn’t for that test, I wouldn’t have tried tried transcribing my own recordings instead. Doing it that way means I can add correct punctuation marks and use names correctly the first time as I listen to files recorded on my phone. It also means I can speak out a scene in the oddest of places where writing or typing would be difficult, like while out walking, and then have material ready for when I’m ready to sit down and type.

All of this has helped me refine my writing process. With drafting, the most important goal is to get the whole broken story out onto the page, then make decisions where new scenes are needed or if something needs to be taken away. Editing is far different as it takes much longer focused sessions of working at the computer, which can be a challenge to find.

A little history…

I started writing the sequel novel to Stonebearer’s Betrayal during NaNoWriMo 2015 as a challenge to myself to see if I really did have another book in me. I met my goal and wrote the first half, about 50,000 words. Then life happened, as if often does and I set it down to work on other projects and focus on getting book one ready to see the world.

I didn’t touch it for over a year – literally waiting until the next NaNoWriMo to work on it again. That was when I did something truly stupid – and didn’t read the first half before writing the second. This was a lack of planning on my part. I could have easily done my preparation in October, but again, got too busy and when November 1st rolled around it was time to write.

This meant there was time for ideas to change and shift in my mind between the two halves of the book, many of those ideas for the better. But, it also meant that it took a huge amount more work to edit. I’ve literally rewritten 80% of the book at least once, if not several times, to make the two halves match. Learning is hard sometimes, and if I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that I really (really!) need to not put projects down for a year and then not spend a day or two simply rereading what was there.

Fast forward to today. There are twenty pages left of the final edit and a handful of little things to tighten up and then the sequel is ready for professional editing and test reading. So much yay! I feel like I’ve been teasing about finishing this one for months now, probably because I kept setting unrealistic goals and then being surprised when I didn’t reach them.

Another note to self – planning on getting significant work done during the kids summer break from school – totally not realistic.

Like I said before, there is a learning curve with every new project and although I know I’ve gotten so much better at drafting and editing, there’s still a long way to go before I can claim mastery. I’m proud to say with each attempt things get better, easier, and faster.

Writing the first book and bringing it to publication was a ten year journey. The second will only be five. The third is already drafted and I expect it to only take 18 months from start to publication – including the months I stopped to focus on book two. If this trend continues it’s totally possible for me to complete two full length novels a year in the future.

Will I get to that point? Time will definitely tell. There is an exciting world of possibilities out there and I intend to keep trying and moving forward.

I fully intend to release Stonebearer’s Apprentice (official title pending…) in Spring of 2020 and Katira’s story will continue!

Here’s to making progress in whatever way we can!


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Exploring the Five Orders: Guardians

No magical secret society would be complete without its dedicated protectors. In the Stonebearer universe these are the Order of the Guardians. Not only do they protect the society’s interests, they also lead its defense in times of war and unrest. In this latest era of the world, they must step forward again to counter the dark forces rising up from the barrier between worlds.

Image by Torulus from Pixabay

Most guardians tend to stay at the Stonebearer stronghold, Amul Dun, to protect those living there against attack and to train and refine their skills. After the last war, far fewer guardians returned to the keep. Many were killed. Of those who survived, some stayed away because they sought peace deep in the isolated villages far from the cities.

A Stonebearer Guardian must possess the talent to strengthen both physical and intangible objects with their power. This means any weapon in their hands becomes unbreakable, any armor, impenetrable. As long as they have the strength to cast the glyphs, they are untouchable.

As with the other orders, guardians must train hard to develop their skills. They learn fighting techniques from those who have mastered various fighting styles over centuries of effort. Many legends have stemmed from lone guardians fighting against impossible odds.

The most notable guardians in Stonebearer’s Betrayal are Katira’s father, Jarand and his trusted friend who’s stood by his side in the worst of times, Issa.


If you missed the post talking about the overall structure of the Stonebearer Magic System, look no further!

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If you love a great magic system, you’ll love Stonebearer’s Betrayal. 

Update: In January 2020, Stonebearer’s Betrayal got a huge facelift. Click here to see the new cover!

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Thanks for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links.

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