Author: JLScritchfield

My name is John Scritchfield. Father, husband, geek, actor, author, instructor, etc. These are my ramblings.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson – Book Review

Following and perhaps capitalizing on the “1980s group of kids” trend, The Saturday Night Ghost Club revolves around one man’s memory of his twelfth summer. The book has drawn comparisons to Stranger Things, and while there is a friend group and it does take place in the 1980s, I found that the similarities ended there. A more apt, if not current, comparison would be the Goonies, especially considering the urban legend type stories the aforementioned club explores.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. The Goonies and Stranger Things are also similar. And that is a fair point. However, Stranger Things contains far more elements of horror and science-fiction, while the Goonies is more of a straight-up adventure. In this regard, the Saturday Night Ghost Club is closer in tone to Stand by Me than It. If you loved Stranger Things and you’re hankering for more of the same, I suggest you check out One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence. If you loved the 1980s feel but want FAR less paranormal elements, The Saturday Night Ghost Club may be what you’re looking for.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a coming of age story, wrapped in a memory play, and written with the precise hand of a neurosurgeon. I’ve never read anything written by Craig Davidson before, but I can say I’m certainly impressed with his ability to carve a mental picture.  The story concerns one Jake Baker, an adult neurosurgeon reflecting on a particularly important summer. A relatively short book, Davidson uses specific moments to show the profound changes taking place in Jake. He further illustrates the significance of these moments by drawing comparisons to Jake’s adult career and life. There were several moments where, despite Niagara Falls being hundreds of miles from where I grew up, I found my mind wandering to my own childhood, shading Jake’s world with my own experiences. I can’t say for certain this was Davidson’s intent, but considering the story’s memory element, I suspect it was.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club may not be another Stranger Things. However, it is a compelling and emotional journey certain to engage anyone who remembers feeling that first exciting surge of uncertainty when facing the end of childhood, the beginning of something new. If you’re looking for a new story to read on vacation, look no further. This is the perfect summer book.


SPFBO 3 – An Experience

Back in 2017, I entered the first novel I’d ever written into the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. It was titled the Last Days of the Wanderer, and it was a hot mess. I self-published the manuscript because of the competition as an attempt to get my work in front of discerning eyes. I was so very new to this writing thing, and I wanted to know if I had any talent. I have since learned there are far better ways to learn this and far better ways to improve.


It was assigned to Pornokitsch and within weeks of sending Jared my book, he posted an article titled, “Some Unwanted Writing Advice.” 75% of that article, I would swear was directed at Wanderer. I had made SO many mistakes in my first foray into publishing, and I was instantly ashamed. The book hadn’t been ready. I hadn’t done my homework as to what went into a self-published book. When his review of my first fifty pages finally hit, it was kind. Reading between the lines, I inferred, “Ehh. It was fine.”

That was enough for me.

I pulled my book from Amazon, shelved the book, and moved on to another project. I’ve since written two more novels, one of which I queried and got some interest. I’m editing it again before I get at querying again.

My point: I had a rough first experience. My first book wasn’t up to it, but I learned, grew from it, and moved on. I’m now part of a larger community, reviewing for and consequently SPFBO 5.

You wrote a book. You freaking did it. You took a story out of your head and put it on paper.

That is a big friggin deal. Whether you struck out or you win it all, never stop.

The world needs your stories.

Review: Crowfall

Hey everybody,

So I’m a week behind on this review because my wife has had me building things around our house. Although it puts me three books behind on the year, if there was one book I wanted to take my time with in 2019 it was Crowfall by Ed McDonald.


Featured here this glorious cover.

Corwfall is the third (and final?) book in the Raven’s Mark Series. Although I have not done full reviews on Blackwing and Ravencry, those of you who know me personally or follow me on facebook or twitter, know how much I enjoyed the first two books. Blackwing was very good. Ravencry blew my mind.

So when I saw Crowfall on NetGalley, I had to request it.
I did not think I would receive a copy since I’m relatively new to the reviewing scene…





And here we are. On the other side of my most anticipated book of 2019.

So the question remains: How did it hold up?

Well first let’s talk about what Crowfall is about.


Here there be spoilers for Blackwing and Ravencry…probably.


Crowfall (and the Raven’s Mark Series so far) follows the journey of Ryhalt Galharrow, ex-sophisticated soldier turned merc turned agent for an ancient maniacal crow wizard. Upon his forearm is a tattooed raven that on occasion rips itself free from his arm to deliver his master’s instructions.

Comedy ensues.


Misery ensues.

The Misery is a magically corrupted wasteland where Ryhalt finds himself all the time over the course of the books. In fact, in the six years since the end of Ravencry, MFer has just been subsisting on Misery stuff, eating the monsters, and sucking in all that magical filth to right the wrongs of the previous two books.

Become the Anvil, as his arm states.

To make matters worse, Crowfoot (his mystic master and creator of the Misery) has unleashed a new fresh hell on the humans living in the Range in the form of insanity rain.

Imagine acid rain…like LSD rain…that makes you trip balls and die.

On top of that, our old pals the eldritch god-like Deep Kings have tapped into the power of The Sleeper, an even more terrifying and ancient eldritch god….


Like my boi N’Zoth here.

and raised a spirits-damned Deep Emperor.


Not a great time to be a human.

Galharrow (with the help of his compatriots) works to stave off humanity’s destruction while haunted by the ghosts of his past, the hope of his future, and the turmoil of his present.

Bleak times all around.

So…How did it hold up?

Even with Ravencry right up until the end.

Crowfall’s ending sets it just above Ravencry in my estimation.

Which is quite a feat in my mind.

Because I was SO looking forward to this book, I was prepared to be let down.
I shouldn’t have worried.

Crowfall delivers.

McDonald manages to work a substantial amount of worldbuilding into his third book so that a number of the history questions I had were answered. Not all of them. This world feels ancient, and she hides her secrets well. I hope to learn more about her someday.

McDonald’s writing (in Ryhalt’s voice) continues strong throughout, and the philosophical journey the reader takes with Ryhalt over the series is impressive. From cranky man with a deathwish to cranky man with a…lifewish? That’s a thing, right? There is more than enough to convey the story without ever feeling bogged down while painting a grim portrait girded with rays of hope. It’s a large reason I’ll continue coming back to these books in the future. Even when everything seems lost, grim and dark, you believe in Ryhalt. You want him to succeed. He want him to earn his ending.

Spoiler: He does.

Crowfall is a stunning conclusion to the Raven’s Mark trilogy, and for my money the best of the three. McDonald never lets misery leech all of the hope from his audience, and the result is a story that is visceral while also philosophical, unique in setting, and bold in presentation. McDonald never lets his reader sink deeper than his protagonist, and he is always ready to offer a hand through the supporting cast.

Ed McDonald has quickly risen in my list of favorite authors, not only because of his work, but also because he seems a damn fine gentleman. Follow him on Twitter.

I’m currently contemplating a Raven’s Mark tattoo. We’ll see. Crowfoot is a dick.

I’ll leave you with two pictures I thought of while reading…
without context I don’t think they count as spoilers…



If you have not checked out Blackwing, I encourage you to do so.
If you’ve read Blackwing, you’ll need to read Ravencry,
And then pre-order Crowfall.

The Misery loves company.

5/5 evil crows holding knives

canuck the crow.jpgcanuck the crow.jpgcanuck the crow.jpgcanuck the crow.jpgcanuck the crow.jpg

-scritch out.

BTW I googled evil crows…I was not disappointed.


Buy Ed’s books or I’ll peck out your eyes.

Review: One Word Kill

Good afternoon, everyone,

Today I’ll be telling you about Power Word…

oops, I mean One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence.


Any longtime follows of this blog or…life will know I have a soft spot for Mark Lawrence as his Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is what made me begin to take myself seriously as a writer. Consequently, that competition helped me discover an incredible online community as well as terrific authors such as Josiah Bancroft, Jonathan French, Dyrk Ashton, and a slew of others.

Also, the Broken Empire trilogy (beginning with Prince of Thorns) is one of my all-time favorite reads.

So when the Impossible Times trilogy was announced I was on board before ever reading a synopsis. I’ll buy anything he’s written…and read it eventually (sorry, Red Queen’s War and Book of the Ancestor. I’ll get there).

Before we talk about the actual content, I’d like to have a word about the title…

because it really should be Power Word Kill.


The name was picked from a limited selection by the fans.

They chose wrong.

That’s a small gripe, I know, but I couldn’t help but think about it every time someone talked about Power Word Kill.

Obligatory synopsis courtesy of Amazon:

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

So…a group of teenage boys (and a very special girl) play D&D with an eerie 80’s backdrop. The easy comparison is, of course, Stranger Things.

And there is some of that, certainly.

I think a more precise comparison is:

Stranger Things meets Primer with a dash of Terminator…oh and featuring this guy.


Young Conan O’Brien with a machete

I love Mark Lawrence’s writing. For the most part, his prose is lean and direct, giving the reader just enough information to form a vivid image without being over or under-descriptive. Then every few pages, he’ll drop a perfect simile to illustrate a moment and


I love it.

The characters.

Nick is our narrator, and Lawrence tells this story in his voice. Yes, OWK is Young Adult…sorry ’bout it. His understanding of math, the universe, and time travel clearly stems from Lawrence’s own career as a freaking rocket scientist (not that he’s traveled in time that I know of), but he writes with a proficiency that I believe comes from deep understanding. Not that it ever reads as dense or pedantic, quite the opposite actually. When complex themes or paradoxes ares introduced, Lawrence is able to succinctly summarize them in a way that doesn’t feel overly complicated or dismissive in a hokey SFF way.

And I’m leery of Time Travel (and dragons but that’s neither here nor there).

OWK establishes rules and sticks to them (so far as I can tell).

The other characters are mostly memorable: Mia, Simon, Elton, John, Demus.
All fine folks to spend time with.

My one complaint. I really disliked Ian Rust or simply Rust. He’s the Christmas Story maniac. Even as someone who knew a red-headed homicidal nut job in my youth (the kid actually tried to strange me in the middle of a church), Rust was hard to buy.

Yes, I know this was a SFF story concerning time-travel.

But I had a harder time believing Rust.

I realize that it’s just the story (and Scranton isn’t the mean streets of London), but I had a really hard time imagining the teenage weed-dealer turned actual murderer.
I mean, [MINOR SPOILER] he straight up kills a fairly prominent gang leader.
Shouldn’t that guy have had guards or something?
I know he wasn’t freakin’ Scarface, but still…


Not a fan of Rust.

With twenty pages left, I was pretty certain of how things would shake out. There were still a few twists to make it interesting. Heartbreaking ones, if I’m being honest.

Being a time-travel story also means we have a pretty clear idea of how the trilogy will end (because house rules). Some readers might find that off-putting, but I don’t mind.

Journey before destination and all that.

It’ll be really interesting to read Nick’s story going forward especially considering everything he has to do now that…you should just read it for yourself.

Coming off my first session with Dungeons & Dragons 5E, I think it only fitting I give Power Word….I mean, One Word Kill 4/5 D20s.


An interesting concept, a compelling story, and interesting characters make for an enjoyable read. A couple low notes keep it from being something truly special…at least in my book. Without a doubt, I’ll read Limited Wish and Dispel Illusion, and my expectations will be just as high as they were for One Word Kill.

Amazon Prime users can exercise their early read option to receive an advanced e-book or a deeply discounted hardcover.

I have the e-book…I’ve yet to ask my wife if I can just buy it.

I want it.

Consider this me asking, Brandy.

Next week, I’ll (hopefully) be taking a look at


Most Anticipated Book of 2019 right here.

Until that time,

scritch out.

Review: Ship of Magic

Hey everyone,

As I’ve stated in recent posts, Brandy and I are trapped in the Realm of the Elderlings and escape seems impossible.


Although Brandy is in Ship of Destiny already, I’ve dragged my feet and have just completed Ship of Magic.


Now there are a number of covers for this trilogy…that happens when there are multiple editions (NBD), but the audiobook cover…*shudders*


I don’t know when Seth MacFarlane decided to leave the Orville and become a fantasy pirate, but I have to say…I don’t love it.

However, looking beyond the cover, we find a tremendous story filled with wonder, pain, and struggle – an epic fantasy among epic fantasies.

So…Who likes boats? *laughs awkwardly*

Summary courtesy of Amazon.
Not far from the Six Duchies lies Bingtown, hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships–rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness.  Bingtown’s Old Traders, their wealth eroded by northern wars and the rapacity of southern pirates, now face an influx of upstart merchants who bring change to a complex society.

The Vestrit family’s only hope of renewed prosperity is the Vivacia, a liveship they have nurtured for three generations.  Now, as old Captain Vestrit lies dying in Bingtown, the Vivacia cuts homeward through the waves, about to quicken into a living being.  The ship carries Vestrit’s daughter Althea and the conniving son-in-law he has named as the Vivacia’s next captain.

But lovely, wild-spirited Althea, sailing the Vivacia with her father since childhood and sharing its half-awakened memories and ocean secrets, has bonded with the ship in her deepest soul.  Joined by Brashen–her father’s first mate, now demoted by the Vivacia’s new commander–she will stop at nothing in a bitter quest to claim its captaincy.

Meanwhile, in the rocky cays known as the Pirate Isles, a ruthless man lusts after his own kind of power.  The pirate captain Kennit, in his scheme to be king of this outlaw realm, has vowed that he will wrest a liveship from its owners and turn it to his own use.  His twisted ambition will bring him into a strange partnership with a boy-priest turned seaman–and into violent conflict with the wizardwood magic of Althea and Brashen.

From the peculiar magic realm of the Others to the bawdy, raucous lair of the pirates, Ship of Magicsweeps a dazzling cast of characters into an epic of terrible beauty and mysterious sorcery.


No one writes like Robin Hobb. Her descriptions have precise the right amount of details without feeling overly dense. These characters are the kind of true to life sorts that make you want them all to achieve their objectives (even the dread pirate Kennit). And the world – my God, the world – is so much bigger than the Farseer trilogy. New revelations are unveiled while new secrets are uncovered.

I tell you, this story has it all: court intrigue, fascinating creatures (hello, sentient sea serpents and freaking POV Liveships), complex characters struggling with relationships and identity, a vast sprawling world so palpable you’ll swear you can smell the salt. Even the occasional info-dumps don’t feel too much but necessary. I understand current readers seem mostly opposed to info-dumps, but it has been a hallmark of the genre for…well…ever. Handled right, it doesn’t need to be a bad thing. In Ship of Magic, I found it extremely helpful.

Unlike every other review I’ve posted this year, however, there were things that knocked me out of the story. I have zero problem with characters experiencing the full-breadth of life – sexuality included. However, I was put-off by a few things. Some spoilers ahead.

1. Kennit’s sexual dominance of his…companion. She’s a really cool character, but they’re initial meeting had me…unnerved. And that’s probably how you’re supposed to feel. Regardless, it bothered me.
2. The detail in another sexual encounter. To be fair, this one was consensual (if influenced by drugs, alcohol, and injury), and I’m no stranger to sex in life or literature. But this was more akin to Joe Abercrombie’s Before They are Hanged (if you read it, you know which one I mean). Not a problem, per se, but I was surprised by the content compared to the Farseer Trilogy. This makes Ship of Magic a little more difficult for me to recommend as opposed to Fitz’s first trilogy.
3. Most plot lines are left with a ton of forward momentum…really all of them. For a current comparison, this is a little like Infinity War. Ship of Magic is Kennit’s story, how he accomplishes his task. It’s bookended by the sea serpent’s story, yes, but our first scene finds Kennit seeking prophetic council concerning his goal. Ship of Magic is how he does it. Not a problem. I just like my stories to be a little more independent. I had to start Mad Ship next despite my growing TBR.

Ship of Magic is a LONG book. The audiobook I enjoyed was 35 hours, and I listened to it on double speed. It still felt long. Not too long, mind you…


Two very good things. Like George Washington with an awesome library.

But it’s a long book…and a long trilogy. It’s going to take months before I can get to the Tawny Man trilogy. *Sound of my heart breaking*

I’m awarding Ship of Magic a respectable 4 out of 5 Pirate Ships.


If you’ve made it through the Farseer Trilogy and you want more of the world, do not skip this series. Robin Hobb wrote them like this for a reason. Don’t be that guy who skips ahead for Fitz and the Fool. I think this worldbuilding will be necessary to fully experience the world as Hobb intended.

But don’t go in expecting more of the same.

The writing is different.
The characters are different (mostly *wink*).
The stakes are different.

– scritch out

Next up is:


Followed by


I know I’ve lied about my reading order…I do try.

But this combo, I promise…They’re next.

Unless something happens and my reading slows down again.

In which case you’ll get a review of Umbrella Academy Vol 1 and 2.

That wouldn’t be the end of the world though, would it?


Review: Assassin’s Quest

Hey everyone,

Last Tuesday was a c-c-c-c-c-combo breaker as I did not get this review in on time.

To be honest, completing the Farseer Trilogy left me a little reeling in the same way finishing Wheel of Time did. It seems Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings is filling that epic hole in my chest left behind by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

And hoo boy, did I make a wise choice.

Fitz’s journey over these three books is something to behold and it leaves me wondering where Hobb will take him next. I’ll have to wait a while as I’ve been sucked into Liveship Trader’s book 1 despite my promise to read City of Lies next. I’m through 23 of the 35 hours it takes to listen to Ship of Magic and…well…that’s a review for another time.

Now, I want to draw your attention to…


So bastard. Much noble. Very stare.  Wow.

Spoilers Ahead!

Assassin’s Quest picks up right where Royal Assassin left off with Fitz recovering from his brush with death and Regal (again). This time, however, it isn’t only seizures making his life more difficult but LOSING HIMSELF TO THE WOLF. I put that in all caps because it was an insane way to end Royal Assassin, and Fitz believes (early in the book) that it was worse than simply shoving off on the permanent.

In the course of the first few chapters, Fitz manages to sufficiently piss off both of his mentors, Burrich and Chade, enough that they straight GTFO and leave him to his own devices.

Fitz decides to go on a quest to save his uncle Verity and right the Six Duchies…

No… wait…

That’s what I expected him to do. What he decides to do instead is to MURDER REGAL!

The madman goes off half-cocked with Nighteyes, journeys all the way to Regal’s new base of operations, and fails spectacularly. He would have died if not for Verity’s intervention and consequent command to come to him (a Skill command that forces Fitz to…well…go to him).

Here the quest actually begins. Stories of the bastard are spread near and far somehow insulating the real man behind the myths. Along the way, he faces obstacles great and small, assasses some more people, and makes new friends. We discover the ultimate fate of Molly (Bees?), Burrich, Kettricken, Verity, Chade, the Fool, and oh…justa bout everyone else.

By ultimate I do mean in the context of this trilogy by the way. I’ve already encountered one of the above characters in Ship of Magic, but…


I’ll never tell.

Robin Hobb continues to astound with her characters and prose, never easing off the intrigue even when the narrative arc slows. Every character is given understandable and dare I say relatable reasons for doing what they do…And tbh it makes the story that much more heartbreaking and fulfilling.

As Brandy told me when she finished (a month ahead of me btw)…

It ends well…but at great cost.”

And if that isn’t the case with every single one of these books…smdh.

I’m trapped now in this world. Brandy is in Ship of Destiny and plowing forward, urging me on with tidbits and taunts. It’s maddening. I’ll never be free. I’m sorry Sam Hawke. I promise I’ll get to City of Lies now that I’ve technically started it.

In the interim, however, I’m acquired a galley of


And an Amazon first read copy of


And I think those are going to push it back down the TBR. I’ve started the latter and it’s pretty intriguing so far…it’s also significantly shorter than most novels I’ve read this year. Gotta get those numbers up. 1,000 books and all that. Gotta get in as many as I can.

I realize I’ve been doling out 5 star ratings like it’s my job, but how can I give Assassin’s Quest anything less? It’s a classic. I promise I’ll start reading crappy books soon. Or at least ones that I don’t enjoy so much. Maybe.

Despite a slow start, Assassin’s Quest completes what Assassin’s Apprentice started, bringing FitzChivalry Farseer from a humble beginning to a world-changing catalyst. I can’t recommend The Farseer Trilogy hard enough.

5/5 Dragons


-scritch out

Review: Royal Assassin

Happy Tuesday everyone,

It’s beginning to feel like Tuesdays are my day for reviews.

Today I’m reflecting on the second book in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, Royal Assassin.


Way better cover than Assassin’s Apprentice too…imho.

On this side of the trilogy (I finished Assassin’s Quest last Friday), I think book three is the “best” of the three, but book two is my favorite.

Some minor spoilers for Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin…probably.

Royal Assassin picks up shortly after Assassin’s Apprentice with Fitz and Burrich still staying in the Mountain Kingdom, home of the Six Duchies’ new queen Ketricken. Having suffered a traumatic experience at the hands of his Uncle Regal, Fitz begins this story as a near invalid. He suffers from seizures whenever he gets too worked up. Hobb has Fitz communicate his anger and frustration in such a way that the reader only feels heartbreak for the poor kid…a feeling with which a reader would be wise to become acquainted.

As in book one, the pacing is a bit slow. I personally never faltered as I find the intrigue of Buckkeep quite fascinating. There’s a constant dread that hangs over the Six Duchies as the Red Ship Raiders continue to pillage and forge their way across the land. It keeps King-in-waiting Verity separated from his kingdom and his loved ones as he attempts to Skill (magic) away his enemies. And it’s really the only assassin we see Fitz do. King Shrewd has him riding forth to poison the oncoming Forged Ones. I think there’s one more instance of assassing, but it isn’t the main focus of the book.

Royal Assassin sees FitzChivalry Farseer reforged by his Uncle Verity’s hand. Where there once was a scalpel, there is now an ax. An actual ax. Burrich and Verity train Fitz to wield as ax into battle while Verity rides his mind with the Skill.  The result is warrior Fitz, roaring into battle like some Norse god.

And speaking of things the gods would do, Fitz bonds a new animal, a wolf named Nighteyes. I don’t exaggerate when I say the relationship is the most interesting in the books. Full stop.

Every side character gets further development: Kettricken, Verity, Chade, Burrich, the Fool…Hell, even Regal. Everyone gets their moment on page, and the reader grows to understand every one of them a little bit better…which makes it all the more heartbreaking when every single of them makes the worst character-informed decisions they could. The choices all make sense, but it doesn’t make them any less frustrating. There were dozens of times where I was this guy…


For as slow as the first 600 pages were, the final 100 are stunning. There’s a masterful build-up that leads to a breakneck conclusion that left my eyes wet and my mouth agape.

I realize I’ve been giving out 5 star ratings like it’s my job, but I can’t help it that I’ve made wise choices lately…

Royal Assassin gets 5/5 Wolves in my book.



Currently (finally) reading: City of Lies by Sam Hawke.


I’ll have a review up once I’m done.
I’m also hoping to pick up a few galleys this year.
Stay tuned.

-scritch out

Review: A Modern Masterpiece

Hey everybody,

Today I would like to tell you about Josiah Bancroft’s incredible series

The Books of Babel.


Revel in their glory. I said, REVEL!

Usually I dislike reviewing multiple books in one sitting, but for this series I’m making an exception. Especially considering I’ve yet to talk about them on here…And I tell everyone about them. Always. Seriously, I’m certain I’ve accounted for the sale of at least ten copies of Senlin Ascends. And those are just the ones I know of.


The Books of Babel tell the story of Thomas Senlin, a naive professor traveling to the fabled tower of Babel on his honeymoon. With a guidebook as his…guide…he leads his new wife Marya the foot of the tower and promptly loses her. The reader quickly learns this isn’t an unusual occurrence. The tower is not a melting pot of humanity so much as it is a cesspool, luring hapless victims into its swamp so it can devour their meat and grind up the bones into a sort of paste which is quite lovely in florescent lighting…but I digress.

The first installment focuses solely on Thomas as he traverses the first three layers of the tower. The second broadens its scope as several characters from the first book are given expanded roles and POV chapters. The third expands on this, giving the reader even more time with some of the main characters in book two.

Each character has something unique to offer: an intriguing past, a compelling driving force, and/or personal stakes in their circumstances/companions. Every character is believable and more than that they are relatable.

What makes this series truly special (even apart from the dramatic story that leaves you constantly guessing) is the prose. Holy crap, can Josiah Bancroft write. I don’t think I’ve read anything in the last ten years that felt so masterful. Pierce Brown, author of Red Rising, I think says it best, ““It’s rare to find a modern book that feels like a timeless classic. I’m wildly in love with this book.”

And what’s crazy is all three books feel like timeless classics. Dickens writing Old Testament inspired steampunk. It’s unreal.

So if you have not picked up a copy of Senlin Ascends already…Do. You will not regret it.

I realize I’ve been giving exceptional ratings to every book I’ve reviewed this year so either I need to update my rubric or start reading crappier books…Because a 5/5 rating seems too lower of these books I am going to award the Books of Babel 15/15 towers. Not only are these books exceptional, I would happily include all three in a list of like ten books I’d want with me on a deserted hellscape… I mean, a desert island. Not hellscape. Island.




-scritch out

Review: The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

Hey everybody,

Today we’ll be looking at The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.


Originally published last year, it was one of the many books that slipped off my radar for one reason or another. I kept telling myself I would get to it, but alas…I did not…Until this year.

I have read a fair amount of grimdark since picking up Prince of Thorns a couple years ago, but I don’t know that anything I’ve read prepared me for the third act of the Poppy War.

The first two acts progress a lot like other “magic school” books. Rin, our protagonist, works her butt off to gain admittance into the top military school in the land. Things go wrong for her while other things go well. She learns about shamanism and military strategy…things get out of hand quickly as she connects with a Phoenix god…but these are all things you can read for yourself on Amazon.

In doing my own research last year, I came across Kuang’s query letter. It should come as no surprise for those who have read The Poppy War that Kuang studies international theory and modern Chinese history. By her own admission, this novel was her attempt to answer some of the questions she faced in the course of her studies. The result is a rare mix of captivating storytelling and superb world building with a heavy dose of violence.

The pacing is terrific. There was never a moment I lost interest in the story even as it contained enough material for two if not three shorter stories (It is 527ish pages in hardcover).

The prose is beautiful without feeling flowery.

The worldbuilding is terrific. It is military fantasy set in a heavily Chinese influenced world. There is a pantheon of gods, and the magic system (drop acid and summon gods) is awesome.

The Poppy War is as enthralling as it is devastating, and I eagerly await the Dragon Republic. R.F. Kuang recently tweeted that she thinks the sequel is superior. If anyone can write a better book, I suspect it’s her.


5/5 psychedelic mushrooms


Would drop again

If you’re interested in ordering a copy of your own, please check your local bookstore. Here’s a link to my usual haunt Schuler Books.

– scritch out

Review: The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore

Hey everybody,

Today I am reviewing The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore.


The Perfect Assassin is the debut novel by K.A. Doore. In researching literary agents, I came across the title and was almost instantly curious. I typically don’t like fantasy covers featuring actual people, but this one caught my eye.

How good of an assassin would someone need to be to be considered perfect? I wondered.

So on something of a whim, I signed up for Netgalley and requested an ARC. It was approved in days (I also requested Priest of Bones but got denied…Lame). I dove right in, reading about 3 chapters a day while feeding my newborn daughter. It turned out to be the most convenient method as I read it on my phone. I hope to pick up a tablet soon…but I digress.

The Perfect Assassin is a very good debut. It follows Amastan’s journey from reluctant assassin in training to proper assassin. From the beginning, the reader is launched into this world filled with sand, poison, and…ghosts? There are a surprising number of ghosts (called jaani) in TPA. As I read, I began to grow increasingly worried I had found yet another Assassin book without any assassing. Amastan spends a great deal of time worrying about whether or not he could actually assass someone despite having spent all this time training. He’s much more inclined to spend time working with books (aren’t we all). When people start dying, Amastan finds himself (through a series of events) as the man charged with bringing down this assassin assassin. He eventually learns to accept his place as an assassin, and spoiler…kills someone.

There’s a lot of story here, and it’s difficult to review without giving plot points away. The Perfect Assassin is really a murder mystery wrapped in a middle-east inspired fantasy with a firm head-tilt toward romance because…what’s life without romance?

Observations: The prose is really tight. I like that. Descriptions are clear enough to tell the story without being overly florid. I wonder at the decision to stylize God as G-d. I understand the reason. However, to the best of my knowledge the reason to omit the vowel is prevent someone from using God’s name inappropriately. So every time a character said G-d, I wondered if they were just saying God or pronouncing it Gah-Duh. I also wondered if this was just the religious bent of the author. Either way, it took me out of the story.

Where TPA really shines is in worldbuilding. The magic system (healing with water) and jaani (ghosts) are pervasive and extremely cool. The world is well thought-out. It feels like Doore is describing a door in the world. It’s just a natural part of the world. It doesn’t consume the world. If that makes sense.

The relationships are all interesting and solid. Believable characters making consistent choices, you can’t really ask for more than that. Amastan’s sexual preference never feels like it’s a huge plot point. He’s interested in a man, things get complicated…ya know…as relationships do.

I had minor suspicions until a reasonable time when things came together so I felt like I was solving this mystery with Amastan.

In conclusion, the Perfect Assassin is interesting, well written, and a solid debut. Not only will I recommend it, but it will eventually find a place in my library. These are characters I’ll be spending time with again in the future.

5/5 Daggers


scritch out.