Category Archives: Ty Johnston

A Review of The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III

The Black God’s War
Moses Siregar III
Paper $14.95
electronic: various prices, depending on where purchased
Kindle Nook Smashwords ibooks

I’d bought this novel a while back after discovering it on Ty Johnston’s 2011 blog tour, but I hadn’t had a chance to read it when I got an email from the author asking if I would be interested in reviewing it.  I’d like to thank Moses Siregar III for sending me a revised edition of the novel, as well as an apology since I told him this review would be done last month.  (Also thanks to Ty Johnston for his blog tour.  I discovered some new writers I’m looking forward to reading.)

Anyway, this was a compelling novel with a strong nonwestern feel to it.  I found that rather refreshing.

Here’s the basic set-up (and all you’re going to get from me is the set-up since there are some plot twists I don’t want to spoil):

The kingdom of Rezzia is in the process of invading Pawelon.  It’s been a decade long process.  The king of Rezzia has two children, Lucia (a daughter) and Caio (a son), who is ten years younger than his sister.  From birth Caio has been recognized as a Haizzem, which means he’s been selected by the gods to be the military and spiritual leader of the kingdom.  Most of the novel takes place when Caio is nearly 20 and has fully taken up the mantle of Haizzem.  He and his protector Ilario have gone to the front to lead the forces of Rezzia  to victory.  Ilario and Lucia are in love, although at this point neither has expressed feelings openly.  When Caio was born, Lucia saw Danato, the god of the dead kill her mother.  For years, he’s been her companion, unseen and unheard by everyone else, promising her there’s a reason for all things.

Meanwhile, Rao is the youngest and only surviving son of the Rajah of Pawelon.  He and his friend Aayu are sages.  Although they’ve been forbidden to come to the front, they leave for it, believing they have discovered new spiritual weapons that will help them win the war and break the deadlock.  Rao is the lover Narayani, Aayu’s cousin and the daughter of his father’s top general.

With all the family relationships, I’m sure you can see the great potential for tragedy.  All I’ll say is that not everyone will survive to the end.  That and there’s a reason for everything happening.

And speaking of Narayani, I couldn’t stand her through most of the book.  She came across to me as spoiled, selfish, and bratty, someone who was concerned with what she wanted.  Someone who caused trouble because she only thought of herself.  I don’t care to be around those types of people, and I didn’t care for her.

While it may not seem like it on the surface, the previous paragraph was high praise for Mr. Siregar.  Mediocre writers create blah characters.  Superior writers create characters who produce strong reactions in readers, whether those reactions are love, hate, or a mixture of both.  That he was able to create such a character, and such a reaction in this reader, speaks highly of his skill.  And by the time the book was over, I very much cared what happened to Narayani.

The other thing I liked was how the gods aided, meddled, or tormented, depending on your point of view.  This novel was  written in part as an homage to The Iliad.  Any time the gods starting showing up, things got interesting. 

The combat scenes were well choreographed.  They were also unpredictable.  The interactions between the characters were complex, just like the characters themselves.    This was a compelling novel that was hard to put down.  It kept me up late more than one night.

This is one you’ll want to check out.  I have to say I’m not sure what the price is on the electronic edition.  I found three different prices when I was putting in the links for the different electronic editions.  Even at the highest price, $4.99, this is a good buy.

Also, I thought it was a nice touch that the author included excerpts from four fantasy novels by authors I’d not heard of.  The excerpts were intriguing enough that I’ll be buying those books as well.  This approach is a good was to discover new writers as well as a great way for writers to help each other promote their books.

This is the first volume of Splendor and Ruin.  I’m not sure where Siregar is going to go with the next volume since this was pretty much a stand-alone novel.  Not that it matters.  I intend to follow.

A Review of We Can Be Heroes by Scott Fitzgerald Gray

We Can Be Heroes
Scott Fitzgerald Gray
trade paper 306 p., $13.95
ebook $6.99 Kindle  Smashwords

I got an email a few months ago from a gentleman of whom I was not familiar, one Scott Fitzgerald Gray, who asked if I would mind reviewing his new YA novel.  He also requested a guest blog post.  His credentials were good (more on those in a moment), and I agreed.  Unfortunately Scott had some things come up and had to postpone the blog tour.  Hopefully that will happen soon.  He’d be welcome to write a guest post here anytime he likes.

Scott is a member of the Monumental Works Group, a collective of sf/fantasy writers that includes Ty Johnston.  (reviewed here, guest post here).  I’m familiar with Ty and his work, so I agreed to his request. After reading We Can Be Heroes, all I can say is, if Johnston and Gray are representative of the Monumental Works Group, I’m going to have to check the work of other members.  These guys can write.

I had a bazillion things going on while I read this book and wasn’t able to read it every day.  In fact, it took me two weeks to finish it, which is a looong time for me to finish a book of this length.  The fact that I didn’t get bored and move on to something else speaks to how compelling I found the writing. This review would probably fit better at Futures Past and Present, but this blog gets more traffic, so I’m going to post it here.

I was expecting a good book, but this one exceeded my expectations.  Here’s why:

The setup concerns a group of five high school students in Canada.  They live in an isolated little town in British Columbia, and they’re about a month away from graduating.  The previous year, the five of them won a national gaming competition.  Things haven’t gone well for all of them since then.  Gray reveals the backstory gradually, so I’ll not spoil anything for you.

The story is told by Scott, a flawed and not necessarily reliable narrator.  Gray gives him a unique voice, which was part of the appeal of book.  Scott writes essays for conspiracy theory websites.  He’s something of an amateur philosopher.  This is a good thing, because there are some pretty serious themes in the book.  The discussions Scott has within himself and with his friends add a level of gravitas to the book that’s usually found only in works for more mature readers. 

One of the members of the group gets an email invitation to beta test a new game, with a substantial cash prize to the first team to successfully complete the objectives and win the game.  The group signs on, Scott reluctantly.  Of course, the first thing they need to do is bring Molly back into the group.  She’s Scott’s estranged girlfriend.

Lest you think this is going to be one of those angst filled novels of unrequited teenage love, relax.  While there is some of that, Gray handles it well, never allowing it to overshadow the main story.  Instead he uses the relationships among the teens to develop their characters to a depth not always seen in YA novels and to strengthen the plot.

The plot of the game involves the group capturing an advanced mobile weapons platform, essentially a flying tank, from a secured facility without having any weapons, at least not initially.  Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there’s a lot more going on here than they realize.  By the time they finish the game they will be over their heads in a covert operation.

The pace is renlentless, the suspense intense at times, and the plot complex and twisting.  From a small town to s secret bunker to the streets of Vancouver, the reader is swept along a roller coaster ride, in more than one sense.

I mentioned earlier that the characterization shows a depth not often seen in YA novels.  Here’s a quote from near the end of the book as Scott reflects on what’s happened:

Sometimes there are no villains.  There are no heroes.  There are just people doing whatever people need to do to deal with the things life throws at them.

That’s a good description of almost everyone in the book.  Even the “villains” are (mostly) good.  They just have different ideas about the best way to deal with the situation.  Gray does an outstanding job of making his characters seem real.  Maybe it’s a side effect of not being able to finish the book in a couple of days as I usually can, but I hated to finish it.  I really liked these people.  The author made them seem real. 

This was a highly satisfying novel.  If you’ve ever been a gamer, enjoyed a thriller, or been in love, there will be something in this book for you. 

We Can Be Heroes is a featured book at Adventures Fantastic Books

Guest Post by Ty Johnston

Fantasy writer Ty Johnston is touring the blogosphere this month, in part to promote his latest e-book novel, Demon Chains, but also because he loves blog touring. His other fantasy novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb and Ghosts of the Asylum, all of which are available for the Kindle, the Nook and online at Smashwords. To learn more about Ty and his writing, follow him at his blog
Some questioning from a fellow fantasy writer got me to thinking recently. Why do I write mostly in the fantasy genre?
It is a question with no easy answer. Literature of the fantastic and speculative was part of my childhood, a big part, so perhaps there is a bit of nostalgia which keeps my interest going.
That being said, after spending some time thinking over this topic, I came to what I feel is a stronger reply, a better answer. I remain tied to the fantasy genre because of the freedom it allows me as a writer and as a reader.
While the general public might hear the word “fantasy” and think of dragons and men waving around big swords, fantasy is so much more than that, not that there’s anything wrong with dragons and men waving around big swords. When I write in other genres, I often find myself feeling limited intellectually and emotionally, possibly even spiritually. I have no sense of such fetters when working within fantasy.
Fantasy writers write in their favored genre for a lot of different reasons, but one of my draws is exploration of the mind and perhaps the soul. I like to delve into the various elements that makes us human. I find the ability to do my exploring through fantasy. When I am withdrawn into fantasy, I feel as if I’m an explorer of old, charting new territory. If not new territory for others, often enough I am discovering new territory for myself, within myself.
Again, I gain little sense of this from the other genres.
I do not mean to belittle other genres of literature, because each has its place, its good and its bad, and I read widely across all genres. However, as a writer, I find the other genres limiting, making me feel forced to refrain from boldly traveling to new worlds, whether those worlds are physical or metaphysical or beyond.
Within fantasy, nearly anything can occur, anything can be thought and weighed. Admittedly some of the sub-genres of my favorite literature offer limitations, but those limitations are often similar to the ones I find in the non-fantastic genres. When I feel the need, I can work within those limitations, but when I wish to expand, it is to the wider possibilities of fantasy I must turn and return.
The simple answer, then, is that I write mostly in the fantasy genre because of the philosophical freedom it allows me as a writer and reader. The other genres I find somewhat stifling, at least part of the time, and often too literal, too strict, too methodical. With fantasy, I can fly, I can soar.
And hopefully readers will explore and travel with me.

The Next Week or So

I’m getting over a sinus infection at the moment, something that isn’t helped by the dust and the wind here on the South Plains.  Unless something major happens tomorrow, I probably won’t be posting anything new until Sunday night or more probably Monday evening.  I’ll be attending ConDFW this weekend and will give a full report when I get back.  I’m also reading Mark Finn‘s updated biography of Robert E. Howard, Blood and Thunder, and Matt Forbeck‘s Carpathia.  They’re both great reads, and I’ll review them next week.  I had hoped to finish one of them in time to write a review before the con, but being sick has slowed me down some.

In the meantime, this Saturday will see the first guest post here.  Author Ty Johnston is doing a blog tour to promote his new book, Demon Chains, the latest in his Kron Darkbow series.  I’d like to thank Ty in advance for his column.  I’ve read it, and it’s good.  Check it out.  And if you haven’t read any of his books, start with City of Rogues, which I reviewed a few months ago.

Coming up after the report on ConDFW, I’ve got commitments to review (not necessarily in this order) Shadow’s Master by Jon SprunkThief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell, The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Trang by Mary Sisson, and Rise and Fall by Joshua P. Simon.  I’ll probably look at some short fiction in the midst of all that, plus the occasional essay.

Across the Rooftops with Kron Darkbow in the City of Rogues

City of Rogues
Ty Johnston
various ebook formats, 0.99 (Kindle, I think this is a temporary price; Ty, correct me if I’m wrong on this) – $2.99 (Nook)

This book was a lot of fun. It was a good, old fashioned fantasy adventure novel, the first of a trilogy.  I enjoyed it immensely.

Johnston does an outstanding job of juggling a fairly large cast of characters for such a short book, imbuing each of them with their own personality and characteristics.  They include Kron, a young boy he befriends, his friend the city guard sergeant, a healer and his wizard mentor, the crime lord Belgar the Liar and four of his henchmen, and two swords for hire.  That he is able to develop the characters to the depth that he does while maintaining the relentless pace speaks well of his ability as a writer.  Along the way he drops tidbits about the greater world, its history and geography.  And he does it all without harming any swans.

Here’s the basic setup:

The main character is one Lucius Tallerus, who is better known as Kron Darkbow.  Tallerus has returned to the city of Bond, where he lived until his parents were killed.  After their murders, he was taken in by his uncle, recently deceased, and trained as a warden for the Prisonlands.  Now that his uncle is dead, Tallerus has returned to seek revenge on the person responsible for murdering his parents.  He adopts the identity of Kron Darkbow and seeks his revenge.  He dresses in black, prowls rooftops, has a grappling hook and an assortment of tools he carries on his person.  In short, he bears a strong resemblance to a certain Caped Crusader.  But whereas Batman, at least the one I grew up reading (I haven’t followed the title for a few years now) didn’t kill under any circumstances, Kron has no scruples against taking the life of someone he feels deserves to die.

He’s not a superhero by any means.  He makes mistakes, costly ones at times, and he is capable of being injured.  More than once, Kron is almost killed.  He’s much more realistic and fleshed out as a character than many superheroes.

The other intriguing character was Belgad the Liar.  At one point Johnston states that Belgad doesn’t like to lie; it seems the nickname has followed him around for years.  He probably picked it up in junior high, where the names given to you stick with you for life.  He’s a barbarian from the north who has risen to a knighthood and place of prestige in the city, although not exactly ethically.  Like a better known barbarian who became king of Aquilonia, Belgad has grown beyond his origins to become an able administrator and businessman. 

I found him to be the most interesting character in the book, and certainly the most sympathetic and likeable viallain, if you can call him that, I’ve encountered in years.  He doesn’t like killing or stealing; they’re bad for business.  When he came to power, he dissolved the thieves guild and the assassins guild for those reasons.  He still practices extortion and doesn’t hesitate to use strong arm tactics, but despite his fearsome reputation, he didn’t seem to me to be that bloodthirsty.  Nor were his inner circle of henchmen.  I got the impression at times that Belgad would have preferred to run his empire without violence at all, but that it was a necessity in his line of work.  He certainly wasn’t the psychotic megalomaniac many crime lords are portrayed as being. 

Johnston took two characters whom he could have portrayed as coming directly from central casting, fitting their stereotypes, yet he chose to make them human, and in doing so, he transcended the typical generic revenge fantasy.  There’s a reason some many heroes in fiction come back to seek vengeance for deaths, especially the deaths of parents.  Those type of stories speak to us on a primal level.  Many us of would like to do the same if we were to find ourselves in such situations.  I think that’s why these types of plots remain popular.  To use this plot is not a lack of originality on the part of an author.  The lack of originality comes with the author fails to do something new with it, and in this Johnston has succeeded admirably.  I found this to be a fresh take on familiar tropes, something hard to pull off.

Don’t think this novel is merely some postmodern slice of life character study, either.  It’s full of action, intrigue, and swashbuckling.  It would make a good movie.  Unfortunately , Hollywood would probably screw it up.

There are other characters with their own stories in the book, and they all intertwine with Kron and Belgad’s story.  Until the final chapters, there’s no dark lord with a demon horde.  That will change in the rest of the trilogy, but this first book and its introduction of the characters is a story of conflict on a deeply personal level.  I’m looking forward to what happens in the rest of the trilogy, so much so that when I finished Citiy of Rogues, I went and bought the rest of the trilogy and the sequel and prequel.  I’ll report on them in the coming months.  Until then, I recommend this one.