Tag Archives: ya fantasy

Guest Blog Post: The best writing/life advice by K.E. Bonner

Preop is a hive of activity at 6:45am. Metal charts clink, heart monitors beep, and a mingled aroma of betadine, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol wafts through the air. Nurses, aides, mid-levels, and doctors side-step one another as they check orders, see patients, and sign consents. 

“Hi, I’m Karen, and I’ll be your anesthetist this morning,” I say as I enter the preop bay. An elderly man is lying on a stretcher. He answers my questions and I turn back to the chart to double check his paperwork. 

“Young lady,” he rasps, and reaches out his liver-spotted hand out.  I take it. Wrinkles crisscross his face like a cracked desert landscape. “I need to tell you something.” 

After a long career in healthcare, I’ve learned to listen to my patients. Our eyes lock and he squeezes my hand.  

“You will never be able to accomplish everything that you want to accomplish without a life of sobriety.” An impulse flickered between us, an undeniable shared action potential. 

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“Okay,” I nod, taken aback. Why would he say this to me? Did I look like a heavy drinker? 

His matter-of-fact way of speaking stayed with me. There was no possible way that this man knew that I was struggling to accomplish my goals.  At that point I’d been writing, editing, and re-writing my first novel, not to mention that I was working long shifts at the hospital, raising two young children, and struggling to keep my marriage and our finances together. I wasn’t a heavy drinker, a few glasses of wine over dinner to unwind after a long day. What did he see in me that compelled him to speak his truth? I chewed on his words but wasn’t ready to quit drinking, yet.

One Sunday morning I lay in bed with a large bottle of Gator-aide praying for the nausea and pounding headache to recede. It was my day to write, and I could barely lift my head from the pillow. This hangover is a waste of my time, I fumed. I thought about my adoptive mother, and how she steadily drank herself into dementia. I spent most of that day on the couch lamenting the loss of the most precious thing that I possessed: time. I couldn’t write while I was drinking, and my hangover rendered me completely useless. This was the beginning of me developing a distaste for alcohol. 

Clarity followed sobriety. My energy skyrocketed, I was writing more consistently, and better. I reasoned that I’d unknowingly been in a constant state of dehydration. My scale started a downward trend as I began to exercise, which increased oxygenation to my brain, and increased my energy even more. I began to see how much time I had wasted by drinking, and to understand that I had been self-medicating with wine. 

Most people are not ready to hear my patient’s words, and in truth, it took me ten years to process and act on them. These days I drink half a glass of wine on special occasions, but I write every day. Time is precious and limited, make every effort to use your to the fullest.

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About the Author

K. E. Bonner, author of Witching Moon,was always the first kid to sit down during a spelling bee. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she was diagnosed with dyslexia, which explained why she always had to study three times harder than her peers. Being dyslexic taught her perseverance and kindness, her two favorite attributes. She lives in Georgia with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. When not writing, she loves to read, swim, explore new places, and meet fascinating people. If you have a dog, she would love to scratch behind its ears and tell it what a good pup it is.

Learn more about K.E. Bonner on her website or follow her on Instagram @kebonnerwrites. 

You can purchase a copy of Witching Moon on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org. You can also add Witching Moon to your Goodreads reading list.

Blog Tour Calendar

December 19th @ The Muffin
Join WOW as we celebrate the launch of K.E. Bonner’s blog tour of Witching Moon. Read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book!
https://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com


December 20th @ Mindy McGinnis’s blog
Stop by Mindy’s blog to read “Release the Idea of Getting Rich or Published and Focus on Your Craft.” by K.E. Bonner
https://www.mindymcginnis.com/blog

December 20th @ Rockin’ Book Reviews

Join us as Lu Ann reviews Witching Moon.

http://www.rockinbookreviews.com

December 21st @ All the Ups and Downs

Join Heather as she spotlights Witching Moon. Enter to win a copy of the book!

https://alltheupsandowns.blogspot.com/


December 23rd @ Michelle Cornish’s blog
Visit Michelle’s blog to read her review of Witching Moon.
https://www.michellecornishauthor.com/blog

December 24th @ A Storybook World
Join Deirdra as she features a spotlight of Witching Moon.
https://www.astorybookworld.com/

December 27th @ Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews blog
Join Lisa for an interview with K.E. Bonner.
https://lisahaselton.com/blog/


December 28th @ Author Anthony Avina’s blog
Join us today for author Anthony Avina’s review of Witching Moon.
http://www.authoranthonyavinablog.com

December 30th @ Author Anthony Avina’s blog
Revisit author Anthony Avina’s blog to read “The Best Writing Advice I Received” by K.E. Bonner. 
http://www.authoranthonyavinablog.com


January 4th @ Bev Baird’s blog
Join us on Bev’s blog as she reviews Witching Moon.
https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com

January 5th @ The Knotty Needle
Stop by for Judy’s review of Witching Moon.
http://knottyneedle.blogspot.com

January 6th @ Bev Baird’s blog
Meet us back at Bev’s blog for “Ideas are Everywhere” a guest post by K.E. Bonner.
https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com


January 6th @ Look to the Western Sky
Join Margo as she reviews Witching Moon by K.E. Bonner.
https://margoldill.com/

January 7th @ Chapter Break

Visit Julie’s blog where she interviews author K.E. Bonner about her book Witching Moon.

https://chapterbreak.net/

January 9th @ Sue Edwards’s blog
Visit Sue’s blog to read “Magical Realism Surrounds Us” by K.E. Bonner.
https://suebe.wordpress.com/


January 10th @ Celtic Lady’s Reviews
Visit Kathleen’s blog and read her review of Witching Moon by K.E. Bonner.
https://celticladysreviews.blogspot.com/

January 10th @ World of My Imagination
Stop by Nicole’s blog where K.E. Bonner is a guest for “Three Things on a Saturday Night.”
https://worldofmyimagination.com


January 12th @ Life According to Jamie
Join us as Jamie reviews Witching Moon
http://www.lifeaccordingtojamie.com


January 14th @ Boots, Shoes, and Fashion
Join Linda as she interviews author K.E. Bonner.
https://bootsshoesandfashion.com

January 15th @ Fiona Ingram’s author blog 

Stop by Fiona’s blog to see her spotlight feature of Witching Moon

https://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com

January 16th @ the Freeing the Butterfly blog
Visit Freeing the Butterfly to read “Life is Short, Do What You Love” by K.E. Bonner.
https://www.freeingthebutterfly.com/blog

January 18th @ Jill Sheets’s blog 

Stop by Jill’s blog to read her interview with K.E. Bonner. 

https://jillsheets.blogspot.com/

Witching Moon by K.E. Bonner Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young woman who has always sought something more in life saves a man from a shipwreck, and discovers a new path that leads away from her comfortable home and into the world of immortals in author K.E. Bonner’s “Witching Moon”.

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The Synopsis

Every once in an eon, when the Earth eclipses the moon on a winter solstice, an immortal is born under a witching moon. Anne has always had the strangest feelings—memories she couldn’t place; strangers she inexplicably yearned for. After she rescues the enigmatic Phillip from a shipwreck, her comfortable life on the island of Cusabo is shattered, and the mystery of her destiny starts to fall into place. Anne leaves behind the life she’s always known and sets out with Phillip on an arduous journey to Amaranth, where her ancient family awaits her. But the path is dark and daunting, and Anne’s powers have only just begun to manifest.

The Review

This was an incredible blend of YA Historical Fiction meets YA Sword & Sorcery Fantasy! The world-building the author goes through in this book is incredible, as the author delves both into the tail-end of the American Civil War in South Carolina and quickly delves deeper into this fantasy world of magic and power beyond imagination. The imagery and adventurous tone the author strikes keep readers on the edge of their seats as the story becomes more and more engrossing. 

The way the author was able to capture the era for which this narrative hails and balance it with fantastic character development was what really kept me invested in this story. The wonderment that protagonist Anne views this new world through after leaving behind the only place and life she’s ever known made this story so profound, and the coming-of-age tale of this young woman discovering her power was both inspiring and entertaining to read and see come to life on the page.

The Verdict

Captivating, engaging, and harrowing, author K.E. Bonner’s “Witching Moon” is a must-read fantasy meets historical fiction YA novel. The magical nature of the narrative blends well with the protagonist and her historical era upbringing, and the twists and turns in the character’s arc will keep readers glued to their books as the story winds down. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

K. E. Bonner, author of Witching Moon,was always the first kid to sit down during a spelling bee. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she was diagnosed with dyslexia, which explained why she always had to study three times harder than her peers. Being dyslexic taught her perseverance and kindness, her two favorite attributes. She lives in Georgia with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. When not writing, she loves to read, swim, explore new places, and meet fascinating people. If you have a dog, she would love to scratch behind its ears and tell it what a good pup it is.

Learn more about K.E. Bonner on her website or follow her on Instagram @kebonnerwrites. 

You can purchase a copy of Witching Moon on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org. You can also add Witching Moon to your Goodreads reading list.

Blog Tour Calendar

December 19th @ The Muffin
Join WOW as we celebrate the launch of K.E. Bonner’s blog tour of Witching Moon. Read an interview with the author and enter to win a copy of the book!
https://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com


December 20th @ Mindy McGinnis’s blog
Stop by Mindy’s blog to read “Release the Idea of Getting Rich or Published and Focus on Your Craft.” by K.E. Bonner
https://www.mindymcginnis.com/blog

December 20th @ Rockin’ Book Reviews

Join us as Lu Ann reviews Witching Moon.

http://www.rockinbookreviews.com

December 21st @ All the Ups and Downs

Join Heather as she spotlights Witching Moon. Enter to win a copy of the book!

https://alltheupsandowns.blogspot.com/


December 23rd @ Michelle Cornish’s blog
Visit Michelle’s blog to read her review of Witching Moon.
https://www.michellecornishauthor.com/blog

December 24th @ A Storybook World
Join Deirdra as she features a spotlight of Witching Moon.
https://www.astorybookworld.com/

December 27th @ Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews blog
Join Lisa for an interview with K.E. Bonner.
https://lisahaselton.com/blog/


December 28th @ Author Anthony Avina’s blog
Join us today for author Anthony Avina’s review of Witching Moon.
http://www.authoranthonyavinablog.com

December 30th @ Author Anthony Avina’s blog
Revisit author Anthony Avina’s blog to read “The Best Writing Advice I Received” by K.E. Bonner. 
http://www.authoranthonyavinablog.com


January 4th @ Bev Baird’s blog
Join us on Bev’s blog as she reviews Witching Moon.
https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com

January 5th @ The Knotty Needle
Stop by for Judy’s review of Witching Moon.
http://knottyneedle.blogspot.com

January 6th @ Bev Baird’s blog
Meet us back at Bev’s blog for “Ideas are Everywhere” a guest post by K.E. Bonner.
https://beverleyabaird.wordpress.com


January 6th @ Look to the Western Sky
Join Margo as she reviews Witching Moon by K.E. Bonner.
https://margoldill.com/

January 7th @ Chapter Break

Visit Julie’s blog where she interviews author K.E. Bonner about her book Witching Moon.

https://chapterbreak.net/

January 9th @ Sue Edwards’s blog
Visit Sue’s blog to read “Magical Realism Surrounds Us” by K.E. Bonner.
https://suebe.wordpress.com/


January 10th @ Celtic Lady’s Reviews
Visit Kathleen’s blog and read her review of Witching Moon by K.E. Bonner.
https://celticladysreviews.blogspot.com/

January 10th @ World of My Imagination
Stop by Nicole’s blog where K.E. Bonner is a guest for “Three Things on a Saturday Night.”
https://worldofmyimagination.com


January 12th @ Life According to Jamie
Join us as Jamie reviews Witching Moon
http://www.lifeaccordingtojamie.com


January 14th @ Boots, Shoes, and Fashion
Join Linda as she interviews author K.E. Bonner.
https://bootsshoesandfashion.com

January 15th @ Fiona Ingram’s author blog 

Stop by Fiona’s blog to see her spotlight feature of Witching Moon

https://fionaingramauthor.blogspot.com

January 16th @ the Freeing the Butterfly blog
Visit Freeing the Butterfly to read “Life is Short, Do What You Love” by K.E. Bonner.
https://www.freeingthebutterfly.com/blog

January 18th @ Jill Sheets’s blog 

Stop by Jill’s blog to read her interview with K.E. Bonner. 

https://jillsheets.blogspot.com/

Silver in the Mist by Emily Victoria Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman working as a spy for a kingdom whose magic and waning must travel to her neighboring kingdom to regain enough magic to help her people survive, but discovers hidden truths that could upend everything she thought she knew in author Emily Victoria’s “Silver in the Mist”.

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The Synopsis

Silver in the Mist by Emily Victoria is a YA fantasy featuring asexual representation that follows a palace spy sent to infiltrate a neighboring kingdom in hopes of returning magic to her dying land.

Eight years ago, everything changed for Devlin: Her country was attacked. Her father was killed. And her mother became the Whisperer of Aris, the head of the spies, retreating into her position away from everyone… even her daughter.

Joining the spy ranks herself, Dev sees her mother only when receiving assignments. She wants more, but she understands the peril their country, Aris, is in. The malevolent magic force of The Mists is swallowing Aris’s edges, their country is vulnerable to another attack from their wealthier neighbor, and the magic casters who protect them from both are burning out.

Dev has known strength and survival her whole life, but with a dangerous new assignment of infiltrating the royal court of their neighbor country Cerena to steal the magic they need, she learns that not all that glitters is weak. And not all stories are true.

The Review

This was a brilliant YA Fantasy read! The author did an incredible job of world-building and creating a suspenseful atmosphere within these two warring kingdoms. The mythos of the Mists and the origins of this feud between the two kingdoms was inspired, and the imagery the author infused into the writing really brought this fantasy-driven world to life, both the magical side of things and the visceral side of spy work and the impact secrets can have on a world.

The powerful theme work that this narrative played into and the character development really stole the show in this book. The themes of parental bonds with their children, the impact of loss and how grief can blind us, and the dark side of secrets and lies and how it can drive the course of history as we know it all fused beautifully together into a complex tale that heightened the magic of this world. Combined with rich character growth for the protagonist, including her friendship with a fellow spy and the connection she forms to someone from the kingdom she is at war with, this novel brings the heart and engagement that fantasy-driven narratives are known for.

The Verdict

Mysterious, thrilling, and entertaining, author Emily Victoria’s “Silver in the Mist” is a must-read YA fantasy read of 2022. The amazing inclusion that this cast of characters has, including asexual characters, and the depth of emotions the characters evoke through this mythology-heavy narrative made this one book that readers are not going to be able to put down. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Portraits

Emily Victoria is a Canadian prairie girl who writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. When not wordsmithing, she likes walking her overexcitable dog, drinking far too much tea, and crocheting things she no longer has the space to store. Her librarian degree has allowed her to work at a library and take home far too many books.

SOCIAL LINKS: 

Author Website: https://www.avictoriantale.com/

Twitter: @avictoriantale

Instagram: @avictoriantale

BUY LINKS: 

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/silver-in-the-mist/9781335406705

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335406705

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/silver-in-the-mist-emily-victoria/1140845012?ean=9781335406705

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Silver-Mist-Emily-Victoria-ebook/dp/B09PVHZ3T8/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=silver+in+the+mist&qid=1644596472&sprefix=silver+inthe+mist%2Caps%2C122&sr=8-1

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Enjoy this Excerpt from “Silver in the Mist”

Chapter One

The camp around me is shadowy and asleep—vulnerable—just the way I like it. At my back, metal poles hold lanterns that let out an erratic flicker of a glow. But it doesn’t reach as far in as I am, and even the patrolling soldiers barely stray from their circles of firelight. It’s sloppy, this whole camp.

I feel, rather than see, someone slip into the shadow of the tent behind me.

“Devlin.”

Lochlan’s jesting voice is that low tone that barely carries as far as my ears. I shift closer to the canvas of the tent so they can crouch beside me. “Fancy seeing you here,” they say.

Even though this is serious, my own lips twitch in response. Like me, Lochlan is dressed in tight-fitting clothes with their hood up, dark and practical and perfect for getting up to no good. They tug the strip of cloth covering their face down as they let out a huff. “This thing gets so itchy.”

I raise a brow. “That’s not regulation.”

They give me a look, but it’s edged with that sharp excitement neither of us can hide in the field. It tingles in my own fingertips. I want to get on with it, but as always, the Whisperer’s voice echoes in my head, tempering the impulse.

Take the time to observe. Know the lay of the land.

No matter how many missions I do, how much experience I think I’ve gained, it’s always my mother’s voice that sounds in my head out here in the field.

I scan the tents in front of us. There are three of them in the inner circle, five in the outer. If this camp has the usual layout, then the barracks, the mess, and the supplies will be in the outer tents. The scribes and those in command—in other words, everyone important—will be in this inner ring.

The tent on the far left is larger than the two beside it. All are in that deep navy color that is dyed even darker by the night, which only serves to offset the fabric’s silver lining. The canvas is thick enough that even if there was light inside the tents, we wouldn’t be able to see any silhouettes. It doesn’t give us much to go on, but at least it means once we’re inside, no one will be able to see us either.

“What did you find out?” I ask.

“Captain’s quarters are in the middle. The large one on the left is for the scribes. The last one houses the captain’s two pages.”

“So are the captain’s office and his sleeping quarters the same?”

“Guess.”

I stifle my sigh. That will be a pain to deal with, but it’s not like we haven’t done it before. Multiple times. “The scribes?” 

“They sleep with the soldiers as far as I can tell.”

That’s promising. I scan the area. The captain’s tent is the only one with a guard. The man is bored, idly fiddling with his sword’s sheath. He wears a tunic of soft blue lined with white, so neat it looks as if it’d get dirty if the guard glanced at the ground wrong.

“We can take him,” Lochlan says.

I elbow them. “No evidence outside of the theft, remember?” The scribes’ tent isn’t guarded, and there’s barely a foot of space between it and the captain’s tent beside it. That’s our best chance. “This way.”

We track down the row we’re sheltered by, moving from shadow to shadow, aware of the guards and the torchlight hovering just around the corners. At the end of the lane, I wait for the guard’s attention to shift and then we’re just two shadows slipping over the grassy gap. The canvas of the scribes’ tent is secured with thick ties, and I undo the row to let us in.

The space is shadowy in the dark and I take a moment to let my eyes adjust. Rows of portable desks fill the tent so tightly I have to step carefully as I ghost between them, Lochlan behind me.

The desks are littered with papers and worn writing implements, and among them lie pieces of filigree. The delicate swirls of the silvery patterns shine in the darkness, like fallen pieces of moonglow. My fingers hover over them. We aren’t supposed to leave any evidence, but I can’t resist swiping a couple of the shards into my pocket. This is a Cerenian camp. They won’t notice one or two missing pieces of filigree, while we need all the stolen magic we can get.

Behind me, Lochlan pauses as they look at the filigree.

Even though I can’t make out the expression on their face from this angle, I know what will be there. Loss.

I nudge them. “Bet you a week’s worth of chores I can find what we need first.”

Lochlan’s eyes glint in the dark as they grin. “You’re going to regret that.”

“You wish.”

A couple more ties get us out the far wall, and I give a quick glance to make sure the guard can’t see us before slipping into the captain’s tent.

He’s a snorer. That much is obvious as we step in and a grinding noise like rocks being smashed together echoes over to us. Lochlan’s face contorts in laughter and I grab their face cloth and yank it back over their mouth.

There’s not much in here. Besides the bed, the only things are a camp desk and a chest. Well, that and the clothes scattered all over the place. There’s even a discarded sword not a foot away from where I stand. He’s not a strict captain then. I’m betting he’s the type to leave his papers lying out rather than filing them away at the end of the day.

I take the desk and sure enough, it’s cluttered with writing instruments and parchment. The Whisperer ordered us to bring back the original orders from the Cerenian monarch that sent these soldiers here. I don’t know exactly what they will say, but I can guess. There are a number of patrolling camps that work their way up and down the Cerenian border, making sure it’s secure. Normally they follow the exact same route. This camp, though, is well into the neutral territory of the Peaks.

The last true attack from Cerena was decades ago, long before I was born, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t planning another. I can’t see why else they would have strayed so far into the Peaks, when it’s such difficult territory to cover. We can’t face the Mists and an army.

My fingers shift through the papers, careful to disturb them as little as possible. Then in the dark, I catch the image of a songbird sitting on a branch: Cerena’s royal seal. The orders themselves are written in code but that seal means this is what we’ve come for.

I lift the paper high, so Lochlan can see it.

I win.

The snoring cuts off. I drop to a crouch behind the desk. As I peer around its edge I see the captain blinking sleepy eyes open.

I look at where Lochlan is hiding behind the chest. They’re closer to where we entered than I am. They should be able to get out if they move right now, before the captain is fully awake.

I wave my hand at them. They hesitate, but I give them a glare. Moving as silent as a shadow, they’re gone.

There’s a creak from the bed as the captain gets up, muttering beneath his breath. His footsteps come closer, padding over the canvas floor. My hand finds the knife at my hip. As soon as he’s close enough, I’ll jab the knife in his leg. Then I’ll run.

Fast.

His feet come into view and I’m tensing to move when there’s a panicked shout from outside. It’s taken up, the sound multiplying.

What did Lochlan do?

The captain grabs his boots and races outside. As soon as he’s gone, I slip out the side of the tent. I smell the smoke the moment I’m free, the ring of light at the eastern outskirts of the camp now shining decidedly angrier.

“A lantern has fallen!” someone shouts. “Bring water!”

The camp is a flurry of activity. All of the soldiers, most only half-dressed and with mussed hair, are heading one way. I catch a clear moment and dash in the opposite direction.

I dart between the tents, breaking out of the last line and plunging into the forest at the base of the mountain. It’s darker beneath the trees, the branches scratching at my clothes, and even though I’m risking a broken ankle, I don’t slow. Better a broken ankle than an arrow in my back.

The ground beneath my feet turns from moss to dirt to stone, and the forest fades as I track up the path.

I turn the corner, and there it is.

A wall of white clings to the mountain like a shroud. It’s so thick I can’t even make out the rocks in it. All I can see are the flashes of lightning deep in its depths, bright and fierce.

The Mists.

Lochlan sits on a rock just outside the border of white, idly swinging one of their legs. Their hood is already down, showing their auburn hair with the single streak of gray, currently tied back into a ponytail. The filigree lantern we’d hidden on our way down shines at their feet, sparking off their bright green eyes.

I tug the cloth away from my face. “What did you set on fire?”

They grin at me. “You’re welcome.”

There’s a shout behind us from the direction of the camp and we plunge into the Mists.

Excerpted from Silver in the Mist. Copyright © 2022 by Emily Victoria. Published by Inkyard Press.

A Virtue’s Calling by Lexi Cook Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young woman has her world turned upside down when an ancient power from centuries earlier long thought sealed by time is claimed by her and with it the connection to a young man who once tried to use that power to stop a powerful threat in the aftermath of his father’s passing in author Lexi Cook’s “A Virtue’s Calling”. 

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The Synopsis

Nothing Can Stop Fates From Crossing, Even Time.

With his father now dead, Choska is next in line to inherit the Virtue of the Sea, one of two divine powers given by their god. With possession of this, Choska must do something no Virtue holder has ever done: kill the two Hazen’s Beasts plaguing their land. With little hope and many against his wishes to risk his life, the tribes are torn on how to function. Later seeing how the Virtues have been misused, the tribes decide to seal the powers forever.

A thousand years later, Marie is on a beach in her hometown when she starts hearing voices, calling her to go to the ocean. By doing so, she accidentally claims the Virtue of the Sea, meeting Choska in her dreams. Neither is certain why she has the Virtue or who the voice was, but they know one thing—she needs to figure out her destiny and fight for it.

The Review

I was immediately struck by the brilliant world-building and mythos the author was able to establish in this novel. The rich dynamics between the cast of characters and the heavy fantasy-driven narrative both worked in tandem to create a beautiful chemistry between action and emotionally-driven fantasy themes. The imagery and tone the author utilized made this story flow smoothly, and the relatability of the characters and their struggles showcased the complexity of their arcs and journey overall.

Yet for me, it was the mythos and themes that really made this novel stand out. The establishment of this fantasy world and the cultures that resided within it brought the themes of legacy, justice, and vengeance to life so naturally and beautifully that it allowed the narrative to really shine brightly. These themes also added greatly to the characters and how the reader was able to relate to them, allowing their evolution throughout the narrative to be seen clearly, something aided by the multiple POVs heading each chapter of this excellent story.

The Verdict

Captivating, entertaining, and thought-provoking, author Lexi Cook’s “A Virtue’s Calling” is a must-read fantasy read for this fall season. The rich mythos and culture the author establishes in this novel will have readers fully invested in the character’s journey, and the shocking twists and turns will have readers hanging onto the author’s every word as the fate of certain characters hangs in the balance. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Lexi Cook is a fantasy author with a love of psychology and philosophy, leading to her novels that ask questions that take time to ponder. Publishing A Virtue’s Calling at the age of eighteen, she possessed a love of literature from an early age, later becoming a fascination with the publishing industry. Currently, she resides in Atlanta, working endlessly to earn her Managerial Sciences degree at Georgia State University. On top of being an HR Manager, she plans to publish more books that reach readers’ minds and hearts. In her free time, she likes to garden and expand her candle collection.

The Shadow Realm by Anya Costello Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

A young girl finds herself transported to another dimension after living in a world in which her parents disappeared and the mysterious Shadow Hour loomed every day over the world, and soon she must fight to survive and find a way of saving both her new friends and humanity in author Anya Costello’s “The Shadow Realm”.

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The Synopsis

A teenage girl is transported to a dangerous realm and must learn to trust others if she and her friends have any chance of survival. The protagonist Amber is a thirteen-year-old girl just trying to keep up her grades and survive the daily Shadow Hour that has taken over her world. Amber has lived with her aunt since the strange disappearance of her parents and the loss of her memories. Left alone with her aunt, trying to move on from the mystery of her parents’ disappearance, and wary of the threat that the Shadow Hour poses to her and everyone around her, Amber becomes fiercely independent and motivated though reluctant to reach out to others or accept help. Only when Amber is swept into another dimension and forced to work with an unlikely group of friends does she begin to open up and realize that she doesn’t need to face the world alone.

In this Hunger Games-like fantasy adventure novel, Amber is banished from the dangerous near future of her own reality to another realm known as the Shadow Realm. There she must survive a series of deadly obstacles in order to save not only herself and her friends, but humanity as well.

The Review

This was such a brilliantly written and imaginative read. The author, a young teen author, showcases an incredible command over world-building and atmosphere, both of which this novel has plenty of. The tension and unique settings of this dark dimension highlight the surreal dangers and newfound threats facing the world, while the action and suspense keep the reader on edge as the journey progresses. 

What really stood out to me as both a reader and writer was the author’s ability to develop complex and engaging mythology in this world of the Shadow Realm and the various creatures and figures that inhabit it, as well as the emotional character development that occurs between the protagonist and other survivors of this world. The mystery of the young woman’s past and family mix with the theme of opening up and letting others into her life, which proves crucial to her survival. The losses and struggles that occur over time as the trials continue to make this story’s narrative feel thrilling and heart-pounding as each chapter plays out.

The Verdict

Harrowing, entertaining, and exceptionally well written, author Anya Costello’s “The Shadow Hour” is a superb new YA Fantasy meets dystopian thriller. The first in what one can only hope becomes a series, the lengthy read starts out strong and never slows down, giving the reader an engaging experience that keeps them invested in the protagonist’s journey and the emotional bonds she forms. The way the author brought the iconic theme of the Hero’s Journey to life in a fresh and brand new way showcases a growing talent in the literary world that will only get better and better as time goes on, so if you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy of this incredible novel today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Anya Costello is a teen author whose manuscript won first prize of the International Writing Contest of Stone Soup magazine and Mackenzie Press.

Anya says: I have been writing stories since the age of four and at age ten, I attempted my first full length work of fiction, The Shadow Hour. I have always been drawn to writing fantasy and fiction. Building worlds that follow different rules from our own, like the Shadow Realm, and creating the characters that live within them allows me to put aspects of my own life, experiences, and thoughts in an entirely new context.

Anya has been presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair and has received a citation from United Sates Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.

Anya was born and raised in Massachusetts where she currently resides with her family.

Local Teen Author of ‘The Shadow Hour’ Joins Studio 10

Author Anya Costello On How To Write A Book That Sparks A Movement

‘The Shadow Hour’

Map of a Soundless Clock: The Books of the Golden Dolphins Book II by Matthew Rudd Reynolds Review 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young girl and her supernatural golden dolphin must use the artifacts they uncovered together to help ensure the future of the ship Kronos and her crew against a deadly threat in author Matthew Rudd Reynolds’s “Map of a Soundless Clock”, the second book in The Books of the Golden Dolphins series.

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The Synopsis

Lost. There’s no other word for it; the sailing ship Kronos is lost — in deep space, no less! Months after leaving Earth, tensions on the ancient ship are running high. Much is expected from twelve-year old Andi and her supernatural golden dolphin, Lux. Beset by disaster, an angry crew questions the mission and an assassination attempt on Andi’s life sends the pair away — only for a malevolent figure known as Mynost to pursue them across the stars, seeking to obtain the long-lost artifacts found by the pair that could hold the answers. A hard choice must be made that will determine the future of the Kronos forever — a decision not all will survive.

The Review

This was such an incredible follow-up to the author’s first YA/Middle-Grade level sci-fi and fantasy series the author began previously. The world-building and action are of course so well done here, and the bond between Lux and Andi seems to play an even more integral role in the narrative this time around, with their partners through this journey becoming the foundation of their power as well as the core of the personal conflicts they face together from the crew of the Kronos. 

Yet to me, the true heart of this narrative was in fact the character growth of Andi. The young woman is not even a teen yet, and yet she must not only hone her skills and powers to help protect her ship but must discover the true heart of what it takes to lead people on a life-or-death mission. The mystery behind their new threat and the atmosphere the author crafts to build the tensions that arise help to draw the reader further and further into the narrative.

The Verdict

Thoughtful, entertaining, and mesmerizing, author Matthew Rudd Reynolds’s “Map of a Soundless Clock” is a brilliant new addition to the Golden Dolphins Books series. Breathtaking imagery in the author’s writing brought this cosmic journey to life so eloquently, and the rich dynamics between the protagonist and the crew of the Kronos made for some great tension buildup and themes of identity and leadership in Andi’s character arc that is impossible to put down. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BCHKD43Q/ref=x_gr_w_glide_sin?caller=Goodreads&callerLink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goodreads.com%2Fbook%2Fshow%2F62615147-map-of-a-soundless-clock%3Fac%3D1%26from_search%3Dtrue%26qid%3D7dbIFJXgIq%26rank%3D1&tag=x_gr_w_glide_sin-20

Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman responsible for the protection of her kingdom and family must find a way of changing her family’s ways and saving her world from utter destruction in author Maggie Stiefvater’s “Bravely”. 

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The Synopsis

Merida goes on an all-new, life-changing adventure in this original YA novel set several years after the close of Brave!

What if you had one year to save everything you loved?

ONE PRINCESS. Merida of DunBroch needs a change. She loves her family—jovial King Fergus, proper Queen Elinor, the mischievous triplets— and her peaceful kingdom. But she’s frustrated by its sluggishness; each day, the same. Merida longs for adventure, purpose, challenge – maybe even, someday, love.

TWO GODS. But the fiery Princess never expects her disquiet to manifest by way of Feradach, an uncanny supernatural being tasked with rooting out rot and stagnation, who appears in DunBroch on Christmas Eve with the intent to demolish the realm – and everyone within. Only the intervention of the Cailleach, an ancient entity of creation, gives Merida a shred of hope: convince her family to change within the year – or suffer the eternal consequences.

THREE VOYAGES. Under the watchful eyes of the gods, Merida leads a series of epic journeys to kingdoms near and far in an attempt to inspire revolution within her family. But in her efforts to save those she loves from ruin, has Merida lost sight of the Clan member grown most stagnant of all – herself?

FOUR SEASONS TO SAVE DUNBROCH – OR SEE IT DESTROYED, FOREVER. 

The Review

This was a great read. The author excelled at continuously building an atmosphere and tone that reflected both the magic and historic nature of the narrative. The world-building was excellent here, as the author built upon the storied setting of Castle Dunbroch and the kingdom that Disney established in the film Brave and managed to craft enough new narrative to make the world feel even bigger and more alive. 

The mythos, history, and imagery are all that really drove this narrative forward and elevated the characters to the heights that they reached. The way Scottish mythology and mythological figures played into the story, as well as the emotional storyline that was brought to life through Merida and her family, made for a brilliant story overall. Yet despite instances of magical action and adventure featuring ancient gods and mythological figures, the real emphasis on history that this story brought to life allowed for a really well-balanced novel that kept readers invested in this world.

The Verdict

Rich in world-building, heartfelt character growth, and entertaining mythology, author Maggie Stiefvater’s “Bravely” is a must-read YA Historical Fiction and Fantasy novel of 2022. The deep dive into Scottish mythology and history blended so well with the established Disney storylines and characters that Brave introduced, and yet the author’s unique twist on the character’s new story and the atmospheric world that the author brought to life through imagery and tone made this one of the year’s best YA reads. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

New York Times bestselling author of The Shiver Trilogy, The Raven Cycle, and The Scorpio Races. Artist. Driver of things with wheels. Avid reader.

Maggie Stiefvater plays several musical instruments (most infamously, the bagpipes) and makes art in several media (most generally, colored pencils).

She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, their two children, many dogs, a bunch of fainting goats, and a mating pair of growly tuner cars.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09D8RJX93/ref=x_gr_w_glide_sin?caller=Goodreads&callerLink=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.goodreads.com%2Fbook%2Fshow%2F58854953-bravely&tag=x_gr_w_glide_sin-20

Screamcatcher: Sa’be Most Wanted (Screamcatcher Book 4) by Christy J. Breedlove Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

Four teens and a seemingly frail old man travel into the heart of the Shasta Forest to help a woman whose husband has disappeared hunting the invaders who killed their dogs and attacked their home in author Christy J. Breedlove’s “Screamcatcher: Sa’be Most Wanted”, the fourth book in the Screamcatcher series.

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The Synopsis

Jory Pike and the Badlands Paranormal Society get a strange and frantic call from a woman who claims her property has been invaded by unknown trespassers who have terrorized her and her husband and killed their two dogs. She says her husband has gone hunting for the culprits and disappeared. The Sherriff’s office performed a routine investigation and mysteriously quit. The woman also called a first nations tribe tracker to help her, but after a short investigation, he claimed she had something more dangerous than a bear and wanted nothing to do with it.

Jory’s 91 year-old grandfather, a full blood Ojibwe, believes he knows what this mystery is all about and demands to go on the hunt.

Four teenagers and a seemingly fragile old man find out, too late, in the deep Shasta forest, that they are the ones being hunted.

The Review

I absolutely loved this novel. As a longtime fan of this series, I was thrilled to be able to jump back into this world of paranormal and high strangeness for YA readers. The way the author was able to further the narrative for the cast of characters was brilliant, as longtime fans and newcomers alike were able to connect to the characters on an emotional level, especially the protagonist and her grandfather. 

Yet it was the world-building and mythos that really stood out to me. The in-depth way the author blended and utilized Native American mythology, in particular the Ojibwa Tribe’s mythos, with the paranormal aspects of the narrative was an inspired and creative choice that kept the story feeling fresh and unique amongst other YA novels. However for me, as someone who absolutely loves the study and looking into real-life paranormal and high strangeness cases, I am well versed in the lore of both the particular creature used in this narrative and the area known as Mt. Shasta. The author’s use of this setting was so fun and captured my attention clearly. 

The Verdict

Haunting, rich, and entertaining, author Christy J. Breedlove’s “Screamcatcher: Sa’be Most Wanted” is a must-read YA paranormal thriller and fantasy read. The perfect next chapter in Jory Pike’s journey into the Screamcatcher universe, the shocking twists and turns in the narrative, as well as the identity of the true culprits behind this investigation, will leave readers hanging off of the author’s every word. If you haven’t yet, be sure to grab your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Chris H. Stevenson, (aka Christy J. Breedlove), originally born in California, moved to Sylvania, Alabama in 2009. His occupations have included newspaper reporter, front-line mechanic and federal police officer. He has been writing off and on for 36 years, having officially published books beginning in 1988. Today he writes science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, young adult, thrillers and horror. He has a total of 19 titles appearing on Amazon. He was a finalist in the L. Ron. Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and just recently took the bronze medal for YA Horror in the Reader’s Choice Awards. He writes the popular blog, Guerrilla Warfare for Writers (special weapons and tactics), hoping to inform and educate writers all over the world about the high points and pitfalls of publishing.

https://christysyoungadultimagineers.com/

http://guerrillawarfareforwriters.blogspot.com/

Breaking Time by Sasha Alsberg Review 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. 

A young woman finds her world turned upside down when a handsome stranger enters her life from another time, and together they discover fate’s plans for them when a rogue threat targets her for a power she never knew she had in author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time”.

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The Synopsis

Romance, Celtic mythology, and adventure swirl together in this time travel fantasy by #1 New York Times bestselling author, booktuber, and popular Outlander social media influencer Sasha Alsberg.

Fate brought them together. Time will tear them apart.

When a mysterious Scotsman suddenly appears in the middle of the road, Klara thinks the biggest problem is whether she hit him with her car. But, as impossible as it sounds, Callum has stepped out of another time, and his arrival marks the beginning of a deadly adventure.

Klara soon learns she is the last Pillar of Time—an anchor point in the timeline of the world. After being unable to protect the previous Pillar, Callum believes he’s fated to protect her. But now a dark force is hunting the Pillars—and Klara and Callum are the only two standing in the way. They’ll have to learn to trust each other and work together…but they’ll need to protect their hearts from one another if they’re going to survive

The Review

This was such a powerful and entertaining new read! The author did such an incredible job of world-building in this narrative. Each scene felt vibrant and alive on the page, thanks to the author’s incredible handle on imagery in her writing and the atmosphere she builds as the narrative progresses. The striking balance the author struck between the rich mythology of the world she created and the intimate and emotional character growth was superb. As a huge fan of mythology in general, I was immediately drawn into this narrative, but what was really fun was being introduced to new mythological figures and stories, and the intricacies of Celtic mythology definitely drew me into the story so much that I’ll be researching the mythos myself, really adding to the author’s ability to draw readers in. 

Yet it was the rich character development that really drew me in further and further into the story. The multiple POVs were great to have, as they added depth to both Callum’s and Klara’s stories. Their backstories and the eras from which they hail and the instant chemistry and discoveries they make about themselves along the way were truly inviting to behold on the page. Even the antagonist, who emerges from the shadows and strikes into the heart of these two protagonists, was chilling and haunting to behold and did a great job of becoming the hero’s foil in the narrative. 

The Verdict

Captivating, engaging, and brilliantly written, author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time” is a must-read YA Historical Fantasy meets Time Travel story and one of my top picks for best reads of 2022. The author does a great job of traversing the influences of other series such as Outlander and The Mortal Instruments, and yet feels so original and authentic on its own at the same time, bringing magic back into the Historical Fantasy meets Highland genre. With a twist ending that left this reader eager to read more, you guys won’t want to miss out on this spectacular story. Be sure to pick up your copy today!

Rating: 10/10

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About the Author

Sasha Alsberg is the #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Zenith, the first book in The Androma Saga. When Sasha is not writing or obsessing over Scotland, she is galavanting across social media with her two dogs, Fraser & Fiona. Sasha lives in London, England.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.sashaalsberg.com/ 

Twitter: @sashaalsberg

Instagram: @sashaalsberg

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sasha.alsberg 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15100575.Sasha_Alsberg 

Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Time-Sasha-Alsberg/dp/1335284893 

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/breaking-

time-sasha-alsberg/1140332910 

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335284891 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Breaking-Time/Sasha-Alsberg/9781335284891 

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/ch/audiobook/breaking-time/id1591477301 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Sasha_Alsberg_Breaking_Time?id=5TlHEAAAQBAJ 

Please enjoy this excerpt from Author Sasha Alsberg’s “Breaking Time”

Excerpted from BREAKING TIME by Sasha Alsberg, © 2022 by Sasha Alsberg, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Callum

1568

“Thomas!” Callum yelled as he left the pub. The wall of crisp night air dizzied him, causing him to stumble over cobblestones that seemed to shift beneath his feet. Drunken laughter muff led as the door slammed shut behind him. 

“Where the hell are ye?” he shouted. His voice echoed through the deserted streets. 

No answer came. 

Lanterns flickered along the main road, setting the heavy fog aglow. In a wee town like Rosemere, the slightest whispers could be heard a mile away. They carried farther than that, Callum knew; the windows around him were shuttered, but candles burned low just inside. How many prying eyes watched from behind the slats? How many would speak of his friend, the disgraced fighter, in hushed voices at tomorrow’s market, over bread bought with the coin they’d won betting on him mere weeks earlier?

Callum clenched his fists. The whole pub had shouted and jeered while Thomas got pummeled that night. Sounds still rang in Callum’s ears: the thud of fist and flesh, the sickening crunch of bone. It was the third time this month that Thomas had lost—only the third time, in two years of fighting.

Brice would be angry.

Master, keeper, devil, father. Brice MacDonald was all of these things to Callum and Thomas. Whatever Brice’s wrath tonight, Callum could not let Thomas face it alone. Not when Thomas had looked after Callum for so long, raised him up from a nipper as well as a real older brother would.

But he would not abandon Thomas like his mother had abandoned him.

The thought sobered Callum. He called again, lowering his voice to a taunt.

“Thomas! You owe me three shillings!” Thomas could usually be drawn out with a jab.

Callum paused, straining his ears for a response but was met with unease instead. An owl watched from its perch atop the baker’s roof, golden eyes unblinking against the dark night sky. The shining orbs fixed on him.

He tore his gaze from the bird and walked on, moving away from the firelight and into shadow.

Even more worrisome than Brice was the fact that Thomas had given Callum his most treasured item earlier that night: his notebook, small sheaths of vellum bound in leather. When he first began carrying it around, Thomas claimed to have stolen it from the apothecary when he went in for a poultice. 

He had kept it on him, always, and had never let Callum lay eyes on what was inside. Yet he had pressed it into Callum’s hand, just before the match tonight. He said something to Callum when he did, but his words were inaudible within the roar of the pub. Then after, he disappeared from the pub without even a goodbye.

Now Callum was wandering the streets, alone.

It was unlike Thomas to behave so strangely, to lose so badly. The Thomas he knew—boyish and rowdy, tough as leather but never mean—had fallen away with the autumn leaves these past months. Instead of spending evenings at The Black Hart Inn, weaving stories he’d learned as a child of selkies and sailors for red-cheeked barmaids until the sun rose, Thomas began to disappear for days, weeks at a time—stretches too long for Callum to explain to Brice. He took a beating or two for it, too. When Thomas returned, he was sullen, sometimes violent, and consumed by a strangeness Callum had no words to describe. His eyes stared but did not see, as distant as stars burning in his skull. If he spoke at all, he told tales of the demons that terrified them as children: like the Sluagh, spirits of the dead who wandered in flocks, flying around the sky like soaring reapers and stealing souls, flesh hanging off them like blackened rags. Or the bean-nighe, banshees, messengers from the Otherworld and omens of death, who lingered in lonely streams, washing the clothes of doomed men. Normally Callum heard of such dark creatures within the stories of heroes, but Thomas’s stories didn’t end in life…but death. He fixated on that fact, as if it were coming for him.

I saw her, he’d said of the bean-nighe. I refuse to die. 

It worried Callum, but just as his worry morphed into confrontation, Thomas would come back to himself. This was enough to comfort Callum as he watched Thomas return to tales of ancient heroes and kings. Maybe he accepted his relief too soon since the nights of those stories were fewer these days, and more often Thomas’s speech would turn dark again. He would speak of strange visions, of men who leaped from one world to the next.

They’re coming, Cal, you’ll see. It’s as simple as stepping through a veil.

Who’s coming, Thomas? What veil? Callum asked, and Thomas would laugh.

It was no tale that Callum knew. He’d warned Thomas not to tell it. He didn’t like the wary looks it earned him. It was one thing to be a bard who told these stories for a living, but it was another thing to speak like a madman of evil spirits and fairies as if they were tangible things away from the lyrics of a song or the pages of a book.

Callum reached the end of the main road—the turn for Kelpie’s Close. If you wanted trouble, you found it in Kelpie’s. The narrow backstreet edged Rosemere like a blade pressed against the town’s throat.

A chill clung to his skin. Here, there were no lanterns to light the way, his only guide sparse slivers of moonlight. The wind picked up suddenly, lifting his hair and reaching under his woolen cloak. He tried to shake off visions of the Sluagh hovering above him, raking their cold fingers down his neck.

“It’s as dark as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat,” he mumbled.

Callum reached for the dirk tucked under his arm and found the carved handle concealed under layers of wool, feeling a sting of guilt. It was Thomas’s knife. Callum had slipped it away from him before the match, worried about what his friend might do in the crowded pub if he got enough drink in him. He tapped it, drawing enough strength to plunge into the darkness.

“Scunner!” he cursed, meaning it. “Where are you?”

A cry pierced the quiet.

Callum’s heart pounded as he followed the sound farther down the alley. He pulled the dirk from under his arm, certain now that he’d need to use it.

“Thomas?”

Unease, cold and metallic, crept up his spine. The alley appeared empty—strange, for this time of night—but the silence was thick, alive with a feeling Callum couldn’t name. He pushed on, deeper into the gloom. “Thomas?”

Another strangled cry, ahead.

Callum broke into a run.

A single lantern flickered a short distance away, casting a wan glow over a lone figure slumped against the wall. A sweep of red hair, bright even in the dim alley.

“Thomas, ye bastard, do ye ken what—”

The insult lodged in his throat. Thomas lay on the ground, his legs splayed at sickening angles. Blood seeped through his shirt, blooming like ink on paper. Callum rushed to his friend and knelt beside him. He dropped the dirk and pressed his hands against the deep slice that marred his friend’s torso. A knife wound.

“Dinnae fash, Thomas, dinnae fash,” Callum repeated, voice tight and panicked. He glanced up, searching for friend or foe, and found no one. “We’ll be back to the pub before Anderson kens we havna paid our tab.” 

Thomas stared up at him with glassy blue eyes. With each shuddering breath, more blood spilled through Callum’s fingers. He ripped the cloth stock from his neck and pressed the fabric onto the wound. It did little to stem the flow of blood. Within a few heartbeats, the cloth was soaked through, red and dripping.

If he pressed any harder, would it be doing more harm than good? Should he call for help, though it might draw the attacker? Callum hadn’t a clue. He wished suddenly, ferociously, that he’d had a proper mother, one whose wisdom he could call upon to calmly guide his hands. However, Thomas was the only family he had.

His only family was dying.

Thomas opened his mouth, but instead of words, a wet cough came out, splattering red across his pale face.

“Dinnae move, Thomas,” Callum shushed him. His uncertainty gave way to desperation, burst from his throat. “Help! Help us!”

His words dissolved into the night air, leaving behind only a tightness at the center of his chest. If he hadn’t taken Thomas’s dirk, he would have been able to defend himself, he wouldn’t be dying in Callum’s arms—

Thomas gasped, but it seemed as if no air reached his lungs.

Lowering his head, Callum gripped Thomas’s hands, though his own were shaking. “I will find the man who did this, I swear—”

Then the world flipped sideways. A blow had hit Callum like a runaway carriage, throwing him against the alley wall opposite Thomas.

Pain exploded along his ribs. Grasping the mossy wall for purchase, he struggled to his feet and wiped blood from his eyes, scouring the darkness for his attacker—and found no one.

“Show your face,” he growled.

A cruel whisper cut through the quiet. “Are you certain?”

The man emerged from the shadows as if he had been one with them. He wore a dark black cloak, in stark contrast to his unkempt, pale hair. Deep set in his face, a pair of amber eyes seemed to emit their own light. Callum’s gaze was drawn to a glinting shape in the man’s hand.

A dagger, dripping with blood.

Thomas’s blood.

Callum’s heart pounded like a war drum in his ears.

The man sighed. “Move along. Unless you’d like to meet the same fate as your compani—”

Callum lunged forward, cutting off the man’s speech with a guttural cry, striking with the speed of a viper.

The man ducked. He whirled around as Callum charged again. He overreached with the arc of his knife, and Callum used the moment to surge upward with a punch. His fist took the assailant in the chin—

And the force knocked Callum back.

He stared. A blow like that would have laid out the toughest fighter, yet the man stood and smiled, rubbing his chin with a gloved hand.

“I’m going to have fun with you,” the stranger whispered. “I like a man with a bit of fight in him. It’s more fun to play with your prey, don’t you think?”

Callum didn’t see the blow coming, only felt the pain searing across his temple as he was thrown to the ground again. 

He lifted his head, vision blurring. He blinked it clear, took in his friend’s ashen face. The sight flooded Callum with rage.

Whoever said to never fight with anger fueling your fists was a fool. Thomas’s best fights had been powered by emotion. Callum wasn’t fighting for money now. Or for Brice. He was fighting for Thomas. Because Thomas was—

“Stay down, little man,” the attacker’s voice hissed.

Callum dragged himself to his feet. His body, corded with muscle from a lifetime of training, screamed for him to stop. Instead he stood, swaying.

“I dinnae believe I’m going to Heaven,” Callum said, raising his fists once more, drawing strength from the familiar ache that radiated through his arms. “But I cannae wait to bring you to Hell with me.”

Lunging forward again, Callum poured everything he had into a single strike. He swung, landing the punch more out of luck than skill, half blinded by blood and dirt.

The man merely flinched, then caught Callum easily by the throat. A grin curled over his face.

How could that be possible?

“My, my, you are a feisty one,” he hissed.

The man lashed out, and pain flared along Callum’s torso. He released Callum and stepped back, red-tinged silver shining in his fist.

Callum touched his side, and his fingers came away wet with blood. He watched as crimson spread across his shirt. He tried to take a step, only to crumple to the ground beside Thomas, whose head rested limp against his chest.

Callum had never feared death, but now as he looked into its eyes, terror seized him. 

“Many thanks for the entertainment,” the man said.

To Callum’s horror, he bent low, holding a vial to the spreading pool of Thomas’s blood. He was gathering it.

“If you’ll excuse me, there’s one last Pillar I must find.”

Pillar?

The unearthly amber eyes melted into darkness as his opponent backed away and turned, disappearing into the shadows once more. Softly hissed words echoed in the alley. Àiteachan dìomhair, fosgailte dhomh, Àiteachan dìomhair, fosgailte dhomh…

The words the man spoke were Gaelic, but Callum’s fading mind couldn’t make out their meaning. A dark, mist-like substance rose from the ground and curled around the man’s feet, nearly indistinguishable from the dim of night. Like a sudden fog had rolled in.

Callum sputtered a curse, lacking the strength to spit. He tried to lift himself, but with each breath, pain flared in his side like a web of fire.

“I’m sorry, Thomas,” he croaked. Tears fell freely down his face, mingling with blood and sweat. He pressed his forehead against his friend’s. Grief washed over him at the still-warm press of his skin.

Thomas was gone, and Callum would soon follow.

A shiver raked his body. His eyes drifted shut.

Take me already, he pleaded to the darkness.

And the darkness answered.

No, not the darkness—Thomas’s voice, a memory now, though it was solid as stone.

“Get up, scunner.”

The warmth of the words turned electric, spreading through Callum’s body like wildfire. His eyes shot open and he gasped, breathing in a shock of cold air still sharp with the smell of blood. His fingers found the dirk he’d dropped earlier.

Grief and agony and pain and rage lifted Callum onto his feet, thrumming in him as he charged after Thomas’s murderer, knife raised and eager for flesh. He grabbed blindly, finally grasping a handful of fabric—the man’s cloak. Turning, the man’s eyes widened, making two white rings of surprise in the dark. Callum’s hand grabbed the man’s neck and aimed his dirk at the pale slash of his throat.

Suddenly, they froze. Callum could not move. His hand remained around the man’s neck, the tip of the dirk pressed against his vein. Light flowed around them. It’s not time for sunrise, he thought. Dimly, he noticed markings along the man’s collarbone. Knots carved into his skin.

The man cried out—not in pain, but in anger—but then, the cry was stifled by a rush of silence, so thick Callum thought he might drown in it. His stomach turned violently as the ground seemed to drop out from under him, forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut. He was falling, flying, falling.

I must be dead in the alley. The man must have killed me. This must be death.

A bright glow burned against his lids. He closed his eyes tighter and welcomed whatever might follow, only hoping he’d find Thomas there. A wall of light had formed above, descending as if the sun were pulling him through the sky. His body rose into its searing embrace.

He waited for the long drop to the ground, but it never came.

Callum kept soaring.

Not just through the street.

Not to death’s embrace. 

But somewhere else.

Leaping to another world, like the man in Thomas’s story, Callum thought.

So he leaped.