Book Review: Edge of the Breach

cover for Edge of the Breach

Edge of the Breach (Rift Cycle Book 1) by Halo Scot

Halo Scot did a great job in setting up the environment in this book. The story happens far into Earth’s future, after us dumb humans have demolished most of the planet into an uninhabitable mess. People live in Antartica, either in the downtrodden Shelf or in the city of Zawad. Added to that, the sky has torn a hole, which leads to the dimension of gods.

And that’s not all! (Said in a deep-throated voice of a guy narrating a movie trailer.) Humans are born with special abilities, depending on the season of your birth: spring as healers, summer as mages who can control gravity, fall as shapeshifters, winter as protective shields.

Impressive world-building here. Inserted into this world are our main characters: Julian Kyder and Sira Rune. Both are born on a solstice (Kyder in summer, Rune in winter), so their abilities are especially powerful. The book’s chapters alternate the points of view of these two characters.

We follow Kyder and Rune in part of their childhood, through teenaged years, into young adulthood. And believe me when I tell you this isn’t a “gosh I feel awkward in high school” type of story. Um, no.

Be prepared for dramatic scenes, because this book is a wild ride. Kyder and Rune make their way in this world, taking initiative to better themselves and dealing with horrific events. We see the powerful influences of family, from Kyder’s single mom to Rune’s parents and brother. Shocks that come early will reverberate for years.

I found that I was pulling for the characters and wishing their struggles weren’t so difficult. But the characters are shaped by these, in a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” kind of way.

This ride isn’t for squeamish readers, as Halo Scot has included a content warning in the book’s blurb. Yes, there’s very graphic violence. There’s torture and self-harm. I had never heard of “grimdark” as a story category, and this book is both grim and dark. And it has a gripping story.

This is the first part of the Rift Cycle series, which has four books — all of them have been published.

The Angry Dragon

Here’s the second dragon story, as a different take than yesterday’s story. This one is still meant for young readers, though it’s a bit shorter than the first story…

*****

The Angry Dragon

Once upon a time, there was a castle in the Land of Greengrass. A king and queen lived in the castle, along with their children, Prince Terry and Princess Mary. They were a happy family.

One day, Prince Terry and Princess Mary rode horses out of the castle. People in the village waved to the princess and prince as they passed by. Terry and Mary said cheerful “Hellos!” and “Good days!” to the villagers.

After the village were farms. The princess and prince said cheerful “Hellos!” and “Good days!” to the farmers and the grazing animals. The farmers waved back. The cows said, “Moo.” The sheep said, “Baa.” The pigs said, “Oink.”

After the farms was the forest. Terry and Mary kept going on the road and entered the forest. They liked seeing the many trees and hearing the birds chirp to each other.

Suddenly, there was a crash as tree branches snapped. A dragon landed on the road in front of Terry and Mary!

“I am Vuzgert the Terrible!” yelled the dragon, showing its sharp teeth.

The two horses stopped walking and stared in fear at the dragon. Terry and Mary patted their horses to calm them.

“Is ‘the Terrible’ really a part of your name?” asked Princess Mary.

“Yes!” roared the dragon. “I know who you are. I’m going to kidnap you and demand that the king and queen give me all their gold to get you back.”

The princess and prince drew their swords.

“You’ll have to capture us first,” said Princess Mary.

Vuzgert the Terrible rumbled with a mean laugh. He said, “You don’t have shields, and you’re not wearing any armor. I can burn you to a crisp.”

Princess Mary said, “If you burn us to a crisp, our parents won’t give you any gold. They’ll send an army of knights to come after you.”

Vuzgert the Terrible frowned and said, “Good point. I won’t burn you. Instead, I’ll fight you until you give up. Then I’ll bring you to my hideout. Then I’ll tie you up. Then I’ll fly to the castle and tell your parents to give me gold for you.”

Prince Terry raised his sword and said, “We’re not going to make it easy for you.”

“Wait a second,” said Princess Mary. “Let’s say your plan works. What are you going to do with all the gold?”

“Put it with my other gold,” said Vuzgert the Terrible.

“You don’t buy anything with it?” asked the princess.

“Nope,” said the dragon. “I don’t need to buy anything. I just find stuff to eat when I get hungry.”

“Why do you need the gold?”

“Because it’s beautiful!” yelled Vuzgert the Terrible. “It glitters in the sunlight. I love looking at it.”

“That doesn’t sound fun at all,” said Prince Terry.

The dragon snarled. “It is fun!”

“I have an idea,” said Princess Mary. “We could use your help. We’re going to build a new library that’s much bigger than the old one. You could help by lifting the heavy stones.”

“Ha!” laughed Vuzgert the Terrible. “Why would I work for you?”

“We’d give you a place to live and food,” said the princess. “Our cooks make delicious food. You could play games with the people in the castle and village. Do you play games in your hideout?”

The dragon didn’t look as angry. He said, “No. I just admire my gold.”

“Why not try something different?” asked Prince Terry. “You could have more fun.”

Vuzgert the Terrible thought for a moment, then he said, “It would be nice to try different food. And it would be nice to play some games.”

Princess Mary slid her sword back into its sheath. She said, “As long as you promise not to burn people or houses. And you don’t kill people with your claws and teeth.”

“Okay, I promise,” said Vuzgert the Terrible.

“How about you take off ‘the Terrible’ from your name?” asked Prince Terry.

“Then people wouldn’t shake in fear when they see me,” said the dragon.

“They’ll still be scared of you,” said the prince, who also put his sword away. “Until they realize you’re a nice guy.”

“I could be a nice guy?” asked the dragon.

“Sure, you can,” said Princess Mary. “People can change.”

The dragon smiled. “It’s a deal. My name is just Vuzgert from now on.”

And so, the prince and princess and dragon returned to the castle. The villagers were scared when they saw Vuzgert. But they relaxed after Princess Mary and Prince Terry explained the bargain they had made with the dragon.

Vuzgert was a big help in building the new library. He helped in other projects, such as digging a large hole for a pond, where kids loved to play. Vuzgert was given plenty of food, and he made lots of friends. He was happy with his new place to live.

End

Copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Dragon Trouble

Recently I wrote a couple dragon stories, very short ones (stories, not dragons) that are meant for young readers. I’m posting the first today, then the second tomorrow. They’re not sequels. They’re different takes on knights having to deal with a troublesome dragon. I’m curious to see which (story, not dragon) gets a better response in likes and comments. Hope you enjoy these!

*****

Dragon Trouble

Two people from the village of Pimfrob walked many miles to the castle. Their names were Osbert and Lefsy. They were glad to sit and rest their tired legs while waiting in line to talk with the king and queen.

When it was their turn, the two villagers were amazed by the beauty of the throne room. Columns rose to the ceiling high above. The walls were covered in gold decorations. The villagers knelt on the red rug.

“A dragon showed up, and it’s attacking our farms,” said Osbert.

“It’s stealing our pigs and cows,” said Lefsy.

“Can you help us?” asked Osbert.

The king and queen talked quietly between themselves. Then the king said, “We will send our best knights to deal with the dragon. You can leave with them tomorrow. Spend tonight at an inn outside the castle.”

The next day, the villagers rode on a wagon. A man named Cadmus sat in front of the wagon and held the reins of the two horses that pulled the wagon. Alongside them, three knights rode on horses. The names of the knights were Lady Regina, Lady Ingrid, and Sir Hartmut.

“Why are only three knights coming with us?” asked Osbert the villager. “Why not a big group?”

“A big group could alert the dragon that we are coming,” said Lady Regina. “Then it might fly to another part of the realm. Three of us can better surprise it.”

Osbert and Lefsy understood the wisdom of surprising the dragon, so they talked of other things during the trip.

The journey took most of the day. When they arrived at the village of Pimfrob, the knights and Cadmus rented rooms at an inn. The horses went into a stable, where they ate oats and rested.

The knights and Cadmus walked to the nearest tavern. The villagers were excited to see the knights, and thanked them for coming to deal with the dragon. The villagers said the dragon probably lived in the mountains near Pimfrob. The knights ate dinner with lots of vegetables, and they drank grape juice.

The next morning, Cadmus helped the knights put on their armor, which shone in the sunlight. Cadmus stayed in the village while the knights rode off on their horses.

Soon, the knights came across a fork in the road. One way continued along the flat land. The other way led to the mountains. The knights directed the horses to the second path, which was more narrow than the dirt road. The path became steep and rocky, but the strong horses easily made their way.

Once the knights reached the top of the first mountain, they looked around. They saw piles of stone on the next mountain. The stones were stacked in a wall in the shape of a circle. In the middle of the circle lay the sleeping dragon.

The horses strolled down the mountain, where more trees grew. The knights tied the horses to trees, because the horses were safer from the fighting that was about to start.

The knights carefully climbed up the second mountain. Their plan was to sneak up to the dragon and shove their swords between its scales while it slept. That would’ve been the quickest and safest way to defeat the dragon.

However, the beast woke up before the knights reached it. The knights were most of the way up the mountain. The dragon rose to sit on its hind legs. It roared and spread its wings. The dragon was scary, but beautiful. Its scales were a mix of blue and green.

“How dare you attack me?” said the dragon in a loud and rumbling voice.

“You’re stealing pigs and cows from the farmers!” shouted Lady Ingrid.

“I have to eat!” said the dragon. “And I shall eat you after roasting you!”

Flames rushed from the dragon’s mouth. Thankfully, the knights were ready. They crouched near the ground, then held up their shields. The fire hit the shields and did not burn the knights.

Lady Regina was an expert archer. When the dragon’s fire stopped, she let go of her shield and took the bow off her back and strung an arrow on the bowstring. Resting on one knee, she took aim and shot the arrow. However, it bounced off one of the dragon’s thick scales.

Laughing, the dragon lifted into the air, its huge wings flapping. It flew a little ways off.

“Hurry!” said Sir Hartmut. “Let’s climb higher!”

He grabbed Lady Regina’s shield, and the knights moved as quickly as they could up the mountain. They knew the dragon needed a break between each time it breathed fire. The fire had to build up in its body before it was released.

At the top of the mountain, the knights climbed over the wall of stones. Now they were more protected.

The dragon roared in anger and bellowed fire. But the rocks blocked the flames, so the knights were not hurt. When it was safe, all three knights lifted their bows and shot arrows. Lady Ingrid’s arrow missed the dragon. Sir Hartmut’s arrow pierced one of the dragon’s wings. Lady Regina’s arrow landed between two scales.

“Ouch!” yelled the dragon. “That hurt!”

“It was supposed to hurt!” yelled Lady Regina. “Now will you leave this place and go back to The Land of Dragons?”

“No!” yelled the dragon. “The Land of Dragons was getting so crowded back there, food was hard to find. Food is easier to find here. I’m staying!”

The battle continued in the same way as before. The dragon was becoming frustrated at not being able to scorch the humans with its fire. And the knights were becoming frustrated by not hurting the dragon. Their arrows plunked off the dragon’s scales. Also, the knights were worried because they were running out of arrows.

Lady Ingrid had an idea. She told it to the other knights, and they agreed to try her plan.

“Hey, dragon!” shouted Lady Ingrid. “Can we stop for a minute and talk?”

“Is this a trick?” growled the dragon, who hovered next to the mountain.

“No,” said Lady Ingrid. “We’re getting nowhere fighting like this. We need to find another way.”

“What other way?” asked the dragon.

“We could use you at the castle,” said Lady Ingrid. “We’re building a new library that’s much bigger than the old one. You could help by lifting the heavy stones. We would pay you with food, so you wouldn’t have to steal it.”

“That’s it?” asked the dragon. “Just lift stones?”

“We could find other jobs, too,” said Lady Regina. “You could pull up trees to make way for a new farm.”

The dragon looked suspiciously at the knights. The dragon asked, “And this isn’t a trick?”

“It’s not, we promise,” said Lady Ingrid.

“Okay, it’s a deal,” said the dragon. “By the way, my name is Maynard.”

The knights walked back to their horses, then rode to Pimfrob to tell the villagers what happened on the mountain. Maynard waited outside the village, so he wouldn’t scare anyone. The villagers were happy the dragon was leaving their area. But they said to be careful that the dragon didn’t cause trouble at the castle.

“Maynard deserves a chance,” said Lady Regina.

The knights and Cadmus left to where Maynard waited, and the group went to the castle. Maynard was a big help in building the new library. He helped in many other projects, such as digging a pond where the village kids loved to swim.

Maynard was given plenty of food, and he made lots of friends. He was happy with his new place to live.

End

Copyright © 2021 Dave Williams

Rare Bird

Days trudging
through the jungle
assaulted by heat and bugs,
also soaking in
the otherworldly plants,
she spots the rare bird
on a high branch.
She’s stunned by
its myriad of colors,
managing to outshine
the brilliance around them.
She raises her camera,
adjusts telephoto lens,
but doesn’t click.
Photos would be rewards,
yet would spoil
this amazing experience.

Book Reviews: Unique and Absurd Books 1 and 2

cover for So Absurd It Must Be True, book 1

So Absurd It Must Be True: funny tales for dirty minds by Victoria Ray

Reading the first story of this collection was a jolt for me, as it was different than a typical narrative of one event logically leading to another. However, I let go of my expectations and went with the flow of the story — and the rest of the book. These stories take you in unexpected directions. “Absurd” is in the title, and the book delivers.

I felt the stories have a similar energy to sketch comedy, like Monty Python, Benny Hill, and Keystone Kops. A lot of oddness, humor, and randy behavior. There’s sex in these stories — but not the kind of long, flowery paragraphs describing romance between characters. This sex is part of the rush from one zany scene to the next. Colorful innuendos are used.

Names of the characters match the quirkiness of the action: Mr. TightPants, Mrs. GrabMyHips, Ms. JawDropping. The stories are short, with some scenes that are quite short and cause the action to hop along. Also, the format of the stories shifts around, as some stories are set up like a play, with all dialogue.

This book is so outside the norm, I give the author props for coming up with such creativity. It takes courage to go in a different direction than most others. If you want to venture into unpredictable stories, sexy shenanigans, and life lessons woven into fiction — this book delivers.

cover for So Absurd It Must Be True, book 2

So Absurd It Must Be True: The collection of surreal humor, mystery, and satire by Victoria Ray

Some of the stories in this book are longer than the quick sketches-type stories of Victoria Ray’s first book of absurd stories. I like the added depth of these stories, for more story to sink your teeth into, compared to the short, quick stories. The author’s creativity remains intact from the variety of story formats, as well as the different kinds of plots: a spy tries to recall his memories, Santa Claus travels to another dimension, owners of a restaurant come up with a wild way to improve business.

As with the first book, the characters still have fun names: Mrs. CatchAGlimpse and Mr. CruelMemories. The characters don’t have as much sex as in the first book. There’s still sex dropped here and there (mostly of the oral variety), but the characters stretch out in actions beyond skin on skin.

Also as with the first book, I’m impressed with the author’s creativity and courage to play in various directions. These stories are far from the usual, and that’s a compliment. They have their own zany jumps from one scene to the next. Absurd, fun, funny, and unpredictable.

*****

Check out Victoria Ray’s blog for updates on her writing, as well as some stories.

Andy’s Soup

Did you eat lots of soup, Andy?
Were all of those Campbell’s soup cans
your lunches on the days
you screenprinted them?
You seemed fascinated by the ordinary,
of soup cans and lips,
of cows and Coke bottles,
of newspapers and shadows,
of lips and cows,
of Coke bottles and shadows,
of soup cans and newspapers.
But then, maybe those things
are more than ordinary
if you look at them closely enough
and explore our relationship with them,
with you holding a mirror to the world
(or a world to the mirror)
presented these everyday things back to us
–along with Marilyn and Elvis–
in repeated rows and columns:
(and again in columns and rows)
like products lined up on store shelves,
with wildpop pinks oranges neons of NYC,
showing us our world reflected,
popped by inflected,
neither accepted nor rejected,
laid out so they can be inspected
with someone else’s eyes.

Verklempt

Hours of training
they stumbled, fell,
but got up
and kept trying

Seemed like months
until we got it right

In their first performance
before an audience,
my flea circus excelled

Acrobatics, tightrope walks,
chariot races, high jumps

I watch them, verklempt
prideful, joyful tears
on my cheeks