Spine Of The Dragon Review

We all know that fantasy novels can be crazy intimidating, but the 1st in a series?
Good lord, man!
In my experience, they often run well over 400 pages, with the onslaught of new worlds, characters, cultures, and histories being incredibly overwhelming and can all too often take the story from being a fun break from our world to the most boring history class you could ever possibly imagine.
So when I first laid eyes on Spine Of The Dragon and saw what a monster this book was I was nervous as hell, man.
Just the footprint of it alone had me quaking in my boots, flipping through it and seeing the density had me near flop sweats.
But I accepted the challenge and started reading it.
Now, the eternal question when talking about books rises up to greet us, how did that go?

This is an advanced review, so I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but even so This is your official ***SPOILER WARNING***

Here at the top, I want to provide a quick glossary of terms so I don’t have to explain them later.
The Commonwealth – 1 of 2 eternally warring continents
Ishara – The other of the 2 eternally warring continents
Konag – The King of Kings on the Commonwealth
Empra – Queen of Ishara
Utauk – An unaligned group that are basically traveling salesman and barterers, free to go between the 2 continents
Brava – Half Wreth/Half Humans that carry a bracelet that bites into their arms and unleashes magical flame
Wreth – Ancient race that created humans, split into 2 factions centuries ago, and had a war that destroyed almost all magic on the Commonwealth

It went pretty well, in fact I read the 1st 100 or so pages in about 24 hours because it was so damn engaging.
But I have to be honest, I read THIS excerpt before getting this and I had another worry that I didn’t mention above.
A big wall I have always run into with Fantasy novels/stories is that the character names often seem too hokey. They’re either way over-thought or, sometimes even worse, under-baked, and in both cases there is no in-world explanation of how that name came about, which makes cringy names even worse.

So, in that sample I read the name King Adan Starfall and cringed hard.
BUT!
When I got to the in-world explanation, all of that fell away.
Because the significance of it is that this King chose the name when he was a teenager.
This simple yet brilliant explanation that he chose it himself makes it work, because even if you don’t know the exact circumstances of what made him choose the name you can make the argument that it sounds like a name a young person would chose and stick with for many years…Scooby-Doom said with a wink to you, his lovely readers…

This is an impeccably well written story about a deeply thought out world full of easily likable & detestable characters that are equally interesting in the ways they need to be for it all to work and be satisfying.
And with no less than 14 storylines being juggled, that’s imperative.

The storylines we’re following throughout (and I know I’m definitely going to forget at least 1) include the 3 Kings of the Commonwealth continent, the Konag of the Commonwealth, the 2 leaders of the ancient and reemerging Wreth clans, a young Utauk girl, an Utauk merchant leader, a Brava captain that’s advisor to the Konag, a woman former Brava with a dark past, Empra of Ishara, an Isharan priest, and a traveling girl whose only mission is to learn as much as she possible can.
That is a hell of a lot of story to keep track of and he never once disappoints.

The only real issue I can point out with the writing would be that it’s difficult to gauge the passage of time.
At a few points in this story, through narration or dialogue somebody will say things like “it’s hard to believe how much has changed in the 2 week since the Wreths reemerged.” and I had a moment of “shit, it’s been that long since that happened!?” that I feel could be smoothed out a little more with dates at the start of chapters or slightly more dialogue to drill the point home.

One of the things that I love most about Kevin J. Anderson’s books will always be that he writes short chapters.
That makes it far easier to keep all of the many parts of the story moving forward, it keeps you from getting bored with a particular character or group of characters because you never spend 30+ pages with one POV wishing to learn more about the other corners of a world, and it also leads me to devour his work faster.
When reading his books, I never get stuck in the middle of a chapter and have to reread the last paragraph to remember where I was.
It’s a small style choice that I don’t know if he does intentionally or not, but it’s always appreciated nonetheless.

To wrap up, this is a hell of a kick-off to a new series by a masterful storyteller and world builder, gang.
It’s a tale of friendships and betrayals, old enemies and new allies, and a world on the brink of a war that the leaders do not want but may be forced in to by the machinations and posturing of others who have axes they can’t stop themselves from grinding.
Also, it has maps, and maps in books will never not be great!
And now the long wait begins for the next installment.

Kevin J. Anderson’s Spine Of The Dragon releases on June 4th, pre-order your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever you get your books.

Share this post on Twitter with the Hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

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Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Fantasy Review

You remember what I said in my review of the Sci-Fi volume of this planned 4 volume collection about somebody contacting Kevin J. Anderson for the upcoming Twilight Zone reboot?
At its best, Twilight Zone pinballed between Sci-Fi and Fantasy with ease.
But can KJA, who I feel is best known for his Sci-Fi work, bounce between the genres with the same effortlessness?
I say it’s time we find out.

As per usual, take this as your official warning of ****SPOILERS**** and let’s dive in.

I almost want to bury the lead here and make you dive deeper to find the answer to the above question, but I just can’t.
He does.
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of his 2nd of 4 planned Short Story Collections and I can say for sure that there are some stories in here that rival anything Serling and Co. came up with on their best days.
For instance, the story Time Zone (which even KJA calls out as Twilight Zoney) ends with that same amazing stomach dropping feeling of episodes like Time Enough At last or the horrific unavoidable feel of eps like Spur Of The Moment.
A dude who just moved west gets a call from his panicked parents who just saw on the news that a devastating earthquake hit his area.
But he doesn’t know anything about what they’re telling him, thinking they must be confused by the change in timezones again, when the time they mentioned strikes and he feels a rumble.
That is such a fucked up and genius, but extremely terrifying, idea that leaves your head swimming, and I love it.

While I love the stories, his intros shine again.
Most writers seem to be okay giving off the vibe that they are distant, reclusive, stuck in their own imaginations, but these intros give you a peek inside.
He again talks about what inspired each story.
He shares stories about his childhood, when he and his wife (fellow author and frequent collaborator, Rebecca Moesta) were dating and newly married, Christmas traditions, friends he has known and worked with for years, and anything in between.
If you are subscribed to his readers group, you know these personal anecdotes aren’t in here as some attempt at being pseudo friendly while slyly slipping a nimble finger or two into your wallet for a dollar…or twenty.
He genuinely seems to want to connect with his readers, not unlike another well known Kevin we mention around these parts from time to time.

It adds a new layer to each story, specifically the ones set in and around a fictional small town called Tucker’s Grove Wisconsin.
I was not disappointed by a single one of those stories, Loco-Motive, Just Like Normal People (which has a great nod to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, aka The Laughing Bird, that I loved), & Mirror, Mirror On The Wall.
My grandparents came from a small town that we often made trips to so they could visit their siblings and these stories feel like they could be set there.
The dark history and suspicious attitudes he gives to this otherwise idyllic town are as real as you can get, chillingly so.

I have said it before and I will say it again and again, Kevin J. Anderson is one of my favorite writers because he gets important information across in the most economical way possible.
With both of these short story collections, all of the Shamble stories, and his DC work, he crams them so full of details without boring the shit out of you for a half page with meaningless minutae about a rocking chair that damn near makes you want to rip your eyes out and stomp them into jelly.
I feel he is legitimately on the level of J.K. Rowling in that regard.
Of the twenty-six stories included, I loved twenty-four.
The two that I didn’t love were enjoyable but in the end their focus was on subjects that I just didn’t care as much about.
That’s a great average no matter how you slice it.

The last stories I have got to mention are Dark Angel, Archangel & Heroes Never Die, they are among the grandest included.
The first features the former grim reaper and his replacement as they are waging a war for the future of humanity, and it is awesome.
The way he cross cuts between the combatants and humans, showing who is winning through the fates of random people is brilliant and a must read.
The second showcases a Thor-like hero of old in modern times as he relays stories to a young kid who just moved in next door and loves superheroes.
The whimsy from the kid as this man of failing physicality spins his yarn is both hopeful and beautiful.
His defense of his elder friend is the same.

The bottom line is this, the fun on display here is stunning.
It’s hard to express just how much I loved this book.
In here, he plays with the toys of Jules Verne & H.P. Lovercraft, fictionalizes the inspirations of H.G. Wells & Charles Dickens, takes us through time to before man walked the earth and into feudal Japan, and the beautifully trippy cover art is the cherry on top.
In short, this book is the perfect personification of what short fiction can and should be for me.
This is going to be a tough act for other writers to follow.

Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Fantasy is available September 15th in Paperback, E-Format, and Hardcover.
Pre-order it on Amazon or wherever you buy books.

Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help on these reviews.

Share this on Twitter with the hashtag #TNBBookReview.

The Nerd Blitz Question Of The Week #5

It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for a brand new Question Of The Week, gang!
Let’s dive in and get the conversation going.

Triple threat match time: Lord of the Rings vs. Song of Ice And Fire vs. Dragonlance
Which are you backing to win?

Leave your answer in the comments below or post it on Twitter with the hashtag #TNBQotW.

Special thanks to @SteBoost for our QotW logo.