Book Review: Altar of Influence by Jacob Cooper

Early this year, I ran across a gem of a self-published fantasy: Circle of Reign by Jacob Cooper. I knew the author from the SFFWorld forums, so I decided to give his book a shot. I ended up really enjoying it.

I think I liked his prequel, Altar of Influence, even better. Cooper has done a great job with his characters, his world, and his plot. In this one, he expands the backstory of some of the characters and events mentioned in Circle of Reign.

Cooper has created a world that feels both different and vibrant. There are quite a few characters, but they’re easy to keep track of. The writing isn’t always perfect, but it didn’t bother me. I was so lost in the world Cooper created and in his great ability to write extended action scenes.

I think you can start either with this book or with Circle of Reign. They’re both great reads that prove some self-publishers are doing it right.

Rating: 9/10

Book Review: House of Blades by Will Wight

Here’s another on my list of self-published fantasy gems. I’ve been finding so many of them that it’s kind of weird to keep calling them gems. Clearly, there’s a lot of good stuff out there in self-published land. Is it outnumbered by stuff that’s not so good? Probably. But if you know what you want as a reader, you can find stuff you’ll like. I’ve never bought the whole “wading through tides of crap” argument. Generally, I’ve found it’s pretty easy to separate the crap from the stuff I’d actually like.

I chose this particular book because I found it in my Goodreads recommendations after finishing another self-published fantasy that I really enjoyed (it might have been Mitchell Hogan’s A Crucible of Souls, which is no longer self-published). I’m glad that I gave Wight a chance.

This is fantasy that definitely has a traditional feel to it in some ways. The plot is relatively simple. It’s a training/quest story. On the surface, that makes it sound like a thousand other fantasies out there. What separates this book from many others out there is that Wight developed a fascinating system of magic. In that way, it reminded me of something by Brandon Sanderson. The way he handled his magic also made the training section great fun to read. It wasn’t endless studying of spells. The main character developed his abilities through facing dangerous situations. He didn’t really have any guidance, and that made it all the more exciting.

For most of the book, this was a solid 8/10. I liked it, but it wasn’t blowing me away. Then we hit the last 30 percent or so. From that point on, it was constant action, and I got that frantic feeling I love getting during well-done action scenes. That feeling, combined with some interesting revelations at the end, pushed my rating up to a 9/10.

If you’re a fan of the modern Grimdark movement in fantasy, this story probably isn’t for you. But if you, like me, are longing to see modern takes on classic fantasy, this is a great read. I should warn you that it also might not appeal to you if you’re not a fan of young adult fantasy. While I wouldn’t call this book a YA fantasy, it did feel like one at times. For me, that isn’t a bad thing, as I also love a good YA fantasy.

Overall, I was very happy with this one, and I will read more by Wight. I’m especially intrigued by his newest series. I love the idea of looking at a conflict from both sides.

Rating: 9/10

Book Review: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

I just finished this one today. For some reason, I never got around to reading anything by Wells, but I recently made it a quest of mine to seek out female fantasy authors I haven’t read (in addition to those authors, both female and male, that I already read). I didn’t know what to expect coming into this one, but I’m glad I did decide to read it.

Wells goes against quite a few trends in fantasy. In an era when so many authors write antiheroes, she wrote a book with a heroic (but troubled at times) main character. In an era of fantasy doorstops, she wrote a book that came in at less than three hundred pages. That’s a true rarity. Not only is the book short. It still feels like a completely satisfying and complex story.

What really sets this story apart is the setting. Wells brought the fantasy back into fantasy. This is a world where our main character is a shapeshifter, where there are multiple intelligent species with animal-like qualities. It was a world I haven’t seen before, and that was refreshing.

The plot and characterization are also strong. Not as strong as the worldbuilding, but still strong enough to carry you through a very good story. I’m excited to read more by Wells.

Rating: 8.5/10