Wise Phuul by Daniel Stride

Ryan Collins reviews Wise Phuul by Daniel Stride.

Many thanks to the author for providing a free review copy.

Walking corpses and black-market liquor: the quiet life.

Telto Phuul, Necromancer and Library Clerk, likes his days safe and predictable. Not for him the intrigues of the Viiminian Empire, a gothic monstrosity held together by sheer force of will.

Until the Empire’s dreaded secret police come knocking. Caught in a web of schemes in the diseased heart of Kuolinako, the underground Imperial capital, Telto can trust no-one. Not the Northern theocrats who abhor Necromancy, and certainly not the Grand Chancellor, whose iron-fisted rule has kept the old order alive that little bit longer.

When one false step means torture and disappearance, this journey will change our Necromancer forever.

Family, friendship, and social class lie at the heart of powerful storytelling. Stride delves deep into the hearts and minds of his characters, revealing moral fortitudes that are perfectly balanced with personality flaws and desire for self-preservation. Engaging, subtle and provocative, this is fantasy steampunk that deserves to be read again and again. Wise Phuul is the story of one man’s journey to save himself, his friends, and (by coincidence only), his society.

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I was very excited to learn that this book was being published. Daniel Stride is an insightful writer, with some interesting things to say about the fantasy genre. As such, I’ve been eager for the chance to read this debut novel for myself.

Far and away the strongest aspect of Wise Phuul, for me, was the world. The cultures, histories, traditions, and taboos all have an authentic and multi-layered feel that lends credibility and nuance to the story. The political machinations and interplay of the various powers and forces within the world are a major driving point for the plot. While in the beginning there is a lot to keep up with, it all clicks together fairly smoothly about a third of the way through the book, and the story just takes you away from there.

The only downside to this is that it feels like a lot of the world-building is spoon-fed to the reader, and some of the early dialogue is a bit expositional. I typically absorb details better through natural immersion into the author’s world, which in this case, is a very compelling one.

Stride’s post-industrial fantasy world has a gritty, almost dirty feel to it. This seeps into the reader through the prose like a slow decay, sucking you in and refusing to let go. Necromancy being the primary form of magic in the story is the perfect mirror to the tone of Stride’s world. The fantasy trope of the evil necromancer is overturned in a world where taboos surrounding death and magic still play a major role in the story.

Overall I found Wise Phuul to be an enjoyable read. The characters are believable and compelling, with a wide and diverse range of personalities, and the writing is clever and insightful. Some bits were a bit slow going, but it’s an excellent introduction to a world that I hope to explore again in the future.

Amazon | GoodreadsGoodreadsDaniel Stride | @strda221

 

Fairies, Robots and Unicorns? – Oh My!: A Collection of Funny Short Stories by Sarina Dorie

The Bandwagon reviewer Ryan Collins reviews Fairies, Robots and Unicorns? – Oh My! by Sarina Dorie.

Fairies, Robots and Unicorns? – Oh My! was a funny, randby Sarina Dorie.y, and delightfully clever collection of the wittiest short stories I’ve read in some time. Dorie’s humor is light and sharp, and her scenarios are a breath of much needed fresh air. Each story invites you to dip your toes into a world of horny robots, steampunk romance, and sentient books that sexually harass their future owners, and before the laughs become stale you’re ushered on to the next.

The book’s first story is structured as a list, providing tips on how to slay a (no pun intended) horny unicorn, and goes on from there with a number of different styles and genres, each carrying the author’s unique brand of unassuming yet undeniable humor. The thing that struck me most about Dorie’s writing is that all of the jokes land without insisting upon themselves as is too often the case with many other contemporary works of “nerd themed” satire. The stories take us through fantasy, science fiction, lots of romance, and even classic literature, poking fun at each in a way that still manages to convey the author’s obvious endearment for the genres.

Of particular note, I would say the strongest stories (or at least my personal favorites) are Eels for Heels, The Office Messiah, and The Optimist Police. Though, my absolute favorite, which I have to make specific mention of, has to be Speed Dating Books. This one is short, only four pages in the paragraph, but it made me laugh harder than any other story in the collection. As an avid book-reader myself (as I know many of the people who follow this blog are), I understand all too well the call of the bookshelves, and I absolutely adore the comparison that Dorie makes here with what I can only assume was a pack of randy construction workers that inspired the story.

I could go on about any of the stories in this collection, but to do so too much would rob the reader of the joy of reading them. Do yourself a kindness and go out and experience this book for yourself!

I recommend this book to anybody in need of a good laugh. Many of these stories are very short, so it’s a great book to have on your phone or kindle to whip out when you have a spare few minutes waiting for an appointment or on the subway or something.

Sarina Dorie | Amazon

Madam Tulip by David Ahern

Ryan Collins reviews Madam Tulip by David Ahern.

As the daughter of the seventh son of a seventh son, Derry O’Donnell is kinda-sorta gifted with psychic powers . . . a little. Unfortunately, nobody wants to pay for advice from an out of work, mildly clairvoyant actress who sounds like she’s named after a cop bar. So, to pay the bills, Derry invents the persona of the wise and mysterious Madam Tulip, psychic to the rich and famous. When a rapper dies under mysterious circumstances, Derry goes from out of work actress turned well-intentioned con artist, to amateur sleuth on the trail of a mystery that takes her through the high stakes worlds of fashion, celebrity gossip, drugs, and murder.

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Ahern’s novel starts out slow and the action, such as it is, takes some time to pick up. But the real charm of this story lies not in the suspense that most mystery novels rely on, but on the witty prose and quirky tone of the dialogue, which bring the reader headlong into Derry’s world. The characters are unique, and range from eccentric to just plain over the top, though at no point did any of them feel artificial. Though Madam Tulip is a very funny and lighthearted novel, the laughs never come at the expense of the drama. This is very much a tongue-in-cheek poke at both the “celebrity industry” that has taken over pop culture, and at the nature of fame and ambition.

Ahern keeps the laughs coming from beginning to end, while never straying too far from the suspenseful tone which surrounds the central mystery. His characters are endearing and interact with a subtle humor which underlies the more overt comedic tones of the author’s prose. Madam Tulip is a feel good novel that grounds itself in deeper issues. Derry’s clairvoyance is something alien, but the issues that she deals with are those that we are all familiar with.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy lighthearted mysteries with quirky albeit over the top characters. If you’ve ever found yourself musing that Bridget Jones or Sex and the City could use a bit of paranormal murder, then Madam Tulip may be the book for you.

Madam Tulip | David Ahern

Blood on the Sand by Mikhail Lerma

 

Ryan Collins reviews Blood on the Sand (Z Plan #1) by Mikhail Lerma.

 

From the racial undertones in White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie, to the Marxist anti-consumerism themes of Dawn of the Dead during the Romero years, the greatest zombie stories have always been those which touched upon greater sociological issues. For whatever reason the living dead have always been a go-to medium for popular culture to express the concerns, the fears, and the aspirations of each generation; as well as a general mirror to reflect the nature of the human condition.

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In this regard, I found Mikhail Lerma’s Blood on the Sand to be an enlightening look at the nature of military culture in the 21 st century, and the environment that soldiers find themselves in on deployment.

Though not the most character-driven work I’ve read, the action in this novel never lets up. The book keeps your adrenaline pumping from start finish, as Cale navigates his way through a dangerous environment made horrific by the onset of a zombie apocalypse that breaks out during his deployment as a U.S. soldier in Iraq.

The influence of Lerma’s own military career is evident in his storytelling. Cale’s struggle with the concept of taking another human’s life, his longing for home, and his adjustment to the military lifestyle are all internal battles that soldiers face every day when thrust into an alien environment. Cale’s constant worry over the wellbeing of his family, and the fear of not knowing whether or not they are safe is a powerful reflection of the struggles that military families face every day when their loved ones are thrust into combat. In Lerma’s story, however, the entire world becomes the combat zone. There is no “safe” place where one knows that the danger is behind them. Another mentality felt by soldiers in the mist of war.

The zombies here are more of a backdrop than anything else, a plot device for the express purpose of bringing these themes to the fore. Though written for a specific audience, Blood on the Sand is a story that can be enjoyed by anybody with an appreciation or action or zombie literature.

Amazon | Mikhail Lerma

Crossroads by Various Authors

Ryan Collins, one of our talented new team, reviews Crossroads: Women Coming of Age in Today’s Uganda.

A lifelong resident of New England and outrageous film snob, Ryan Collins describes himself as a philosopher of nerdom and purveyor of wisdom. While not dodging death on his daily commute across the Fury Roads of the wild Massachusetts highways, he spends his time reading, writing, enjoying nature, and shouting at his computer screen. Follow his Great and Powerful Blog here

Crossroads is comprised of numerous essays, edited by Christopher Conte, and written by the following authors:

Nakisanze Segawa
Carolina Ariba
Rosey Sembatya
Shifa Mwesigye
Lydia Namubiru
Peace Twine
Harriet Anena
Elvania M. Bazaala
Sophie Bamwoyeraki
Grace Namazzi
Hilda Twongyeirwe
Julia Musiime
Laura Walusimbi

New CoverAfrica, particularly those nations south of the Sahara Desert, typically occupies a very specific place in the tradition of Western literature. When we read about Sub-Saharan Africa, more often than not it’s depicted as an exotic or alien place, plagued by tragedy and perpetual violence. And from British Colonialism, to Idi Amin, to the LRA, Uganda is certainly a country that has shed its share of both blood and tears. But that isn’t what Crossroads is really about.

Rather, through a series of anecdotal essays written by the women involved, we are exposed to a Uganda fully stripped of the ethereal veil of “other” that Western literature so often imposes upon the region. There is certainly violence, as seen in Peace Twine’s chapter, Wife of the Enemy, but centre stage are the cultural and social struggles that most twenty-first century women can relate to, regardless of race or nationality. The issues here, while specific to Uganda and its unique history, ultimately transcend cultural barriers.

And so Crossroads presents us with a number of stories detailing the struggles that contemporary Ugandan women face, with everything from gender roles and their social implications, to neo-colonialism and its influence upon Uganda’s cultural heritage. One of the most common and complex themes throughout these narratives is the conflicting nature of Western influence upon the region. Some women see it as a liberating force in the face of the heavily patriarchal and homophobic native society, while others resent it for suppressing the traditional Ugandan religion and values, comparing it to a type of social colonialism.

Many of these stories encapsulate a period of shifting social forces where we are presented with a conflict between what can be called the “old” Uganda and the “new.” It’s a situation where increasing numbers women are becoming exposed to the more liberated points of view, and facing tremendous pushback from the majority of the people within their own communities.

From gender roles and sexuality, to child rearing, to surviving sexual assault and domestic violence, the stories in Crossroads are inspiring and relatable, and powerful in such a way as to reach beyond the situational forces which surround them. This is a book that anyone trying to find their place in the world can connect with, and if nothing else you will come away with a greater understanding of what it means to be a woman in twenty-first century Uganda.

Click here to experience Crossroads for yourself.