Book Review: The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

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You ever see a book on a bookstore shelf or posted about online and without knowing anything about it or the author just know that’s a book you want to pick up and read after the very first encounter with it? No questions or hesitations? That’s kinda rhetorical because I’m guessing most of you if you love to read have felt this sensation at least once but it’s possible you haven’t. Well, today I want to rave a little about one such book.

This feeling doesn’t occur with me very often. Usually I need to see some hype about a book or author first, and if not I go into it with some reservations. But one day back in September/October I noticed a Twitter post from Trudie Skies about their book The Thirteenth Hour which was due to be published very soon. The cover is what I noticed right away (YES I JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVER). The color, the imagery, even the script/font. Just take a look below and you’ll see what I mean. I jumped over to read the blurb and was like, “yep, I’m buying this one.” Something about it just made me feel like I would love it. I hadn’t seen the first review, or anyone else hyping it yet. But I felt confident I’d like it. I waited for the paperback version to be available because I wanted one for the shelf and then waited somewhat impatiently for it to arrive. When it did I got this beauty in the mailbox…

Cover image of The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

When the saints fail, the sinners step up.

Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.

Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.

To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.

For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.

The Thirteenth Hour is the first book in The Cruel Gods series—a gaslamp fantasy featuring magical portals, gothic cosmic deities, quaint Britishisms, and steampunk vibes. This is an adult book containing strong language and mature themes that some readers may find disturbing.

Goodreads Blurb

Highlights

  • Gaslamp fantasy
  • Portal fantasy
  • Steampunk vibes
  • Gothic undetones
  • Light and funny/dark and heavy
  • Worldbuilding

The Thirteenth Hour surpassed my expectations. And just to reiterate, I expected to love it.

I want to start by mentioning the worldbuilding. Trudie Skies has created a world made up of twelve different realms each ruled over by a different god, and populated by a unique people with powers and abilities unique to that realm. Some can hide in shadows, some can mesmerize, some can control light and fire, some can control time. Each realm exists in a pattern like a clock and at the center of them is a city called Chime which is neutral ground and where peoples of all realms can live and work. In Chime is a portal (a clock tower) that allows one to travel between realms but only twice a day, twelve hours apart, when the hand on the clock reaches that realms designated hour. Hence the portal fantasy element I note above.

Within this world and it’s realms all things and all peoples are not equal. The gods are indeed very cruel (hence the series title), and some peoples are treated as less than others. There’s oppression, abuse, and darkness. It isn’t just the gods who are cruel, but the people as well. There are have’s and have nots, and they are relegated to specific areas of the city. Worship of one’s god is expected and required and violators are punished. So when a group of “godless” hoping to address the plight of those in the undercity stirs up trouble just as a strange new threat to Chime is uncovered…well…things begin to get messy.

I hesitate to say more about the story details because I hate the idea I’ll include a spoiler. I’ll just mention what I loved about the book. The gaslamp fantasy with seampunk vibes is something I love. I don’t read a lot of this subgenre but I really tend to enjoy it. And Trudie Skies does it well. It isn’t overblown and heavy and nothing felt forced. It was dark and gritty and the mood and tone were just right.

I mention gothic undertones in my highlights section. This isn’t a gothic novel. Let me be clear about that. But, there are gothic elements imbued within it. Certain realms definitely have that feel (I’m looking at you Eventide). And while Kayl isn’t the chaste heroine of many a gothic tale she fits other elements. Again it’s not gothic by the numbers, but it isn’t grimdark or dark fantasy either. I just think gothic fits it better as a descriptor that anything else with all the associated vibes of that subgenre. And it definitely delivers on some of those themes.

The writing is also well done. The pacing is very balanced and shifts between the POV characters Kayl and Quen. Just enough is revealed each chapter to make you wonder what is going on, what will happen next, and to keep you turning those pages. Skies balances the heavy elements and tone with fun and light banter between characters. She also gives Kayl something of a childlike quality that shines through the all the darkness around the character.

But my favorite thing is the most basic thing…the story. All the other pieces serve the story well. A band of misfit “godless” who are fighting for better lives for everyone around them stir up the ire of the gods while a new threat to their world emerges. While everyone is vying to understand and get control of this threat things get out of hand and the very existence of the realms is in danger. Secrets about the characters’ past are revealed to themselves and others, and they fight to save not just their own souls and those of their friends, but the lives of everyone. Within all of this we get a story about love, and passion, and devotion that asks who deserves those things, whether required or a gift, and whether they can overcome divine powers set to control them. We get a story about faith and it’s application and focus. We get a story about living in spite of it all. Add a chunk of action and drama and you’ve got a great read.

I know I don’t gush well and I tend to be more technical than emotive in my reviews, but believe me when I say I loved this book. I hope you’ll give it a chance, and that you will love it too.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Author: Trudie Skies
Series: The Cruel Gods #1
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: October 13, 2021
Format: Paperback
Pages: 535

Book Review: Demons, Ink by Clayton Snyder

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This review first appeared on Beth Tabler’s Before We Go Blog as part of the current Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (#SPFBO) competition. I’m a member of Beth’s #SPFBO reviewing team and Demons, Ink was in my initial batch of books to read. I enjoyed it so much I selected it as a semi-finalist. I held off on publishing the review here until now so as not to confuse my blog with any of the official judging blogs for the competition. Ultimately Demons, Ink was not chosen as our team’s finalist, but now that the first phase of the competition is over I wanted to circle back and post the review here as well in order to show some love for a book I really enjoyed. I hope you’ll give it a go as well.

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Book Review: City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn

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Claire Winn delivers an action packed, sapphic cyberpunk space romp in City of Shattered Light. If you’re looking for some fun, can’t put the book down YA thrills then I recommend you check out Winn’s debut which is set to be released this Tuesday from Flux Books.

Cover of City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other.

As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she’s more than her manipulative father’s shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue A.I. hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible place: the neon-drenched outlaw paradise, Requiem.

Gun-slinging smuggler Riven Hawthorne is determined to claw her way up Requiem’s underworld hierarchy. A runaway rich girl is exactly the bounty Riven needs—until a nasty computer virus spreads in Asa’s wake, causing a citywide blackout and tech quarantine. To get the payout for Asa and save Requiem from the monster in its circuits, Riven must team up with her captive.

Riven breaks skulls the way Asa breaks circuits, but their opponent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The A.I. exploits the girls’ darkest memories and deepest secrets, threatening to shatter the fragile alliance they’re both depending on. As one of Requiem’s 154-hour nights grows darker, the girls must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other before Riven’s city and Asa’s sister are snuffed out forever.

Goodreads Blurb

Highlights

  • YA
  • Cyberpunk
  • Sapphic YA Cyberpunk
  • Fast paced
  • Matriarchal Crime Bosses
  • LGBTQ+
  • Fast Paced Sapphic LGBTQ+ YA Cyberpunk with Matriarchal Crime Bosses

My Thoughts

This is a review I’ve been waiting to share with you for over three years. In late March of 2018 Claire Winn asked if I’d be interested in being a beta reader for her “crazy cyberpunk story.” I agreed even though it was perhaps a little out of my normal wheelhouse. I’ve not read too many cyberpunk stories, and I don’t read much YA. Something just said “give it a go” and thankfully I did. What started as just a read of the first six chapters quickly became a read of the whole book. I gave what was probably the most useless of feedback she received (I didn’t know what I was doing) and sat back to see what happened. It’s been fun following along as Winn first hooked an agent, then as word came that the book found a publisher, then an actual publication date, then to actually have a final copy in hand (or in Kindle as it were) to read. This version of the book after having gone through additional edits is even better than what I read originally. Given that I don’t have a completely unbiased relationship to this book I wanted to get this all out up front. As such this may be a slightly different review than normal from me.

I noted above this is fast paced sapphic LGBTQ+ YA cyberpunk with matriarchal crime bosses. Like that could almost be my review. If that doesn’t hook you I’m not sure what else I’m gonna say that will. It’s just a fun, exciting, space/cyber adventure that will hit you in the feels every now and then.

I mentioned somewhere above that I don’t read much YA so it’s hard for me to compare some of the story elements other than to let you know what I enjoyed about them. First the characters. Asa and Riven get the top billing here and they are definitely our protagonists. The POV switches back and forth between them. They are largely opposites when comparing their pasts, but must find a way to work together in the midst of some heavy trust issues. It doesn’t help that Asa doesn’t fully open up about her past. Asa grew up rich and highly educated. Riven grew up in homes and didn’t get the level of support as Asa. One is an heiress and the other a criminal pilot who is a bit more rough around the edges. It’s not exactly like a Leia and Han kind of situation…but that isn’t a horrible comparison.

There’s so much more to the story than what the blurb indicates. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and both times I read it I didn’t want to put it down. Just when you think you know where it’s going, and who the ultimate baddie is there’s a twist and you’re re-evaluating what you think you know. Then you start to wonder if there’s more than one baddie, and ask how deep do things go? There’s a father who is so fucked up he is willing to experiment on his own kids, rouge AI who is chasing everyone, and shutting everything down, there’s matriarchal crime lords, and this one other badass female rogue who consistently shows up at the worst times to derail everyone’s plans. Things aren’t always what they seem and there’s more than a few surprises. All this happening on Requiem, a moon with a dystopian city run by those matriarchs. It has the feel of criminal underworld mixed with the hottest nightclubs you can imagine. It’s like New York City on Mars but seedier and more dangerous.

Winn keeps the story moving along at a clip. The opening chapter dumps you into the action and it doesn’t really stop from there. Well…there are a few breaks here and there that allow the characters (and the reader) to catch their breath and get ready for the next big event, but the narrative moves along at a pretty consistent pace. There were a few scenes that just really gripped me, one of which was this lengthy set-piece in the Olympus Nightclub. I won’t say more so as not to ruin it, but it’s one of my favorite sets of scenes in the book in terms of action and drama.

Readers who love found family will also enjoy City of Shattered Light. That’s because this thematic element is found on multiple levels in the book. It’s really like EVERYONE is looking for a new family that is better and safer than their real one. But it comes with some bumps along the way. There’s a constant struggle between being a family or a team, and with being alone. The characters have to really work for it and prove to themselves and others how much they really want it. It makes the story so much better having seen what they are all willing to do to keep their family whole. I just really appreciated what Winn did with this theme.

There’s also some dark parts. Some sad parts. You’ve already seen me mention Asa’s dad who you’ll sit back and ask yourself “who the hell experiments on their kid!?!?” I mean I felt so strongly I wrote it down in my notes. Asa’s dad has other faults as well, elements of his character that cause pain for everyone. The characters must work through and past it to survive what’s being thrown at them. It drudges up painful memories that threaten to tear things apart. They must work through the darkness and the pain to succeed and it always leaves this tension and question of whether they will.

Everything just keeps picking up steam and building toward an explosive conclusion. When I put the book down I felt satisfied. That satisfaction you get when you’ve read a good story and you wouldn’t have changed anything. That satisfaction of being taken on a journey and left in a good place. That satisfaction of a time well spent. I hope that City of Shattered Light gets the attention it deserves. I hope you’ll pick it up and enjoy it as much as I did.

*I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Author: Claire Winn
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
Format: Kindle Advanced Reader’s Copy
Pages: 400 (paperback)

Book Review: Jade War by Fonda Lee

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I’ve returned to the world of Fonda Lee’s The Green Bone Saga and let me tell you it was such a good experience! Jade War is just as engrossing as it’s predecessor Jade City, but now on a more global scale. I previously described Jade City as being a “vivid, gritty, gangster fantasy.” Well, Jade War doubles down on that description and throws in some serious character and plot development ensuring it doesn’t fall into that dreaded sophomore slump, but instead stands up and carries the torch for this series as it continues on to the next installment in Jade Legacy.

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SPFM Book Review Repost: Gedlund by William Ray

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September is Self-Published Fantasy Month! This is the fourth year for this event and the first time I’m not participating as an admin/host. Thankfully there’s a great team filling in this year to keep the event going better than ever.

Since I won’t have the opportunity to review many self-pub books this September due to…all the damn reasons, I thought I’d repost some reviews of self-published fantasy I’ve really enjoyed previously. Because really the whole point of Self-Published Fantasy Month is to celebrate self-pub books and authors, and what better way to do that than shouting about them repeatedly year after year to anyone who will listen?

So this begins the first in a series of reposts I plan to upload between now and the end of the month. These will be copies of the original review, updated slightly for formatting. The first is for the book I credit with getting me hooked on self-pub…Gedlund, by William Ray.

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Book Review: Glass Rhapsody by Sarah Chorn

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I’m often at a loss when it comes to figuring out what I want to say in a review. This is especially true when a book and/or an author just utterly and completely wows me with story, and language, and craft. We’ve all been there right? Our minds firing off all these little snippets to use but you can’t string them together into anything coherent when the time comes to post a review. That’s been my experience with anything and everything I’ve read from Sarah Chorn. Her latest novel, Glass Rhapsody is no exception to this phenomenon. As with the rest of the Songs of Sefate series, Glass Rhapsody gutted me….it continued to work away at a wound opened with Of Honey and Wildfires, but, it healed as well. It worked at that wound, cleaned it up, and let me recover. This series is an emotional experience as much as it is a story, one that carries you through the pain to redemption and recovery on the other side.

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Book Review: The Pariah by Anthony Ryan

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Sometimes a book is the perfect read that comes at just the right time. Anthony Ryan’s The Pariah was such a book for me. I’d been in a reading slump for weeks. I just couldn’t bring myself to read anything at all. The book I had been reading was really, really good, but every time I sat down I just couldn’t get in the mood. I finally finished it, took a couple extra days off from reading, then picked up The Pariah because I realized the release date would be upon me soon. I was riveted from page one! I read it in a matter of days, staying up late every night to finish as much as possible. I know there are a few months left, but let me tell you, The Pariah is one of my top reads of the year!

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SPFBO 7 Review: Demons, Ink by Clayton Snyder

Zoomed in image of portion of cover for Demons, Ink by Clayton Snyder.

Yesterday my SPFBO 7 review for Demons, Ink by Clayton Snyder went up over on Before We Go Blog. This was my selection from my initial batch of books to move on to the next round in the team’s selection process, and the first selection for the team as a whole. We may end up with 9 or 10 books in that second round and from those we’ll narrow it down to a few semi-finalists, and then a finalist.

Anyway, I enjoyed this read and hope you’ll check it out. Click below to be taken to to the review.

Demon’s, Ink Review

As always if you don’t know about SPFBO it’s an annual contest hosted by author Mark Lawrence with 300 self-published fantasy books/authors split between ten judges or judging teams that will eventually work it’s way to a final winner. Check out the SPFBO Webpage for more details and the SPFBO 7 Page for more on this year’s books and judging teams. I hope you’ll follow along!

#SPFBO7 Elimination: A Time Of Ashes by Ru Pringle

I’ve been quiet here lately but it’s not because I’ve quit reading or reviewing, I’ve just been doing it over at Before We Go Blog for #SPFBO.

You’ll be seeing more regular reviews from me here soon. I’ve got some reviews for some Orbit releases coming and some self-published fantasy that ISN’T a part of the contest I’ll be posting about.

But in the meantime here’s my review for A Time of Ashes by Ru Pringle for #SPFBO in case you missed it. It was my second cut for the contest.

https://beforewegoblog.com/spfbo7-cut-review-a-time-of-ashes-by-ru-pringle/