Posted on June 28th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Today’s review is for His Ragged Company: A Testimony of Elias Faust by Rance D. Denton. Before we get into it today I have a few disclosures and disclaimers.
Disclosure 1, this is an ARC review. As such, you may experience slight differences in the final product versus what I have in front of me.
Disclosure 2, this is an ARC review. I was sent this book early for free for the purposes of review. This does not change my opinion of the book. As always, my opinions are my own.
Disclouser 3, I consider Rance to be something of a friend. He recently co-hosted my Release Day Livestream for Courting the Dragon. This also does not change my opinion of the book.
Finally, I have a disclaimer. This is not my usual genre. When I read a western, it’s usually of the romantic variety. I think I’ve seen one spaghetti western movie in my lifetime and I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch Tombstone.
Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s get into the review.
About the Author
Honestly, you’re better off just reading the bio in the back of the book. Anyway, here’s my hacked together summary: Rance D. Denton lives in Maryland with his wife and their furbabies. When he’s not writing, he can be found doing all sorts of other interesting things, such as martial arts and historical re-enactment. You can frequently find him on Twitter and co-hosting The Quarantine Book Club podcast.
About the Book
I think the best way to describe the genre of His Ragged Company is as a Western with a big smack of Fantasy in the middle. According to Kobo, the book is approximately 119K long, which makes it a bit of a chonk. Be ready to commit some time if you pick this baby up. On release day it will be available in paperback from Amazon and eBook from Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo, as well as other associated retailers. It is written in English and I am not aware of any plans for translation on audio adaptation (although I think Rance could totally knock that out of the park himself if so inclined).
I feel like the cover does a pretty good job of conveying the mix of genres at play in the book. It depicts a Sandshade, a fantasy creature that plays a prominent role in the story, as well as what I assume to be Elias Faust fleeing on horseback. The typography is fun, almost playful, and leans in to that western-y genre vibe. I haven’t seen the full paperback wrap, so I can’t comment on that. I give the eBook cover 5 teaspoons.
There were no major formatting issues in the ePub that I was given. It all worked just fine in my Apple iBooks. Since I haven’t see the paperback layout I won’t be able to speak to that. I will have to include this one in my big ARC follow-up post sometime this fall.
For now, I give design a tentative 5 teaspoons.
You can read the full blurb here but I’m going to do my best to sum up the premise. Elias Faust is a town Marshall for a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Texas. His usual solution for problems tend to involve a lot of bullets, which gets him in to trouble when he kills the wrong man and pisses off a wizard, thereby getting himself drawn into supernatural battle for a source of power that lies beneath the town’s feet. To protect the people of Blackpeak, Elias must make some deals with some devils.
There’s some pretty classic story elements at play here, but they’re blended in a way that piqued my interest almost immediately.
5 teaspoons for premise.
Denton provides us with quite a cast. The main character of course is the town Marshall, Elias Faust who is the narrator of the story. He’s cynical, stubborn, and has his own sense of justice, which he metes out as he sees fit in the backwards little town of Blackpeak. The interesting thing about Faust is that he is not exactly what you would imagine for a traditional “hero.” He’s rough, foul-mouthed, and spends a very large chunk of the book getting his butt kicked.
Along for much of the butt-kicking is the Marshall’s deputy, Grady Cicero, who doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean record with the law, either.
Much of the rest of the cast are also painted in shades of moral gray. Miss Garland, who runs a fight pit. Eliza Fulton, who is pushed beyond the limits a mother should have to endure. Just to name a few. In truth, there is almost no one in Blackpeak that could honestly claim to be a “good guy.” Most of them are just “good enough” trying to survive out in the middle of nothing while the rest are just oppontunists and thieves, such as the “mayor” Kallum.
Magnate Gregdon is the main villain for the book, although Faust certainly deals with a variety of antagonists throughout the course of the tale. Through it all, Gregdon is pulling the strings, corralling Faust towards a doom of his design. The Magnate is a surprisingly multifaceted character, with layers of motivations that are peeled back for the reader as Faust discovers them.
5 teaspoons for characters.
Blackpeak felt like a real little town. It was just populated enough with named characters to feel lived in. I could imagine the dust and the heat and the misery punctuated by moments of laughter and blood. The worldbuilding on the western side of the book was fantastic.
I feel like there’s a lot of worldbuilding for the fantasy side of the book that went on behind the scenes that never made it onto the page. I really want to know more about the Well and the Heralds and these fantastical elements that the book introduces. Denton has given us a taste of the whiskey; I want the rest of the bottle.
5 teaspoons for worldbuilding.
This book took me for a ride. There were a few lulls in the action early on that gave me a chance to breath but once it hit the midpoint it was like being on a speeding train with no exits. Faust went from the frying pan into the fire and then was rolled in the coals for good measure. It kept me guessing, which I really appreciate.
4 teaspoons for plot.
In some ways the vibe of the book reminded me a bit of The Gunslinger. Only in vibe though. Denton’s writing is very different. It’s course, almost choppy at times in a good way, in a way that fits the narration of Elias Faust as a character. And yet, at times it is almost poetic. I will say, if you can’t stand swearing or honest assessments of the human condition, this is probably not going to be the book for you.
There are a few places where the prose is what I would call intentionally confusing. I could see this being a turn-off for some readers but I would strongly encourage pushing through those sections. It’s a clear stylistic choice that reflects the narrator’s state of mind and being in those moments. It wasn’t my favorite thing but I understand the choice.
I largely felt like the action scenes were well-written. There is some amount of descriptive gore, although to compare to The Dark Tower books again, I don’t think I’ll be having any nightmares from this one.
I give the writing 4 teaspoons.
I really enjoyed His Ragged Company. I’ve been reading so much fantasy romance that it really provided a nice change of pace for me, personally. It was also just a wild, wild ride in the wild, wild west. I really loved the overall voice of protagonist.
There are some things that I would consider loose threads. There are sort of these interludes where Faust is being questioned by someone–something–hence the subtitle “A Testimony of Elias Faust.” I don’t feel like these interludes were really explained, exactly. I’m hoping for a sequel that will clear up some of the hanging mysteries and expand on the worldbuilding that was begun in this volume.
All in all, I give the book 4.5 teaspoons, which I will be rounding up on sites that require whole star ratings.
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Posted on June 25th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped make the launch of Courting the Dragon a success.
First, the livestream was a blast. If you missed it, you can watch the recording of it here. It wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without my co-host, Rance Denton. If you haven’t already, check out his book, which is launching on July 2nd. He also has a podcast called the Quarantine Book Club, which you can find on iTunes and other fine streaming services.
I also want to thank my husband, Matt for his willingness to mod for the stream chat (not that it was needed, because y’all were awesomely well-behaved. No trolls!). Also, the Stream Deck he bought me was infinitely useful.
Then there’s the ARC readers who have not only left reviews, but cross-posted them like true superheroes. Y’all are awesome and I really, really appreciate your efforts. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book!
And of course, everyone who participated in the livestream, the giveaway, and who bought the book during pre-release or on launch day. You all are amazing. I couldn’t do all this without all of your amazing support.
If I forgot anybody, let me know in the comments!
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Posted on June 18th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
News, Release Announcements
We’re getting really down to the wire on the release party for Courting the Dragon! Just two days left! So here are some updates on that if you haven’t been following along on all the socials.
The Most Important Details:
Who: Me, your host and my esteemed co-host, Author Rance Denton.
When: June 20th @ 5PM EDT
Where: YouTube Live
The Livestream will include:
- Giveaway drawing
- Chapter readings
I’ve been brushing up on my Livestreaming skills, so hopefully this event will be one for the books! Even if you can’t stick around for the whole thing, I hope you’ll consider popping in and saying hello! Audience participation through the stream chat, Twitter and FB event page is greatly encourage. If you have questions you want to ask, but you won’t be able to make the Livestream, tweet them now through Sunday and we’ll try to include them in the recorded Q&A.
Oh, and if you haven’t entered the giveaway yet, there’s still time. Find my pinned posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for details on how to enter. Check out this awesome grand prize if you need any more motivation!
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Posted on June 15th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Today’s belated review is of Thief of Spring. Katherine Macdonald teased this book for some damn long on Twitter I thought I was going to lose my mind waiting for it. So of course I snagged up an ARC basically immediately and am reviewing it for you here despite the fact that I literally just reviewed an ARC for Of Snow and Scarlet a few weeks ago. I have so many thoughts so let’s get into it. As always these views are opinions are my own and I am not being compensated for this review–I simply had access to the book early.
Heads up, there’s a (very minor, in my opinion) spoiler in the Worldbuilding section, so read at your own discretion.
OH. MY. GOSH. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Let me just say that Rebecca F. Kenney does some of the most gorgeous covers I have ever seen. Just… just look at it! It’s so rich in detail without overwhelming the text or making it difficult to read. The font is just… ugh. It’s so pretty. I notice something new literally every time I look at it. It KILLS me to know I still have to wait a while for the paperback.
Side note, I have a cover I bought from Kenney for an upcoming WIP (which one is a secret) and it is also to die for. Seriously, if you’re an indie looking for an affordable and gorgeous cover for fantasy/romance/speculative type stuff, check out Kenney’s work. She’s also a very gifted storyteller herself and has some awesome stuff on her Patreon, so check her out here.
5 teaspoons for exterior cover.
I have a digital ARC that is not the final formatting, so I’m going to skip this section at this time. I’ll give an update once I have a physical copy. There’s going to be a few books I need to do this for, so I may just do one big post of ARC follow-ups. I don’t expect there to be any issues; I have yet to see major formatting problems in any of Macdonald’s books.
This is one of the things that really got me. Of course this is a Hades and Persephone retelling (of which there are fifty million out there) but Macdonald brings her own twist to it by blending Greek mythology with the fairies of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. It’s a fascinating mash-up that really drew me in. Also, the idea of Hades as some poor, tortured young man is also a twist (although I have seen similar Hades-is-misunderstood type retellings numerous times). 5 teaspoons for Premise.
As she so often does, Macdonald gives us a sweet, tortured soul of a love interest for our main character to swoon over. Slowly. Very slowly. Hades is a sweet young man with a lot of pain in his past. Frankly, I think it’s amazing he’s turned out as well as he has, given his upbringing. He was a delight to read about, especially when trying to get around the whole fae-can’t-lie problem.
Early in the story I at times I found Persephone a little… I don’t know if grating is the right word. I did grow to like her as the story progressed. She definitely found some spunk and backbone that was initially missing. Her frantic hobbies while trapped in the Underworld were quite relatable.
The affection that develops between Sephy and Hades is sweet and believable. It–thankfully–lacks any strong Stockholm syndrome-y feelings that can be common in retellings of this particular myth.
The side cast was also very interesting. I really want more of Hades’s relationship with his brother Ares. I really hope to see that developed on more in the sequel.
Characters are 4 teaspoons for me.
The whole faeries meets greek gods thing actually really, really worked. I was surprised at how well that worked. It was believable that these names of gods would become titles passed down from one fae to the next. I also liked how some of the old tales are sort of subverted, especially with Hera knocking out Zeus to become Zera.
The elements of the worldbuilding that I think I struggled with the most was how seemingly too easy life in the Underworld was at times. I don’t think there was enough consequences to the magic that Hades was using.
I give worldbuilding 4 teaspoons.
I think this is the one place where the book was a bit of a let down for me. The major events of the plot are awesome. There’s plenty of surprises and twists. However, much of this book moved at a snail’s pace for me. Unlike previous works of Macdonald’s that devoured in a day and had trouble setting down, I frequently found myself struggling to focus on Thief of Spring.
The romance is definitely slow-burn (I don’t think we get honest kisses till about 75% of the way through), and I can appreciate that. It just seems like the rest of the plot was also slow burn.
Plot for me is 3 teaspoons. It was entertaining at times, but my mind definitely wandered in a way it did not with Of Snow and Scarlet or A Song of Sea and Shore.
As always, Macdonald’s writing is beautiful and lyrical. She manages to bring me past something I am not a fan of, which is present tense (although 1st person present is far, far more palatable to me than 3rd. We’ll talk about that in a different review).
I’m not a huge fan of the pop culture references. Those have a way of aging a book that could otherwise be somewhat timeless. I don’t know, that’s a thing that’s just not for me.
Overall, I give the style and writing 4 teaspoons.
I don’t quite want to say that Thief of Spring was a 3 for me overall. It was definitely more than a 3, but when compared to other works by the same author it just didn’t stand up as well in my opinion. Averaging out my rankings and wrestling with myself, I have to give it a 4 but not the same ringing endorsement that I would give A Song of Sea and Shore or Of Snow and Scarlet. It’s good. It’s enjoyable. If you really, really love slow slow burn and books that are very focused on the actual romance and soft moments then you are going to love Thief of Spring.
Please don’t be mad at me, Twitter.
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Posted on June 7th 2021 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Today’s post is about Ascension of the Phoenix by Jessica Piro, and it’s going to be a little different than usual. I’m veering away from my established format to do something a little more… casual because technically… I DNFed the book. Now normally, when I DNF a book I don’t review it at all, but this book was specifically requested for me to do a review, so I am going to honor that and explain why I DNFed, and why don’t think that should stop you from reading and enjoying the book.
Let me start by saying that this book has a phenomenal premise, which is one of the reasons I agreed to review it despite it being outside of my literary comfort zone. I still think it is a really interesting premise; there were just too many things that broke immersion for me that may or may not break immersion for you.
From this point forward there are some minor spoilers, so please forge ahead at your own peril.
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