Book Review | Lords of the Sith (Paul Kemp)

I’m slowly working my way through the canon Star Wars novels, and Lords of the Sith is my most recent read. I just finished it today, so here are some thoughts.

I’ll do my best to keep this review spoiler-free, though I may mention a few minor plot points or details as examples. Any major spoiler sections will be preceded by a warning.

General impression

Lords of the Sith was, in my opinion, a polarized book. There were aspects I really liked and aspects I really disliked. Generally speaking, I’d say it’s action-packed and simple (in a good way), but it also has some stand-out problems, which I’ll discuss in a bit.

What I liked

The simplicity: I don’t tend to enjoy reading books that get too wrapped up in complicated politics and subplots, and though Star Wars novels can easily lean that way, Lords of the Sith doesn’t. The plot is very simple: try to kill Darth Vader and Palpatine. There aren’t a whole lot of subplots, and those that do exist are more for character development than anything else.

Isval: without a doubt, Isval was my favorite character. She has, in my opinion, the strongest characteristics, and towards the end of the book, she’s the one I cared about most.

Vader’s scenes: one of my qualms about the SW films is that we rarely get to see Darth Vader perform at his full capability. For the most part, he just walks around and looks intimidating. Lords of the Sith, however, shows us just how much absolute demolition he’s capable of singlehandedly.

Twi’leks in the limelight: finally! Twi’lek oppression and enslavement during Imperial times has always been a factor in the SW universe, but this is the most up-close and personal representation of that civilization we’ve gotten to date. I’ve always thought Twi’leks as a people group deserved more recognition, and now they have it.

What I disliked

The pacing: okay, the book IS action packed, especially in the second half. But the pacing is…wonky. Despite all the hack-and-slash action, the plot takes a long time to get going, and every now and then the author throws in some random scenes that feel out of place. For example, in the third act, I had to trudge through three or four chapters (chapters!) of Vader and Palpatine fighting giant bugs. Entertaining for a few paragraphs, but dreadfully dull for twenty pages. It wasn’t even that relevant to the plot.

The predictable outcome: [MAJOR SPOILER ALERT IN THIS SECTION] Okay, one big problem shared by all Star Wars books is that we already know, generally speaking, what the outcome is going to be because of what we know from the films and t.v. shows. In Lords of the Sith, that’s a glaring flaw.

Here’s what I mean: the premise of the book is that Cham Syndulla and his friend/partner Isval want to assassinate Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. The whole plot builds up towards a big showdown between those four major characters. Anyone in tune with the Star Wars universe can VERY easily guess how that ends. Vader and Palpatine survive, obviously, as does Cham, because we see him in Rebels. But it’s safe to assume at least one major character will die, so that leaves poor Isval. Before I’d made it 1/3 into the book, I’d predicted that Cham’s plan would go horribly wrong and that Isval would sacrifice herself to ensure his (and others’) escape. That’s exactly what happened. It stinks when your favorite character in the book is all but guaranteed to die by the end. R.I.P. Isval.

If you know much about Star Wars and you pay attention to patterns, Lords of the Sith is 100% predictable, which is too bad, because it nullifies a lot of the potential tension (which was definitely there).

Miscellaneous complaints: 

  • The character names felt a bit lazy (Pok? Goll? Eshgo? Crost? Really? I know these are Twi’leks and secondary characters, but even Aayla Secura had a cool name, for crying out loud!)
  • Palpatine’s dialog got on my nerves. Everything was ‘it seems’, ‘it would appear’, or ‘my old friend’. Seriously…everything. I know it’s consistent with his film character, but still. Annoying.
  • The back-cover blurb is misleading. Based on the summary, I expected Vader and Palpatine to crash-land on Ryloth in the first act, but then I discovered that the space-battle that causes the crash-landing fills about half the book. (Refer back to the wonky pacing). I also thought there would be a lot more conflict between the two Sith Lords, but on that front, I was a bit disappointed.
  • The author had a handful of phrases that he used over and over. Moving with preternatural speed, for instance. He used that exact wording at least five or six times, and those small things stand out as distractions.

My final rating: 3 out of 5 stars. I wanted to give it 3.5 (maybe even 4) for Isval’s sake, but I just couldn’t rate it that high with much honesty. I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to Star Wars fans, as long as you’re not too overhyped for it.

The Ideal 10 Star Rating System + Big Announcement!

At the end of this post I’ll be sharing an exciting announcement with you all, so be sure to get in on it!

I’ve always been pretty vocal about my dissatisfaction with Amazon’s five-star rating system for books, the main reason being that five stars seriously limits the flexibility I’m able to have while expressing my opinions. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and construct a template for a ten-star rating system.

Currently, Amazon suggests the following criteria:

1 Star = I hate it

2 Stars = I don’t like it

3 Stars = It’s okay

4 Stars = I like it

5 Stars = I love it

Yuck. So…basic. So pessimistic. It sounds more like one of those convenience YA protagonists monologuing about her crush than a respectable review system. Does anyone even follow those criteria? I don’t.

Allow me to propose the following ten-star reviewing method:

1 Star = I read two chapters, burst a blood vessel, and fed the book to my pet turtle Franklin II.

2 Stars = I read three chapters, got a headache, and shook my head disapprovingly in Franklin II’s general direction.

3 Stars = I finished the book, but frankly, Franklin II is more interesting. And he’s a turtle. He doesn’t do anything. And his food smells weird.

4 Stars = The book’s okay for some light entertainment if I’ve got nothing better to do. Unfortunately, Franklin II and I had a game of marbles scheduled for today, so I won’t be reading much. Franklin II is bad at marbles. This could take some time.

5 Stars = I don’t regret spending a few bucks on the ebook. I enjoyed the general story, but there wasn’t anything remarkable about it. I might recommend it to Franklin II, since, being a turtle, his literature standards are fairly low, but he’s more of a mystery novel chap.

6 Stars = It’ll probably find a spot on my shelf, assuming the cover looks nice. Franklin II is irrelevant now. He can’t even see the shelf.

7 Stars = I quite enjoyed the book. I tried to have a meaningful discussion about the character development with Franklin II, but he was chomping on a lettuce leaf quite rudely, so I got mad and left.

8 Stars = Hmm, impressive. This book really stands out, possibly enough to earn a spot near the top of the shelf, where over time it’ll acquire a Franklin II-esque aroma. Gross. Franklin II stinks.

9 Stars = I read this book out loud to Franklin II after I’d finished it. We both teared up at the end. I’ve never seen Franklin II get so emotional. It was a beautiful bonding experience.

10 Stars = This book is extraordinary. Franklin II and I built a shrine for it, and on the second Tuesday of each month, we spend ten minutes in contemplative awe in front of it. Sometimes we even split a potato chip.

I hope the King of Amazon sees this post and takes the necessary steps to make my method official. In the meantime, Franklin II escaped his tank again. Gotta go find him.

Okay, now for the big announcement!

After a week or so of careful consideration, consultation, and calibration, I’ve decided to start a Wattpad account and serialize one of my backburner novels. Whaaat? Yes. I know. I think the earth just shifted on its axis. Here’s a fancy shiny thing for you to look at and be amazed:

wattpad cover copy

A band of escaped slave children face a world that wants them back in chains…or dead. Their struggle for survival begins in the uncharted wilderness and ends in a city ready to tear itself apart.

Placeholder cover art by yours truly. 

So why take this project to Wattpad? Several reasons. I’ve been puttering away at the manuscript for the better part of five years now, never really prioritizing it, so I figure this will be a good way to stick with it and finish it. It’s also the only novel I’ve written that doesn’t follow a developed outline, so a weekly chapter system fits perfectly. Third, The Broken City of Crows is longer and more ‘traditional’ fantasy than what I usually write. Why not try something different for it? Lastly, I really like the idea of getting feedback from readers as we progress through the story.

The first two chapters of The Broken City of Crows are already posted on Wattpad. Go read them here and tell me what you think! Any shares, tweets, or promotional smoke signals are greatly appreciated as well.

From here on out I’ll be posting single chapters every Friday or Saturday (depending on which works better for potential readers). And yes, I’m still writing Where the Woods Grow in Flames, don’t worry!

Anyways, I’m really excited to try this out. I don’t have super high expectations, but I’m curious to see how far we can go! Any support from you guys means the world to me, so let’s get going. Come along, Franklin II. We’ll be late!

Have a great day, friends!

Book Review | Star Wars: Aftermath

Star Wars: Aftermath is the third consecutive SW novel I’ve read this year. Previously, I had read A New Dawn and Ahsoka, both of which I greatly enjoyed. Aftermath, however, blows them both out of the water in terms of clench-worthy plot points and beautiful character arcs.

Don’t worry. This review is spoiler-free!

First Impression

I actually read about ten full pages before even realizing it was all present tense writing. Now, normally present tense novels drive me up the wall, but this was different. I didn’t mind it at all, and I think that says something about Wendig’s skills.

Which brings me to my next first-impression point: the writing style. Simply put, Wendig isn’t a fan of complete sentences. His style is clipped and concise, as if he were crafting each individual sentence to deliver an appropriate amount of punch. Trust me, it works brilliantly.


Several of the reviews I read prior to getting the book complained that the plot moved too slow. I honestly don’t see how people reach that conclusion. Not once did I get bored or put the book down because of pacing problems.

I think my favorite aspect of the plot is that we get to see multiple immediate subplots (Norra’s return home, Wedge’s capture, Rae’s plans, etc.) converge into one grand boom of events. You don’t see how they all fit together at first, but by the time things start falling into place, you’re definitely invested.

Plus, you get everything you’d want out of a Star Wars story: space battles, flying stunts, stormtrooper chases…no lightsabers, though. Which I’m okay with. This isn’t a Jedi story.


Man oh man, I love this cast of characters. Each character has such a tangible development arc as their own individual stories gradually merge into one common lane. I mean, when a Rebel pilot, her black-market-selling-droid-building son, a bounty hunter, an ex-Imperial loyalty officer, and a reprogrammed Separatist battle droid join forces, you know you’re going to have a good time with them.

Favorite character? Norra Wexley by a mile and a half. Her arc is so complete, so perfect. She’s not a Jedi. She’s not a force wielder at all. Sometimes she even doubts if she should be a pilot. But her loyalty to her son and her cause, her perseverance, and her willingness to sacrifice for the people she loves makes her an absolute legend in my Star Wars book.

Least favorite character? I’m gonna cheat here: I don’t have one. Honestly, though. Not even the bad guys. Rae Sloane is fantastic and relatable, even as the main antagonist. I appreciate the fact that there’s no great-evil-Sith-villain type character. I will say, however, that Temmin makes some pretty stupid decisions, and he sometimes gets aggravating, but he’s a rebellious teenager so at least it fits his character. I can’t dislike him too much, all things considered.


I ordered the next book in the trilogy, Aftermath: Life Debt the same day I finished Aftermath. I can’t wait for it to get here.

My rating: get-five-star-reviews

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. If you’re a Star Wars fan, this seems like a no-brainer to me. I’ve said before that I usually prefer prequel-era story arcs, but Aftermath may be one of my favorite Star Wars ‘chapters’ ever. You should get this book.

In the meantime, have a great day!

Sunday Book Review – The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

This weekend’s book review post is going to be a bit different than usual.

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted a Sunday Book Review, but I have a legitimate excuse. Originally, my intent was to review an indie book each weekend (and that’s still the goal, for the most part). However, as some of you saw on Twitter, a couple weeks ago I discovered a used English bookstore in downtown Barcelona, so I simply had to go. Twice. Possibly three times.

For less than twenty euros I picked up a beautiful copy of the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with Fragile Things, Neverwhere, and the Ocean At The End Of The Lane, all by Neil Gaiman.

How am I supposed to set those books on the shelf and not read them? Before discovering this wonderful little place tucked away in a smelly side street behind some random cathedral, I was reading As The Crow Flies, by Robin Lythgoe, and believe me I was enjoying it. But…but…Neil Gaiman, people!

Now, a week or two later, I’ve finished The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and Neverwhere and am 100 pages into The Fellowship Of The Ring. I still fully intend to finish ATCF and review it, but I’m a reader before I’m a blogger, so I’m allowing myself this divergence.

That being said, I simply cannot withhold a review of The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, even if it’s not an indie book. So, here we go! Don’t worry, no spoilers here.


The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

by Neil Gaiman

Genre according to Amazon: contemporary fantasy.

Length (print): 243 pages.

How I found it: by hunting down every Neil Gaiman book ever written.

Blurb (dust jacket): 

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond this world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed–within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it.

His only defence is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.

My thoughts

Simply put, this book is amazing. Here are some of it’s greatest strengths (in my opinion):

  1. A lovable narrator/protagonist for whom you cheer from the first sentence. He’s so well developed that it wasn’t until a few days after finishing the book that I realized we never actually find out his name.
  2. Intense and sometimes dark scenes/moments told oh so efficiently and innocently from the eyes of a seven-year-old.
  3. An ending that left me with water coming out of my face and that little ache in my chest that only comes at the end of such a book.
  4. Can easily be read in 1-2 sittings, due to both its brevity and its pacing.
  5. An appreciation for mystery and the unknown (not everything gets spelled out clearly; I will probably re-read just for that reason).
  6. The cover. I know it’s just a cover…but come on. It’s gorgeous.
  7. A perfect blend of fantastical and magical elements with tangible, mundane places and habits from the author’s own childhood.
  8. Did I mention the emotion-overflow-inducing ending?

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, so I’m a bit biased, but I honestly don’t know if there was anything in this book that I didn’t like. I will, however, point out that there is one instance of (merely mentioned) nudity and one (separate) instance of sexual implications. Both have their part in the plot and are told very briefly from the perspective of the seven-year-old narrator, so there is nothing explicit or unwarranted. The book may look like a children’s story, but I wouldn’t consider it so, nor would the author, in my understanding/reading of his own take on the story.

My rating: 5/5 stars. 

(It’s a no-brainer)

Once again, this review is just my opinion. Yours may differ, and that’s fine! My plan is to finish As The Crow Flies by next weekend and thus get back on track with indie reviews. For more reviews and other posts, be sure to subscribe!

Sunday Book Review – Vastian Lore

Welcome back to Sunday Book Review! Today I’m giving my thoughts on a novella I just finished reading: Vastian Lore, by S.C. Gregory.



Vastian Lore, by S. C. Gregory

General Information

Genre according to Amazon: dark fantasy.

Length (print): 107 pages.

How I found it: giveaway announcement on the author’s blog.

Amazon blurb:

Sometimes taking the job means betraying family…
Turns out, Norarl is fine with that, once he accepts his whole life has been a lie.
His half-sister wants him dead. His twin brother would be only too happy to help her succeed, but they also want more than just his murder.
Arius and Zadraal will do everything in their power to free an army whose sole purpose is to destroy all life not like their own.
The only problem?
To break the magical seal on the Gate of N’sumenel requires the sacrifice of an Earthbound Elemental.
The real test will be if Norarl cares enough about his new-found allies to fight alongside them.

Amazon Rating: 5 stars (1 customer review) at the time of post publication.

My Thoughts

Caution: potential minor spoilers ahead, though I’ll do my best to not reveal the ending.

First impression: I was excited to receive my copy of Vastian Lore in the mail. I’d heard about it and read some of Gregory’s other work, but I wasn’t terribly familiar with this novella specifically.


  1. The plot: simply put, Vastian Lore starts in the middle of the action and never gets boring. It’s a fast-paced story with a good balance of action and dialogue.
  2. Character development: character arcs often feel shoe-horned in such short works, but not so with Vastian Lore. Specifically, I loved Leso’s development from less-than-friendly stranger to likeable ally.
  3. The dialogue: I can’t think of a single moment during the story in which the characters are nice to each other, and that’s what makes the dialogue so fun. This unlikely group of allies is forged through insults, bickering, and a healthy dose of sarcasm.
  4. Names: I’m pretty picky when it comes to names. If I don’t like a character’s name, it bugs me for the whole story. But I honestly thought the author’s choice of names worked really well.

The best: in my opinion, Vastian Lore’s strongest point is the blend of everything you’d expect to see in a fantasy story (magic, swords, knives, and dangerous creatures) with consistently entertaining banter between the characters.

My favorite line:

“…After you stabbed me, you evil cow.”


  1. There were a few formatting issues that may be exclusive to the paperback (I haven’t seen the ebook, and I know firsthand how much of a pain Createspace formatting can be). This led to some confusing paragraph transitions, but nothing worth making a stink over.
  2. There were times when the places, people, or creatures mentioned were hard to keep track of. Being a short novella, I know space is limited, and S. C. Gregory handled it very well, but I think five-ten pages more of context would’ve cleared up some muddled areas.



Conclusion: Vastian Lore is a fast-paced, entertaining story that blows open the doors to a big, big world. Strong characters and intriguing plot elements, while at times overwhelming, will keep you turning (or swiping) pages. I’m looking forward to S. C. Gregory’s work-to-come.

My final rating: 4/5 stars

You can find out more about author S. C. Gregory on her website.

Note: the story is pretty violent, especially towards the end. Lots of stabbing going on.

Note 2: I received Vastian Lore from a free giveaway (thanks again!). However, this review is not part of any deal or exchange. The content and thoughts are simply my opinion. Yours may vary, and that’s fine!

Sunday Book Review – Skies of Dripping Gold

Welcome back to Sunday Book Review! Since Christmas celebrations kept me from finishing this week’s novel, today I’m giving my thoughts on a short story I read a few weeks ago: Skies of Dripping Gold, by Hannah Heath.


Skies of Dripping Gold, by Hannah Heath

General Information

Genre according to Amazon: short reads (teen/young adult, christian fantasy).

Length (print): 31 pages.

How I found it: pre-order announcement on author’s website.

Amazon blurb:

In an angry, frightened world where the Poison claims many lives, a young man’s belief in Paradise has collapsed into a distant dream. Gabriel can no longer place his trust in the existence of such a place. Not when his sister’s pain continues to sap her strength. Not when prayers for her healing go unanswered.

As the Poison progresses, eating away at Lilly’s life, Gabriel sets off on a desperate climb to save her from death. Struggling to discover the truth behind a world where the skies drip gold, Gabriel tries to maintain his disbelief in God while clutching after hope for his sister’s salvation. But, as he climbs the cliff that is said to lead to Paradise, he begins to see: if he can’t bring himself to believe in a place of peace and golden skies, then how can he possibly hope for his sister’s rescue? How can he possibly hope for his own?

Amazon Rating: 4.9 stars (20 customer reviews) at the time of article publication.

My Thoughts

Caution: potential minor spoilers ahead, though I’ll do my best to not reveal the ending.

First impression: I pre-ordered Skies of Dripping Gold based on the blurb, which presented an intriguing premise, and a curiosity about Hannah Heath’s writing.


  1. The writing: you know those authors whose writing is enjoyable to read simply based on the flow, style, and communication efficiency they pull off? Yeah. This is it.
  2. The power in brevity: as an occasional writer of short stories myself, I know how hard it is to pack both an emotional punch and/or significant content in such a short read. Heath provides both in the space of thirty pages.
  3. The emotion: if you’re not a big fan of feeling excruciating human emotions vicariously through a protagonist, this story probably isn’t for you.
  4. A relatable concept: dystopian stories often revolve around rebellions, grand escapes, and other concepts that are mostly foreign to us except in fiction. At its core, SoDG is a story about a desperate young man and his love for his sister. It’s immediately relatable.
  5. The conclusion: the end of the story isn’t what I would call very final. It doesn’t provide a definite conclusion. What it does provide is a wealth of hope for a character previously plagued by hopelessness, and it’s a wonderful ending. Also, the feels…
  6. The theme: the main idea in SoDG is faith (the pursuit or lack thereof). My main concern going into the story was that it would end up sacrificing quality to convey its message. I was pleased to see it wasn’t that way at all. The message is there, but it’s not preached to death, and it lets (or forces?) the reader to think for himself/herself.

The best: in my opinion, SoDG’s strongest point is the conglomeration of human emotions that it conveys, mostly through the protagonist, Gabriel; but also through Lilly and Cole. The story is raw, rough, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything.

My favorite line:

As far as he was concerned, there were only two all-important laws on earth: 1. Don’t murder people. 2. Never swear in front of Lilly.


Heath really puts my disbelief in a perfect story to the test. As in, I’m almost making stuff up here.

  1. For the first several pages I was confused as to Lilly’s age. I pictured her as a little girl, but it turns out she’s actually older than Gabriel. Maybe I missed an age detail at the beginning?
  2. During Gabriel’s climb of the cliff (after already making progress), the remaining distance is estimated to be 3000 feet. I’m not a rock climber, but that seems like a stinking long climb, especially when he completes said 3000 feet with a broken finger.

“Man, Nate, you’re being uber picky about this.” Oh, yeah? I’d like to see you try to find weaknesses in this story…


Conclusion: Skies of Dripping Gold gripped me from the start. Heath’s writing is some of the best I’ve read in a while. Elegant yet clean, purposeful, and rich. The protagonist’s emotions are real, and that’s an accomplishment for a short read. It was almost too quick of an end…almost. Masterful communication. Kudos to Hannah Heath, and I’ll be back for more!

My final rating: 5/5 stars

You can find out more about author Hannah Heath on her website.

Note: there are a handful of swear words in the dialogue. Being a Christian short story, some readers may take offense, but please don’t. They’re few, they’re mild, and they’re used for a very necessary purpose. When your sister’s dying and you’ve given up on a God that’s supposed to love you, ‘well, hot dog!’ just doesn’t cut it.

I paid for my copy of Skies of Dripping Gold and wrote this review without involvement in any exchange or deals. Thoughts and opinions are my own. Yours may differ, and that’s fine. Feel free to drop a comment below!

Sunday Book Review – The Redwood Rebel

Heyo, readers! For the second edition of Sunday Book Review I’ll be giving my thoughts on a book I just finished yesterday: The Redwood Rebel, by Lorna George.


The Redwood Rebel (Lorna George)

General Information

Genre according to Amazon: fantasy, romance.

Length (print): 362 pages.

How I found it: ads and mentions on Twitter and Facebook.

Amazon blurb:

In the aftermath of civil war, the people of Ffion starve. The trade has dwindled, the harvest has failed, and all power belongs to the cruel and corrupt. Those few who could have fled the forest continent for other lands, but most are trapped by their poverty and love of their homeland, with little hope for change. Far beneath Chloris Castle, the rebel Naomi has been incarcerated since the tyrannical Princess Adrienne stole the Redwood Throne. Starved of light and warmth for the past four years, she has had only her rage and determination to keep her going as she both fears and yearns for death to claim her at last. In a violent sweep of fate, she is dragged back into the light once more, the Princess and her Councillor hoping to use her as a pawn against the powerful Dragon King of Koren. Faced with an almost impossible choice, Naomi strikes a deal with her captors that will set her free at last. Unfortunately, she soon finds she has taken on much more than she bargained for.

Amazon Rating: 4.9 stars (10 customer reviews) at the time of article publication.

My Thoughts

Caution: potential minor spoilers ahead, though I’ll do my best to not reveal the ending.

First impression: I read the free sample on Amazon after seeing the book mentioned both on Twitter and Facebook. I liked the tone it set right off the bat, but it was another week or so before I came back and bought the full book. Once I got into the second or third chapter, I was grabbing my Kindle for more every chance I got.


Buckle up, boys and girls.

  1. Solid style: let me start out by saying that Lorna George’s writing is impeccable. Not just because it’s 99.9% typo-free, but because there’s evident thought and purpose behind each sentence.  It’s the kind of writing that feels good to read. Personally, I found myself becoming a better writer by osmosis.
  2. Brilliant characters: the complexity, depth, and development of the main characters is superb, simply put. More on this later on.
  3. Story-world come alive: Ilios felt like a real world in a way I haven’t encountered in fantasy fiction since Paolini’s Alagaesia. Geography, history, politics, population…it’s there, it’s tangible, and it’s part of the story, not just info-dumps.
  4. Villains: Adrienne is the villain you want to slap across the face. Cygnus is the villain you want to stay very far away from. Both are ‘classic villain’ material without stepping into ‘cliche villain’ territory.
  5. Plot progression: the plot built nicely towards the climactic showdown I was waiting for. It wasn’t terribly complex, but it felt right.
  6. Naomi and Arun: the story revolves primarily around these two characters and their efforts (or lack thereof) to coexist and cooperate in their predicament together. As previously mentioned, both these characters are ridiculously well developed. I found myself understanding, rooting for, and sympathizing with both of them at the same time despite their very different perspectives on the world. Redeemably flawed, admirably noble, and indisputably human, Naomi and Arun are both characters I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
  7. The fantasy aspect: harpies, dryads, wood sprites, magic, dragons, and more? Heck yeah!

The best: in my opinion, Arun’s character arch is the best part of The Redwood Rebel, because his personal battle with his own flaws is what brings out his greatest strengths, and because I feel he makes the most progress towards completion by the end of the novel.


Though I firmly believe no book is perfect, I had to dig extra deep in The Redwood Rebel to find any potential flaws (and I use that word very loosely here).

  1. Some slow portions: I felt the characters had a tendency to delve into long paragraphs of retro/introspection when the immediate plot would have benefited from an uninterrupted flow.
  2. Unlikeable protagonist? Okay, hear me out. After I finished reading the book, I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince myself I liked Naomi as a character. She’s proud, harsh, and brittle, and spends most of the book being angry at people. Don’t get me wrong. I know her background and what she’s been through. I get it. I understand her. I sympathize with her. I’m on her side (most of the time). I want her to succeed. But I just can’t like her.
  3. Agenda showing through: there were a few moments (almost purely lines delivered by Naomi, and only two or three instances) that felt like they were shoe-horned in to push an agenda. I think the messages/themes of the book were communicated effectively without those moments/lines.

Conclusion: The Redwood Rebel is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time. I can’t emphasize enough just how real these characters are and how much I wanted to see them grow and change from page to page. The weaknesses mentioned above barely make a dent in my enjoyment of the story overall. I’m looking forward to reuniting with Arun and Naomi in the next installment.

My final rating: 4/5 stars

Note: I would give The Redwood Rebel a higher rating (4.5?) if Amazon, Goodreads, etc. allowed for half-star flexibility in their ratings. The book is absolutely worthy of 5 stars, and I’m glad the overall ratings reflect that. If I had been able to fully like Naomi as a protagonist, this would have been a 5 star no-brainer.

I paid for my copy of The Redwood Rebel and wrote this review without involvement in any exchange or deals. Thoughts and opinions are my own. Yours may differ, and that’s fine. Feel free to drop a comment below!

Sunday Book Review – Inked (Eric Smith)

So I’m going to post a review of an indie book every Sunday (hopefully) as a way of sharing what I’ve been reading and spreading the word!

To start off the new rotation, I present to you Inked, by Eric Smith.


Inked (Eric Smith)

General Information

Genre according to Amazon: fantasy, sword and sorcery, coming of age.

Length (print): 217 pages.

How I found it: recommendation on Twitter.

Amazon blurb:

Tattoos once were an act of rebellion. Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin.

And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can’t escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice.

But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves.

Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel.

Amazon Rating: 4.1 stars (35 customer reviews) at the time of article publication.

My Thoughts

Caution: some spoilers ahead, though I’ll do my best to not reveal the ending.

First impression: I was excited about Inked right from the start. The cover art is beautiful and the blurb promises a lot of exciting adventure. I read the free sample on Amazon, and that was enough to convince me to buy it.


The highlights of Inked lie mostly in the first 3rd of the story, which, in my opinion, was a good display of entertaining writing.

  1. Fantastic beginning: Inked has one of the best opening chapters I’ve read in some time. Right away we meet Caenum (the protagonist) and Dreya (his friend). Their personalities are vibrant and different, and there’s enough playful tension between them to have me hooked.
  2. Efficient pacing: the pacing in the early parts of the story is fantastic. Things clip along so that I was never bored, but neither was I overwhelmed with action sequences.
  3. Entertainment value: simply put, the story is fun.
  4. Kenzi’s introduction: Kenzi’s development from an arrogant Scribe to a vulnerable Conduit is well crafted despite the fact that it happens within the first few chapters.
  5. Molivar: even though his appearances are few, Molivar is one of my favorite characters. He’s mysterious, dark, and even though he’s clearly bad, I kinda liked him.

The best: in my opinion, the best thing Inked has going for it is the early relationship between Caenum and Dreya. I felt their mutual interest since day one, but they’re not the typical ‘in love’ couple. They act like genuine friends, and that made me really look forward to their development in the later stages of the book.


Despite the strong beginning, at around the 40% mark (in ebook terms), Inked starts to unwind. By the time the third act rolls around, it’s completely fallen apart.

  1. Mediocre characters: with the (partial) exception of Dreya, Kenzi, and Caenum’s grandmother, all the characters (especially secondary) were pretty boring and cliche. I didn’t connect with any of them. They felt like plot devices more than people.
  2. Poor editing: the first 3rd of the book was polished. The last two 3rds felt like the editor just stopped caring. Repetitive, distracting sentence constructions and some blaring typos kept me from engaging with the story.
  3. Plot tropes: Inked relied on a handful of plot tropes to carry the story forward, which would have been fine if they’d been developed beyond their trope status. They weren’t.
    1. Reunion of the protagonist with a long-lost, mysterious father.
    2. Discovery of magic powers within oneself.
    3. Elemental abilities distributed between the main characters (earth, fire, electricity, ice, etc.).
    4. Protagonist living with a relative because of missing/dead parents.
  4. Poor dialogue: throughout most of the story (worse later on) the dialogue felt forced and unnatural.
  5. Crammed plot: for such a short book, there was too much going on. I never quite cared about the plot itself because it simply tried to do too much in so little time.
  6. Confusing plot elements: in the 217 pages of the book, we’re introduced to Inked people, Scribes, Conduits, the Citadel, Citadel Guard, Freedman, Unprinted, and more. Each ‘faction’ has their place in society, but I never quite got what differentiated them from each other. Some use magic, some can’t (I think), some don’t know it, some do…it’s a bit of a mess.
  7. Disappointing relationship development: remember how I said I was looking forward to the progression of Caenum and Dreya’s relationship? Yeah…there is none. At the end of the book, they haven’t really changed in terms of character development. What you see on page 1 is what you get at the end. What could have been the best part of the novel turned out to be…well, not much at all.

Conclusion: Inked had a lot of potential and a promising beginning. The story quickly spiraled into cliches, and the characters weren’t much better. Top it all off with some poor editing and what felt like lazy writing, and you get a pretty disappointing product. I’m not sure how Inked manages to hold a 4.1 star rating on Amazon. Kudos to the cover artist, though.

My final rating: 2/5 stars. 

(I paid for my copy of Inked and wrote this review without involvement in any exchange or deals. Thoughts and opinions are my own. Yours may differ, and that’s fine. Feel free to drop a comment below!)