Book Review – The Dark Citadel Omnibus

Book: The Dark Citadel Omnibus

Author: Michael Wallace

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Part of a Series: Yes, The Dark Citadel

Spoiler Warning.

Sorry if the books run together. I did read them back to back.

The Dark Citadel Omnibus is the collection of five novels about a fantasy war. They are The Dark Citadel, The Free Kingdoms, The Golden Griffin, The Warrior King, and War of Wizards.

It starts off with the main protagonist, Darik in his home in the khalifate of Balsalom. His house is raided and he and his sister are sold into slavery in order to pay off his father’s debts. Through luck, they are bought by a local baker at the request of two other slaves Markel and Whelan. Before long, Markel, Whelan, and Darik manage to escape their master and Darik learns that his two companions are spies from the Free Kingdoms, a neighboring country.

As they escape, the city comes under siege from the dark wizard Cragyn. The sultana, Kallia, is captured, forced to marry, and raped. Despite all of this, she bides her time until the majority of Cragyn’s forces move out to continue their conquest. At that point, she launches a counterattack and reclaims her city.

Darik and company, meanwhile, travel just ahead of the enemy army en route to the Free Kingdoms to warn Whelan’s brother, King Daniel. While traveling, they are forced to escape a mountain fortress on the backs of griffins where Darik meets the griffin rider Daria. She helps him soar through the air and delivers him safely to the other side of the mountains.

As Cragyn’s forces approach, Whelan must convince his ailing brother to gather the armies of the Free Kingdoms. Unfortunatly, he is being opposed by the wizard Chantmer, Markel’s superior in the wizarding order. Eventually, forces are gathered near the town of Sleepstock where an epic battle is fought between men and wizards, griffin riders and dragons. The people of the Free Kingdoms are betrayed, however, as Chantmer helps to summon a great magical beast to battle the dragons only to have it turn on the armies instead. The Free Kingdoms are forced to withdraw to the capital where they hold their final defense.

Good prevails in the battle and our heroes defeat Cragyn’s army. Chantmer is bested by his order and forced to flee as well. The Free Kingdoms ends with Daniel abdicating the throne in favor of Whelan, Markel finding himself at the head of the wizarding order, and Darik able to join the Knights Temperate, an elite group that offers him forgiveness for the crime of escaping slavery.

Flash forward a few months and The Golden Griffin sees our heroes attempting to clean up after the battle with Cragyn. The dragons are still a threat which Daria and her griffin riders are trying to fight. Darik rides with the Knights Temperate to clear out the remaining pockets of resistance who didn’t flee. While doing so, he discovers a new threat. Not only are the dead rising to fight against the living, but Cragyn was merely a host for the wizard Toth, a powerful dark wizard who nearly broke the world centuries ago.

When Whelan hears of this, he gathers his armies and marches towards the Dark Citadel in order to put an end to this threat once and for all. Markel, meanwhile, continues to chase down Chantmer with Darik’s help. Darik finds that he is able to use magic and spends the journey learning his new skills.

In Balsalom, Kallia is reorganizing her city for the war effort. She has married Whelan, both for love and politics…and as an attempt to hide the fact that she carries Toth’s child in her womb.

In her attempts to end the threat from the dragons, Daria is presented with an unlikely opportunity. While escaping from a horde of dragon wasps, baby dragons, she leads them into a pack of wild, golden griffins. One griffin is injured in the fight, and Daria takes the opportunity to try and tame the creature while helping it heal. When she does, she becomes the first of her people to ride the powerful golden griffins.

The Warrior King sees the armies of the Free Kingdoms and khalifates marching towards the Dark Citadel. As they fight through Toth’s armies, Markel and Darik close in on Chantmer. The betrayer is hiding in a rival khalifate, learning the khalifate style of magic while also planning a coup that will place the long-lived wizards in charge of society. Politics and intrigue abound in the khalifate as the Free Kingdoms attempt to negotiate a treaty while Chantmer prepares his move.

As Whelan approaches the Dark Citadel, he finds that his brother Roderick was killed and reanimated by Toth to lead the dark wizard’s forces. The two brothers are forced to fight, unfortunately for Whelan, his sword Soultrap, a magical blade that traps the souls of the people it kills, is struggling against him. The evil influence of the souls of Toth’s armies are trying to turn the will of the blade against Whelan. During the fight, Roderick is able to temporarily resist the commands of Toth and manages to sacrifice himself on Whelan’s sword. His soul, now trapt in the blade, tips the balance and allows Whelan to use it for good.

War of Wizards is the final fight against Toth. As he sits atop his Dark Citadel, Toth sacrifices the innocent people of his kingdom in order to fuel his dark ritual. This ritual raises an army of wights, tortured souls who seek to avoid the Harvester and kill the living.

Darik has returned to Balsalom and helps to manage the defenses of the city against the wights that are coming to claim Kallia’s child for Toth. With the aid of Chantmer, they manage to hold out against the undead army, hoping that Whelan can end the war on his front.

At the Dark Citadel, Whelan and Markel lay siege to Toth’s fortress. They manage to breach the walls just as the dragon reappears. Daria swoops in on her golden griffin with the rest of her griffin riders to battle the dragon while the armies burst into the city. Whelan and Markel climb the Dark Citadel where they meet Toth and kill him.

Unfortunately, that was part of Toth’s plan. His soul flees his body and travels to Balsalom where it tries to take root in the child Kallia just gave birth to. Through powerful magic, the Harvester is summoned to the room where the god of the dead is able to gather Toth’s soul and end the threat. In a moment of compassion for the living, the Harvester grants a new soul to the child so that it can grow and live a normal life. Darik leaves fighting behind him and travels north with Daria to find a new land for the griffin riders to settle.

So first off….the first two books in this series were pretty good. The last three kind of plodded along. All in all, it was fine, but it felt like Dark Citadel and Free Kingdoms ended the story only to have the author keep it going. It really didn’t pick back up until the second half of War of Wizards minus a few scenes throughout.

This series also felt like it could belong in the young adult category. It was a fairly simplistic writing style, the arcs were decent enough, but most of the struggle seemed to be about the boy Darik finding his place in the world and who he was. I don’t say this to be disparaging of it, just that it felt like it was being billed as more than what it was.

Of course, there are issues with the main focus being on Darik and his struggles. The biggest one is that Darik was a pretty passive protagonist. On the one hand, I kind of like the fact that he wasn’t the big hero, that he was secondary to the larger characters. That works well in some stories. It didn’t really fit with this one though.

The best example I can think of where the protagonist wasn’t the hero was The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford. With that book, the hero was Xenophon, while the protagonist was more of an aid. That book also stuck with one point of view. We saw the events solely through the protagonist’s eyes. The Dark Citadel follows multiple points of view. This makes Darik’s story weaker because we spend just as much time with the actual heroes, with actual power, that we don’t really need Darik’s experience. He is usually just along for the ride.

Of course, there is also the elephant in the room of Chantmer feeling like a Saruman rip off. Powerful wizard, turns evil, betrays his order. I mean, reading the book, my image of Chantmer was of Christopher Lee wandering around the desert.

Despite all of that, the books are fun. Yeah, they end up being a tad formulaic. Yeah, it follows a lot of the epic fantasy tropes of put everyone in the worst situation for a last-minute save, but it was still a fun journey. Ultimately, I recommend The Dark Citadel and the Free Kingdoms. The last three books you can read if you want.

I award The Dark Kingdom and The Free Kingdoms the Iron Stash (4/5) and The Golden Griffin, The Warrior King, and War of Wizards the Bronze Stash (3/5). I award the Dark Citadel Omnibus the Bronze Stash (3/5).

Let me know your thoughts. And remember that I mustache y’all to stay fantastical.

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D&D Story – The Beginning of Bob

Ever wonder how a wood elf becomes a cleric of a tempest god in a port city?

Spring came and Bobalietha celebrated his fifteenth year. It was a year of decision, of elfhood. As with all wood elves of the Shaythean Woods, it was time to choose his purpose in life. While it would still be decades before he would be allowed to sit before the council, his physical maturity was at the point where he would be able to start developing the skills he would give the community.

Life within the Shaythean Woods were uneventful, especially for a young elf full of vigor and energy. The spiritual practices felt empty and hollow to his mind, lacking in some aspect. There was something missing from them that Bobalietha could not place his finger on. As such, he could not imagine choosing a life inside the confines of the village.

When he was called before the council to announce his intent, there was little surprise when he volunteered to join the Southern Garrison. The outpost rested on the southern end of the woods, just north of the city of Waterdeep. It was an important post for the Shaythean Woodelves as a point of information and trade with the many cultures who frequented the port city.

Upon arrival, Thurodan, the garrison’s captain, assigned him various duties. The garrison was staff by volunteers, limiting its number to a mere twelve, and all members had to do their part. Bobalietha fletched arrows, ran messages, and helped with the maintenance of the barricades and palisades. Most of the buildings and the barracks rested within the trees on the edge of the woods, though a single, fortified building sat on the ground to conduct business and as a final defense.

Bobalietha admired Thurodan. The elf was pragmatic and fair. There was no duty that he did not help perform, a true example to the elves underneath him. Once, a group of goblins attempted to raid the garrison. Thurodan thrust himself into battle, felling three of the five himself with a mighty swing of his hammer. Since that raid, Bobalietha put down his spear and attempted to teach himself the warhammer.

After staffing the garrison for six months, one of the famous coastal storms swept past the wards of Waterdeep and drove towards the Southern Garrison. The elves scrambled from their treetop outposts towards the safety of the ground building in order to protect themselves from the winds and hail. Outside the building, the winds roared, tearing saplings from the ground and blowing away the defenses of the outpost.

The earth trembled in the storm and the building shook. The central crossbeam, a mighty oaken log, cracked and began to slide down. The walls leaned drunkenly inward and the roof sagged. Thurodan strode forward and placed himself under the massive beam, bracing it against his shoulders and holding it in place. Thunder crashed from outside, ringing in their ears. Hail drove through the weakened roof and struck the ground around them. Despite it all, Thurodan held that beam, seemingly immovable as the oaken support had been.

Alas, like the crossbeam, Thurodan began to waiver under the weight and ferocity of the storm. His knees trembled. Sweat streamed down his face. Bobalietha, in his youthful excitement, darted forward and reached out towards the beam in an attempt to help his captain. Within moments, his arms trembled violently. The weight was too great for him to manage, and he was unable to provide any meaningful help.

Suddenly, a bolt of lightning crashed through the roof and struck the ground at Thurodan’s feet. The world disappeared in a flash of white, the sound like so many metal objects striking the ground. When his vision cleared and his senses returned, Bobalietha found himself laying on the ground and staring up at a giant man.

His physique was near perfect. His biceps bulged like boulders on his arms. His back rippled with each movement. With seemingly no effort, he took the beam from Thurodan’s shoulders and held it in both hands, pressing it above his head.

He turned his head towards Thurodan and smiled. “Kord smiles upon you.” The divine accent was unlike any Bobalietha had heard, the very words sounding thick and muscular. “Your strength has called to him and saved your people Thurodan. Accept his call. Become his messenger to the people of Waterdeep.”

Thurodan said nothing, was unable to say anything, in the presence of this divine creature. All he could do was nod. The man reached out and placed his hand over Thurodan’s head. His giant grip engulfed the elf’s face. Energy crackled in the air and Bobalietha saw Thurodan’s body tense.

Pushing himself to his feet, he ran towards the creature. He had no idea what he would do, just that something had to be done. Pain ran through his shoulder as he felt like he crashed into a rock. The rock rumbled with laughter, looking down at the scrawny wood elf. “Easy boy. I would never harm a cleric of Kord and temple master.”

Thurodan’s body relaxed and he motioned for everyone to move outside. His eyes had become as gray as storm clouds, a flash of lightning playing over them. Before Bobalietha could follow, the divine man grasped his shoulder. “You have spirit boy, but you are too scrawny right now. Behold! The blessings of Kord!”

Electricity shot through his body and his felt it grow and expand. When the pain passed, he gasped and looked down. Before the storm, he was short for an elf, with a lanky frame. Now he stood at six feet, his shirt drawn tight against his arms and chest. Thighs and calves bulged within his leggings.

Even more impressive than his new physique was the feeling of electricity within him. He felt the rumble of thunder within his chest. His own heart pumped lightning, causing the hairs on his arm to rise. He laughed softly at the gifts, the laughter driving out the remaining pain.

“No gain, no pain bro,” the herald said. Bobalietha left the building and the herald disappeared. With the absence of anyone holding the beam, the building collapsed behind him. The storm still raged about them, though neither Bobalietha nor Thurodan had any fear of it. There was no reason to fear a display from their god.

“Bros,” Thurodan began. His voice was a deep boom, the touch of Kord changing its tone as well as his speech. “Kord saves those who lift! Join me bros, to spread the message. We will establish our gym temple within the city and teach the people the prayers of the bench, the squat, and the deadlift. They will pray with every curl. They will pray with every lunge. We shall guide them along the path of brodom. From brotoges to bros. From gym rats to brofessors.

“Brotoge Bobalietha.” Thurodan turned his stormy gaze on the boy. “You have been blessed with Kord’s gainz. Will you answer?”

“Master Brofessor,” he answered. “I will follow the path of the Iron Church…and call me Bob. It is a stronger name.”

“Very well Brotege Bob. Let us go spread the good news. A new gym is open.” With that, they led the way to the city of Waterdeep followed by the other ten wood elves. Over the years, the temple grew, a haven for wood elves seeking another path. Bob discovered the missing piece of his spirituality was action, movement, the ability to overcome what was impossible yesterday.

He rose from brotege to bro and guided others along the paths. He taught the ways of the Iron Church. He spotted them on the holy lifts and motivated them through the penitent’s path of cardio. He worked tirelessly in his devotion to be worthy of the gifts Kord bestowed upon him.

Then one night, he sat in front of the temple, deep in meditation, the smoke from his pipe curling about his face. His spirit called out to Kord, and a whisper answered him. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the wind changed directions. The signs pointed to a new path for him. Opening his eyes, he looked out into the darkness and saw a small group dragging the body of a dragonborn through the streets.

“Bros. Come closer. Let me help your friend…”

Book Review – Dragon Slayer 1-3 by Michael-Scott Earle

Book: Dragon Slayer books 1-3

Author: Michael-Scott Earle

Genre: Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery

Part of a Series: Yes

Finally, a fantasy series to review. Dragon Slayer is a pulp harem fantasy series following Chicago firefighter Ethan Dapaolo. While at the scene of a blaze, Ethan gets trapped in a burning building and is pulled into a magic land by a mysterious guardian. He has been tasked with killing 25 dragons who threaten the people of this world while freeing the dragons’ magic for the guardians return.

So slight spoilers from here on out. Every time Ethan defeats a dragon they turn into a beautiful woman. It takes way to long for the series to acknowledge this, well into book 2 actually. We, the audience, know all the dragons are women after the first transformation, because it is a harem fantasy after all, but after the 3rd dragon, people are still surprised they are women.

Speaking of harem fantasy… Despite the name, these books aren’t over burdened with sex scenes. That’s great as they tend to get boring after a while. It probably works better if you don’t binge read the books, as they are decently spaced out, but if you read these all in one go, you are going to find yourself skipping scenes. It’s fine as the sex doesn’t add anything to the story. No new developments or growth, just titillation. The obvious exception is that the first time Ethan sleeps with a dragon who has been changed, she decides being human is great.

As for the story, it’s fine. The world is interesting. The author does a good job at organically expanding the scope of the conflict and the size of the world. The characters are also fun, even if they are surrounded by plot armor. The magical guardian who brought Ethan to the world is obviously evil and Ethan will obviously be protecting the world from it when he is done with the dragons. It is not hard to guess how everything in this tale will ultimately turn out.

At the end of the day, Dragon Slayer is just a fun, maybe guilty pleasure, read. It is not overly complex and does a good job at recapping the reader on key points. It is not high fantasy, but it is not trying to be. Overall, I give these books the bronze stash (3/5).

Friday Flash Fiction 015 – Judged

I knelt in the open plains, my head bowed against the sun despite the large shadow cast by my umbrella. My trinkets glimmered and jingled in the breeze. I did not feel the wind, though, as my mask covered my face and beak.

West winds bring plagues they said. My feathers were already beginning to molt from the sun’s kiss. I could not afford a plague on top of it.

How will you get the plague in that mask?

My fingers curled around the amulet that hung from my neck. “It’s the very best. Kings wish for masks like this.” I coughed, despite my words, and retreated further into the shade of my umbrella.

Fatigue, weakness, headache, light headedness. I listed the symptoms of heat exhaustion first, mentally checking off how many I had. Nausea, fever, tender skin, boils. Next was the plague. No boils…yet.

You do not have plague. I have already told you I would never allow it.

Ignoring the voice, I distracted myself from my ailments by looking at the trinkets that hung from my umbrella. I counted and sorted each one of the eleven trinkets. “Gotta collect all twelve.”

I felt my the back of my neck tighten uncomfortably at the thought of the set being incomplete. My fingers twitched towards my belt where my purse hung. Almost enough for the last piece.

The feathers on the back of my neck rose, and I cocked my head to the side. Something was coming. The stench of wrong doing.

I rose and gathered my belongings. It was easy to pack, and I was quickly on my way. I followed the stench easily enough. There was little out here to block my senses.

As I drew closer, my amulet pulsed. I felt every pump in my soul as I felt the pump of my heart. Sure. Confident. True. Trust your heart, and you will be okay is what they say. It led me straight to the man dragging a chest towards small out cropping of trees.

“Halt!” I cried out as I approached.

“What the?!” The man spun about, hand going towards his waist until he saw me. “Get out of here kenku. This doesn’t concern you.”

My head cocked to the side as I looked at the man. “That’s not yours.”

“I told you to git.” The man waved his hand at me and turned.

My fingers curled around my amulet as I looked at the man. “By the gods of Astor, I beseech thee, bind this man so that he may be judged.”

As I finished the prayer, fiery tendrils emanated from the amulet and towards the man. He screamed, trying to run, but my heavenly restraints were faster. Soon, he was bound by wrist and ankle, kneeling before me on the plains.

“You are charged with violating the laws of this land. How do you plead?”

“N..not guilty.” His eyes were slightly wide as he looked up at me.

I leaned forward ever so slightly. “I knew you’d say that.” Leaning back, I began to pray again. “Lords of Astor, reveal his crimes.”

Above my head, a blazing eye appeared and turned down onto the man. I saw how he had snuck up on the carriage in the early morning and taken the chest while everyone still slept. When the vision diminished, he was weeping silently from the effects of my patron’ s ways.

“You have committed theft and have been shown to be…”

“Wait! Please!” The man was crying openly now. “My village is starving. This would keep us fed til winter. I didn’t hurt no body. This was for the greater good.”

I could feel the flaming eye descend over my face as red-orange wings erupted behind me. “The law is greater than good.” My voice echoed the booming mental command of my patron.

“You have been accused and judged before the gods. In their names, I declare you guilty.” My feathery arms rose towards the heavens. “Great lords of Astor, carry out the sentence.”

The man cried out as one of the fiery tendrils about his wrist heated and tightened. In a blink, his hand was severed from his arm; the wound was sealed shut by the gods’ fire and power. The remaining tendrils disappeared, as did the images of flaming eyes and wings surrounding me.

With the sentence carried out, I turned to leave. The man still held his wrist and wept behind me. I stepped off to the north. There was a village near by with a good collection of items I wanted to buy.

What about the chest?

“The law does not care about property after trial.” I shrugged at the thought and scratched my arm. “My skin itches. Did they look rashy? I feel a rash.”

Today’s image is from wanderinginpixels on deviantart. Go check them out. Also, don’t forget to check out D. L. Spartan and her post from the same challenge. Tell her #teamstash sent you.

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