Indie Book Spotlight: Tapestry of Night (Vince)

In a world where only one late-bloomer can save her people from a terrible fate, the time has come…for another Indie Book Spotlight!

Tapestry of Night Review Graphic

The opening chapter of Elm Vince’s Tapestry of Night shows us that fate can be written in the stars—if those stars are charted properly. Thanks to the Stellar Sisters of Celestial Devotion, Cassia is an expert of making natal star charts, and she has an “uncanny intuition” to go with it.

Eventually, Cassia entrusts the reader with the exciting secret that she has the most unusual—and difficult to understand—prophesied fate of anyone. For a magically late-bloomer with no shortage of problems, there seem to be a lot of important roles heading Cassia’s way. Too many, in fact, to be solved in one book.

Which is why I need the next book.

This is Elm Vince’s debut solo series (Vince co-authored the Desert Nights series with Helena Rookwood). Teasers aside, Tapestry of Night really hit all the right notes for me. The tone isn’t overly dark and depressing, the truly bad guys are creepy, the love interests are unlikely and there’s a truly loveable alchemist to boot. The spy plotline is put to very good use. It reminds me of Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire (Mistborn series). Fans of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series will probably love it, too.

There are a lot of details in the opening chapters about monstrous snatchers, mysterious nuns in astrology-themed convents, and a few types of magic. The backstory and said details are never piled on, but carefully set the stage for a riveting story in which the stars are nearly omnipresent. Tapestry of Night is literally and figuratively dark from the beginning, with warm characters and fanciful magic to light the way.

As the nature of the Governance is gradually explained to the reader, things get a whole lot darker. It’s illegal to be a mage in Myrsia, and those with a talent are taken by snatchers to become Governance slaves. They’re also fitted with alloy collars to restrict their magic. In the Governance’s eyes, magic is too dangerous, and the alloy makes it safe (but cruelly useable).

Unlikely spy: struggling to control new magic, Cassia must sneak away to “a quiet shadow in a city of light” in order to study with endearing alchemist Ptolemus.

And then there’s the Defiance. Hidden away in the Rust Desert, the Defiance is the last vestiges of the now-eradicated Guild’s magic-users, but signs of former glory exist in the capital, too. The glasshouses Cassia uses as a rendezvous point was once “created and tended to by the Guild’s earth-signers, housing exotic greenery from across Myrsia and beyond. Now they sit abandoned, the plants slowly trying to reclaim the building.” There’s a lot of horror and decay behind the capital’s pretty veneer.

Myrsia’s Governance is reliably crooked and pitiless (without any flat villains, just some blind ambition). But the Defiance may not be all they’re cracked up to be, either: after all, they kicked Cassia out as a girl, right after her father died on a mission, because she had no magic.

All that changes as Cassia wanders into adulthood. She has an empath’s gifts, but they refuse to work in the usual way. She can feel what others feel, not just sense it. And it’s pretty out of control besides.

Depending on whether she can learn to control her gift, Cassia just might be the Defiance’s perfect spy. But she has zero time to master it. With the life of a friend on the line, Cassia is about to head off to the capital with a fake identity, where she witnesses constant reminders of how important—and dangerous—her task is.

Eventually, as a side note, we hear there are fey out there somewhere, closed off in their own country across the sea. And for an unknown reason, the leader of the Governance is out there visiting them. This series has a whole lot of space to grow, with some interesting plot points set up for the next book.

The settings of Tapestry of Night are just as interesting, from a red desert to the peculiar convents to the inner bureaucratic chambers of the Governance. The Governance is sort of like evil Hogwarts at times, complete with its own wizarding ball.

On a copy editing note, the excess of commas can be looked past after a bit, so don’t let that stop you. This is a great take on magical “job classes” and a good late-bloomer story, too. Not to mention the spy-craft! I’ll be continuing with the series for sure.

Indie Book Spotlight: Snowblind (Velfman)

At long last! A fantasy about a character with chronic illness, whose affliction isn’t treated like something to be overcome and isn’t there to inspire anyone.

Lanna is a Southerner, born in a cold, harsh land full of rules. She also suffers from seizures. In a place where survival is anything but a guarantee, she’ll never be considered a full adult. It’s one of many reasons we first meet Lanna and her equally tough-as-nails family on the road to the more plentiful Empire.

Look at an Amazon preview (I’m not affiliated), and you’ll instantly know that Snowblind is exquisitely written. The details and descriptions are never rushed but don’t hinder the story flow, either. Those careful descriptions create an immersive world I felt I could walk around in.

In fact, Velfman does twice the world-building by creating two very different settings. The outer village Lanna first resides in, falls in love in (also perfectly rendered; she makes him work for it), and the Imperial capital (the hall that houses the concubines is its own world, with its own flower language) are like characters themselves. And all the characters in Snowblind are well-developed.

Lanna is a sort of goldilocks female MC. She has a heart, and it is available to her suitor, if he can earn it. But she also can give an ox a run for its money with her work ethic and strength. She is practical, savvy, and never silly, even in the thrall of a romantic storyline with Pride and Prejudice qualities (though, thanks to Lanna’s culture, it’s not as restrictive or chaste).

Unfortunately, Snowblind did need more copy-editing. There are more typos than in W.R. Gingell’s Spindle (also loved and reviewed here), but it does surpass those issues and continue to be an amazing, well-written story. There is also a chapter or two that made me squeamish, in which a slave sings the praises of the Empire’s supposedly benevolent form of slavery to Lanna, who is horrified. I would have preferred it be called something else, since it isn’t slavery at all. She is told slaves can leave whenever they like.

All that is a part of a this is the Empire and what you learned in the South is totally backwards theme, but it was too close to real-life revisionist history for me. It’s thankfully brief. Lanna also curses a gay character who drugs her by calling him a pervert and corrupter of men, though before and (eventually) after this they are friends. These are very small episodes in the book, but as I am recommending Snowblind I wanted to share this for full disclosure.

Another remarkable thing about this book is how well the tension and intrigue was layered (the complex characters play no small part in this). Lanna is ripped from everything and everyone she knows and loves, and has no choice in the matter. We always know what’s in her heart. The people who surround her are sometimes kind, sometimes not, and there are always hints at a deeper agenda.

A lovely, Pride and Prejudice-esque romance, Machiavellian characters, great world-building, court intrigue and a fine representation of the chronically ill: a lot of good things are packed into this debut fantasy.

An antagonist in the capital is the only character with overt goals, and she tries to thwart, disgrace and generally ruin Lanna without qualm. But the others aren’t so easily pinned. In Snowblind, the real “villains” are more ambiguous, and a heck of a lot better at concealing it. These are no mustache-twirling bad guys tying maidens to a railroad track. They might manipulate the maiden, though, or toss her aside if she gets in the way of their true aim. They’re a lot more Machiavelli than, say, Voldemort.

Amidst all this is the repeated interruption of Lanna’s seizures, the thing that has always kept her from the life she wants. The powerlessness of chronic illness is captured so well and so sensitively that I could’ve cried. “All her life there had been a wall,” the book says of Lanna. “Her sickness had been a barrier to so much. Angry at her own mind for being defective she clutched her head, and something in her snapped…Then the tears came: hot, regretful and bitter.”

As people who (possibly) mean well make her illness worse, as it changes and complicates her life and keeps her from her simplest, most essential needs (love, family, productivity and the ability to choose where she will go), this book spoke to me. This is the kind of representation I’ve been waiting for. I hoped it would be what it looked like in Snowblind’s description, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Flaws and all, this is a wonderfully written book, and I very much look forward to snatching up the rest of Lanna’s story.

Want to know when the next review will be out?

Indie Book Spotlight: Daughter of Shades (Mercedes)

It’s time for another…

No book can be Sabriel. But fans of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series may want to pick this one up.

Main character Ayleth is a fighter. She’s possessed by a shade, a wolf-like spirit named Laranta—and that happened on purpose. As a member of the Order of St. Evander, she shares her body with a magically, musically suppressed shade so she can battle other shades from the Haunts. But giving her shade a name, and even identifying Laranta as female, is forbidden by the Order. In fact, young Ayleth’s bordering on heresy.

Ayleth, like her shade, is still a bit feral. She works on instinct, even after years of training under her mistress in a woodsy outpost. But she’s incomplete in other ways, too: Ayleth has no memory of her life before she was joined by Laranta. She knocks on the door of those memories from time to time, but no dice.

What she really wants is a post of her own. She wants to get out of her tiny, safe-ish world. It’s a classic story with an intriguing twist, thanks to its fantastic world building.

Better than just romance: Ayleth finds rivalry and curse-breaking smooches along her speculative journey.

Daughter of Shades really gets moving around chapters six and seven. Ayleth’s story benefits from new, long-term characters, who bring out qualities other than those in her defiant-teen dynamic with her mistress. Her newly independent status also comes with a touch of romance—thankfully, not too much, thought it threatens to be at first. Poor Ayleth never sees men outside her work, and she’s more than a bit overly impressed. That portrayal is awkward, because she’s no starry-eyed damsel. I don’t think most readers would want her to be.

Fortunately, her story veers in a far better direction: a rivalry blossoms where a soapy romance might, and gives the story further layers.

There’s a fun nod to the Sleeping Beauty folktale in a type of curse, a unique magic system of different types of shades, magics and poisons, and pleasantly chilling settings. From a cursed forest to the unwatchable glimpses of the haunts, it has enough of a touch of horror to make a really good campfire tale, but still left me still able to sleep at night. (Yes, I’m that big of a scaredy cat.)

My one issue, which probably kept me from getting into the book sooner, is the way Daughter of Shades begins with the possessed body of a dog. It’s not for the squeamish or the animal lovers, but after the first few chapters that plotline is over. I did find it hard to read before that, and while the world interested me, I think the opener (which included a little bait and switch from Ayleth) held it back. The hardened venatrix she first appears as is an interesting gal, and it takes a while for the real Ayleth to catch up.

Ultimately, Daughter of Shades leaves readers with a lot to wonder about (not in a bad way), and the growing action in the last quarter or so of the book keeps the pages turning. Both things, combined with the unusual world-building, made it an easy call for me to keep reading The Venatrix Chronicles.

(And to be honest, I’ll be waiting to see how that romance comes along, too…but don’t spread that around.)

Sure, you can find better writing out there, but that’s no guarantee it can build interest and suspense like this book. Ayleth’s spirited adventures are worth tagging along for—and sometimes, a person just needs a good (slightly!) scary story, with or without the campfire.

Indie Book Spotlight: Spindle (Gingell)

Today we slap a well-deserved gold star on…

Spindle Review Graphic

Spindle, by W.R. Gingell (Two Monarchies Sequence Book One, 2015, New Adult Fantasy/Fairy Tales/Romantic Fantasy).


Do you like fairy tale re-tellings, in which the original story is folded, spindled (ha!) and mashed into the unrecognizable and unique origami shapes of a drowsy heroine pretending to be the legendary sleeping princess people think she is, a little boy pretending rather convincingly to be a dog, an absent-minded wizard not even pretending to be listening (whose catchphrase might as well be “Huh. That’s interesting”), a malignant magical cube on a battlefield, a village in the shape of a spiral that’s bent by a jinx and an obvious but slippery villain?

Phew. That was one quirky mouthful. Today’s indie book spotlight lands on W.R. Gingell’s delightful Spindle, a fun and absorbing retelling of Sleeping Beauty that resembles the original almost not at all, in the very best way.

The magic system of Spindle is thread-based and interesting (and also literally hairy), with three different types of magic, each rarer than the last. The reader is dropped into it with no explanation. That leaves us catching up with what cursed heroine Poly (the non-princess sleeper) is discovering she can do as she discovers it, and as mystified as she is about what her rescuer, Luck, does with his magic. And he isn’t one to explain. It gives the world an authentic feeling, and keeps the pages turning, too.

Warm, silly, creative and clever: Not every book can surpass its typos like Spindle can. This wacky and wonderful book deserves all the stars I can chuck at it.

It isn’t a perfect book, but don’t let that stop you. The grammarian in me warns you that there are more typos in this book than the other high-quality indie books I’ve reviewed. Hyphens are almost nowhere to be found in the entire text, and the writing at the beginning left me as fuzzy as newly-awakened Poly. But its almost lyrical quality and the twisted presentation of an old tale cued me that this was worth reading. By the end I was beaming, and also leaving five star reviews without hesitation.

This isn’t a book that leans on its fun settings and quirky characters alone, either: it’s as imaginative as a fantasy reader could ever want. I continue to be amazed by the way little aspects of the plot and world-building came together at the end. It was clearly well-thought out and cleverly executed. And it’s enjoyable. You’ll find serious stakes and fierce fights here (and a bit of violence), but no endless doom and gloom.

Poly is also a heroine who gets kissed awake, then slugs her disinterested smoocher. She continually demands her personal space, which helps the romance feel earned. And she’s not a one-man gal, either; she has a couple forays into youthful romances, and who she ends up with is never truly a given (although a pair of time travelers threaten to spoil the suspense).

Spindle has more depth than just a romance plot, too. More than one kind of love is integral to the plot, and Poly’s development: there are parts about female friendship and kinship where there could have been a solid rivalry, a melancholic side-plot about the man who could’ve woken her, and a growing bond with the boy-turned dog that is crucial to Poly reclaiming a life after so many years of sleep. All of this advances the plot—and presumably sets it up for the next book in the series.

Well-rounded, often funny, carefully developed, with unique magic systems and a dive in-able magical world, Spindle is a fabulous book. Get past the opaque earliest chapters and typos, and you may adore it just as much as I do.

The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog

The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog

Welcome to The C.K. Beggan Bookish Blog! If you’re looking for your next read, titles are listed alphabetically and divided by indie and traditional publishing. (If you look closely enough, you may even find some non-fantasy books.) And while you’re here, don’t forget to check out the author interviews and special features, which include book lists by theme!

Independently Published Books: C.K. Beggan‘s Indie Book Spotlight

Fiction

Reviews of the best (and my favorite) fantasy and speculative fiction novels I’ve come across so far, all by indie authors.

Atheist’s Angel (Anna Velfman)

Avalanche (Anna Velfman)

Between Jobs (W.R. Gingell)

Bride of the Shadow King (Sylvia Mercedes)

The Cracked Slipper (Stephanie Alexander)

The Crown Plonked Queen (Andrew Einspruch)

The Cursebound Thief (Megan O’Russell) 

Cursed (Callie Pey) – live 11/15/22

A Darkness at the Door (Intisar Khanani)

The Daughter of Earth (Callie Pey)

Daughter of Shades (Silvia Mercedes)

Droplets of Magic (Emily Bybee)

The Eastie Threat (Andrew Einspruch)

An Enchantment of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

Enchanting Fate (Ashley Evercott)

The Fool and the Sparrow (Dana Fox) – coming soon

The Fox and the Briar (Chesney Infalt)

Frozen Hearts and Death Magic (Day Leitao)

Guardian of Talons and Snares (Anastasis Blythe)

Heart of Cinders (J. Darlene Everly)

Her Dreadful Will (Rebecca F. Kenney)

Icedancer (Anna Velfman)

The Lily Gate (Hanna Sandvig) – coming soon

Maiden of Candlelight and Lotuses (Anastasis Blythe)

Married by Fate (Jenny Hickman)

Married by War (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

Married by Wind (Angela J. Ford)

Music of the Night (Angela J. Ford)

Of Heists and Hexes (S.L. Prater)

Of Roses and Rituals (S.L. Prater)

Of Silver and Secrets (Sylvia Mercedes)

Of Smoke and Shadow (Ophelia Wells Langley) – coming soon

Phoenix Heart, Season One, Episode One: Ashes (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

The Prince and the Poisoner (Helena Rookwood)

A Promise of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

The Purple Haze (Andrew Einspruch)

Rise of the Fire Queen (Alisha Klapheke)

The Road to Farringale (Charlotte E. English)

Stolen by the Shadow King (Alisha Klapheke)

Sunbolt (Intisar Khanani)

Spindle (W.R. Gingell)

Sting Magic (Sarah K.L. Wilson)

Snowblind (Anna Velfman)

Tapestry of Night (Elm Vince)

The Thief and the Throne (Helena Rookwood)

A Trial of Thorns (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

Throne of Sand (Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince)

To Carve a Fae Heart (Tessonja Odette)

Twelve Days of Faery (W.R. Gingell)

Warrior of Blade and Dusk (Anastasis Blythe) – 11/18/22

Wish Marked (Lissa Bolts) 

Wizardom Legends: Thief for Hire (Jeffrey L. Kohanek) – coming soon

Nonfiction

Traditionally Published Books: Reviews of All My Favs

My favorite books in the fantasy, noir, literary and speculative fiction genres that have been released by traditional publishers.

Author Interviews: One Author to Another

A new category! In which I do my best to pose thoughtful questions to some of my favorite indie authors.

Anastasis Blythe, live October 1, 2022 – 11 Questions with Anastasis Blythe, author of Guardians of Talons and Snares

Chesney Infalt, June 3, 2022 – 10 Questions with Chesney Infalt, author of The Fox and the Briar

Anna Velfman, April 15, 2022 – 10 Questions with author Anna Velfman, author of Snowblind

Andrew Einspruch, May 25, 2021 – Questions with the hilarious, award-winning author of The Light Bearer

Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince, April 10, 2021 – Questions with the co-authors of An Enchantment of Thorns

Special Features: Authors, Books and Writing

From Ask an Indie Author to trivia to Book Lists, find blog posts featuring by topic, writing tips andIndie Author Spotlights.

Indie Author Spotlight: Tessonja Odette – August 2022

Of Thieves and Shadows cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – live 8/23/22

Rise of the Fire Queen is here! (Book News) (8/7/22)

Ask an Indie Author with Ashley Evercott – How I make my book covers shine on social media? (7/15/22)

Indie Author Spotlight: Anthea Sharp – June 2022

Six of Crows month content (June 2022)

8 Fantasy Books with Delicious Cliffhanger Endings (Including Six of Crows)

9 Fantastic quotes from the Six of Crows duology

10 Books to read after Six of Crows

Kaz Brekker and my Fjerdan heist level character hangover

Trivia: Do You Know Kaz Brekker?

Trivia: How well do you know Six of Crows?

Trivia: How well do you know the Six of Crows duology characters?

From Storm and Shadow cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 5/30/22

16+ Awesome Asian-Inspired Fantasy Worlds – 5/27/22 – A book list with settings from the Middle East to the Pacific Islands

Weaver cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 5/10/22

Vow of the Shadow King cover reveal (BOMM tour) – 5/4/22

A Throne of Shadows Cover reveal! (BOMM tour) – 4/28/22

A Darkness at the Door cover reveal – 4/22/22 – in which I discuss the Dauntless Path series and reveal the fabulous cover

Retellings to Thrill Any Fantasy Reader – A complete list of fairy tale and classic book retellings I’ve reviewed on the blog

Supporting Diversity in Fantasy – A mission statement for the blog, plus links to authors who feature diverse characters in their work

Lessons from Bestsellers Part I (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – Learning from Hannah and Leo in The German Girlby Armando Lucas Correa

Lessons from Bestsellers Part II (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – A look at the many sides of Ali in S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass

Lessons from Bestsellers Part III (Using Contrast to Create Depth) – A mystery and a terrible truth rounds out Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water

5 Awkward Situations to Make Your MC Shine – Examples of awkwardness that endear main characters to readers in some of my favorite books

Indie Book Spotlight: Sunbolt (Khanani)

I’m trying something new tonight.  This is about to be my first Indie Book Spotlight:

Sunbolt Review

Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles #1), by Intisar Khanani (Clean YA Fantasy; 2013)

This one’s a fantasy, and would work for YA-readers.

Note: the author is soon to leave the indie ranks, though The Sunbolt Chronicles are staying in the self-published realm as of this post.

So what’s it about?  An ethnically mixed foreigner in a place where that’s a dangerous thing to be, where sinister government plots are afoot (plus those who are working against them).  The main character, Hitomi, dashes through a vibrant market, meets vampires and werewolves, steals to survive and rebels to live.

OK, so when I started reading this I thought, “Yeah, this is a good story.  Well-written.  Not really my taste though.  Why did I buy it?” Then I kept reading and found out.  Yup, Sunbolt was for me.  And I loved it.

Hitomi was a breath of fresh air, and Sunbolt and its sequel (Memories of Ash) taught me a lot about good world-building.  It was also a perfect remedy for the doom and gloom of other fantasy tales I’d been reading.

I actually had no idea the author was self-published until I reached the end (which did come too soon, but in a “Where are the sequels, I need them now!” sorta way).  Khanani, who will be traditionally published with a new version of her novel Thorn, writes clean fantasy, meaning her work contains suitable language for a wide audience.  Mind you, the monsters and violence in Sunbolt may scare younger readers and could be inappropriate.

Official synopsis:

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Archmage Wilhelm Blackflame.
When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

That’s all.  Thanks for reading!

-CKB