Review: The Beast Hunter by Lindsay Schopfer

Review: The Beast Hunter by Lindsay SchopferThe Beast Hunter (The Adventures of Keltin Moore, #1) by Lindsay Schopfer
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: adventure, fantasy, steampunk
Series: Keltin Moore #1
Pages: 269
Published by Createspace on May 8, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Beast hunter and local hero Keltin Moore joins a desperate campaign to save faraway Krendaria, a nation on the verge of revolution. A swarm of beasts threatens to destroy the country’s desperately needed crops, and an unprecedented team of hunters is assembled to cleanse the infested farmlands. But the grand adventure quickly becomes a desperate fight for survival as the horde of beasts seems endless and distrust among the hunters eats away at the campaign from within. In desperation, Keltin and his new friends embark on a dangerous mission into the heart of the deadly swarm, prepared to make a final stand against the oncoming beasts to try and save all of Krendaria from starvation.

My Review:

I read the second book in the Keltin Moore series, Into the North, a few months ago, and really, really enjoyed it. But it was the second book in the series, and while it did work as a standalone, there were plenty of hints to Keltin’s wider world that I wanted to explore. Hence this review of the first book in the series, which was every bit as fascinating as Into the North.

But this is a different story. And as much as Into the North reminded me of Jack London with its Gold Rush setting, The Beast Hunter does not. Instead, this one feels a bit more like fantasy or steampunk than its successor. At the same time, it feels like it could be a frontier story from our own past – albeit with a few twists and turns.

Keltin lives in a small town in an area that has a kind of frontier feeling to it. Transportation is either horse or mule or “shank’s mare” – meaning one’s own two feet. There are trains, but the town Keltin lives in is too small to have a station. And he does need to reach one.

His job is to hunt fairly fantastic beasts that are causing problems for local farmers or townsfolk, and he makes a halfway decent living at it. He’s also developed a reputation for it that has grown beyond his native Riltvin.

The story here is that his reputation has made the wider world come calling for him. There’s a huge beast infestation in far away Krendaria, and the government is looking to hire beast hunters from all over the world – for a fantastic bounty, of course – to help them contain it.

Also, unbeknownst to Keltin as he starts on his journey, to try to give the people of Krendaria a reason NOT to rebel. It’s hoped that the beasts can be beaten back before the harvest season so that farmers can go back to their farms and food can be brought in for the starving masses who are rebelling.

Some things are more possible than others.

No matter how many hunters are brought in, the supply of beasts seems endless. The patience of the rebels is much less so. But along the way, Keltin learns lessons about himself that are still taking shape in the second book.

The lone wolf hunter learns that loneliness is easy, leadership is hard, and that survival isn’t of the fittest, but of the one who learns to accept a little help from his friends, and to be one. And that two hearts might just possibly be better than one.

Escape Rating A: It’s neat to have read these in the wrong order. I enjoyed Into the North a lot, it was a terrific adventure and completely different from other things I was reading at the time and I just really liked it. It was the right book at the right time. But I was teased by the background of Keltin’s world and Keltin’s life before the point where that story begins – and now I have at least some of that backstory.

The story of The Beast Hunter is the adventure that Keltin has just returned from in Into the North – the Gold Rush location where that story takes place, is definitely to the north of Keltin’s native Riltvin.

But those names are also hints that this series does not take place on any obvious variation of the world we know. At the same time, we don’t actually know. We’re dropped into the middle of both Keltin’s life and his world. The political situation seems to be totally FUBAR, and the wildlife that Keltin hunts as a beast hunter is a whole lot wilder than anything currently or historically seen on our Earth.

So wherever and whenever Keltin’s story takes place, it isn’t here, it isn’t now, and it isn’t any then that we know of.

It does feel like Keltin’s story sits on a tricornered space between an adventure story, fantasy, and steampunk. It also feels like it would be a great book to give to someone who likes adventure stories and is curious about either of the other two genres but doesn’t want to get deep into their weeds on their first outing.

The names and histories of places like Krendaria and Malpinon hint of a wider world with a deeper history, and possibly portend a deeper dive into epic fantasy in a later story. Keltin’s world feels epic in scope, but not in the way that epic fantasy usually does. Keltin is living his life, and we see and hear what he does. His world may be big, but it maintains a human perspective, just as we live in a wider world than the parts that we experience on a daily basis. There’s no big conflict of good vs. evil. Keltin is just trying to do the best he can against certain small or medium-sized – and fairly monstrous monster-type – evils.

At the same time, both the non-humans that Keltin befriends and the beasts that he hunts clearly hint at a world not our own. But the magic that appears in the story is confined to those entities, at least so far. Humans seem to rely on tools and weapons that we’re familiar with, and in that the series feels like steampunk.

But it’s the adventure that carries the story. Keltin has come to help kill fantastic and horrible beasts that seem intent on wiping out not just the human population, but anything they can eat including each other. Keltin becomes the leader of a small band within the hunters, and does his best even as he is sure he isn’t doing a good job. His perspective, and his world, are all about surviving the next incursion and keeping himself and his men alive to fight another day.

At every stage it seems as if the entire enterprise is on the verge of collapse or extermination – whether by the rampaging beasts or by internal strife. The reader spends the entire story on the edge of their seat, wondering who will live, who will die, and whether Keltin will emerge from this whole mess with more damage than can ever be healed.

It’s a wild ride of an adventure every step of the way! So much so that I’m looking forward to reading the tale of Keltin’s third adventure, Dangerous Territory, the next time I need to escape from the everyday!

Review: Justice Calling by Annie Bellet

Review: Justice Calling by Annie BelletJustice Calling by Annie Bellet
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Twenty-Sided Sorceress #1
Pages: 154
Published by Createspace on July 23rd 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Gamer. Nerd. Sorceress. Jade Crow lives a quiet life running her comic book and game store in Wylde, Idaho. After twenty-five years fleeing from a powerful sorcerer who wants to eat her heart and take her powers, quiet suits her just fine. Surrounded by friends who are even less human than she is, Jade figures she's finally safe. As long as she doesn't use her magic. When dark powers threaten her friends' lives, a sexy shape-shifter enforcer shows up. He's the shifter world's judge, jury, and executioner rolled into one, and he thinks Jade is to blame. To clear her name, save her friends, and stop the villain, she'll have to use her wits... and her sorceress powers. Except Jade knows that as soon as she does, a far deadlier nemesis awaits. Justice Calling is the first book in The Twenty-Sided Sorceress urban fantasy series.

My Review:

This first book in the Twenty-Sided Sorceress series reads like classic urban fantasy. And since urban fantasy is one of my go-to genres when I’m in a reading slump, that made Justice Calling a perfect read this week.

By classic urban fantasy, I mean really, really classic. The sorceress of the title learned to focus her magic by using Dungeons & Dragons manuals. It doesn’t get much more basic than that.

It isn’t that DnD works per se, just that those manuals provide a lot of order and focus for someone just learning to use powers that aren’t supposed to work in this world, but somehow do. Jade Crow started out as a nerd, and at first the manuals must have seemed like just good fun, until the magic started working.

Now there isn’t a whole lot of fun involved, but there certainly is a challenge.

The story is also classic in another sense – Jade is on the run from a crazy-stalker ex-boyfriend. But unlike the usual versions of that trope, where the stalker wants to either possess or kill his victim, Jade’s ex Samir is a sorcerer who definitely does want to kill her, but then he plans to eat her heart and steal all her power. And I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally.

Jade has spent the past several years hiding in plain sight. She owns a comic book/game shop in Wylde, Idaho. Wylde is a remote little town on the junction of a whole bunch of ley lines. About half the town’s population is made up of shifters, and lots of other interesting and magical species have made a home there. Jade’s next door neighbor is a leprechaun, and her best friends are all shapechangers of one kind or another.

There are original-recipe humans in town, especially among the student population of the local community college. And when one of Jane’s friends turns up as a taxidermy exhibit, Jane finds herself hunting the college for a wannabe sorcerer who seems to have found a nasty route to power.

But Jane stands at a crossroads, not just literally in Wylde but figuratively in her own life. At the crossroads between running away again, or finally deciding to stand and fight. Into her dilemma rides Justice, in the person of a sexy enforcer who has come to Wylde to either save her friends, save Jade, or all of the above.

Or watch her run away from her friends and her responsibilities, and watch her let her friends die to save herself. Again.

Escape Rating A-: Justice Calling is the introduction to the Twenty-Sided Sorceress series. The case that Jane has to solve is not all that hard to figure out. I almost said it was relatively minor, but that’s not strictly true. It’s easy, but what it represents is important. So not minor.

As an introduction, a lot of this story is taken up with setting the stage and getting all the characters on it. Not just Jane herself, but also her friends who start out a bit like a Scooby-gang, and Justice. Justice in this case is a person named Alek. Justice is his job. He represents the shifter council and is judge, jury and executioner whenever a shifter is harmed.

Alek and Jade find each other almost irresistible, which sets up what will be the long-running romance arc of the series. But his part in Justice Calling is to bear witness to Jade’s decision, and to help her save her shifter friends if she decides “correctly”.

As a big bad, Jade’s ex Samir sounds really, really bad. And evil. And dangerous. Jade hides because that’s what she’s always done. She’s afraid for herself, but she’s more afraid for her friends. Samir has used her family-of-choice against her before, and he’ll have no qualms about doing so again if he finds her.

level grind by annie belletBy the end of the story, the reader is invested in the characters and feels the emotional heft of Jade’s decision to stay and fight. The battle looks to be a long and bloody one.

This is a relatively short book, as are the other stories in the series. Which may explain why the author recently re-released the whole thing in two omnibus volumes, Level Grind and Boss Fight. I seem to have both bought Justice Calling and picked up the omnibuses (omnibi?) from Edelweiss, so I’ll be working my way through the series. And glad to do so.