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NICHOLAS ETERNAL

From the The Wayward Saviors Series series , Vol. 1

An absorbing, character-driven paranormal tale that holds promise for future series entries.

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In the first installment in Conrey’s Wayward Saviors contemporary fantasy saga, an immortal, after centuries of existence, struggles to find meaning in his life.

Although Nicholas Theodoulos is considered a heroic figure by any standard—having saved countless children from bad situations over the last 16 centuries—he’s also a deeply flawed alcoholic who pushes those who love him away: “Time had slowly entombed his heart, layer after layer, century after century, until a sepulcher stood where a man should be.” However, when he meets Noory Abramson, a manager of an Atlanta shelter for the houseless whose life’s mission is to change the lives of children in seemingly hopeless situations, he finds a kindred spirit. Together with his friend John—who’s Noory’s adoptive father—the group uncovers a conspiracy involving an ancient device that could either bring about a new utopia or create a hell on Earth. All three characters, it turns out, are iconic Christian figures: Theodoulos is St. Nicholas, John is Jesus’ beloved disciple, and Noory is the grandniece of Jesus. Although the storyline contains a few improbable plot turns, there are many impressive narrative features at play in this highly palatable blend of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and Christian mythology. First and foremost is the courageous and audacious way in which the author reimagines the St. Nicholas myth. The diverse cast of characters—which includes a demon named Damascus and Father Roy, the spirit of a priest whose work on Earth is unfinished—will impress fans of paranormal fantasy sagas such as Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, as the potential for future storylines seems virtually limitless. Serious issues are explored with insight and sensitivity, including alcoholism, houselessness, and child advocacy. Still, the overall tone of the story maintains a welcome witty and lighthearted edge; at one point, for instance, Noory describes the plot as “antichrist crazy shit!”

An absorbing, character-driven paranormal tale that holds promise for future series entries.

Pub Date: June 1, 2023

ISBN: 9781960562005

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Soul Source Press

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2023

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FOURTH WING

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

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IRON FLAME

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

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