City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies by Sam HawkeThis novel offers a rich world, strong story, and characters who are complicated in all the right ways. I did have a few issues with the narrative, but the majority of them were that I’m too quick to pick up on plot seeding. The characters’ mention of, or realization of, the seed came late enough for me to believe the seeding hadn’t been used. Ultimately, though, most of the seeds were either explained or critical to the later plot, and sometimes even in ways I had not anticipated.

The dual first-person narrative offered standard issues with gender and names coming late for me, but the personalities grew from the start. They both showed tangible character growth as they (and Tain) underwent a rapid, event-driven change from child to adult. I did have trouble telling which of the two were speaking at times, but they are each named in the chapter headers. I just tend not to read headers.

I liked how Joven and Kalina, the point-of-view characters, had real physical and mental challenges they struggled with. While some of those limitations turned out to benefit them in very specific circumstances, they did not miraculously overcome their limitations in order to fulfill their roles in the story. Instead, they worked around the issues, were sidelined by them, or had to recognize what paths could never be open to them. It’s a more realistic presentation of disability than most.

The cultural elements and philosophies spouted by the various groups were fascinating, even though, and sometimes because, the characters did not live up to those philosophies. Roles reduced to tradition surged to life, and honored pasts turned both into false legends and unexpected fact. It felt very robust rather than contrived because of these contradictions and misunderstandings. Oh, and there are some lovely solutions founded in keen observations that further support the way Joven and Kalina were raised.

As to the story as a whole, it took a bit for things to fall into place, but the directions satisfied me. There was a lot to absorb me as a reader while the characters attempted to solve the mystery they believed held the answer to everything…which it did in part, but not the whole. That whole, which I won’t mention specifically, made for a significant strength in the book, offering a reaction and perspective less common among stories of this type. There were several points where the story could have taken the easy way out. Instead, those turning points made things more complicated.

This is oddly a very personal story tightly focused on three then four people, but against a tapestry of sieges, war, infighting, and traitors where thousands hung in the balance along with a country’s future. The characters drew me on even when I struggled with what appeared to be story flaws and allowed me to reach the point where, despite the delay, most of the planted seeds bore powerful fruit. It’s well worth the patience to see through and I’m hoping for another book to follow. I’m not tired of these characters, and there are some complex issues to deal with in their future. At the same time, the book comes to a solid conclusion, showing character growth and survival of spirit woven through a tumultuous existence.

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The Mystic Order of Withlings: Guest Post by P.H. Solomon

I became interested in cultural anthropology when I was seven or eight, maybe younger. Growing up in the diplomatic community and foreign countries formed only part of it, the rest being wandering archaeological digs, exploring museums, and reading about different cultures and historical periods.

With this background, I find most science fiction or fantasy stories that depict worlds without any form of belief structure ring false. You can’t explore human cultures without discovering spiritual aspects, though the specifics vary immensely. Fictional societies with some spiritual element, whether in the background or a critical part of the story, seem more well rounded to me.

In today’s guest post, P.H. Solomon gives us a glimpse of the religious order that plays an important part in the Bow of the Heart Saga, an epic fantasy series. The order has fallen to legend at the time of the novels and yet still has influence. This background has several intriguing aspects, and the prequel short stories mentioned below are both free on Amazon (, giving you the chance to explore before starting the saga.

The Mystic Order of Withlings

The White Arrow
The Bow of Hart Saga is set in the world of Denaria with its own people-groups, religions, and history. Part of the back-drop for the first book of the series, The Bow of Destiny, is the history of the mystic order of Withlings. This religious order worships their deity, Eloch, by learning to spiritually abide in his presence. Their catch phrase, “What is needed is given,” best describes the outlook of Withlings. They can only serve as Eloch provides.

While this premise seems limiting, it isn’t for Withlings who are capable of performing astounding miracles and speaking prophesies. Often, they will not speak of anything or act unless they determine from their mystic discipline that it is Eloch’s will for them to do so. It is the basis of their lives that they best serve by learning total obedience. This does not make them infallible as they are just as apt as anyone to misunderstand the meaning of their actions and prophesies. Only the wisest of Withlings have learned to withhold their speculations regarding any action taken or events experienced.

At the time in which The Bow of Hart Saga is set, there are few Withlings left in Denaria so that few people have even met one in generations. Tales are remembered from past centuries of these once well-known servants of Eloch, but few know much of them anymore except for the longer-lived people-groups, such as elves and dwarves, who still revere Withlings.

One of the main characters from The Bow of Hart Saga is the Withling Hastra. Part of Hastra’s story is told in the short story, What Is Needed, which explains the events surrounding the demise of the Withlings. Interested readers are invited to read What Is Needed as well as the other prequel short story, Trading Knives.

The Bow of Destiny takes up the story of the Withlings amid much mystery and magic, focusing upon the young ranger of Auguron named Athson. This ranger is drawn into a quest involving a Withling prophecy about a mythic bow. Fantasy readers are welcome to join the hunt for the Bow of Hart by accompanying Athson on his adventure.

An Arrow Against the Wind continues the quest as Athson must determine the best course he should take in matters regarding his past and present, including the shared wisdom of Withlings. But Athson’s distrust of Withlings and his familial past create a set of challenging choices which he is determined to navigate on his own, almost heedless of consequences.

Once The White Arrow begins, Athson is faced with a new choice regarding Withlings, one which will seal his destiny. The march to the final confrontation leads Athson on a far different path than he anticipated and a far different answer to the questions of his past, and his relationship with the Bow of Hart and the prophesied White Arrow.

Find The White Arrow, Book 3, at Amazon.

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5 Interesting Links for 07-13-2018

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Scrivener (Writing)

This article explores different approaches to organizing a series in Scrivener.

Steampunk (History)

A fun look at the intersection of history and steampunk with a list of seven patents given between 1810 and 1903 that have a steampunk feel. (Via

Book Descriptions (Marketing)

Quick tips for updating your book description on the various stores.

Research (Spiders)

Experiments show there’s a different answer to how spiders move by ballooning that originally assumed.

Feet (Paleontology)

The discovery of an almost complete foot of a 3.3 million year old Australopithecus afarensis child in 2002 offers fascinating insights into the lives of early hominids.

Uncommon Lords and Ladies Twitter Sharable

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Planet Urth (Book 1) by Jennifer and Christopher Martucci

Planet Urth (Book 1) by Jennifer and Christopher MartucciMy uncle recommended this post-apocalyptic title to me, and while it has weaknesses, I can see what attracted him to the story. This is very much a tale about taking ownership of your life rather than just maintaining the patterns you were trained in. Oddly, those patterns make up some of the weaknesses. Though Avery is trained in survival, she has blind spots that either came from the author or her father. In one case, modern sensibility interferes with survival, and in another, her ignorance where I’d expected basic knowledge stood out.

The book starts slowly because Avery is the first person point of view, and she doesn’t recognize the personhood of her sister, June. We learn how they got to this moment and what’s going on through Avery ruminating on what had happened and how June is her first priority.

Don’t get the impression it is all navel gazing though. There is a lot of danger, struggle, and fear as well as truly terrible things happening in flashback and in the present. This is a time of monsters, of bare survival against all odds, and a planet in turmoil because the different sapient species choose competition over cooperation.

I enjoyed seeing Avery grow up, not so much in age as the book occurs in a matter of days, but in recognizing her sister’s strengths, in taking responsibility for the safety of strangers, and in opening her worldview. Her sudden onset of puberty feels a little overdone and littered with the idea of base drives (envy and sexual rivals). I believe these drives are at least in part a construct of our culture as they are not constant among human cultures nor do they appear in every animal. However, those changes also bring more voices into the story and allow for an interaction previously lacking.

There is a moment (not describing because it’s a spoiler) that leads me to suspect the world she knows is not quite accurate. Then, she destroys that moment so I don’t know if it’s a sign of what’s to come or a fluke. I certainly hope for the first, as complex narratives are my favorite, especially where cultures clash. This is a tight narrative, and there’s a lot Avery doesn’t know, so the hints could be wishful thinking or elements the series can build on. That those possibilities exist offers the chance for many interesting opportunities going forward.

The world, its people, and the story setup are intriguing enough for me to read the second book, though I haven’t yet done so. The first, this one, is largely a journey from stasis to action, with strong character development along the way. It’ll be interesting to see their next step, and if it offers surprises. The relationships and character growth saved the book when the events were somewhat predictable to me. This is especially true of the two biggest moments, one of which stripped away a dynamic I thought would be fascinating.

The first book ends with a commitment to action as opposed to just survival. With so many ways it can go from this point, I look forward to seeing what choices these characters make in their future.

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Things That Make Me Smile No.145: Going to Space

I grew up on the promise of space travel, and while we’re far from where we were supposed to be, the dream is still alive. This video gives a good explanation of why what SpaceX is doing is so important, up to and including shipping a car ahead.

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