Book Review: Swarm and Steel by Michael R. Fletcher


I recieved a copy of this book, not for the review, but for a song; thankfully, a tapdance was not necessary, as I’m not very good at it and plus, I don’t have the required shoes anymore. No worries, I only do honest reviews anyways. I have read one of Fletcher’s previous works, Beyond Redemption. I greatly enjoyed both novels. They are amazing flights of fancy with a “magic system” based upon real life psychological disorders, and great fun as the characters’ manifested delusions wreak havok upon their own persons and that of others. Another focus that the Manifest Delusions Series (this is the third in the series and first standalone) places great emphasis on is religion, and the dynamic between the deluded, the sane, and the deities that watch over them (or don’t) from the “other side,” which Fletcher refers to quite creatively as the Afterdeath rather than the Afterlife … which makes more sense. There are new Geisteskranken, new cultures, new tribes, new towns and cities, all are on display. The story begins with one Zerfall Seele, a powerful Gehfahrgeist or sociopath, wounded in an alley in the greed-driven city of Geld. Everyone is trying to kill her, her sword is missing and she doesn’t know why. And that’s just the beginning, as a narrative four hundred years in the making relates her story, that of her old boyfriend Aas, that of her new boyfriend Jateko, that of her sister Holle and that of her sister Holle’s clone of her, Pharisaer. Needless to add, things get a bit crazy as the interested parties war over the powerful church that the two sisters created so many years ago. If anything, the overarching world takes on even more personality in Swarm and Steel than it did in Beyond Redemption; the rabbit hole goes ever deeper as the reader is treated to the philosophies and deities of multiple societies, some savage and some supposedly civilized, before it literally veers straight into hell. Like one of the protagonists in this novel, Fletcher’s world keeps growing and growing as he shines a great spotlight on a different angle of it in each work. Run out and get it ! 5 out of 5 stars …



Movie Review: The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo Del Toro

With this film, I don’t really know exactly where to begin. It’s actually kind of fitting that this is the first movie review that I am going to post on my blog, as it is so noteworthy. I almost didn’t see it, figuring it would be just another cheesy, offbeat romance film; a rom-com with the Universal Studios’ Creature From the Black Lagoon playing the leading man; the director is a big fan of that film apparently. That was the sense that I took away from the trailer that I saw. However, I managed to talk myself into the theatre with the argument that if it was even half as magickal as Crimson Peak had been, then the cost would be worth it. I had also seen Pan’s Labyrinth on video, and I had never seen one of his films in the theatre, so I wanted to have that experience. I was more than pleasantly surprised when the film turned out to be so much more than just a simple romance; it’s a dark, lovecraftian treatise on culture, gender roles, the pressure to succeed and conform, and is also almost a love letter to the twentieth century itself, and what the U.S. used to be. There are a lot of cold war references, both media and otherwise, in passing throughout the film.  Some are films on televisions, posters, everything is orchestrated along with an art deco aesthetic straight out of films like Dark City and video games like the Bioshock series.

The script sets up a little microcosm just like a novella. One plotline regarding another country’s desire to possess the creature for themselves is like a cinematic rabbit hole, following one character home at a couple of points. I have heard that certain groups aren’t altogether happy with their portrayals in the story, but it stands to reason, as characters are only human after all, they would be flawed and not some archetypical paragon making people like them look good. That’s not what the film is trying to portray. It’s a fantasy, or fairytale as some have termed it, which uses pure imagination to illustrate what might be if a merman were indeed found in real life and how men of science would try to exploit it. In an almost grimdark fashion, each of the supporting characters has his or her own little sub-story; Eliza’s gay friend is a closeted homosexual artist, and the U.S. was a very different place back then for people who were considered different. But that is absolutely part of the whole backdrop of the narrative, the theme of being the outsider, the ostracized. The palette is all greens and blacks and whites, but with a few moments of genuine golden hue, as if in a daydream. The shots are often pans, sometimes even fixed pans like those old binocular stations like you’d find at the top of the Empire State Building, but rarely follows. So while the film may have a color schematic similar to Fight Club, the cinematography is completely different. If I had to liken the overall narrative style to anything, I would say that it was most akin to dreaming while awake, with time almost folding in on itself as the plot plays out. And it was one of the few films that I’ve seen in recent years that I truly did not want to end. Check it out!

5 out of 5 virtual digital stars.

Book Review: Art of War: Anthology for Charity, Edited by Petros Triantafyllou

Here is my review of the Art of War Anthology, which was edited by Petros Triantafyllou for

Featuring a whopping forty authors, this is an anthology with heart; all of the proceeds are going to the charity organization Doctors Without Borders. A work of art that’s trying to make a difference against the horrors of real-life war, which is obviously filled with heartbreak and atrocity and should be eliminated as much as possible from the face of our planet. Here’s the star-studded line-up, which has both seasoned, traditionally published authors as well as some of the most talented fresh faces from the indie side of the equation: Mark Lawrence, Ed Greenwood, Brian Staveley, Miles Cameron, John Gwynne, Sebastien De Castell, Mitchell Hogan, Stan Nicholls, Andrew Rowe, C.T. Phipps, Rob J. Hayes, Nicholas Eames, Mazarkis Williams, Ben Galley, Michael R. Fletcher, Graham Austin-King, Ed McDonald, Anna Stephens, Anna Smith Spark, RJ Barker, Michael R. Miller, Benedict Patrick, Sue Tingey, Dyrk Ashton, Steven Kelliher, Timandra Whitecastle, Laura M Hughes, J.P. Ashman, M.L. Spencer, Steven Poore, Brandon Draga, D. Thourson Palmer, D.M. Murray, Anne Nicholls, R.B. Watkinson, Charles F Bond, Ulff Lehmann, Thomas R. Gaskin, Zachary Barnes & Nathan Boyce. With a Foreword by Brian D. Anderson.

As for content, most of the stories are standard dark fantasy offerings, with all the trappings you’ve come to know and love … armored knights, gory deaths, castles and steeds and brotherhood upon the field of battle. However, I would like to list the stories that I feel are standouts, in no particular order. The first piece that really jumped out at me was from C.T. Phipps, tapping in with what I understand to be a tie-in to his Wraith Knight Series; demon sex, mansions turning into huge monsters, dessicated undead, and more all make an appearance in this quintessential slice of grim and dark fiction. A very strong showing from Rob J. Hayes as well, almost a short novelette much in the tradition of Joe Abercrombie’s Times Are Tough All Over; the reader actually receives two stories in one, the tale of war veterans trading war stories on the one hand, one a medic and one a berserker, and the story of a green recruit becoming a seasoned soldier over a long timeline.

And Michael R. Fletcher’s offering is more of the dark deliciousness that any fan of the Manifest Delusions Series will expect; a Gladiator-esque tale of life in a fighting pit, but with a serious twist; the vanquished become the living dead, and must remain in the coliseum forever, sometimes as a disembodied head. I won’t say more, but needless to say, the female warrior who is next to fight is experiencing quite a bit of stress as she heads out onto the killing sands. Readers will also greatly enjoy Dyrk Ashton’s story, which is a tale from the world featured in his Paternus series; it’s chock full of teeming hordes, multitudinous armies, enraged gods and other mythological figures, much of which is based on our real-world mythologies. A bit of a contrast in tone, M.L. Spencer’s offering brings the reader back to medieval times, with a vivid tale that has a French or European bent to it. Ed McDonald’s story was a gory bit of surprise; the story of a doomsday weapon, destined to turn the tides in a great war, basically eroding the persons of its handlers. And last but definitely not least, headliner Mark Lawrence contributes a tie-in to the Red Queen’s War trilogy, much in the spirit of the Road Brothers anthology, continuing Jalan Kendeth’s storyline with a journey through the treacherous Aral Pass and some hilarious interactions with a colorful cast of characters.

Overall, 4 out of 5 stars. Available for pre-order on Amazon now, release date: February 13, 2018.

Book Review: Blessedly Bound (Elemental Witch Trials Series #1) by Lucretia Stanhope

This is my review of Blessedly Bound by Lucretia Stanhope, the first in the Elemental Witch Trials series. To start with, it’s of an optimal length in my mind as I personally prefer novellas, which I have stated on numerous occasions. With a book that size, you have more than ample room for narrative and characterization, yet things are very direct without a bunch of unnecessary filler; what you want is to illustrate the tale until it can live in the reader’s imagination, without going insane spelling out every single detail or experience that could conceivably occur from the characters’ perspectives. The author’s interests weave their way into the tale in a variety of ways, and as I also have an interest in painting and artists, I found that aspect particularly fascinating; readers can probably learn a thing or two about knitting just by reading this book!

I also enjoyed the beautiful overtones from the classic beauty and the beast narrative, almost like in Edward Scissorhands where one of the male leads has to look but can’t touch or consummate his and the female lead’s emotional investments in a physical tryst. While it incorporates some of the best elements from hit young adult bestsellers such as Vampire Academy, Twilight and Hunger Games, there are just enough dark and rough edges to keep things interesting; so that, when the romantic elements are finally placed at the center stage, it’s never tiresome as there’s always a dark alley to go down a page or two later. There’s also a greater sense of realism than is common in that genre, so that the piece will be entertaining to both adults and teens. The book very much captures that small-town ambience found in some of the best movies, and sets up a nice little microcosm where you can really get a sense of who the characters are, and the qualities of their respective personalities.

There’s also a good sense of history, as the female lead delves into her past and that of her family, seeking justice for its murdered members. Plot-wise, there is a traditional love triangle narrative branch between the protagonist and the male leads, several intertwined murder mysteries, and everything is neatly wound up by the ending and practically tied up with a pretty bow. But the story’s greatest strength in my opinion is its keen sense of magical realism and descriptions of magical ritualism and the main character Gwen’s journey to find out what her true capabilities are as a witch. And while I definitely saw the twist near the end of the book coming, it worked very well plot-wise and is a very cinematic-style wrinkle found in Hollywood blockbuster films. 5/5 stars; highly recommended.