Books in the APOV Queue

I have a new feature for The Atheist’s Quill. At the moment, I am calling it Books in the Atheist’s Point of View Queue. Or maybe…Books in the APOV Queue. That’s rather long, isn’t it? How about just…

The APOV Queue

The idea is that not all books I read are by atheists or feature an atheist theme. So, I don’t often get time to read all the books I do want to read that are a good fit for this blog. Thus, the lack of content.

So, I thought, rather than wait for me to read and tell you what I did or didn’t like about a book (those reviews will come, I swear, they will), I thought I would list the books that are currently on my radar. If I have started them, I’ll let you in on my initial thoughts.

Here it goes…

The Atheist’s Prayer by Amy R. Biddle (Feb 2014)19139574

After a solar eclipse, nineteen people were found dead in a remote area of the California National Forest. They were lying in a circle, holding hands and wearing plastic fairy wings. Years later, on the other side of the country, no one in the southern city of Jefferson is concerned about fairies or fairy-worshiping suicide cults.

I started this book and enjoyed the writing, however, I stopped reading about 20% in. It’s a bit of a slow start. We get to meet all the characters individually, and frankly, nothing was happening. It was taking way too long to get to the cults, so I put it down. I may get back to it, maybe not. Maybe you’ll have more patience? Give it a try.

Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris (Sept 2014)18774981

For the millions of Americans who want spirituality without religion, Sam Harris’s new book is a guide to meditation as a rational spiritual practice informed by neuroscience and psychology.

I do plan on reading this one. I started it and was surprised at how honest and open Mr. Harris is with his own spiritual experiences. And while we die-hard skeptics hate to admit it, the human brain is set up to experience something. So, why can’t that something be meaningful to us? While I’m not entirely sure where he is going to end up with this book, I really liked the beginning. Give it a shot.

The Original Atheists: First Thoughts on Nonbelief by S.T. Joshi (Editor)

This is the first anthology ever published to feature the writings of leading eighteenth-century thinkers on the subjects of atheism, religion, freethought, and secularism.

I haven’t had a chance to crack this one open, but I’m very interested in learning what early thinkers thought of the subject of atheism. Though I know many of us do not take our atheism for granted since we are still often listed as the most vilified group on the planet, we have access to the internet, Richard Dawkins, Pat Condel, The Friendly Atheist, and much more. I know secularism is not a new concept, but I wonder just how much harder (or easier) it would have been to be an atheist in a previous era.

12345750Peter’s Out: How the Catholic Church Ends by Albert So (June 2011)

Peter will be the last pope. Born saintly, and a bit odd, the child, the adolescent, the teen, the young man, and the mature adult experience things that eventually infallible people rarely do: Kills a nun, hangs out naked with the other kids, pretends to say mass, deals with, you know, gay people and deconstructs a two-thousand year-old institution.

I started this book some time ago and put it down for some reason. I think it had footnotes. On the ereader I had at the time, it was very annoying. I do remember the beginning being very funny, so I’ll have to get back to this soon.

The Last Dragon Slayer (Deathsworn Arc #1) by Martyn Stanley (Sept 2014)23154350

Saul Karza, wizard of the Empire, has been given a quest by the Empress herself: To find and slay a mythical ‘noble dragon’ – said to be near invulnerable.

I really wanted to like this book, however it starts with a long list of characters. I know I should have just skipped them and jumped into the story, but every time I opened the ebook, I was faced with these characters and it turned me off. It has gotten fairly decent reviews on Goodreads so I do intend to try it again sometime, but before I get to it, maybe you will? Check it out.

God Doesn’t, We Do by James A. Lindsay (Sept 2012)

Does God exist? Does He do anything in this world? Famous authors like Richard Dawkins suggest strongly that it is very unlikely, but how unlikely is it? God Doesn’t; We Do brings James A. Lindsay’s mathematical expertise to the question and is able to put the matter under a microscope only available through an understanding of abstract mathematics…

I did not finish this book. While I agreed with the sentiments and statements in this book, the delivery was a bit too dry for me. I found myself easily distracted when attempting to read this. Maybe I am just not inclined towards abstract math? However, the author does make some compelling arguments on how it is our responsibility to make our world better, because, obviously, god isn’t.

18164867The Insane Journey by Jeffrey Baumgartner

The Insane Journey is a twisted tale about mentally unbalanced men, clever women, a talking penguin and a couple of aliens, all participating in a deadly chase across a desolate, wind-swept Europa that exists in a tomorrow slightly to the left of yours and mine.

I actually read this book, all the way to the (crazy) end. While I think some might find the main character’s antics funny, they seemed rather juvenile to me. I hate conceited main characters and no matter how well written a tale is, if I can’t relate to the main character, then it just won’t connect with me. But maybe it will work for you? Some have described it as similar to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And while I agree it has that same maniac spitfire of events, that’s about all I would

22310040Idolism by Marcus Herzig (May 2014)

A new Pope, a world in social and political chaos, and a young singer and songwriter who has his unbelief tested as his big mouth accidentally propels him towards global superstardom. These are the ingredients of this thought provoking, tongue-in-cheek debut novel.

This is a young adult tale and I just don’t do young adult. In addition, it is not a fantasy, science fiction, or non-fiction book and that’s pretty much all I read. The setting and premise sounds interesting, but not something I want to spend my time on. Maybe you might?

That’s it!

Now tell me, what’s in your APOV reading queue?


Author Interview: Ches Smith

Somehow, I met Ches Smith online. Where exactly, I can’t be sure. Maybe he poked me here on this blog, or maybe I encountered him elsewhere, but make no doubt, I noticed him.


Because he’s rather funny. (Just read his About page.) And I’m a sucker for funny guys.

So, imagine my delight when I found out Mr. Smith writes science fiction and had just released a religious satire novel. I bought it, read it, reviewed it over at (go read it), and have had the pleasure of harassing him. Without further ado, here follows the Atheist’s Point of View interview with Ches Smith.

Hello Ches, thank you for sitting down with us and talking about Under the Suns, your debut novel.

SMITH: It’s great to be here!

APOV: For those who are unfamiliar with Under the Suns, tell us a little bit about it.

SMITH: Under the Suns is about a primitive alien civilization that worships a human who established himself as a messiah on their planet. When a scribe named Nodi discovers his faith might be built on a lie, he embarks on a journey for the truth. Of course, he discovers that truth can bring tremendous devastation on personal and societal levels.

APOV: Under the Suns is an irreverent and funny look at religion, specifically, a look at religion through the eyes of someone losing their religion (and a lot more). You set your story in a science fiction setting, but in truth the story could have been told in any number of ways. Why did you chose to set Nodi’s story on another planet?

SMITH: I attempted to write a straightforward memoir of my experience with the Christian faith, but my personal story is… well… boring and there are a number of ex-Christians publishing far more interesting books on the subject. As a writer, what interests me is the outlandish, the outrageous, and the exaggerated and I wanted to create a story that could capture the absurdities of religion by examining it from the outside looking in. I wanted to create a religion that would be wholly absurd to anyone reading it while still having valid points of contact in the real world.

I also had this Arthur C. Clarke quote kicking around in my head: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

APOV: How much does Nodi’s story overlap your personal experience?

SMITH: The overlap is probably more subtle than you might imagine. My loss of faith was a slow burn of heightened awareness that the universe is indifferent to our plight as human beings, that there’s no guiding hand, that religion is a kind of sleight of hand that, when exposed, becomes impossible to ignore. These are all themes in Under the Suns, but I had to create a more pronounced crisis than that which was present in my own life. Perhaps the most important similarity is the toll it takes on Nodi’s relationship with his fiancé, Aenna, as well as the memory of his missionary father. People of faith tend to build relationships with each other using their faith as a cornerstone. When one walks away from the faith, those relationships are often left in shambles. The pain of that experience can’t be understated.

APOV: I sort of understand what you mean in terms of relationships. Lucky for me, I came out, so to speak, early to my family and was able to build from a different foundation. As you showed in your book, once you break those relationships, a different understanding is imperative else it all falls apart. There’s a lot of humor in Under the Suns, was that intentional (to offset the atrocities and those failing relationships) or something that just comes naturally to your writing?

SMITH: The humor comes naturally, in fact Under the Suns is less humorous than originally intended. The most difficult aspect of writing this book was trying to find the right balance between humor and heartfelt drama. When it comes to religion, the humor can come from a very angry place, but I didn’t want to write an angry book. I still wonder if I got it right, but at some point you just have to move on to the next project or you become stagnant.

APOV: There’s a lot of crazy shenanigans going on in Under the Suns. Have you ever struggled between what you would like to happen to a character and what you considered more sensible to occur?

SMITH: I definitely struggle with that. My mind alternates between two poles. On one side, there’s a strict adherence to logic and on the other there’s abject absurdity. I think I’m a better writer when I allow myself to gravitate toward the absurd, but I have so many serious things I want to say that I feel like I have to make some attempt at sensibility. It’s a terribly difficult balance to maintain.

APOV: How did you start writing? Was there a particular book or moment in your life that spurned you on?

SMITH: For as long as I can remember, I’ve had stories kicking around in my head but I never thought I had the stamina to finish a novel. It wasn’t until I left the faith and experienced the loneliness that came with it that I began writing, mainly because I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to. At first, I was heavily involved in an internet forum and I honed my voice through creative writing on that site. After many lengthy posts over the course of many months, I realized I had already written enough to fill a novel on that one forum alone. That was when I realized a novel was an attainable goal.

APOV: What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?

SMITH: I’ll just come right out and admit that I’m notoriously thin-skinned and sensitive. That being said, some criticism is more objective than others. I expect Christians, for example, to take issue with Under the Suns. When it’s a matter of opinion or personal taste, it’s not that big a deal to me. I know I can’t please everyone. The criticism that really eats at me is the more objective observations about poor writing, poor editing, plot holes, one-note characters. Fortunately, I haven’t heard much of that with this book and what little I have heard, I’ve corrected.

APOV: What do you do when you’re not writing, any hobbies?

SMITH: I enjoy art and Photography, especially the merging of the two through Photoshop. I’m also something of a cinephile and a casual gamer.

APOV: What is the hardest thing about writing?

SMITH: Getting lost in a sea of subjectivity. There’s always this sense that there’s no finish line. A work of creativity—be it painting, writing, music— is never really done, you just get to a point where you come to terms with the state of it and let go. It’s scary to feel like it’s not really complete yet you’re setting it out before the world to either embrace or destroy. Second guessing is cancerous.

APOV: What kind of books do you read, any favourite authors?

SMITH: I enjoy sci-fi, horror, and general fiction and I read a lot of non-fiction, particularly on the subjects of science and religion. I also love graphic novels and comics, especially stuff by Alan Moore and David Mack. Some of my favorite authors are Douglas Adams, Cormac McCarthy, Neil Gaiman, Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk, David Sedaris, and Haruki Murakami.

APOV: What sort of challenges, as a writer, might you have faced before your first book was published? Any insights you would be able to share for those aspiring writers seeking advice?

SMITH: Self-doubt is my worst enemy. I’m riddled with it and it can be incapacitating, but I decided that I wasn’t going to apologize for being honest and putting myself out there and I certainly wasn’t going to let it stop me from moving forward. I think aspiring writers should read all they can about the craft of writing and they should read all sorts of genres and styles. They should internalize everything they read, make it a part of them, understand why certain things work and other things don’t, and then turn around to that chorus of professional advice givers and give them a friendly middle finger. Be unique. Strive to be the writer other writers want to be.

APOV: What’s next, what are you working on now?

SMITH: I’ve written a second novel tentatively called Dead Muse Wake that I’m editing now. It’s a very different book from Under the Suns, inspired in part by my struggle to write the first book. I’m also working through the first draft of a third book that is a time travel story on the Texas-Mexico border and I’ve got a whole slate of planned projects beyond that. I’d like to publish a book a year.

APOV: Fantastic! I look forward to reading them. Thank you for joining me on The Atheist’s Quill.

SMITH: Thanks for having me!

Under the Suns is available on Visit Ches Smith’s site at Writes for Attention.

© 2014 N. E. White / Ches Smith

Book Review: The Magister’s Mask & Necromancer’s Bones

The Magister’s Mask and The Necromancer’s Bones by Deby Fredericks

Kindle Edition

Published October 2004 and June 2009, respectively, by Dragon Moon Press

Review by N. E. White.

2941494The Magister’s Mask and The Necromancer’s Bones are some of those hidden gems you’ll be surprised to find on the virtual racks of Amazon. And one of the few young adult tales that do not rankle my nerves. Call me old school, but I like it when kids meet challenges head on while still respecting their elders (when it’s due). In both The Magister’s Mask and the followup book, The Necromancer’s Bones, we are given two young adult heroines sure to capture your hearts as they navigate the tricky politics of their island nation.

Read the full review here on!6978932

If you have children into fantasy, I highly recommend this series and the author. Very intelligent writing that is enjoyable and easy to immerse oneself in.


*Atheist Point of View

The gods  in this fantasy series are treated like any other character in the book. I don’t mean that the gods are depicted with human frailty and foibles, much like the Greek gods. But rather, the gods presented in Ms. Fredericks’ world are fully realized and play pivotal roles in both The Magister’s Mask and The Necromancer’s Bones. In addition, they are frightful, unpredictable, and powerful. In these books, the gods represent what gods are supposed to represent – the awesome capriciousness of nature. I enjoyed how the author wove the gods into the fabric of this world and it affected the character’s lives – whether they believed in them or not.

Regardless, the inclusion of the gods does not detract from the story. Rather, the gods flesh out this world nicely because here they do exist (just like magic does) and it makes for a rich and fantastical world setting.

Book Review: Tracks

Tracks by K. M. Tolan is a story that will take you to a unique side of the American countryside. While this book is most definitely a work of Fantasy, it does not fit the Urban Fantasy label nor Magical Realism, though I suppose that comes close. It is kind of hard to explain exactly where this books falls in the Fantasy sub-genre spectrum (even so, I’m sure there’s a name for it), so I’ll just jump right into the story summary and let you figure it out.

Please see full review on

Tracks is action-packed, touches on a face of America few of us have seen, and promises a rich story steeped in magic and traditions. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a new kind of fantasy with a bit of romance.


*Atheist Point of View

Mr. Tolan is another author that tends to leave the religious themes out of their fiction. While the story does touch on death, an afterlife, spirits (in the form of steam-children), and Native American earth-based spirituality, there is never a dip into the religious mythologies that fill typical Americana fiction. Instead, the reader can delve into an alternate American reality that sits next to ours. It’s not without its faults, but it is without our gods.

Book Review: Sand

Full review on

I’ve decided to only post snippets of my reviews on this blog. If you’d like to read the full review, please do so by clicking on the link of above.

Original released as a serial, in Hugh Howey’s latest novel we are introduced to a family falling apart after their father left them for a better place. Actually, he left them to find a better place, but nonetheless, he left them. In his wake, his wife, daughter and three sons struggle to make it in a post-apocalyptic Colorado.

In Sand, Mr. Howey has penned another great story with characters you’ll love to fall in love with. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for an adventurous tale set in an imaginative post-apocalyptic setting that touches on familial relationships.


Not much to add here. Mr. Howey likes to keep his tales god-free and this one proves the same. One reason I enjoy his stories so much is because he focuses on the here and now, the ties between family and friends, the things that are truly important. He also likes to prove mythologies wrong, reveal the lies that keep us ignorant and compliant. If you like to read about how a few plucky characters can count of their wits and family to find the truth, then Sand is a story for you.

Book Review: Talus and The Frozen King

Review first appeared on

Talus and the Frozen King is a story about the wandering bard Talus and his (semi) reluctant partner Bran. They are traveling across their world north to the lights that crash in the night sky, heralding a place where lost spirits might be found.

But before they get there, there are mysteries to be solved.

The book opens with Bran and Talus overlooking an island which happens to be home of the Creyak people. Shouts and wails can be heard and the two respond by going down to see what’s going on. To Talus’ piqued interest and Bran’s consternation, they find a dead king, frozen on his throne in a sheltered, outdoor courtyard. In the time it takes Bran to think they ought to move on, Talus claims that the death of the king is no accident, but murder.

Along with Bran, Talus then guides us through an examination of the body, the likely and unlikely suspects, the murder weapon, and possible motives. The plot thickens when a neighboring king shows up with his, let’s just say, popular daughter, who managed to string along just about all the dead king’s heirs.

As Talus gets closer and closer to the answer, the stakes are raised and Talus’ past catches up to him and even he is at risk in the final, frozen hilltop showdown.

All in all, I liked this book. The writing is clear, concise, and the plot moves forward at a satisfactory pace. I like Bran. He’s the down-to-earth counterpoint to Talus’ brilliant mind. The story is (mostly) told from Bran’s point of view and I really sympathized with his plight. The loss of a loved one, no matter what ice-age you may be in, is a terrible thing. Reading about him coming to terms with that loss added a texture to this story that I wasn’t expecting. I especially liked how the author worked in a few female characters that were not just bed warmers (which he could easily have done given the time period). Lethriel, a widow like Bran, proves to be a valuable resource to our budding detectives, and Alayin, the desirous daughter of the attacking king, is a formidable character trying to carve out a life of her own away from her father.

I also liked the stories that Talus tells the people of Creyak. Don’t quote me on this, but after one particularly confounding tale, Talus tells us that stories don’t necessarily have to make sense, they just have to touch us the right way. I completely agree with this sentiment. There are countless stories I’ve read that should have been put through the editorial process a few more times, but somehow connect in such a way that I overlook all its flaws.


Bran plays the disenchanted skeptic. So distraught after the death of his wife, he can’t even bother to pray to his god anymore. While Talus is the brilliant thinker who keeps his thoughts on the gods and the real nature of the lights they seek in the north a mystery. Are the northern lights a veil between this world and the next, or is it something entirely else? It was all left very vague in this book, making me wonder how the author will play out the notion of god or beings we can’t quite explain given our level of technology and understanding in future books set in this story world.

However, the style in which Talus and the Frozen King is written, left a sour taste. I guess, more accurately, I just didn’t like the premise of the book. A Sherlock Holmes/Watson set up (along with a counter “evil genius”) placed in the ice age just seemed…silly. I don’t see why a traveling bard would be interested in solving a mystery that had nothing to do with him and that could put his life at risk. Even if he didn’t care about his own life, why would he risk Bran’s life that way? I mean, they’re in an icy world, with few resources, and they have some place to be. Would they really stop and muck up a frozen king’s funeral when no one is asking them to do so? It just didn’t make sense. Maybe I missed the bit where Talus knew his arch-enemy would be in that village before they went down to it, but I’m pretty sure he was just as surprised as everyone else when they find out the shaman was not who he said he was.

Most mysteries I’ve read include a crucial, triggering event that makes it absolutely impossible for the main character to move forward without solving the mystery. In Talus and the Frozen King, I was not convinced that that was the case.

So, if you’re a die-hard mystery fan, that lack of plausible motivation for Talus may put you off. But if you can jump over that tall bar of disbelief, give Talus and the Frozen King a try. You just might like it.

Book Review: The Adjacent

Review first appeared on

The Adjacent is a love story about two people torn apart by place and time. It has elements of H.G. Wells, World War I, an island nation, an Islamic version of England, and magic, but at its core, it is a love story.

In matter-of-fact prose, a complicated story of death unfolds as we are introduced to Tibor Tarent, a photographer reeling from the recent death of his wife, a nurse. He is returning from an aid mission to a southern country. Where exactly, we are not told. But he’s returning to England, London specifically, but it’s an English countryside and culture we would find hard to recognize.

Massive storms have scarred the countryside and a new weapon is burning out what remains. The residents live in a somewhat militarized society that has long ago embraced Islam. As he is moved from place to place, escorted by mysterious government officials, he grieves for his wife, who had been obliterated out in the desert by the same weapon plaguing London.

The book soon leaves Tarent’s story to plunge us into the life of two individuals shipped off to the World War 1 front lines for suspect reasons. In this section, we are given another, older, version of Tarent who happens to be a magician, one who uses a technique often termed an ‘adjacent distraction’. This is our first, most obvious connection between this story and the previous one with the photographer.

Don’t quote me on the sequence, but the story then weaves between Tarent’s story coming to terms with his wife’s death and the inexplicable events happening around him, and the stories of two women, one a pilot and the other mysteriously connected to him, but in a brief, adulterous way. Like the many Tarent’s in the story, inconsequential details blur the stories of his wife: the woman named Krystyna (or Kirstenya or any other variant), and ‘the other woman’. Each show up in Tarent’s (or Tommaz’s or Tomak’s) life at crucial stages. In one version of their story, we meet his wife in the guise of a Polish pilot helping out in the war effort as best as she can. She tells him her story and it seems that the version of Tarent she is telling her story to is a copy of the Tarent she left behind at home. While potentially confusing, what is clear in each section is the undeniable bond between the two; an everlasting love that transcends the cold vagaries of life.

Each section of the novel blurs the facts, doling out tantalizing details that you think will help you solve the mystery of the individual stories. But in the end, we simply discover what happens. Really, there is no mystery to solve (it is unsolvable). There is only a story to be enjoyed for its rich texture and a wonderful sense of warped place and time.

With that said, this is a book for Christopher Priest fans.

This is my first foray into Mr. Priest’s fiction. I’ve watched the movie adaptation of The Prestige, but I’ve never read anything by him. While I believe a new reader to Priest’s works do not need to read all his previous books to enjoy The Adjacent, I did get the sense that I was missing out on something. There were many references and/or details that I thought would have some significance to the story (or stories) I was reading (the wires, the cultural norms or ab-norms of the island population, that whole weapon thing, the city that was and then was not there, etc), but they never panned out. Or rather, the details didn’t seem to matter to the final result. All of which I think was the point.

Even so, I did enjoy this book. Mr. Priest has a wonderful way of creating a surreal experience out of the ordinary. And he does it in such a way that you’re not aware of it until after the fact. He gives so much detail and information in flawless, emotional prose that both enriches the reading experience and immerses you in the character’s world. Even so, this reader was left with a sense of mystery that pulled me along at every (potentially frustrating) turn in the story. I wanted to know what the dang weapon was and who was using it, but then we are left with what is really important – the bonds that hold us together through place and time.

It was wonderful to read Mr. Priest’s take on this novel (see this interview). I especially liked that he didn’t think he was painting England in a grim light because it becomes, in The Adjacent, an Islamic state and environmentally damaged or changed. While reading his book, I didn’t get the sense that it was overwhelmingly grim, but only that it was simply different. I think that is The Adjacent’s triumph. It offers several alternative realities that feel as real as the world today, and as easily visited as flying a plane over a wide, blue ocean (or reading The Adjacent).

THE APOV – I found Mr. Priest’s treatment of an alternative, Islamic England fascinating. He didn’t skirt around the issues of soldiers praying to Allah, or women hemmed in by religious tradition. Instead, he shows us how life might really be like in such a place and, you know, it wasn’t that bad. Yes, the world is falling apart and terrorist are killing people willy-nilly, but how is that different from now? How is that different from a Christian world? How would it be different from a world without religion? Life still goes on. Loved ones die unexpectedly. Casual sex happens. The kindness of strangers can turn your life around. It was almost as if the author wanted to say that with love, even religion didn’t matter. I may be reading too much into the text, but that’s the sense that I got. I felt it most strongly in the sections of the book set on the island nation where the cultural norms were so like, but unlike, our own. This book will definitely lead you to question your assumptions. And I think that’s a good thing.

I highly recommend this book to all fans of Christopher Priest as well as someone looking for a book that offers the sense of shifting realities as real as our own while offering you a different view of what we could have been and may become.

Book Review: Chasing the Star Garden

Review first published on

Chasing the Star Garden, book one of The Airship Racing Chronicles, by Melanie Karsak is a steampunk fantasy about Lily Stargazer, a drug addict and airship pilot extraordinaire.

The book begins in the middle of a race. Lily and her crew are sailing through the sky above London, hot on the heels of her racing nemesis, an obviously better pilot than she because he wins and she doesn’t. Lily does come in second place, which isn’t half bad, but before she can claim her trophy, a man dressed in harlequin assaults her by shoving a long, clothed cylinder down the front of her pants – then promptly plunges to his death.

Thus begins the strange and adventurous tale that will lead Lily across Europe to Venice, where she finds out that she has a connection with a god and that god needs her – now. She must find the statue of Venus before art hunters take the last earthly avatar of Venus and move her away from those who would worship her properly. Along with her casual lover, a Venus devotee, and an obedient crew, Lily heads for Greece to find Venus before anyone else does. Along the way, she must cross war-filled seas, challenge her physical fear of water, and finally allow a happiness to enter her life that she has pushed away since the day Lily’s mother left her.

An adult tale with steamy sexual scenes, I really wanted to like Chasing the Star Garden. Ms. Karsak writes well and has given us a courageous, but flawed, heroine who is capable and comfortable with her skills as an airship pilot. The author also builds a steam-punk world filled with alluring devices with several chase scenes that should have pumped my heart. Regardless, the story fell flat for me.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I think there were several points that tripped my disbelief sensors. The first was the harlequin shoving something long and hard down Lily’s pants. Lily takes the assault all in stride, and even hides the fact from the officials around her that the man gave her something. The author failed to convince me that someone, even someone as sexually focused as Lily, would do that. Why would she trust a complete stranger that then kills himself? On the same token, I couldn’t buy Lily’s motivation for taking her airship on a journey across Europe based solely on that stranger’s suggestion.

In addition, though Chasing the Star Garden was an interesting read and had some wonderful airship maneuvers, I never felt a connection to the main character. Lily’s life begins with the strict attentions of a couple of horrendous male guardians. She’s psychologically scarred and becomes an opium addict because of them, but somehow Lily ends up with well-intentioned men around her during this story. Though her love affair with Lord Byron, also a benefactor, might be construed as damaging, he does not demand much from Lily. He seems more of an easy crutch for the author to give Lily what she needs when she needs it.

And then we have the older, endlessly accommodating Sal, willing to do anything for his younger lover. He seems more of a father figure than a lover, and when they finally hook up, I couldn’t help but think that Lily was using him to fill her needs of a loving patriarch. Another point that grated my nerves was that everyone was beautiful and sexually hip. That’s fine and all, but that is not something I look for in my fiction.

Despite all this, Chasing the Star Garden was a quick and entertaining read. If you like your lofty steampunk sexy and adventurous, you may want to give this story a try.

Book Review: Warrior’s Path

Review initially published on

A Warrior’s Path by Davis Ashura

E-book Edition

Published December 29th 2013 by DuSum Publishing

Review copy provided by author.

Review by N. E. White.

18720218Mr. Davis Ashura’s debut novel, A Warrior’s Path – Book One: The Castes and the Out Castes, is told from the point of view of several characters. The first we are introduced to is Rukh Shekton and his cousins out on their first, their virgin, mission across the monster-ridden spaces between protected cities. Their caravan is about to be attacked by those monsters, the Chimera, creatures cobbled together from different parts of other animals by an insane god, Suwraith. The troop, hundreds strong, prepare to outrun the Chimeras. They discard their wagons and any gear not necessary for survival. Scouts are dispatched and a small contingent sent back to Asoka (their destination) to relay events.

As they gear burns, we learn (through a flashback) that Rukh is not any ordinary soldier, but a champion among the battle bred and trained, the Kummas. Despite this, or maybe because of it, his troop is hunted

down by the Chimera and slaughtered. Rukh along with his two cousins, of the same warrior caste Kummas, and another from a caste that can blend, the Rahail, are among the few survivors.

But they are now tainted. While fighting for their lives, they did the impossible and joined forces with each other when they should have not been able to. Each caste has a special skill that belongs to those of their caste only. The Kummas shoot fire from their hands, can shield themselves from blasts, and move speeds so fast most non-Kummas can not track their movement. Of course, Kummas make up the vast portion of the fighting ranks. But the Rahail also have a skill. They can blend with their surroundings, making it easy to elude the notice of the Chimeras. Together, by passing their skills from one caste to the other, the four were able to survive. However, the sharing of those special skills means the young men are tainted and would most likely exiled for tainting their caste.

Not only is the sharing of skills forbidden, but also sexual mingling between the castes. In the next section of the book, we shift from Rukh’s story to his sister’s, Bree’s, story and his adopted-brother’s, Jaresh’s, story – who happens to be a Sentya. His story begins with a fight between himself and a Kumma who insulted his step-sister, Bree. Jaresh should have lost. His caste is bred for focus and intelligence, not fighting. But somehow he becomes the unlikely hero. But there is no celebration, for he not only beat the Kumma, but killed him. He is put on trial, not just for killing a man, but for the taint that is on him and his house’s name for mixing the castes.

Confused yet? Hold on, there’s more.

We also get introduced to the Outcastes, those unlucky to fall in love with someone from another caste and their unfortunate offspring. These are impure folk that have been turned out of the cities to suffer the fate of the Chimeras, a bloody death. But unknown to the castes living in the protected cities, they have scratched out a living among the wastelands.

In addition, there are those within the city walls that follow the insane god, Suwraith. They are called the Sil Lor Kum and rather than follow the gods who protect the human castes and marked out which talent belongs to whom, they listen to the orders of Suwraith and betray their own castes to gain power and luxuries.

Their individual stories are woven together to form a narrative that is both entertaining and a bit cumbersome. I picked up and put down this book several times, intending not to continue reading

it. Once I got past the first few sections, I’d been inundated with so much backstory and world-building, I simply kept reading because I invested so much energy trying to keep all the names straight, I thought I owed it to myself to just keep trying.

I’m glad I did.

The story’s pacing does pick up in chapter three. Maybe this is where the book should have started. Regardless, the story of the Shektan family is intriguing. There’s romance, drama, and mystery in equal measure throughout the book as well as some interesting magic. In addition, the Chimeras are a frightening and worthy adversary; grotesque creatures that only a mad god can love. And that god is exponentially terrifying. How can you reason with a god, let alone a crazy one?

From the A.P.O.V. – I’m a bit on the fence on how the notion of gods were used in this book. I was tempted in thinking that the gods in this world are not really gods, but advanced humans who have created species and set them loose into a world of their making, or maybe even a part of Earth. But I might be reading too much into it. As it is, the mention of the first Father and Mother is referenced through the book, and the caste system is based on a deeply held religion st up by those two deities. Some castes do not fully believe in those gods though they do firmly believe in the caste system – and that each should be kept apart. I liked this contradiction. It felt real, reflecting a lot how people use religion today. They may not really believe in a supernatural deity, but they hold their religious traditions with a death grip.

The crazy god that everyone does believe in is actually more of a force of chaos rather than a god anyone would willingly follow. I’m sure if I knew more about the Hindu gods hierarchy, I could find a parallel, but as it is and because this god’s agenda is so clear, she’s just another character in the book, albeit a very powerful one. Her antics reminded of the worst of humanity. I suppose this is fitting as gods are really just reflections of ourselves.

I was also interested in the author’s use on the societal caste idea. Similar to India’s historic caste system, the people in this world are divided. Not only is one’s magical talent or skill defined by your caste, by birth, but so is one’s physical appearance. Breeding between castes is not allowed, so those among a certain caste have very similar physical traits. While the use of this rigid caste system might be off-putting (it was for me, at first) and heavy-handed (it is), I think the author uses it well to tell his story of finding one’s own path regardless of what the world tells you to do.

However, there are more significant problems with this book. The beginning is festooned with massive info-dumps and lengthy descriptions of each person and their caste abilities and traits. It got a bit hard to follow. I often had to backtrack a few paragraphs to remind myself what it was that was going on before the author made a tangent into the world’s history. Another thing I found really annoying was the swearing.

Wait, back up.

Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t mind swearing in my fiction. As long as it serves the story and is true to the characters, a bit of swearing is fine. I guess, it wasn’t the fact that there was swearing in this book that was annoying to me, but how the swearing was done. The author used “fragging” instead of the word we all know the character would say.

Which leads to a wider problem in the book.

While describing locations, the author often resorted to using our world-specific descriptors (i.e., knotty-pine paneling, firefly lamp, hurricane vases, etc). As far as I can tell, this book’s story-world is not a far flung futuristic setting on earth (our primary world), but rather a fictional, secondary world. So, why use ‘bastard’ freely, but not the f-word? Put another way, if the author was willing to use details like knotty-pine, then why not the f-word? Why change it to “fragging”?

Every time I saw “fragging” (which gets used a lot), I mentally rolled my eyes and thought, just use the word you want to use. For my part, use world specific-terminology or not. Waffling between the two just annoyed me. I know, this complaint seems petty, but the specific use of language did pull me out of the story several times.

If these two problems (the info-dumps and the swearing) were the only problems, I wouldn’t even mention them, but then there’s the fact that the book ends with a cliffhanger, there are a couple of deus ex machina moments, and a host of typos that regularly tripped me up.

It may seem that I do not like this book. But despite all my complaints, A Warrior’s Path, at its core, has some interesting and worthy characters. And the themes the book explores, racial unity, reaching beyond societal norms, and even a bit of faith, are relevant to a reader like me. I found myself drawn to each character’s plight, even the crazy god and the leader of the evil Sil Lor Kum.

Should you read it? I’ll let you decide. I know I am interested to see this story to its end.