Blade and Staff for Hire – a throwback to adventure fantasy

My latest book Blade and Staff for Hire launches this week, and I’m so excited to share it with you all!

Bayan Avanar is a warrior of whom the bards sing. He travels the lands, seeking his promised bride and slaying monsters with a fiery spellblade.

After two years of searching, Bayan arrives in sunny Leon and at last finds clues pointing to the girl he has only seen in visions. Accompanied by a young half-elf healer Charles Whitmore, who joins him in his quest for a wife, Bayan must confront the monsters in his path if he is to rescue the girl of his dreams. 

Kesara Francesa has dreamed of her dark warrior for months and is terrified that he brings her death. But this dark warrior is her only hope, for her time is running out: on Midsummer’s Night she is to be sacrificed to raise an ancient god. Only Bayan Avanar, legendary warrior, can save her now.

Contains: No smut, soulmates, best friends, bros on a road trip, damsel in distress, ghouls, wyverns, evil sorceress, evil werewolves, friendly centaurs, setting is Fantasy Spain.

Available in most online bookstores!


Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, but most fantasy has gone from being action adventure with guys and strong friendships to being:

  • Girrrl power
  • Too heavy on romance
  • Grimdark
  • Hopeless
  • Not funny
  • Like seriously, let these characters crack a joke

So I set out to write the kind of fantasy I wanted to read. I wanted to read about a warrior and his healer sidekick on a quest … but not to save the world. They’re on a quest for wives. Bayan has visions of the girl the gods intend for him, while Charles is just out to marry the most beautiful girl in Leon. Along the way, they fight monsters and an evil sorceress, and bring along another mage who is a total magic nerd. There are wisecracks. There is peril and more wisecracks. My beta readers asked for a sequel at once. My editor said “it’s like a more wholesome Witcher”.

So if you’d like to read something light, instead of the grimdark that plagues the genre, this might be the book for you. Available on most stores!

Book review: The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff

You ever read a book that sticks in your mind as being full of shining things? I know this is an older book, but … gosh, this book did things to my mind.

First off, it’s the sequel to the Eagle of the Ninth. Eagle is a story about a young Roman centurion whose father was part of the Ninth Legion, which marched away into the north of Britain and never returned. He sets out on a quest to find the eagle of the Ninth, which was the legion’s standard, and in the hands of the Britons, could be turned into a dangerous magic talisman against Rome. He’s accompanied by his slave turned best friend, Esca, a Briton who knows the tribes and languages. It’s a total bromance book and was great fun.

A friend told me that the Silver Branch’s main character is basically my character Jayesh from my After Atlantis books. Curious, I picked it up and started reading.


The Roman province of Britannia, 292 AD

Justin is an introverted, awkward young military surgeon. His family line, Aquila, has been connected to Britannia for two hundred years, but he has never set foot there till now. A Celtic leader named Curoi, called Carausius in Latin, has declared himself emperor of Britannia and the northern part of Gaul; he has gained temporary recognition from actual Emperor Maximian in honor of Carausius’ sea victories. (By now, the Roman Empire has become a Tetrarchy).

Justin is immediately befriended by a red-headed soldier named Flavius—who turns out to be his cousin, Marcellus Flavius Aquila, direct descendant of Marcus from The Eagle of the Ninth. Flavius is thrilled to meet a kinsman from the Continental branch of the family, and both lads live at the ancestral homestead Marcus and Cottia built when they’re not in the barracks.

One of those whom Justin heals in the infirmary is Evicatos, an exiled Hibernian (Irish) warrior. Cases like his demonstrate Justin’s skills as a doctor and bring him, and his inseparable cousin, to the notice of Carausius himself.

But when Justin and Flavius witness an apparent act of treachery by Carausius’ minister of finance, Allectus, the world as they know it is upended. It’s up to these two, their dignified great-aunt Honoria, Evicatos, a Hibernian jester, an idealistic Centurion, a fussy little man and the boy he rescued from slavery, a washed-up former gladiator, and a small group of elderly farmhands to restore order in Britannia… (Summary from a Goodreads review because the official summary on Amazon is trash)


Anyway, the book is more or less a cloak and dagger spy novel from about chapter 5 onward, with nailbiting tension as Justin and Flavius constantly watch for spies and shadows … And maybe it’s the writing that got to me. The way it’s written paints vivid pictures in your mind.

Everyone’s attention was turned toward the Emperor, who was at that moment preparing to pour the second Libation to the gods. Everyone, that is, save Justin and Allectus. For some unknown reason, Justin had glanced again at Allectus; and Allectus was watching the moth. The moth was circling wildly nearer and nearer to one of the lamps which stood directly before the Finance Minister, its blurred shadow flashing about the table as it swooped and spun in dizzy spirals about the bright and beckoning flame, closer and closer, until the wild, ecstatic dance ended in a burst of shadows, and the moth spun away on singed wings, to fall with a pitiful, maimed fluttering close beside Allectus’s wine-cup. And Allectus, smiling faintly, crushed out its life under one deliberate finger. That was all. Anybody would crush a singed moth—it was the obvious, the only thing to do. But Justin had seen the pale man’s face as he watched the dancing moth, waiting for it to dance too near, seen it in the unguarded instant as he stretched out the precise forefinger to kill.

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff

So yeah, I was expecting the cloak and dagger stuff. I wasn’t expecting it to tie into Eagle of the Ninth so beautifully.

Justin had complete faith from the first that the Eagle was what Flavius had guessed it to be, but if he had doubts, they would have left him that night as he worked in the sinking firelight with the soft sou’wester filling the night outside. The thing was strangely potent under his hands. What things it must have seen–bitter and dark and glorious things–this maimed bird of gilded bronze that was the life and honour of a lost Legion. And now, he thought, it must feel that the old days were back. Again there came to him as he worked that sense of kinship with the young soldier who had made a home in this downland valley, the young soldier who surely had brought the lost Eagle of a lost Legion home to its own people, so that Eagle and farm were linked, and it was fitting that the ancient Standard should go out from here to its last fight. The feeling of kinship was so strong that when, just as they had finished their task, someone loomed into the open doorway, he looked up almost expecting to see the other Marcus standing there with the windy dark behind him.

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff

There were so many moments like this that just kind of get into your head. But what I was not expecting was that finale, as the heroes fight to save their town from rampaging Saxons. Justin goes from bandaging wounds to fighting with sword and shield and back to tending the wounded. There’s a part where he’s sitting with a dying man as the building is burning down around them, telling him that the roar of the flame is really the crowd cheering for him … and I’m getting choked up just remembering it.

Anyway, yeah, this is a good book. And all the book covers try to make out that the Silver Branch is a sword. That’s because apparently nobody who ordered the covers had read the book. The Silver Branch is this odd little instrument like a harp, except it has bells instead of strings. It becomes this running symbol throughout the book, the silver branch with its bells, vs the night moth …

Go grab it on Amazon! It’s also on archive.org if you don’t mind reading crummy scanned versions.

Books I read in 2022

I read 31 books in 2022, all kinds of different oddball stuff. Here’s some of my reviews.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: Well duh, it’s Howl’s Moving Castle! It’s so good! It’s very different from the movie, too. The movie followed the book to the halfway point, then threw the book aside and wrote whatever the heck they wanted. The book is so much weirder!

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones. The sequel to Howl, but it starts off as an Arabian Nights story. Just as fun and fascinating.

The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard. I read this to the kids because I like it better than King Solomon’s Mines. Two brothers lose their fortunes and titles and go to Africa to make back their wealth. One brother dies, and the other, the hero, gets landed with a quest to rescue a girl from slavers. The woman who hires him promises him immeasurable wealth in the form of uncut rubies, which the tribe of her people keep secret, the People of the Mist. The hero rescues the girl from the slavers (there is much swashbuckling) and sort of accidentally marries her, except not. So now there’s all this tension between the guy and girl as they go on this quest to steal rubies from these horrible, horrible people way up in the mountains in African somewhere. It’s edge of your seat, swashbuckling, and the final escape down the side of a glacier on stone sleds is pretty much the best part of the book.

Starganauts by C.E. Stone. This book was okay. It’s very clean and Christian, appropriate for homeschoolers and teens. I found the stuff on the desert planet pretty slow, but it picks up once they get their armor.

Nomads of the North by James Oliver Curwood. As a kid, I watched the Disney movie of this book a million times. I think it’s called Niki, Wild Dog of the North. I had no idea that the author of Kazan and Baree, Son of Kazan had written it. Wonderful book, wonderful story, with an ending that tied it all up in a perfect bow. Sitting here with a few happy tears, actually.

Ronnie Akkard and the Brotherhood of Blades, by AC Williams. This was a tough read. The book reads like the first half is missing. What are the armors? How did they get them? The rules of the world aren’t told to the reader. We’re left to fumble around in confusion for the first twenty or so chapters. We meet a bunch of characters who hate each other … and why are they together? Who are they? The second half of the book sort of details it, but … there are layers of things that aren’t explained, like the incident in Texas, and Barb. That happened in the missing front half of the book, but it’s important at the end. Is there a short story that introduced the armors and the tiger and the samurai mentor from another dimension? Something that explains the bad guy robot things? If there is, read that first. I was so confused for this entire book.

Linnets and Valarians by Elizabeth Goudge. This is a beautiful, wonderful book. I just read it aloud to my kids and we loved it. JK Rowling cited it as one of her inspirations, along with the same author’s other book, The Little White Horse. In Linnets, you will find a man with a pet owl, an antagonist named Tom Biddle, and a cat who is not what he seems. There is black magic and white magic, and children having to do homework. It’s not a magical school, but this book is entirely magical.

Holes by Louis Sachar. You take a bad boy, you make him dig holes all day in the sun, you turn him into a good boy. At least, that’s what the warden of Camp Green Lake says. But the hero thinks maybe the Warden is searching for something … Always a great read, so fun to read aloud to the kids.

Salvage in Space by Jack Williamson (short story). This is a story like Alien, but older, and much more positive. If you like space ships haunted by monstrous aliens, this is a very fun read.

The King’s Spell and the King’s Enchantress by EJ Kitchens. I wrote a long review post for these.

Derwood, Inc, by Jerri Massi. I’ve loved this book since I was a kid, and my copy is very dogeared. I recently read it to my kids, because they needed the Fifty-Ton, Mile-Long, Giant Killer Octopus in their lives. We laughed all the way through. We are always on the lookout for funny books, and this one fits the bill perfectly.

Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. Very fun books, kind of exhausting to read aloud because of the pages and pages of dialogue. My kids love this series.

How to Train your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell. Read this aloud to my kids and we had a lot of fun. The book was a lot better written than I expected, coming straight from Tracy West’s Dragon Masters books. The kids want me to read the whole series, so I may have my work cut out for me …

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. A friend of mine recommended the movie, The Eagle, as a solid, wholesome bromance. I haven’t enjoyed a good bromance in a while, so I watched the movie, and it was okay. Then I went and sampled the book on Amazon, and it was so much better than the movie. More emotional depth. But the sample ends before Marcus buys Esca, so I grabbed the book.

Oh my. If you enjoyed the movie at all, you’ll enjoy the book so much more. The bromance starts early and the book follows these bros on their quest to find the lost Roman Eagle standard. The book goes like this:

Characterization
Historical exposition
Funny thing

Repeat for the whole book. The funny things constantly took me by surprise. I’ve read so many dry historical fiction novels for school, it was a welcome change to read fun characters. I think I’ll pick up the rest of this author’s stuff, because I appreciate an author who can entertain and educate in equal measures.

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong. Wonderful kids book, like the kind they used to write. I’ve read a lot of DeJong’s books, my favorite being Along Came a Dog because it’s about a chicken, lol. This one is about the adventures a bunch of kids have while searching for wagon wheels to put on their school to make nests for storks. As the kids say these days, it’s very wholesome. They make friends and help people along the way. Mean Legless Janus has the best character arc, but as a kid, you don’t see it. As an adult, Janus’s change from a mean, depressed crippled guy to the leader of the village is amazing and refreshing. Highly recommend this book.

Power On by HL Burke. Good superhero adventure for teens. Fun powers, decent characters who grow on you, and just enough peril to keep things interesting. Oh, and invisible ferrets.

Watership Down by Richard Adams. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, Watership Down is a fantasy novel. The gang of buddy male rabbits, their epic quests, first for survival, then for mates, then to defeat the crazed General Woundwort, has all the hallmarks of an excellent fantasy novel. Once you get used to all the protagonists being rabbits, it’s such an excellent read.

The Hobbit, the Fellowship of the Ring, the Two Towers, Return of the King, by JRR Tolkien. Reading it aloud to the kids is kind of a chore, and the books get so dark toward the end. But at the same time, I realized that LOTR is actually a WWII spy novel. No wonder nobody’s ever duplicated it, haha.

The Shock of Night, the Shattered Vigil, the Wounded Shadow, by Patrick Carr. I wrote a long blog post review of these.

The Librarian of Crooked Lane by CJ Archer. A very odd mystery that was like watching a BBC period mystery series set in WW1, except with magic.

Sea and Soul by Shari Branning. Wrote a blog review for this one.

Of Ice and Roses by Heather M Elliot. This is a beautifully-written rendition of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. But it starts off with Cinderella, so it’s this kind of neat fairytale mashup. Gemma is a poor girl who catches the eye of a prince, who invites her to a week-long ball. Her stepmother (who is not wicked!) gives her an enchantment to create beautiful dresses, and over the course of the week, she and the prince fall in love. Classic fairytale stuff.
They get married and have their honeymoon–
Wait
Why is the snow queen attacking
Why is Gemma’s missing childhood friend Casper mixed up in it
Why has Gemma’s memory of him been altered
Why does her stepmother’s enchantment for making dresses also work to make cold-weather clothing
There are amazing tribal werewolves
Ice monsters
Casper must be rescued from the snow queen and I want to wrap him up in a warm blanket except he wouldn’t like it because the cold never bothered him anyway
Help
Why is this book so amazing

Fate and Fang by Shari Branning. This is a fun sidestory set in the Seer’s Gambit universe. The premise is like Person of Interest: you have Elliot Reed, who has visions of murder, and you have Tristan Quinn, the werewolf who tries to rescue the victims. There is lots of werewolfy brawling and fighting and killing of bad guys, and the bad guy is a really nasty sorcerer. I hope this becomes a whole series, because it’s too good to leave alone.

My 2022 life and creativity recap – what I’d like to achieve

Well, here we are at the end of 2022! As usual, the year went all kinds of crazy places I didn’t foresee, as years tend to do.

At the beginning of the year, my resolutions were to work in the yard and update my blog more. Ha. Ha.

Well, I worked in the yard, got it into good enough shape for the kids to play in. We got the terrible leak under the house fixed, which required a scorched-earth replumb of the entire house (it’s a doublewide so it’s not actually that difficult). However, the leak has led to the foundation shifting, so we have to get the trailer leveled NEXT. Ugh, cascading house repairs.

On the creativity front, I published three books in 2022:

Sanctuary is the eighth book in the After Atlantis series, which is sort of urban fantasy and superhero adjacent. Song of the Rose is Beauty and the Beast in space, and Stars and Ashes is Cinderella in space, same universe. They’re little novellas and I love them both dearly. Especially the giant stone spaceships that eat asteroids for fuel and argue with their pilots. Marek is the goodest boi frigate.

In June I started doing art commissions, and that consumed the rest of my year, all the way into November. I think I slightly over-committed, lol! I was totally burned out and closed commissions until March 2023.

I wrote an entire After Atlantis book that I had to scrap because it didn’t work. It didn’t work on so many levels. What it really is is the first book of the spinoff series I’ve been planning to write, where a kid and his robot companion solve mysteries in a world with superpowers. So I shelved it until I can ACTUALLY finish After Atlantis, then I will revisit Max and Zero and give them the series they want so badly.

Meanwhile, I sat down and wrote the REAL book nine, tentatively called Irregulars. It’s completely finished and just awaiting edits, and I’m quite happy with it. James is hunting the elemental aspects, as he was told to do in Mercurion. He has all of them except Air because the air elemental is dead. He reaches out to Jayesh, who in turn reaches out to the shard runner kids Jayesh befriended back in Bloodbound. Their efforts to befriend a girl with a nascent air aspect shard wind up taking them all kinds of fun places, eventually to the throne of the Emperor of Atlantis, himself. I’m hoping to publish that one first quarter 2023.

I also have a little sword and sorcery book in the hopper called Blade and Staff for Hire. It’s basically set in 1400s fantasy Spain, where a warrior with a huge sword and a young but powerful healer go on a road trip to find wives. Of course, finding girls isn’t that simple, and there winds up being all kinds of action and monster-slaying, and the warrior’s girl winds up being a delicate badass you just want to wrap in bubblewrap. The book just needs a couple of rounds of edits and it can hit the shelves, too. I just didn’t have the attention for it while trying to finish Irregulars.

So, for 2023, I want to get both of those books published. I’m writing the tenth and final book of After Atlantis, the big war for the Atlantean Islands that the series has been building to. I’m sorry, my readers who suffered through Sanctuary, it will all be worth it in books 9 and 10. 😀

Let’s see, resolutions for 2023 … I’d like to play more games with my kids and husband, maybe stream some. I need to get my oldest kid driving (screams in terror), and get this house finally fixed up. I also want to plant a big garden and do some canning this year. I don’t really want to plan anything more than that, because life is always so crazy and unpredictable. We’ll see how I did when I check in at the end of 2023!

Book review: The Librarian of Crooked Lane by CJ Archer

While browsing Hoopla, this little book kept being recommended to me. I scooped it up on a whim because hey, it’s free. It turned out to be very relaxed and very … odd.

Amazon summary:

A librarian with a mysterious past, a war hero with a secret, and the heist of a magic painting. THE LIBRARIAN OF CROOKED LANE is an intriguing new fantasy from C.J. Archer, the USA Today bestselling author of the Glass and Steele series.

Librarian Sylvia Ashe knows nothing about her past, having grown up without a father and a mother who refused to discuss him. When she stumbles upon a diary that suggests she’s descended from magicians, she’s skeptical. After all, magicians are special, and she’s just an ordinary girl who loves books. She seeks the truth from a member of the most prominent family of magicians, but she quickly learns that finding the truth won’t be easy, especially when he turns out to be as artless as her, and more compelling and dangerous than books.

War hero Gabe is gifted with wealth, a loving family, and an incredible amount of luck that saw him survive four harrowing years of a brutal war without injury. But not all injuries are visible. Burying himself in his work as a consultant for Scotland Yard, Gabe is going through the motions as he investigates the theft of a magician-made painting. But his life changes when he unwittingly gets Sylvia dismissed from her job and places her in danger.

After securing her new employment in a library housing the world’s greatest collection of books about magic, Gabe and Sylvia’s lives become entwined as they work together to find both the painting and the truth about Sylvia’s past before powerful people can stop them.

But sometimes the past is better left buried…


So this book is very odd and slow-paced. It’s set in post-WWI London, in a world where there are magician craftsmen who create more beautiful things than nonmagicals do, to the point where they have to be under a luxury goods tax. But the story is a mystery about a girl who gets mixed up in the robbery of a magical painting.

While accompanying the handsome yet enigmatic detective around on his search for suspects and clues, they go the oddest places and meet the oddest characters. I felt like I was watching a BBC period drama. The kind where the detective interviews artists with the nude model in the background, and everyone drinks alcohol like it’s soda pop.

It’s very slow paced and not much violence. In fact, the book lamely tries to make up for its lack of violence by having false cliffhanger chapter endings. “And suddenly a dark shadow came up behind me … Next chapter: Hi! said my friend.” Aside from that annoyance, the story was what cozy mysteries used to be. Just the amateur sleuth talking to people and going interesting places. I read it every night before bed and it helped me relax and get sleepy, while giving me a few more clues and suspects to think about. It was just a pleasant read. I don’t know if I’m invested enough to read the second book, but I think other folks might be.

Grab the book here!

Rest painting finally available as a print

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people asking for this little painting as a print. Unfortunately, I painted it about 3 computers ago in art software I no longer have. So I sat down and repainted it.

waterfall, robin, nest, birch, tree, rest, peace, netraptor

“Two painters were once asked to paint a picture illustrating his own idea of rest. The first chose for his scene a quiet, lonely lake, nestled among mountains far away. The second, using swift, broad strokes on his canvas, painted a thundering waterfall. Beneath the falls grew a fragile birch tree, bending over the foam. On its branches, nearly wet with the spray from the falls, sat a robin on its nest.

The first painting was simply a picture of stagnation and inactivity. The second, however, depicted rest.” –Henry Drummond

Print finally available here!

Book review: The Darkwater Saga by Patrick W. Carr

A friend of mine has been talking up this series by Patrick Carr for a long time. I kept brushing her off and going, “Eh, I don’t feel like reading a fantasy trilogy right now.” The last one I read, Seventh Born, kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. Also, I have a bad habit of reading only book 1 of everything.

Then we got to talking about wounded heroes, and characters who carry on despite their wounds and flaws, and ultimatly overcome and triumph. My friend assured me that the hero in Darkwater was that kind of hero. I ventured into the depths of my library’s Hoopla system, and lo and behold, they had the whole trilogy (except for the prequel novella, more on that in a minute).

So I started reading. I’ve spent the last month reading this trilogy like I was popping salted peanuts. So here is my review, so you, too, might want to read them:

The first book is really that prequel novella, By Divine Right, where the King’s Reeve (aka detective) Willet Dura sniffs out a bad guy in the king’s court who is stealing magic gifts. In reward for finding and killing this guy, Willet is given a title and the hand of the noblewoman Gael in marriage, but it also makes his name mud in the royal court. This is where book 1 starts off.

Actual book 1:

The Shock of Night

Amazon summary:

The Darkwater Claims All Who Enter It.
All But One.

When one man is brutally murdered and the priest he works for mortally wounded, Willet Dura, reeve to the king of Bunard, is called to investigate. As he begins to question the dying priest, the man pulls Willet close and screams in a foreign tongue. Then he dies without another word.

Willet returns to his task, but the clues to the crime lead to contradictions and questions without answers, and his senses are skewed. People he touches appear to have a subtle shift, as though he can divine their deepest thoughts. In a world divided between haves and have-nots, gifted and common, Willet soon learns he’s been passed the rarest gift of all–a gift that’s not supposed to exist.

Now Willet must pursue the murderer still on the loose in Bunard even as he’s pulled into a dangerous conflict that threatens not only his city, but his entire world–a conflict  that will force him to come to terms with his inability to remember how he escaped the Darkwater Forest–and what happened to him inside it. 


So if you hadn’t guessed, this is a mystery story set in a fantasy world. I’ve wanted to read something like this since Harry Potter tried it, and it was a pleasant surprise to realize I was following around a detective. It really clobbers you with the worldbuilding and magic system at first, so I felt like I was drowning in the first few chapters. And then Willet gets his magic gift from the dying dude, and then it really gets wonky for a while. I kept asking my friend, “Does it get less weird?” She assured me that it gets better if I’d just stick with it. So I did, and it does settle down a bit once he understands his power. He can basically touch people and see all their memories. Trouble is, do this too much and you can go insane, so he has to learn the rules of his power.

Further trouble: there is a secret society of mind-readers called the Vigil, and they really don’t want him in there with him. See, Willet has a vault in his mind–a locked scroll of secrets that was placed there by something in the Darkwater Forest. At night, this vault opens … sometimes. Most people become murdering rage-puppets for this … thing in the Darkwater. But Willet doesn’t, and the question of why drives the entire trilogy.

Anyway, the thing that murdered the priest in the beginning is coming for the rest of the city, and book 1 is about thwarting it. It ends with a fantasy Christmas celebration that is about the most terrifying solstice celebration ever. And it ends with even more questions being asked, and a bunch of stuff getting revealed. I went and checked out book 2 at once.

Book 2:

The Shattered Vigil

Amazon summary:

Victory over the dark forces during the feast of Bas-solas should have guaranteed safety for the continent. Instead, Willet and the rest of the Vigil discover they’ve been outsmarted by those seeking to unleash the evil that inhabits the Darkwater. Jorgen, the member of the Vigil assigned to Frayel, has gone missing, and new attacks have struck at the six kingdoms’ ability to defend themselves.

Just when the Vigil thought they had quenched the menace from their enemy in Collum, a new threat emerges: assassins hunting the Vigil, men and women who cannot be seen until it’s too late. The orders of the church and the rulers of the kingdoms, fearing the loss of the Vigil’s members altogether, have decided to take them into protective custody to safeguard their gift. On Pellin’s orders, the Vigil scatters, leaving Willet to be taken prisoner by the church in Bunard.

In the midst of this, Willet learns of the murder of an obscure nobleman’s daughter by one of the unseen assassins. Now he must escape his imprisonment and brave the wrath of the church to find the killer in order to turn back this latest threat to the northern continent.


In this book, the Vigil goes from being Willet’s antagonists to being his allies. Mostly because of the invisible assassins that can only be seen by children. Each of the Vigil basically adopts one of the street urchins from book 1, and these kids wind up being pretty much the best characters in the book. Anyway, the Vigil split up to figure out what the heck is happening and who is sending the assassins. More detective work, more mysteries with Willet’s vault.

Early on, you find out that the priest who heard Willet’s confessions was a figment of his broken mind. Willet finds this out and is humiliated and sad. I was humiliated and sad for him.

But then … uh … the guy ISN’T a figment and winds up being SUPER DUPER IMPORTANT.

Also Willet gets a dog. A very big telepathic magic dog who is the Goodest Boi.

If you can’t tell, I’m trying not to spoil a billion twists and turns.

ANYWAY MOVING ON TO BOOK 3.

The Wounded Shadow

Amazon summary:

The kings and queens of the northern continent lay siege to the Darkwater Forest, desperate to contain its evil. But rumors of gold and aurium have lured deserters and the desperate into its shadow, creating a growing army held in its sway. Desperate after the death and dissolution of their greatest ally, Willet and the Vigil seek the truth of what lies at the heart of the evil they face. They delve the mind of an old enemy and find an answer far worse than they could have imagined.

Danger stalks the cities of the north, striking at the rulers of the kingdoms. As Willet and the rest of the Vigil seek to find answers, the group is scattered with an ever-growing darkness around them. Will they discover a path to keep their land safe, or will an ancient evil reclaim the world it once called its own?


As you can tell by the shortness of this summary, there’s a lot to give away and a lot to spoil. Let me hit the highlights:

One of the urchins discovers how to make the invisible assassins back into human beings.

They learn how to break Willet’s vault without killing him.

The priest who heard Willet’s confession is a freaking fae.

The thing in the Darkwater is satisfyingly weird and horrifying.

What happened to Willet in the Darkwater is satisfyingly weird and horrifying.

There is a happy ending and Willet gets his happily ever after.

Looking back over the books in my mind, I just feel so satisfied and happy with how they turned out. For one thing, although this is a Christian fantasy series, it doesn’t beat you over the head with any sort of altar call. Instead, the characters debate theology the whole time. The Vigil are all priests, and they’re kind of entrenched in religion and prayers and catechism. Now pair them with street urchins who live by their wits and have only seen the church go near them to maybe do last rites, if they’re lucky. The kids run the gamut of outright atheism to “I believe in God but I don’t like him”. And seeing these kids clash their life experience into the Vigil with all their training and very little practical life experience is fascinating.

And then you have Willet Dura, who would have been a priest except for getting drafted in a war and winding up in the Darkwater Forest. He’s a liability to everybody because the Darkwater is probably listening to them through him. They want to break his vault and kill him, but they need his skills too badly. Poor Willet believes in God but he also struggles with his own PTSD hell. He’s also the kind of self-sacrificing kind. “Well, the only way to get the truth is to throw myself into the lion’s den, so here I go.” His sarcastic bodyguard, Bolt, is one of the best characters, always getting mad at Willet for doing stupidly heroic things.

There are all kinds of pictures of faith and mercy and hope in these books. Sometimes a fantasy series just leaves you feeling tired and beaten up, but this trilogy left me feeling uplifted. Goodness and right did triumph at the end, all the way down to Willet overcoming the petty bully in court who had pushed him around for the first book.

Five stars, highly recommend. Go grab them on Amazon or your library!

Using AI to make art

AI making art has been incredibly controversial. And I mean raging, frothing, screaming masses. I’ve been doing some reading and investigating, myself. Especially since deviantArt introduced an AI function (and trained it on DA’s library of 5 billion artworks without the permission of the artists). Oh, they’ve added an opt-out checkbox NOW, but yeah, they already scraped everybody’s art, whoops.

What these AI do is look at a ton of artworks, usually on Google image search. They ‘learn’ from those artworks and spit out something that looks like them. Similar, but different. It’s not just an aggregate of various artists, as so many artists claim. You use them to make art by typing in keywords, the more specific the better, and the AI tries to make something out of those keywords.

Now, in past versions of, say, Stable Diffusion, they did allow people to type in “in the style of [artist]”. This means that, like it or not, the AI really was studying these artists and making ripoffs of their work. But the developers smelled litigation in the wind and took out the option to target artists. The artists’ work is still in the AI library, it’s just harder to get at. (I’ve noticed you can still tell it “in the style of [cartoon, TV show, comic, etc.]” and it will work.)

Artists are threatened by this. “If a computer can make any art in any style, what’s the point of me spending thousands of hours developing my artistic skills?”

Well, they said Photoshop would replace physical painting, too. Instead, it became another tool that people use to communicate. That’s what art is. Communication. If you combine your refined art skills with AI, you can go interesting places.

My husband recently installed Stable Diffusion on his PC and downloaded some AIs for it that had been trained on various anime libraries. If you want to do the same thing, the files and instructions are here. But only my husband’s brick of a gaming PC could run it. My little laptop choked and died of memory errors.

Anyway, I started playing around with it. I wanted to make some character costume concepts that weren’t ripped directly from a videogame somewhere. Here’s a few concepts. I had used the prompts “handsome man, overcoat, black coat, spiky hair, armor, character sheet”.

These are some of the nicer ones that didn’t have any obvious AI glitches, like screwed up faces or too many legs. And wow, can it get hands wrong. But I just wanted some costume designs, and it delivered some pretty nice ones.

Then I decided I wanted to generate a landscape and paint over it. So I input the keywords, “Forest, red leaves, Greek ruins, steps, pillars”.

Ahah, that last one had the composition I was looking for. I like the second to last one, too, it’s a bit more moody. I might do something with that later.

Anyway, I just drew my own characters into the scene and repainted about 90% of the image.

Suddenly I have a new tool in my arsenal. I can make concept art of my books and locations. (Concept art is traditionally rough and cobbled-together anyway, just something to capture a concept or a mood.) So I’m going to keep playing with this new toy, and learning it, and I’m going to produce new stuff with it. Oh, and have a cute Jayesh my husband made for me.

The death of blogging has been greatly exaggerated

Blogging used to be a hot thing. Everybody and their dog had a blog, and people wrote about every topic under the sun. Searching the internet for information usually landed you on somebody’s blog somewhere.

Then social media came along. “Blogging is dead,” they assured us. “Nobody uses those old things anymore.” Then social media sites throttled down on outside links. They made sure that nobody saw those blog post links anymore. No, people needed to stay in the walled garden of social media, where they could be controlled and profited off of.

Meanwhile, blogs kept going, but fewer people wrote them, just because it was harder to get engagement. But you started getting the SEO farms, where advertisers dictated certain formats for blog posts to catch the attention of search engines. You see it on recipe blogs where there is a ton of meaningless drivel before you get to the recipe, all of it repeating the same information in different ways. How to make X, what ingredients are in X, what’s the nutrition in X, what’s the history of X, why should I make X. It’s like a bastardized version of Pioneer Woman’s photo blogs.

As time went on, those SEO farms got bigger and bigger. AI tools like this one popped up, letting you generate quasi-intelligent-sounding articles about anything with the click of a button.

When I was doing my research on magnetic fields for my previous blog post, I kept running into idiotic SEO-farm AI articles. You can tell them because they start with what sounds like a decent article. But further down the page, they repeat the same information with different headings.

It looks all official and stuff, but it reads like a drunken monkey just typed the same phrases over and over. By the way, all of this is repeated from stuff the article already said. It just repeats itself over and over, the way idiot AI do.

But why should people bother to generate these garbage articles and flood search engines with this crap?

Because there’s money in it. A lot of money.

Search engines and the various other spiders that crawl the web click on everything. Set out a bunch of keywords that they like, and watch them come click on your cleverly-placed ads. Pretty soon the whole internet will be robots writing articles and robots clicking on the ads in the articles, while the three humans running the websites get rich.

It’s madness.

But it’s also a sign that blogging isn’t dead and it never was.

Magnetic field musings

Every so often, I start reading about magnetic fields and thinking about science fiction concepts.

I was reading this article about what might happen to the animals if the magnetic poles reverse, and I found this interesting tidbit:

Numerous experiments undertaken by him and others since then have shown that many living things avail themselves of the magnetic field. Organisms as diverse as hamsters, salamanders, sparrows, rainbow trout, spiny lobsters, and bacteria all do it. “I would go so far as to say that it’s nearly ubiquitous,” says John Phillips, a behavioral biologist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University who himself has detected this ability in everything from fruit flies to frogs. (There’s no scientific evidence that humans have this “sixth sense,” though curiously, our brains do contain magnetite, the mineral thought to aid other animals’ brains in detecting the field.) (Emphasis mine)

I started poking around, looking for articles about what magnetic fields do to the human body. This article says generally, nothing, but there has been some correlation between sickness in humans and living in proximity to high-tension powerlines.

There’s also problems with what happens if people move too much during an MRI:

An MRI scanner is essentially a big magnet that produces a powerful magnetic field of around 3 tesla (or 3 million microtesla) — millions of times larger than the fields we’re normally exposed to. But because it’s a static magnetic field, MRI scanners don’t exert any noticeable effect on the body. That would change, however, if the patient inside the scanner were to rapidly move his or her head back and forth.

“Moving quickly induces a time-varying field, so by doing that you are inducing currents in different structures of your brain,” says Legros. Those currents may lead to nausea, loss of balance, a metallic taste in your mouth, or in some cases, magnetophosphenes.

I’ve heard other stuff about humans and magnetic fields, but I’ll be darned if I can find any sources for it. I’ll list it here, and just take it with a grain of salt.

Apparently humans get headaches and nausea if they’re isolated from the earth’s magnetic field for too long.

I saw a video of a fox pouncing in the snow to find mice. The photographer observed that the fox had better luck catching mice when he was oriented north/south.

Mammal brains have a particular electronic resonance at a certain frequency. This resonance is compatible with plant life and makes plants grow better when they are around animals and people. This seems to be what’s happening in the Mythbuster episode Talking to Plants, where they had greenhouses with recordings of voices talking nice to plants, voices cursing plants, heavy metal music, and silence. Heavy metal grew the biggest plants, but the ones with voices also thrived more than the ones with silence.

(And not being able to find sources for this is driving me nuts, but the internet is a cesspool of new agers selling magnetic bracelets, or SEO farms with AI-generated articles.)

Anyway, all this is more or less a springboard for some science fiction worldbuilding. Just say, in general, humans are attuned to Earth’s magnetic field and we need it to live and be healthy. Now, let’s talking about Jupiter’s magnetic field.

There’s a band of red near the north pole where the force lines emerge, but there are two blue areas, one near the equator that researchers dubbed “The Great Blue Spot” where they re-enter as well as another blue area near the south pole, in essence giving it two south poles. A large part of the magnetic field also appears to be concentrated in the northern hemisphere instead of being evenly distributed between the poles.

“It’s a baffling puzzle,” Kimberly Moore, a planetary scientist at Harvard University and first author of the study tells Ryan F. Mandelbaum at Gizmodo. “Why is it so complicated in the northern hemisphere but so simple in the southern hemisphere?”

Jupiter’s magnetic field is super weird and has two south poles

Jupiter’s field is so strong that it tends to short out probes we send to check it out. That’s why NASA tends to send more probes to Saturn than Jupiter, even though Jupiter is closer.

What might that do to humans who colonized those moons? Would a stronger field drive us mad or give us cancer? What if it made us smarter and stronger?

Now extrapolate that out. There’s lots of gas giants in the neighborhood of our solar system, and they all have loads of moons to live on. Imagine one gas giant that makes people super smart, and we built universities there. Imagine there was one that granted superpowers. Imagine there was one that enabled us to teleport, or “go between” as they did in Dragonriders of Pern. Imagine there was one planet that caused humans to go mad, without exception, and people avoided it like the plague.

Has anybody written books like this? And if not, I think I might have to write them.