Scalding prose takes readers from gritty warfare to an engaging fantasy romp.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

An American soldier gets transported from the Vietnam War to a magical realm in this debut fantasy.

It’s 1969, and Clyde Robbins is headed for Vietnam. He ships out as a staff sergeant after officer training, ending up at the Long Binh Army base. The horrors of war quickly become real for him when he shoots a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl who sneaks a grenade onto the base. Later, Clyde is haunted by the death of Claude Thibodeaux, a young soldier killed by a napalm strike. Clyde’s own life ends in a firefight with Vietnamese combatants. But he wakes in a place that “tasted like Vietnam with all its shadows” but is somehow different. A woman’s voice in his head says, “Arise. You are not safe here.” Clyde leaves a burial field and proceeds to the nearby woods. He meets a German Luftwaffe pilot named Jens Grüber, who welcomes him to Irgendwo, a place that collects dead warriors throughout history. In the Citadel District of Mora, Clyde is jailed by the Council under the suspicion of being a shadebringer, one capable of breaking the rule of Lord Ek Maraine. Will Clyde help defeat the dark forces of the goddess Mother Daedrina or shrug off yet another war that’s been foisted on him? Hooper, an Iraq War veteran, creates a viscerally absorbing introduction to a fantasy series. While crawling in the Vietnamese jungle, Clyde describes it as wearing “a thick wool blanket dunked in a pond of leeches and duck shit.” The cynicism of the era is also captured when Clyde tells Claude early on: “You’re gonna die here, boy.” The Vietnam narrative is so nightmarish that the subsequent fantasy can’t help but feel like a rollicking adventure by comparison. Irgendwo is filled with soulless Hollow children, necromancers like the alluring Miriam, and a hauntingly familiar man named Do. Despite being sick of fighting other people’s wars, Clyde finds the inspiration to help the people of Junedale, whose slippery morals echo those of the military that trained him. This opening volume ends on a warm note, highlighting an indefatigable optimism.

Scalding prose takes readers from gritty warfare to an engaging fantasy romp.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63299-468-4

Page Count: 300

Publisher: River Grove Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022


From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024


From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

Close Quickview