The Speculative Faction Book Tour

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You can read my honest review, discover more about the author and where you can find the book. Plus look out for more tour stops!

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SAIRO's CLAW by Virginia McClain

The Speculative Faction is proud to host book tours, courtesy of Storytellers on Tour. It's a great opportunity for everyone to find out what great, new books are available to read. 

We guarantee honest and positive reviews (otherwise we don't post them!) and details about the author with helpful links. So, without any further ado...

Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.


Website: http://www.virginiamcclain.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gwendamned

Instagram: https://instagram.com/virginiamcclainwritesfantasy

Facebook: https://facebook.com/virginiamcclainauthor

The story:

Torako has done many things to protect the valley that she calls home, but she’s never looted a corpse before. So when the katana she steals off the still-cooling body of a bandit turns out to be possessed by a grumpy wolf kami, she can only assume it’s because she’s somehow angered the spirits. An impression that’s only reinforced when she returns home to find her wife abducted and her daughter in hiding. But angry spirits or no, Torako isn’t about to let bandits run off with the love of her life, even if it means taking their 3 year old on a rescue mission.

In all Kaiyo’s years as Captain of the Wind Serpent she has never once questioned her admiral’s orders. So when she receives the command to abduct a civilian scribe with the help of fifteen felons, she registers her objections, but does as she is bid. Yet, as the mission unfolds, Kaiyo finds herself questioning everything from her loyalties to her convictions.

As Torako and Kaiyo’s fates cross like dueling blades, their persistence is matched only by their fury, until they uncover a series of truths they may never be ready to accept.


My review:

In 2019 I championed Virginia McClain’s ‘Blade’s Edge’ in that year’s SPFBO. It was the year when three of its finalists had a Japanese-style setting. For me it was the best of the three because the world building didn’t overwhelm or dominate. There’s a danger of language, terminology and cultural/social references distancing the reader from the story. In Blade’s Edge this balance was maintained perfectly and the same is true for Sairo’s Claw.


I loved this story for several reasons.


Firstly, and to continue with the point just made, the setting is always in the background and serves to enrich the narrative. Rituals, mannerisms, behaviour and the like reference the setting but they don’t detract from the characters or the action. As already stated, this is such a difficult balancing act but one the author sustains throughout the story.


Secondly, Sairo’s Claw has to be the first story I’ve read where there is no vicious, evil antagonist. Sure, there are threats a-plenty for our heroes, but not because of any malevolence. An abiding theme which runs throughout the story is one of tolerance. It manifests in several ways and helps enhance the story even further. It reminds us that people have different goals and may seek to achieve them out of desperation, it doesn’t require them to be bad people. In this respect Sairo’s Claw challenges numerous fantasy tropes and that makes it stand out as real quality work.


The richness of characterisation is another strength of the book. When I reviewed Blade’s Edge, I talked about how much I enjoyed female characters that weren’t the traditional “bad-ass” stereotype so often found in fantasy. Virginia McClain creates women who are real and who find themselves in extraordinary situations. Raku and Torako have very specific skill sets that arise out of discipline, learning and courage. These qualities come at a price but it hasn’t affected who they are as women either, they are not anti-heroes, bitter or always angry. Left alone they would be happy together as a couple with their amazing daughter, Itachi. Thankfully, for the reader, that isn’t allowed to happen. The story centres on Torako’s rescue efforts to bring Raku home.


Finally, another factor which makes this story so good; its magic system. ‘Kiso’ is energy manipulation, where the energy is a form of nature such as air, water, fire and so on. This concept is used in numerous stories of course. However, Virginia McClain blends it with supernatural spirits, Kami. It’s a concept which bring us full circle, it ties in with Japanese beliefs and brings an originality (and credibility) to the magic system.


I highly recommend this story. It is full of love yet packed with excitement and action. It is fantastical in so many ways yet, at its heart, utterly believable thanks to its characters. For me, Virginia McClain is an exceptional author who brings originality, tolerance and love to the fore of her novels. Long may it continue.

BLOOD RED SAND by Damien Larkin

The Speculative Faction is proud to this Storytellers on Tour Book Blitz!. It's a great opportunity for everyone to find out about a great, new book. We guarantee honest and positive reviews (otherwise we don't post them!) and details about the author with helpful links. So, without any further ado...

Damien Larkin is an Irish science fiction author and co-founder of the British and Irish Writing Community. His debut novel Big Red was published by Dancing Lemur Press and went on to be longlisted for the BSFA Award for Best Novel. His next novel in the series Blood Red Sand will be released on 6th July 2021. He currently lives in Dublin, Ireland and is working on his current writing project The Truceless War.

Website: https://www.damienlarkinbooks.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Damo_Dangerman

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/damo_danger_larkin/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DamienLarkinAuthor/

Book Blurb

Mars will run red with Nazi blood…

After World War Two, Sergeant McCabe knew the British army could send him anywhere. He never imagined facing down another Nazi threat on Mars.

In New Berlin colony, rivalry between Generalfeldmarschall Seidel’s Wehrmacht and Reichsführer Wagner’s SS threatens bloodshed. The Reichsführer will sacrifice everything to initiate the secretive Hollow Programme and realise his nightmarish future for humanity.

McCabe, Private Jenkins, and the Mars Expeditionary Force must overcome bullet, bomb, and bayonet to destroy the Third Reich. While Jenkins fights to stay alive, McCabe forms an uneasy alliance with MAJESTIC-12 operatives known as the Black Visors. Will this be the final battle of World War Two or the first confrontation in an interstellar war?


Book Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55945491-blood-red-sand

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08NJ1LMC1

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08NJ1LMC1

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/blood-red-sand-damien-larkin/1138272663?ean=9781939844781

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/ca/book/blood-red-sand/id1540765181

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/blood-red-sand


My review

In my review of the author’s first novel in this series, Big Red, I made the comparison with Robert Heinlein’s stories. This second book, Blood Red Sand, confirms that analogy. In fact, I’d say it establishes Damien Larkin as Heinlein’s successor.

Like Heinlein, Mars offers a narrative landscape with two key features that inform my comparison. First of all, it is a planet worth fighting over to gain nationalist supremacy and is like Starship Troopers for this reason. War is violent and visceral, soldiers die horrific deaths and, often, for little or no gain. The foot soldiers are the ones who suffer while the higher ranks pound their chests and spout propaganda.

There are obvious connections to Stranger in a Strange Land as well. Heinlein posited theories of a Martian race with existing links to Earth, though in his story the situation is reversed, where it’s a Martian who visits Earth.

Blood Red Sand is a significantly more ambitious book than the first in some ways. Gone is the unreliable narrator. Now we get to see what happens when competing terrestrial nations battle with one another for control of the red planet. And battle they do! This is a complex story because there are several sides to the war. The enemy forces are conflicted and have their own insurrectionists while the allied forces are not exactly cohesive either. War is chaotic and this is never more obvious in this story where supremacy can never be predicted or anticipated.

But it’s more ambitious for another reason, and this hooked me, big time! Advanced technology allows the consciousness of one person to be supplanted into someone else, in any place and at any time. We encountered it in the first book but here the concept is ramped up to pose serious threats to our protagonists and even pose some terrible ethical dilemmas. This is high quality, high concept science fiction.

Blood Red Sand sets up another story which promises even further escalation of the war. I’m awed by Damien Larkin’s imagination, that it can conceive of something so truly epic.

So truly Heinlein.

I strongly recommend it!

SAIRO's CLAW by Virginia McClain

The Speculative Faction is proud to host book tours, courtesy of Storytellers on Tour. It's a great opportunity for everyone to find out what great, new books are available to read. We guarantee honest and positive reviews (otherwise we don't post them!) and details about the author with helpful links. So, without any further ado...

Virginia McClain is an author who masqueraded as a language teacher for a decade or so. When she’s not reading or writing she can generally be found playing outside with her four legged adventure buddy and the tiny human she helped to build from scratch. She enjoys climbing to the top of tall rocks, running through deserts, mountains, and woodlands, and carrying a foldable home on her back whenever she gets a chance. She’s also fond of word games and writing descriptions of herself that are needlessly vague.


Website: http://www.virginiamcclain.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gwendamned

Instagram: https://instagram.com/virginiamcclainwritesfantasy

Facebook: https://facebook.com/virginiamcclainauthor

The story:

Torako has done many things to protect the valley that she calls home, but she’s never looted a corpse before. So when the katana she steals off the still-cooling body of a bandit turns out to be possessed by a grumpy wolf kami, she can only assume it’s because she’s somehow angered the spirits. An impression that’s only reinforced when she returns home to find her wife abducted and her daughter in hiding. But angry spirits or no, Torako isn’t about to let bandits run off with the love of her life, even if it means taking their 3 year old on a rescue mission.

In all Kaiyo’s years as Captain of the Wind Serpent she has never once questioned her admiral’s orders. So when she receives the command to abduct a civilian scribe with the help of fifteen felons, she registers her objections, but does as she is bid. Yet, as the mission unfolds, Kaiyo finds herself questioning everything from her loyalties to her convictions.

As Torako and Kaiyo’s fates cross like dueling blades, their persistence is matched only by their fury, until they uncover a series of truths they may never be ready to accept.


My review:

In 2019 I championed Virginia McClain’s ‘Blade’s Edge’ in that year’s SPFBO. It was the year when three of its finalists had a Japanese-style setting. For me it was the best of the three because the world building didn’t overwhelm or dominate. There’s a danger of language, terminology and cultural/social references distancing the reader from the story. In Blade’s Edge this balance was maintained perfectly and the same is true for Sairo’s Claw.


I loved this story for several reasons.


Firstly, and to continue with the point just made, the setting is always in the background and serves to enrich the narrative. Rituals, mannerisms, behaviour and the like reference the setting but they don’t detract from the characters or the action. As already stated, this is such a difficult balancing act but one the author sustains throughout the story.


Secondly, Sairo’s Claw has to be the first story I’ve read where there is no vicious, evil antagonist. Sure, there are threats a-plenty for our heroes, but not because of any malevolence. An abiding theme which runs throughout the story is one of tolerance. It manifests in several ways and helps enhance the story even further. It reminds us that people have different goals and may seek to achieve them out of desperation, it doesn’t require them to be bad people. In this respect Sairo’s Claw challenges numerous fantasy tropes and that makes it stand out as real quality work.


The richness of characterisation is another strength of the book. When I reviewed Blade’s Edge, I talked about how much I enjoyed female characters that weren’t the traditional “bad-ass” stereotype so often found in fantasy. Virginia McClain creates women who are real and who find themselves in extraordinary situations. Raku and Torako have very specific skill sets that arise out of discipline, learning and courage. These qualities come at a price but it hasn’t affected who they are as women either, they are not anti-heroes, bitter or always angry. Left alone they would be happy together as a couple with their amazing daughter, Itachi. Thankfully, for the reader, that isn’t allowed to happen. The story centres on Torako’s rescue efforts to bring Raku home.


Finally, another factor which makes this story so good; its magic system. ‘Kiso’ is energy manipulation, where the energy is a form of nature such as air, water, fire and so on. This concept is used in numerous stories of course. However, Virginia McClain blends it with supernatural spirits, Kami. It’s a concept which bring us full circle, it ties in with Japanese beliefs and brings an originality (and credibility) to the magic system.


I highly recommend this story. It is full of love yet packed with excitement and action. It is fantastical in so many ways yet, at its heart, utterly believable thanks to its characters. For me, Virginia McClain is an exceptional author who brings originality, tolerance and love to the fore of her novels. Long may it continue.

SHADOW DEBT by William Ray

The latest author to pop in and say Hi! at the Speculative Faction is William Ray, author of the Verin Empire series. His latest novel, Shadow Debt, has just gone on sale. 

I've recently reviewed the previous two books in this series, you can read them here. William also provided me with good advice about book covers when I first published, so I'm pleased to be able to support his latest publication. 

I'm on record as saying how much I enjoyed the first two books and how William successfully blends genres. Well, he's done the same again with Shadow Debt and I think he may well have surpassed himself!

William Ray is the author of the Tales of the Verin Empire; including Gedlund (named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016), The Great Restoration and the forthcoming Shadow Debt.

Originally from North Carolina, he currently lives in Reston, VA with his wife and dogs. A graduate of Ithaca College, and Wake Forest’s School of Law, he has worked in television, retail, patent prosecution, trademark law and other irrelevant nonsense. To paraphrase Lloyd Alexander, however, if being a life-long lover of fantasy literature qualifies one to write it, then he is well qualified indeed.

You can find out more about William by clicking these links:

Website: https://verinempire.wixsite.com/website

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VerinEmpire

Facebook: https://facebook.com/VerinEmpire

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15504802.William_Ray


You can find out more about Tom Parker, William's illustrator:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TomParkerIllustration/ 

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/tomparkerillustration

Email: tomparkerdesign@gmail.com

The Blurb

Glynn Sorley is sheriff of Keat’s Field, a tiny settlement in an otherwise lawless frontier. With the discovery of diamonds, her town is flooded with fortune-hunters looking to strike it rich. It’s also a target for competing colonial powers, savage goblin tribes, and outlaws.

A rustler on the run from the law stumbles across his father’s mysterious legacy – a weapon of immense magical power. He uses it to ravage across the territory as the notorious outlaw Gentleman Jim.

But the weapon’s power comes at a terrible cost, and Keat’s Field may just have to pay the price…

This third Tale of the Verin Empire returns us to the world of Gedlund and The Great Restoration. It explores a frontier trapped between competing nations, where goblins reign and a lone sheriff fights to keep the peace.

Drawing inspiration from L’Amour’s Comstock Lode, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and our own late 19th century, Shadow Debt continues William Ray’s bold, critically acclaimed reinvention of classic fantasy in a world of memorable characters and unique perspectives, and features sketches from acclaimed illustrator Tom Parker.


My thoughts

Shadow Debt by William Ray is a wonderful book for several reason, top of my list is the world he’s created. I confess to being new to his Verin Empire stories (this is his third) but it works as a standalone well. So why is the world building so good?

It’s the originality first of all. It’s set in the equivalent of The Wild West, complete with shoot-outs and brave sheriffs who stand up against the baddies single-handedly. Except here, the aboriginal people are not Native Americans, they’re goblins. Humans treat them in the same way though, there’s prejudice and fear, a complete lack of understanding and respect for another culture. We experience all this as the sheriff, Glynn Sorley, investigates a murder and shows she’s the only one who is open-minded and respectful.

Having mentioned the sheriff, I’ll pause there to talk about her and how she fits into this world. She is the law in a wild frontier filled with prospectors, outlaws and violent gangs. She’s a fantasy version of Annie Oakley. She’s strong, single-minded and the opposite of her refined and feminine sister in every way. All the female characters are strong, this is because the world is harsh, unforgiving and the weak would never survive. (The book references other stories in the series which involve equally strong suffragettes who fight for their right to vote.) She’s monosyllabic, hard and unforgiving yet we get to see glimpses of the thoughtful, considerate woman underneath this hard shell. She carries the narrative perfectly for this reason, she reflects the world but she allows us insights into its finer details.

Complementing the sheriff perfectly is Ned, the journalist and illustrator sent to obtain a profile of this astonishing woman so the folks in civilisation can learn about her. Ned is a ‘dandy’, so-called for his stylish clothes that are better suited to the streets of civilised cities rather than frontier settlements. His dental problems are worse than Gollum’s, which causes him to lisp badly, not your traditional hero by any means. He does have a good right hook though, which he uses to punish people who go too far. Much of the story is told through his eyes, allowing us to discover this strange world at the same time as he does.

It is a strange world indeed. This is a place filled with monsters, definitely unlike the Wild West. They are often giant variations of snakes and otters or demons with the ability to freeze or set fire to anyone they don’t like. While we’re talking about the demonic darkness of this world, it’s important to include the gun. The weapon used by Elgin, the outlaw Gentleman Jim, whose psychotic path leads to Keat’s Field where most of the story takes place. I felt sorry for the guy, I admit. Driven by desperation to use it in the first place, the demonic weapon haunts him endlessly and leads him into deeper bloodbaths.

The illustrations by the talented Tom Parker enhance the story, adding to the world building but also making the story feel that we’re seeing the finished result of Ned’s journalism. I've included some of them on this page, they're brilliant, aren't they? 

This is such a great story. It’s exciting, with non-stop action that leads inexorably to the climax. The narrative is cleverly woven so all the details are tied up at the end without ever losing its relentless pace. Characters are vivid, real and engaging. The world building so highly original it’s refreshing. This is such a wonderful and thrilling read!


Book links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55205003-shadow-debt

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HNCPC6V

CROWN OF BONES by Rosalyn Briar

The Speculative Faction is proud to host book tours, courtesy of Storytellers on Tour. It's a great opportunity for everyone to find out what great, new books are available to read. We guarantee honest and positive reviews (otherwise we don't post them!) and details about the author with helpful links. So, without any further ado...

Rosalyn Briar is a mother and a wife living near St. Louis, MO. USA. She is a former teacher and has many creative hobbies. Writing quickly became her passion a few years ago. The Crown of Bones is her debut novel. She loves to write dark fantasy novels that dip into the horror genre and always have a splash of romance.

To find out more about Rosalyn, visit her website: https://www.rosalynbriar.com

Book blurb

Fairy tales are not what they seem. Gisela knows about sacrifice all too well.

She abandoned her education, friends, and fairy tales to support her family and care for her sister. But when she jilts a wealthy suitor, Gisela is chosen for another type of sacrifice.

As an Offering to the Goddess Bergot, Gisela and seven others are sent on a deadly quest for a mythical crown. To return home, Gisela must overcome obstacles which darkly resemble the fairy tales she once believed.

Weaving through a tapestry of friendship, romance, violence, and magic—Gisela becomes the target of an ancient evil force, while an ominous detail from the past haunts her at every turn.

To what lengths will Gisela go to save the ones she loves?

Sometimes sacrifices must be made.

This is dark fantasy story is in the New Adult age group (18-25years).


My thoughts

Crown of Bones by Rosalyn Briar is a fun story. It tells how Giselle has to survive one ordeal after another if she is to discover the Crown of Bones which can save her life and the valley where she lives. It’s also a story of romance. Her relationship with Brahm may begin in a coy way but when they are thrown together on this quest it is their love for each other which brings them together as they save each other’s lives.

The fun part of the story is how so many classic fairy tales are woven into the story and given a different twist to the conventional narratives. In this way these tales turn into the challenges Giselle must overcome on her way to defeat a goddess eager to claim Giselle’s body for her own.

If you’re a fan of romantic fiction in a fantasy realm with a lot of exciting action to complement it, this is the book for you!

FROZEN RAGE by Steve McHugh

The Speculative Faction is proud to host book tours, courtesy of Storytellers on Tour. It's a great opportunity for everyone to find out what great, new books are available to read. We guarantee honest and positive reviews (otherwise we don't post them!) and details about the author with helpful links. So, without any further ado...

Steve McHugh is the author of the bestselling Hellequin and Avalon  Chronicles.


He lives in Southampton, on the south coast of England,  with his wife and three young daughters. When not writing or spending time with his kids, he enjoys watching movies, reading books and comics, and playing video games.


You can find out more about Steve's work on his site - https://stevejmchugh.wordpress.com

Steve McHugh defines this novella, Frozen Rage, accurately as a ‘murder mystery with magic’, where his main character ‘gets to do his best Hercule Poirot impression’. It’s one of the main reasons for enjoying the story, there are lots of nods, implicit and explicit, to the whodunnit genre.

I wasn’t familiar with Steve McHugh’s work before reading this book. Apparently, this novella sits between two of his existing novels in his Hellequin Chronicles series, Promise of Wrath and Scorched Shadows. The story is a standalone, easy to read without knowing anything about the rest of the series. References are made to other events and the background of Nate Garrett, the Hellequin of the series title, is already established. That said, the author does a fine job of balancing the exposition for fans and new readers alike.

The story is a classic whodunnit, with murders at the outset with more bodies piling up as the investigation develops. It takes place in a large castle in a realm designed for the wealthy to enjoy themselves. The characters divide between those assisting our Poirot-like protagonist and the suspects. Magic is a critical ingredient for the fun and the mystery. There are lots of were animals – wolves, lions, a bear and a tiger. Political machinations between the werewolves and werelions are the root of the investigation. I loved how magic replaced the science in this enquiry. It was inventive, clever and witty in its use.

Another factor which made this story stand out for me? Its humour. The banter which exists between Nate’s friends is always good-natured and wry. The references to modern-day culture is a wonderful counterpoint to the fantasy elements. For instance, there’s a Red Wedding reference – taken from Game of Thrones and applied to the same situation where the setting of this story is at a wedding that goes wrong. I loved them, it suggests the author isn’t asking us to take things too seriously, fun is uppermost here.

All in all, a wonderful story that I couldn’t put down. I actually read this story in two days. It’s writing style is economical yet efficient, you can move through it easily but that doesn’t mean it lacks any vital ingredients. It’s just clever, fun writing. Action packed, there’s always something happening to encourage you to keep reading. I will definitely be reading more books by Steve McHugh.