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Ted Neill

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Globetrotter and fiction writer Ted Neill has worked on five continents as an educator, health professional, and journalist. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and he has published a number of novels exploring issues related to science, religion, class, and social justice. His latest novel, The Selah Branch, attempts to confront issues of racism and the divided political environment of the US today and the 1950s. His debut novel, City on a Hill, examines the fault lines of religious conflict in the Middle East. His 5 book series, Elk Riders, wrestles with issues of ethics, morality, and belief against an epic fantasy backdrop. See his upcoming work at www.tenebraypress.com

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BOOK REVIEW

LOST ELAWN

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON April 7, 2024

In Neill’srevisitation of his Elk Riders fantasy series, a young woman seeks a fabled treasure to save her village.

This offbeat fantasy novel acts as a standalone alternate take on the concepts and characters in the author’s five previous Elk Riders novels published in 2016, beginning with In the Darkness Visibleand concluding with The Magus. As the story opens, Gabriela Carlyle has brought her brother, Daven, to a ceremony presided over by a healer named Arkmaven, hoping that the meager offering she's brought might result in a miracle cure for the compulsive behavioral quirks that have led village bullies to refer to her sibling as “half-witted.” Her prayer isn’t granted, though, and she’s dealing with her disappointment the following day when chaos erupts in the village. Strangers called the Servior have come to Gabriela’s island village of Harkness seeking to purchase the ominous black tower at the center of local religious life. Gabriela, Daven, and an unlikely band of misfits (along with a noble elk character named Adamantus) embark on the sailing vessel Elawnin search of a hidden treasure that will allow the village to retain ownership of the tower. The group encounters pirates, armed combat, and other personal challenges along the way. Neill jumps into this tale with clear confidence that he’s not just rebottling old wine; fans of the Elk Riders series are sure to find this book fascinatingly different, even as it retains some similarities. To highlight its “alternate history” aspect, the author even alters character names (Gabriella from the previous books is Gabriela here, and Dameon is Daven). Neill’s prose is always evocative (“the movement of carts, horses, and people,” reads a passage about a submerged town, “had been replaced by silt and sand swirling through forests of seaweed and tall marsh grasses”) and he presents vivid descriptions at every turn; at one point, for instance, Gabriela notes a character’s hands as being “slick and hot with his blood.” Also, the emotional heart of the book—Gabriela’s evolving and deepening affection for her troubled brother—glows with sincerity.

A terrific and involving alternate version of a fantasy world.

Pub Date: April 7, 2024

ISBN: 9798884763340

Page count: 303pp

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2024

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BOOK REVIEW

BOUNTY HUNTERS, BLACK COWBOYS, NORDIC ZOMBIES, TRICKSTER GODS

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Nov. 18, 2023

A group of nerdy teenage misfits battles gods and social injustices in this fourth installment of a YA supernatural series.

Liam Reilly and his friends at Grand Old Republic University are much more than normal students, as evidenced by their adventures fighting demons and zombies in previous volumes. But as this entry opens, it’s Tater Tot Tuesday at the cafeteria and Liam’s biggest issue is trying to figure out a way to ask his crush, Jeanie Winskell, out without making a fool of himself. Things quickly become complicated when Liam finds a mysterious virtual-reality headset in a package with his name on it and no return address and, imprudently, activates the gear. He’s immediately transported to a mythical version of the American dream, specifically the Manifest Destiny—replete with a Wild West landscape and gunslinging cowboys as well as characters like Darth Maul, Slender Man, and Krampus. Realizing that he is trapped in the twisted dreamscape, Liam must use his wits to understand the purpose of the “game.” When his friend Esmeralda Gichuru, a “dreamwalker,” shows up to help, they discover that everything revolves around a god who needs to find a missing part of herself in order to become whole again. Powered by nonstop action and relentless pacing, Neill’s tale follows Liam and company as they uncover profound revelations about the country they live in, which is suffering from a sickness of the soul: “America was natural beauty cheek to jowl with a gaudy, tacky, profit-seeking spirit. Commerce attempting to subdue everything in its path like a steamroller making way for a parking lot.” Complementing the deep thematic exploration (racism, discrimination, greed) are numerous pop-culture references, many of which are laugh-out-loud funny—like a nod to the Kelis song “Milkshake” in a particularly intense sequence.

Subtle but powerful social commentary that’s skillfully mixed with pop-culture irreverence.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2023

ISBN: 9798867829995

Page count: 185pp

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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BOOK REVIEW

MYSTERY FORCE

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Aug. 26, 2023

Three kids with disabilities investigate crimes and bring villains to justice in Neill’s second omnibus of middle-grade adventures.

Rasheed comes from a home that honors Christian and Muslim traditions, and he gets around in a motorized wheelchair. His best friends are Jonathan, who uses a cane, and Jojo, who lives with anxiety and depression and has a feathered serpent companion named Quetzy, disguised as a scarf. The three friends live in a society where humans and magical creatures coexist. In three previous adventures, aided by magical animal companions Dan (a rhinoceroslike karkadan) and Max (a flying firefox), they’ve built a reputation as skilled mystery solvers. The present volume commences with “The Case of the Peryton Thief,” in which they investigate a costumed superhero who’s stealing medicine and a pharmaceutical company with its own nefarious scheme. In “Framed!,” Rasheed is unjustly arrested for committing bank robberies—including one that occurs while he’s in jail. Jonathan and Jojo must track down the real culprit. In “Cahoots!,” the team investigates mysterious thefts committed by golems; while doing so, they lock horns again with archvillains Dr. Evilina Dorisova (given to expressions such as “Oh fiddlesticks”) and Golden Pomp, a real estate mogul. Neill offers straightforward stories that will engage young readers. Each adventure offers a fast-moving blend of imperilment, investigation, everyday bravery, and superheroic action. The chapters are bite-sized and easily digestible, and Rasheed, Jonathan, and Jojo are relatable protagonists—proactive, intelligent, and fiercely loyal. The adult characters fall into two categories: They’re either good-natured and supportive, or villainous without much nuance (“But give up now? When my plan is nearly complete? You children must think I’m a fool”). Their portrayals might have benefited from more shades of gray, although one character is overtly acknowledged as being a victim of stereotyping. Each story is more or less self-contained, although some characters and plot elements recur from past installments without elucidation. Spooner’s cartoon-style, grayscale illustrations help paper over any confusion, adding pep to the plots and exemplifying the magical and inclusive nature of this fictional world.

Dynamic, upbeat, and seriously enjoyable tales.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2023

ISBN: 9798857615645

Page count: 374pp

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2024

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BOOK REVIEW

MYSTERY FORCE VOLUME 1

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Sept. 30, 2021

Aided by magical animals, three kids with disabilities solve mysteries and save the day in this omnibus of middle-grade adventures.

Rasheed gets about in a wheelchair. His best friend, Jonathan Nguyen, needs a stick to walk. They live in a society where humans and magical creatures coexist and where those with disabilities are both accepted and respected. But prejudice still exists. Some of the lesser-known creatures are looked down on by their more famous brethren and by certain humans. But that’s about to change. Rasheed loves to solve mysteries. He has named his wheelchair Sonya and modified her for increased speed and functionality. Jonathan has built all sorts of gadgetry into his cane. Joined by their friend JosephineRodriguez, who has chronic anxiety, Rasheed and Jonathan set out to right some wrongs. In Book 1 (Mystery Force, Assemble!), they fly to Scotland to rescue animals from a sweatshop. It is here that they befriend Max the flying Fire Fox and Dan the Karkadan (an armor-plated rhinoceros). In Book 2 (The Case of the Stolen Horn), one of their teachers—a unicorn—has his horn stolen, and another instructor—a pegasus—is falsely accused. The friends have to track down the real culprit. In Book 3 (Blazing Blizzards), they trek through a labyrinth and to the top of a mountain to combat the villainous schemes of the aptly named Dr. Evilina Dorisova. Neill presents a simply written omniscient narrative in this series opener. The stories breeze along, each escapade offering plenty of action, peril, and ingenuity. The chapters are short, and the protagonists act with the good-heartedness and uncomplicated determination of the most firmly entrenched middle-grade heroes. Rasheed, Jonathan, and Josephine are very likable. While the author glosses over the exact nature of their impairments, they take charge of their environment and refuse to let their disabilities manifest as handicaps. This positivity is reflective of good values portrayed here more generally: compassion, selflessness, and bravery. Though the mystery element is actually quite light, young readers will be caught up and swept along amid dauntless deeds and acts of derring-do. Copious cartoon-style, black-and-white illustrations by Spooner bring the books to life and highlight their diversity.

A terrific trilogy of fast, freewheeling friendship tales.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2021

ISBN: 979-8486908149

Page count: 330pp

Publisher: Independently Published

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2021

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BOOK REVIEW

ZOMBIES, FRAT BOYS, MONSTER FLASH MOBS

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON April 17, 2020

A mixed-race orphan struggles to find his place in the world as a supernatural apocalypse looms in this YA novel.

Teenage Liam Reilly has been looking out for himself for a long time. After his mother died, his father disappeared into his workas a scientist—and then he just disappeared altogether. Now Liam is a ward of the university where his father worked and tries not to make waves; he putters around in his father’s old lab, audits college classes, and attempts to reconstruct his father’s final experiment, which may have caused his disappearance. Yet Liam’s solitary, structured existence is upended when he makes friends with several smart college students and encounters a demon. As it turns out, the demon, Gerald, has been sent to help Liam defeat an invasion of other demons who intend to take over the planet. Liam and his friends must stop a group of rich, White frat boys and sorority girls from fully opening a portal to hell. Neill juggles a lot of different elements in this book, as the main character and his friends must face down not only manticores and other creatures, but also racism and xenophobia. The story jumps from the adventures on the college campus to a secondary plot in a detention center, which initially feels extraneous. The center is full of Latin American children in cages who’ve been separated from their families, who were only looking for better lives in America; they’re guarded by women who can shoot lightning from their hands and a demigod disguised as a corrections officer. Overall, Neill is at his best when he confronts racism head-on, and amid all the fantasy trappings, his novel does provide effective commentary on modern social and political issues.

A timely fantasy tale of real and imaginary monsters in this YA series entry.

Pub Date: April 17, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-63-810554-9

Page count: 277pp

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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BOOK REVIEW

REAPER MOON

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Sept. 3, 2019

After a plague destroys civilization, a young, white Virginian finds himself in the midst of a race war between barbaric neo-Nazi warriors and people of color and their allies throughout Appalachia in Neill’s (Finding St. Lo, 2019, etc.) novel.

In the 2020s, a deadly disease that eats away at the skin kills billions, resulting in an anarchic society. Most survivors are people of color, particularly those of African descent, who have natural immunity. Others that remain include white supremacists, born-again Confederates, neo-Nazis, doomsday Christians, and resurgent Viking-raider types, who are gearing up for a race war—and all are heavily armed. Scot Jamieson is the lone survivor of his prominent Virginia family, who wrote him off as an underachiever. Now he’s alone again after his post-catastrophe settlement—the remnants of his family’s affluent housing development—is devastated by a wave of white brutes sweeping through the territories. Members of a largely black settlement of generous, savvy survivors rescue him using impressive fighting skills. He finds a mentor and verbal sparring partner in Kimberly Bethune Tomlinson, a home-schooled black girl with an illuminating Afrocentric worldview. However, many of the strong emotional bonds that Scot makes are shattered when barbaric racists kidnap or murder his friends. Scot tries to find and protect those who still remain despite ongoing conflicts with a marauding Nazi horde called Right Nation, who draw their fascist philosophy from such sources as the Bible and racist writings of Abraham Lincoln. Its leadership only tolerates nonwhite people in their midst as underlings or sex slaves—as Kim soon finds out.    Imagine a vivid, nail-biting apocalyptic horror novel on the scale of Justin Cronin’s The Passage (2010) or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954) that replaces mutated vampire-zombie-cannibals with scruffy Ku Klux Klan recruits (who are also cannibals). Certainly, the action is satisfying—Neill can describe ghastly, unsparingly bloody combat and atrocities with the best of them—but there’s also no shortage of thoughtfulness. By getting inside the heads of the enemy, the author clearly lays out the sinister cosmology of organized racism and entitlement, as when Right Nation leaders orate at length and debate the formidable Kim to justify their hateful crusade. President Donald Trump and his followers are specifically called out, as are Fox News, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock, and shoutouts and praise go to former Black Panther Bobby Seale and African American authors Octavia Butler, Audre Lord, and James Baldwin, among others. Although Scot’s eyes are roughly opened to his society’s race-related shortcomings, the much-abused hero still manages to come up with a potentially nonviolent strategy to undermine the white-supremacist onslaught. Even so, the lengthy narrative ultimately winds down to a grisly grudge-match showdown between the principal characters, painting the pages red—and leaving far too much hanging. Another grating detail is the inclusion of an angelic orphaned girl, who apparently exists only to be put in deadly danger—a narrative device that calls to mind the adorable tykes that Michael Crichton insisted on menacing with velociraptors.

An angry, harrowing, and topical, if occasionally flawed, what-if actioner.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

Page count: 858pp

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2019

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BOOK REVIEW

FINDING ST. LO

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Jan. 15, 2019

Neill (Two Years of Wonder, 2018, etc.) investigates his late grandfather’s military service during World War II, in an attempt to better understand him.

Robert Lewis Fowler was always an elusive figure. Although he could be gregarious and loving, he also had a darker side, Neill says, and could be a “careless, reckless, belligerent drunk.” The author’s grandfather served in the Second World War and often candidly discussed the extraordinary experiences he had during that time, and after some cajoling, he finally wrote a short unpublished memoir about them. After he died in 2006, Neill felt driven to investigate his grandpa’s life, and to come to grips with the ways in which he was disappointing: “I had to delve into the words he had left me, study the context of the time, and read into the subtext of all he had left us in his memoir.” The author reproduces his grandfather’s recollections, which recount his decision to join the Nebraska National Guard in 1937, when he was anxious to escape “the privation of the failed farms and job shortages.” He eventually fought in France with the 35th Infantry Division in 1944, and he bravely participated in the battle for Saint-Lô, a victory that proved “pivotal” for the liberation of France and the triumph of the Allied powers on the western front. Neill also offers his own account of his independent research, and of times that he spent with his grandfather. In the process of further study about the war, Neill came across the memoir of another veteran, Gordon Edward Cross; he includes it here, as well, noting that Cross’ “lyrical style” offered a perspective that Fowler’s more “terse” prose didn’t capture. Neill offers a compilation of material that’s eclectically unconventional, and, despite its sundry elements, it comes together as an emotionally coherent whole. His commentary is literary and exceedingly thoughtful, even in its digressions; for example, he discusses his own yearslong infatuation with the work of Jack Kerouac and his final disillusionment with the artists of the Beat Generation. He also tells of how he came to understand the deep-seated contempt that some World War II veterans harbored for younger generations, including their own children: “It was born of their own displaced pain, born of loss, born of trauma. These angry fathers, counter-protesting in their uniforms, were protesting their own lost youth.” Both of the military memoirs are remarkable on their own; indeed, the elder Fowler’s meticulous, matter-of-fact descriptions somehow make the subject matter’s gruesomeness more vivid: “I rushed over to him and saw that a piece of shrapnel had gone through his mouth from the front and had gone through the throat and was in the back of his neck. He bled to death in a matter of a few seconds.” Overall, this is a moving book—a sensitively and lovingly constructed account that lacks even a whiff of false sentimentality. Neill also includes dozens of captivating photos, taken by Cross during the war.

An emotionally affecting and historically instructive trio of remembrances.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73095-973-8

Page count: 289pp

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

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BOOK REVIEW

TWO YEARS OF WONDER

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Sept. 17, 2018

A journalist recalls his time spent volunteering in a Kenyan shelter for children with HIV and his later struggles with mental illness in this harrowing memoir.

Neill (Jamhuri, Njambi & Fighting Zombies, 2018, etc.) first began reading about the worldwide HIV crisis while attending Georgetown University as an English major. This led him to volunteer at a local shelter, where he found that “vulnerable, sick, abandoned children quickly became a passion for me.” Neill was an aspiring investigative reporter who had developed a great admiration for the “hero-activist-journalist” Greg Mortenson. However, he struggled to get any of his own work published. He eventually came to the realization that the scope of his stories was too small, so he contacted a Jesuit priest who had set up a hospice for HIV-positive children in Africa and asked to volunteer. In 2002, he traveled to Kenya, eager to “comfort the afflicted” and write what he was sure would be an “eye-opening work of staggering genius.” However, Neill now admits that he wasn’t at all ready for the “horrors of sub-Saharan Africa’s generalized epidemic.” He goes on to recount the suffering and terrible conditions in and around the Rainbow Children’s Home where he worked and lived for two years. In addition, he offers imagined reconstructions of events in the lives of children at the shelter, written from a third-person point of view. The narrative goes on to detail the aftermath of the author’s time abroad, during which he exhibited suicidal tendencies and spent some time in a psychiatric ward. The author shows intense attention to detail in this memoir, and many of his descriptions have a cameralike immediacy. For the most part, this unflinching approach is shockingly visceral, as when he describes a baby boy found alive in a trash pit in the Dagoretti section of Nairobi: “His face had been mauled by dogs, the torn flesh covered in an oozing miasma of maggots.” Throughout, Neill is consistently unafraid to show the dire nature of everyday life in the shelter, but he also captures rare moments of beauty, such as when he heard children gleefully sing a song about bananas, taught to them by a Canadian volunteer, or when he saw a “flowering eucalyptus or flame tree growing up between rusted corrugated tin roofs.” On occasion, though, the book dips too far into the macabre; for example, when Neill buries a deceased fellow volunteer in Kenya, he visualizes the coffin lid slipping off to reveal her “restless, putrefying visage staring out at us.” This imagined detail seems unnecessary and driven by an overzealous desire to provide prose with impact. That said, there’s no delicate way to accurately describe the dreadful reality of Kenya’s street children, who regularly faced the prospect of “kidnap, rape and murder.” Overall, this memoir is a disturbing exposé, and Neill is acutely aware that the narrative could be read as one of “unmitigated tragedy.” But there’s also a sense of hope within these pages that may convince others to volunteer for similar causes.

Eye-opening, gut-wrenching journalism.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2018

Page count: 271pp

Publisher: Tenebray Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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BOOK REVIEW

JAMHURI, NJAMBI & FIGHTING ZOMBIES

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON May 1, 2018

Kids battle arrogance, selfishness, guilt, and a cannibal zombie apocalypse in this lively suite of African-themed middle-grade fantasy stories.

Neill (Bunny Man’s Bridge, 2018, etc.), author of the Elk Riders series, creates a beguiling fictional world where cellphones and Land Rovers coexist with magic and spirits in a traditional African village. In “Jamhuri the Proud & the Tree of the Sky,” the young titular character declares himself a great warrior and demands the hand of the chief’s daughter, Latia Solei. To reach her hut atop an enormous acacia tree, he concocts grandiose, Wile E. Coyote–esque schemes: bouncing from a trampoline, lassoing a flock of flamingos, launching himself from a giant slingshot. But when he finally meets Latia, he gets a lesson regarding women’s autonomy that transitions the story from boisterous picaresque to a quietly resonant meditation on maturity. In the King Lear–inflected “Njambi, the Littlest Daughter,” four sisters set out on separate daunting journeys to Mount Kaliande to find the Water of Life that could heal their ailing father. Along the way, Njambi rediscovers that kindness and compassion pay off—and confronts murkier notions about the paradoxes of life and death. The longest story, “How to Fight Zombies,” finds the living dead besieging a nameless African city, where 13-year-old Anastasia is guilt-stricken when her negligence allows her little brother to be infected with the zombie plague. Advised by Njambi and Latia and assisted by Esmeralda, a blind girl who kicks butt with her walking staff, Anastasia astrally projects herself into Limbo to lead the zombies’ departed souls to the afterlife; unfortunately, she first must confront a 20-meter-tall demon called “Devourer of Souls.” The horror elements here are atmospheric and scary, but the story sometimes bogs down in rumination on the metaphysics of storytelling. Pitched at tweens, Neill’s prose throughout is usually well-paced and richly textured, with a nice balance of vigorous action (“a leopard leapt out at her, swinging its claws and grinning a terrible, hungry smile full of sharp teeth”) and Aesopian moralizing (“To hold a thing, one must keep an open hand”).

An entertaining, piquant set of fantastical yarns.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-986005-67-8

Page count: 200pp

Publisher: Tenebray Press

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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BOOK REVIEW

BUNNY MAN'S BRIDGE

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON July 27, 2017

A collection features a mix of fantasy and coming-of-age stories.

In his introduction, Neill (The Magus, 2016, etc.) explains a legend from his childhood about the Bunny Man, an asylum patient who’d been abandoned in the nearby woods when the institution closed. The episode evolved among teens to describe a crazy hermit who hoarded rabbits and lured kids to their deaths. This imagery draws readers into a series of elegiac tales, half of which star one of two young men, Sidney and Daniel. In stories like “Vespers,” about a fishing trip that forces Daniel to trespass on a supposedly haunted island, and “Quarry,” in which Sidney decides to jump a car into a lake, boyhood is left behind for the harder realities of manhood. “Verities” and “Tyra’s Story,” about the impermanence and unpredictability of love, further explore manhood while addressing religion (specifically Roman Catholicism) and death. Fantasy-tinged entries that offer levity include “Oral Composition,” about a young man whose penchant for biting celebrated artworks makes him famous, and “The Houseguest,” featuring the devil himself as he crashes on a hedge fund manager’s couch. The strangest vignette, “Milk Money,” describes a milk drinking contest in all its gross-out glory. Neill frequently wears his cynicism on his sleeve, as when perfect student Maria Lofton “killed herself with Prozac and a bottle of champagne” while wearing her homecoming dress, leaving a note saying, “Isn’t it obvious.” Yet at the collection’s core are the same themes that make his Elk Riders fantasy novels so rewarding, albeit presented through the greasy lens of young adulthood. The author is deeply fond of outcasts—like David Palmer, war enthusiast—and the sanctity of nature, seen in the passage “Vesper Island...loomed large in my imagination. I could picture the trees, with their cobwebbed branches disturbed by the occasional breeze, which carried the stench of carrion.” Neill’s humor is far left of center, as when God appears in court looking not like “George Burns, Morgan Freeman, or Alanis Morissette” but “a vagrant” who’s been picking through the trash.

Addictive tales that read smoothly while aiming for the gut.

Pub Date: July 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5469-5034-9

Page count: 269pp

Publisher: Tenebray

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

THE MAGUS

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Dec. 13, 2016

The final installment of Neill’s (The Journey to Karrith, 2016, etc.) baroque fantasy series.

After the disastrous battle in Karrith, in which dark elks slayed King Talamar, Prince Haille Hillbourne is a ruined man. Haunted by memories of his father and by the city’s carnage, he runs through an empty Karrith at night to try to cope. Eventually, the new king, Oean, arrests him for regicide and for conspiring with the invading Maurvant tribesmen. It doesn’t help Haille’s case that he rode into battle on Adamantus, an ally elk, hoping to thwart the dark elks. While clutching an odd, blue stone around his neck, King Oean sentences Haille to exile. Meanwhile, Katlyn, the prince’s classmate; and Avenger Red, a former child slaver, search for Adamantus, who’s fled. They meet Tallia Senkar, a Maurvant girl who describes a cloaked being called the Magus, who convinced the Maurvants’ Chief Kiruna that Karrith was to blame for failing crops, enabling a war. At the same time, Haille travels by filthy slave cart to the west coast, where he’s shipped to Castle Drahlstrom. There, he becomes the servant and secret confidant of Twiceborn Gregor Lachnor, a mage-in-training with secrets of his own. All the while, warrior sorcerers work to open the Seal of Dormain to release immortals called the Kryen. In this fifth Elk Riders novel, Neill continues to cut a unique swath through the epic-fantasy genre. Although so much has happened (and continues to happen) in the saga, the lush depictions of nature allow readers to pause and remain grounded. Along the Rimcur Mountains, for instance, “one could witness all varieties of weather: slanting slopes of rain draining from clouds, patches of brassy sunlight, rainbows slung over rainbows in-between.” Events from previous volumes continue to have importance in this one; the curative Font of Jasmeen, for example, failed to fix Avenger Red’s dwarfish height—and yet the woman is determined to atone for past sins, as if the font treated some other aspect of herself. Neill’s philosophical tone remains sharp, as when one character tells Haille, “Life does not owe you happiness, just purpose.”

A finale that delivers on the series’ promised action and emotional grandeur.

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5394-2643-1

Page count: 218pp

Publisher: Tenebray

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

THE JOURNEY TO KARRITH

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Nov. 16, 2016

This fourth Elk Riders fantasy novel sees Neill’s (The Font of Jasmeen, 2016, etc.) heroes caught in the war for the land of Anthor.

After using the miraculous healing waters from the Font of Jasmeen, Prince Haille Hillbourne, his classmate Katlyn, Capt. Valateen “Val” Mandaly, and swashbuckler Cody Youngblood find themselves hunted in the eastern wilds of Anthor. The High Council of Carasans has hired the dauntless Victor Twenge to eliminate Val and Cody, the last of the Order of Oban. With the prince is Adamantus, a sage elk who helps the foursome survive after they plunge off a bridge and into a river. From there, they head for the majestic but cursed woods of Sidon, hoping to meet Haille’s father, King Talamar, in the realm of Karrith. A prophecy says that Haille will save the king during a battle with marauding tribes. On the way, the heroes find the farmhouse of legendary swordsmith Pathus Sumberland. He gives the prince a blade called Elk Heart, which proves essential to survival in the steamy, exotic world of Sidon. The group eventually runs into a cadre of foul creatures called Vaurgs, who’ve captured a wily young woman who isn’t what she seems. In this installment, Neill leans on numerous fantasy tropes in apparent homage to towering genre figures such as Lord Dunsany and J.R.R. Tolkien. That said, even seasoned genre fans may feel like Sidon is their first passage through an enchanted wood, as Neill’s prose is stately and hypnotic, telling readers, for instance, that the heroes hear “Clicks, songs, even throbbing, which was something like distant thunder, but with the regularity of a fading heartbeat.” But like Sidon, where “Emotion was the most powerful current,” this narrative is strongest when examining the movements of love, no matter how swift or hesitant they may be; Haille’s connection with Veolin Crossborn, the scarred elf girl, is achingly portrayed. Readers also revisit Gail, formerly the villainous Avenger Red, who struggles to atone for her past. This penultimate chapter of the series offers nobility and disaster, as Neill’s fans have come to expect.

Another unique, stakes-raising entry in a formidable saga.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5393-0950-5

Page count: 264pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2017

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SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

VOYAGE OF THE ELAWN

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Nov. 11, 2016

A sequel sees a ragtag band of heroes seek forbidden treasure to thwart encroaching militants.

A prophecy spoken by the dead has sent 14-year-old Gabriella Carlyle away from her people on the island of Harkness. She must find the treasure of Nicomedes, which may help turn back a dangerous manipulator named Sade. He wants to purchase sacred Harkness land—next to the Tower of the Dead. Alongside Gabriella is her mentor, Omanuju; her withdrawn 11-year-old brother, Dameon; a village outcast and hunter, Mortimer Creedly; and an enchanted elk who can speak, Adamantus. They fly east on a haunted ship, Elawn, powered by a special magnetic stone. In their possession is a map that should help navigate the labyrinthine City of Dis, where the knowledge-obsessed Nicomedes stored his legacy. Along the way, the group faces wyverns, dehydration, and the mad Princess Sybil (whose own spell split her into two brats, the other named Libys). Alliances within the group, however, are fragile. Not everyone believes in the prophecy, and the promise of untold treasure can warp minds. Gabriella must also return to Harkness before the new moon, but her chances of success dwindle with each new adversary. The second volume of Neill’s (In the Darkness Visible, 2016, etc.) Elk Riders series is yet another blueprint for writing taut, exhilarating fantasy. Everything that can go wrong for the heroes does, and the author’s crafty twists seem to come from an endless supply. The characters’ emotional honesty is likewise riveting. Gabriella’s brother suffers from an ailment that enamors him more to numbers than people. She admits that, instead of saving him from drowning, “I wanted him to die.” Elsewhere, the prose is gorgeous, like a line about the moon being “a marble rolling in a puddle of ink.” Yet amid the fabulous ruins and creature battles is the imperishable wisdom that “if we treated others with the love and devotion we usually reserve for the gods...the world would be a much better place.” By the end, Gabriella, stripped of her companions, has learned this lesson well.

A fantasy built on divine, chaotic action and written with immense heart.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5376-0792-4

Page count: 272pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

THE FONT OF JASMEEN Cover
BOOK REVIEW

THE FONT OF JASMEEN

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Nov. 9, 2016

This third volume of Neill’s (The Voyage of the Elawn, 2016, etc.) fantasy series focuses on a young prince desperate to heal the malady that makes him an outsider.

Queen Airre’ Soliegh of Antas died giving birth to Prince Haille Hillbourne. Also known as the King’s Woe, the child suffers seizures and must be bound in his crib. When Yana Yansalyl, a newly appointed member of the King’s Council, arrives at the castle, she soothes a crying Haille while storms rage outside. Eleven years later, the young prince considers Yana his foster mother, but the curse of his seizures has left him taunted and guilt-ridden. After an incident involving Katlyn Barnes, a classmate from the Academy House, Haille must work in the library as punishment. He encounters a folio that mentions the Font of Jasmeen, “a boon to those afflicted with sicknesses and maladied from birth. For those who touch its waters will be granted any wish.” He also runs into Katlyn again, who convinces him to steal the page naming the Font’s location on Morbright Mountain. Later, Haille finds his father’s letter requesting that the prince be accommodated at Master Chambridge’s home for the afflicted. Rather than face this fate, Haille and Katlyn escape Antas and journey east to find the miraculous Font. In this third Elk Riders adventure, Neill turns from his heroine Gabriella and explores the wider realm of Anthor, where armies mobilize and the legendary vigilante Avenger Red proves “the bane of child slavers.” Fans accustomed to the author’s lilting, evocative prose won’t be disappointed: “the wind made a soft whistle in the branches and summer fattened spiders spun shining webs in the windows of crypts.” This volume revels in more swordsmanship than sorcery, giving Haille’s allies Cody Youngblood, Valateen Mandaly, and the elk Adamantus a workout. The line “Man is not measured by his brawn only but how he can love and be loved by others” appears early, hinting at the tender finale.

A darker, more grounded entry—with a royal hero—that approaches this strong saga from a new angle.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5391-6566-8

Page count: 248pp

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

IN THE DARKNESS VISIBLE Cover
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

IN THE DARKNESS VISIBLE

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Aug. 10, 2016

Neill’s (City on a Hill, 2014) fantasy features a teenage girl on a quest to save her island tribe from the designs of a militant fleet.

Fourteen-year-old Gabriella Carlyle is from the island of Harkness. Her 11-year-old brother, Dameon, is fluent with numbers but a social outcast due to his inward nature. One day, he’s counting grains of sand while Gabriella and her friend, Eloise, are harvesting mussels by the shore. They witness the arrival of a formidable-looking vessel, and the cloaked men who disembark seem rough and ready for battle. The leader of the island, Chief Salinger, greets one of the men, Sade, who’s part of a group called the Servior. Sade explains that the visitors hope to purchase land next to the Tower of the Dead, which stands as a portal between life and the afterlife. When the villagers perform a ritual to consult with their ancestors, the dead speak through Gabriella and reveal that “the Servior...those whom they serve are treacherous.” A loner named Omanuju Ant decides to help Gabriella find the treasure of Nicomedes on the far-flung Eastern Continent, which may thwart Sade and his men; in return, perhaps the dead will heal Dameon. In this opening installment of a vigorously imagined series, Neill delivers an epic that’s as grand as it is brief. Episodic brilliance characterizes Gabriella and Omanuju’s adventures, such as when they befriend Ghede, who pilots the floating ship Elawn—and a dragon race ensues. Alternating chapters flash back to Sade and his younger brother, Vondales, growing up as orphans on the island of Illicaine and later becoming teenage savages on a sharp rise to power. Neill’s prose is often beautiful, as when Gabriella “could make out the shape of undulating hills and ridges silhouetted against the spray of stars.” Alongside frequent scenes of brutality, there are dear instances of wisdom, as when Omanuju says, “Sometimes when we find a person hard to love, the failure is in us, rather than them.” A finale featuring deft, magical weirdness only elevates the narrative further.

The start of what promises to be a tumultuous, visionary fantasy series.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2016

Page count: 187pp

Publisher: Tenebray

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2016

CITY ON A HILL Cover
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

CITY ON A HILL

BY Ted Neill • POSTED ON Oct. 2, 2014

Neill’s debut novel is a sci-fi tale, spanning four short volumes, about a future society that outlaws religion and all things supernatural after a near apocalypse.

According to the official history of the Twin Cities, Fortinbras and Lysander, a nuclear holocaust left all but a few hundred people on the planet dead in an event known as the “Cataclysm.” Those remaining few rebuilt society, shunning the things that they believed caused the division and strife that led mankind to destroy itself. In this environment, two girls meet and become lifelong friends: Sabrina Sabryia, niece of Head Minister D’Agosta; and artist Lindsey Mehdina, who has episodes in which she can see the future. Sabrina becomes a cadet in the society’s militaristic police force, responsible for stomping out all symbols and practice of religion and superstition and making sure everyone follows the strict rule of law. She often deals with Lindsey, who’s much more of a free spirit, painting public murals in colors not sanctioned by the Head Ministry. Their friendship is jeopardized when Sabrina finds out that Lindsey is involved with the very occultists that she’s been trying to bring down. This leads them both to journey outside the Twin Cities, where they find another world they didn’t know existed. It causes them to examine their faith, friendship, and everything they think they know about their society. Neill has created an immersive world—one that readers can see, hear, and smell (“The desert yawned open around them, red light from the setting sun streaking across the hardpan”).The characters even have their own profanity, somewhat in the style of the Battlestar Galactica reboot; meanwhile, a refrigerator is a “cold box,” while carlike vehicles are “roll pods.” The jargon seems like overkill in spots, but it’s effective at reminding readers that they are indeed in another world, familiar but still alien. The technology is also inventive, and the large birdlike machines that the ministry uses to hunt down the occultists are terrifyingly effective. Overall, the saga is well-plotted, its characters well-drawn, with a thoughtful philosophy framing the events. The four volumes taken together read like a miniepic.

A notable, impressive debut for sci-fi fans.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2014

Page count: 103pp

Publisher: Tenebray

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

Awards, Press & Interests

VOYAGE OF THE ELAWN: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books, 2017

VOYAGE OF THE ELAWN: Kirkus Star

ADDITIONAL WORKS AVAILABLE

City on a Hill Volume 1: The City

Faith, religion, godliness—these things have caused more pain, suffering, and death than all the plagues of history combined. In Fortinbras, a city built in the aftermath of a religious war that nearly ended all life on the planet, religion is considered a disease. The residents are taught that they are all that is left of humanity and the cold law of logic and reason rule their lives. Sabrina Sabryia, a young police cadet, is a resolute enforcer of the law until her loyalties are torn between her best friend Lindsey Mehdina, a charismatic spiritual leader, and her uncle Angelo D’Agosta, the head administrator of the city. The conflict drives Sabrina and Lindsey across a radioactive wasteland pursued by cyborg bounty hunters. They quickly learn that what they took for truth in Fortinbras was not all that it seemed. Meanwhile terrorists plot a religious uprising that threatens millions of innocent lives and Sabrina and Lindsey must choose sides. Their choice pits friendship against family, war against peace, and eventually, faith against doubt.
Published: Oct. 3, 2014

City on a Hill Volume 2: Light of the World

Faith, religion, godliness—these things have caused more pain, suffering, and death than all the plagues of history combined. In Fortinbras, a city built in the aftermath of a religious war that nearly ended all life on the planet, religion is considered a disease. The residents are taught that they are all that is left of humanity and the cold law of logic and reason rule their lives. Sabrina Sabryia, a young police cadet, is a resolute enforcer of the law until her loyalties are torn between her best friend Lindsey Mehdina, a charismatic spiritual leader, and her uncle Angelo D’Agosta, the head administrator of the city. The conflict drives Sabrina and Lindsey across a radioactive wasteland pursued by cyborg bounty hunters. They quickly learn that what they took for truth in Fortinbras was not all that it seemed. Meanwhile terrorists plot a religious uprising that threatens millions of innocent lives and Sabrina and Lindsey must choose sides. Their choice pits friendship against family, war against peace, and eventually, faith against doubt. Light of the World is Volume 2 of the 4 part City on a Hill series

City on a Hill Volume 3: Rememberancer

Faith, religion, godliness—these things have caused more pain, suffering, and death than all the plagues of history combined. In Fortinbras, a city built in the aftermath of a religious war that nearly ended all life on the planet, religion is considered a disease. The residents are taught that they are all that is left of humanity and the cold law of logic and reason rule their lives. Sabrina Sabryia, a young police cadet, is a resolute enforcer of the law until her loyalties are torn between her best friend Lindsey Mehdina, a charismatic spiritual leader, and her uncle Angelo D’Agosta, the head administrator of the city. The conflict drives Sabrina and Lindsey across a radioactive wasteland pursued by cyborg bounty hunters. They quickly learn that what they took for truth in Fortinbras was not all that it seemed. Meanwhile terrorists plot a religious uprising that threatens millions of innocent lives and Sabrina and Lindsey must choose sides. Their choice pits friendship against family, war against peace, and eventually, faith against doubt. Rememberancer is Volume 3 in the 4 part City on a Hill series.

City on a Hill Volume 4: A Dream of Kali

Faith, religion, godliness—these things have caused more pain, suffering, and death than all the plagues of history combined. In Fortinbras, a city built in the aftermath of a religious war that nearly ended all life on the planet, religion is considered a disease. The residents are taught that they are all that is left of humanity and the cold law of logic and reason rule their lives. Sabrina Sabryia, a young police cadet, is a resolute enforcer of the law until her loyalties are torn between her best friend Lindsey Mehdina, a charismatic spiritual leader, and her uncle Angelo D’Agosta, the head administrator of the city. The conflict drives Sabrina and Lindsey across a radioactive wasteland pursued by cyborg bounty hunters. They quickly learn that what they took for truth in Fortinbras was not all that it seemed. Meanwhile terrorists plot a religious uprising that threatens millions of innocent lives and Sabrina and Lindsey must choose sides. Their choice pits friendship against family, war against peace, and eventually, faith against doubt. A Dream of Kali is volume 4 in the 4 part City on a Hill series.
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