J. Zachary Pike's

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Fiction, Gaming & Writing


Review: Mid-Lich Crisis

A Skeleton holding the book Mid-Lich Crisis by Steve Thomas

Anybody who writes books with liches in them—and I feel I am qualified to make this statement— knows that insane undead wizards are some of the most fun characters to write. They’re grim, kind of terrifying, and inherently funny all at the same time; a fun cross between a prepper, an 80’s cartoon villain, and a dancing skellington.

Steve Thomas knows this, and his Mid-Lich Crisis puts the lich front and center. Darruk Darkbringer is an anti-hero’s anti-hero. Like any lich, he’s at his best when he’s bad. There’s a certain evil glee in the book’s casual tyranny, like a more articulate Trogdor let loose upon the peasantry, and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion as Darruk rampaged across the countryside.

But Darruk doesn’t want to be perceived as evil, by his subjects nor his ex-wife. For much of his Mid-Lich Crisis, Darruk tries to be perceived as a savior of humanity, whether or not the ungrateful people want him to. It’s here that the book flags a little, as Darruk’s inner struggles are much less fun than his outer cataclysms. Fortunately, Darruk isn’t willing to give up all the killing and the mayhem and the total control that comes with flinging fireballs at peasants, and he keeps lapsing back into evil as the plot progresses.

I really liked Mid-Lich Crisis, despite the fact that is on the wrong side of my one-man crusade for the “correct” spelling of “Liche.” The jokes land far more often than not, the characters are amusing and memorable, and it’s just a lot of wicked fun. I’d give it four and a half stars, and I’m rounding up for use of one of fantasy’s best tropes. If you’re looking for some lighthearted undead mayhem, pick it up today.

As is usually the case on my site, this page uses affiliate links.


Review: Bloody Rose

Did you love Kings of the Wyld? You need to read Bloody Rose. Was Kings of the Wyld not necessarily your cup of tea? Give Bloody Rose a try anyway. Have you never read Kings of the Wyld? You should, and you should read Bloody Rose. The second book of Nicholas Eames’ The Band series keeps everything that rocked about his smashing debut, puts a new spin on it, and then turns the action all the way up. It’s the rare sequel that manages to remain wonderfully familiar while being very different—and somehow even better—than its predecessor.

It’s not, to be clear, another tour for Saga, the titular kings of the aforementioned wyld. They’re even older and more retired at the beginning of Bloody Rose. Instead, we follow young barmaid Tam as she lands a sweet gig with the famous mercenary band Fable, helmed by Golden Gabe’s daughter and the greatest scimitar stunt-artist this side of Menzoberranzan, Bloody Rose. She and her team of misfit killers are on a tour, ostensibly, and also a secret quest, naturally, and in over their heads, ultimately. From start to finish, it’s a wild ride.

The writing, humor, and worldbuilding are all Kings of the Wyld to the core. Eames’ style is both action-packed and comfortable, like game night in the back room of your favorite comic book store. And the hilarious world of the Band, where classic monsters and rock and roll references lurk in equal measure, is even more vibrant as Fable journeys across a pack of diverse and dangerous locations.

But Bloody Rose is different from its predecessor as well. Kings’ Saga was an all-male band from a bygone era, while Fable is younger and more diverse, and its members face challenges that reflect that. That means the book doesn’t always hold the exact same dudes-playing-Magic-cards-next-to-a-Boris-Valejo-poster-with-AC-DC-on-the-radio-in-1998 vibe that Kings does. Instead, Rose feels more relevant, nuanced, and vibrant (while still being plenty nostalgic for my magic-card playing youth). And since it manages to reflect this broader perspective without losing any of its humor and charm, it’s ultimately a better book for it.

Given how much I loved Kings of the Wyld, that’s high praise. If you haven’t rocked out with Fable yet, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Bloody Rose.

As is usually the case on my site, this page uses affiliate links.

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