Book Review: The Calling

An action-packed mystery set in an icy future in which humanity’s survival isn’t a guaranteed thing.

The Calling by Branwen Oshea

By Branwen OShea. Buy it on Amazon!

I’m slapping four and a half hearts on this one. And it looks great on my bookshelf :3

Humanity’s wake-up call. Answer it or face extinction.

When Bleu’s little sister shows symptoms of the deadly Sickness, a strange vision directs him to leave humanity’s subterranean haven and seek the cure on Earth’s glacial surface. Joining the expedition team, Bleu expects extreme temperatures, not a surface ruled by ingenious predators.

Rana and her fellow star beings have co-existed with Earth’s top carnivores since the humans disappeared. But when her peers transform into Crowned Ones, the final stage of star being development, she fears remaining Uncrowned like her parents. To prove her worth, she undertakes a dangerous mission—contacting the hostile and nearly extinct humans. But Rana’s plan backfires, and Bleu’s team retaliates.

As war with the more advanced star being civilization looms, both Rana and Bleu separately seek a way to save their people.

The Calling is a hefty adventure. It takes place after the Earth has fallen to ice and humanity has had to hide in underground havens to survive, which, by itself, sounds simple enough. But there’s a lot more to it; from humanity’s struggle in their haven (the Sickness, a dwindling gene pool, politics) to the mystery that surrounds the star beings who have lived in harmony with Earth’s remaining wildlife in the human’s absence on the surface.

And gosh, I adored the world-building on both ends: the star beings and their abilities, their culture, and how humanity has managed to survive, as well as what’s driving them to reclaim the surface. It all comes together to shape a great backdrop to the character’s adventures.

Oh! Yeah! The characters.

I think the book has two main characters, of a sort. Bleu and Rana. Most of the story centres around them, but we get to know a cast of different POV characters who provide us with a view of the story from different angles. They all bring a different flavour and show us more of the world from their unique perspective. Plus, their personalities are varied, which makes switching back and forth entertaining since it keeps it fresh. OH! AND! We get villain POV! And okay, okay, hear me out: the arguable, air-quotes open, villain, air quotes closed, of the story? I am not about to spoil a thing, but I got so dang mad at him. Furious. I wanted to grab the guy by the ankles and feed him to the book’s (adorably murderous) cave diggers. And that’s a compliment because that dude worked. He’s not evil as much as he’s committed to humanity and the survival of the species and it shows.

The book also doesn’t pull its punches: characters will die. And they’re characters that get introduced to us in ways that give us plenty of time to care for them. More importantly though, their deaths aren’t only there to have us go “Oh no!” and then move on, nope. They have consequences and they move the story forward, adding tension and conflict and I think that’s really neat.

Anyway, so, our main characters: Bleu is a young and adventurous soul who yearns for being up there. To breathe something else than recycled air. To be rid of the constricting walls. He’s also an exceptionally good brother and loves his sister dearly. The same sister who is struck by the mysterious Sickness, which threatens to kill humanity’s future: their children. Soon after, a mysterious vision strikes him, convincing him that his sister’s survival depends on him going out there and locating the cure. Rana’s, our second central character, has her own yearning to contend with. She fears she’ll never crown, a fear which preoccupied her. A lot. Seriously. She’s on about it so often I sometimes felt the urge to sit her down and tell her to take a deep breath. But it’s an understandable worry, all things considered. It’s also that fear that drives her to want to set out on a dangerous mission and to eventually be directly tied up in the disastrous first meeting between the star beings and the frightened and hostile humans. Though on a lighter note: she gets to be wooed by two young men. And it’s adorable. And the way she handles it towards the end had me enjoy her as a character even more.

And that’s it, really? I recommend The Calling to anyone who enjoys post-apocalypse stories with a cast of younger heroes who get wrapped up in a high-stakes conflict. There’s action. Gunfights. Fascinating magic. An adorable cave digger baby named Digga. Tragic world-building on humanity’s side and what they’ve got to do in order to survive. And, yeah, if you like well-fleshed-out characters and villains who all come with their individual wants and needs and goals.

Now excuse me while I order book two in the series. I’d missed its release!

Buy it on Amazon!

Web Serial Review: Timekeepers

I couldn’t exit 2021 without one more Taff Screams. And ’cause I haven’t read any webcomics lately (something I hope to rectify in 2022, I got a bunch on my list!), I decided to add Web Serials to my list of things to scream about. We’re starting with one posted right on here, on WordPress.

The world is ending in a series of floods and an ancient organization sets out to enforce one of the earth’s First Promises. To do so, they must find the keepers–the children of Creation–and discover what, exactly, went wrong.

Timekeepers is hosted on Witches and Warlocks Anonymous and written by jaylinmullican. It’s ongoing (as web serials so are!) and while I haven’t caught up with it completely yet I am invested. At the time of writing this Scream, there are 24 chapters and updates come in frequently, so you’ll have a big chunk to devour already. Which, by itself, is already satisfying.

But, What about the story, Taff you might ask and I am glad you did.

The story is of the post-apocalypse flavour (immediate Taff scream points) with a heavy helping of the supernatural and magic (additional Taff scream points guaranteed) and carried on the shoulders of amazing characters that make me smile even when things are grim (the author is greedy and hoarding all the Taff scream points).

It’s packed with beautiful turns of phrases that populate a world growing at a steady pace; and which kept surprising me chapter by chapter and I have no doubt it will continue to do so. Like, did I expect the merfolk that showed up eventually? Nope. I did not. But oh boy do I love them now.

We follow a wildly fascinating set of characters, from The Medium-Sized Girl (who was previously the little girl) who is accompanied by OTC (also known as the Obnoxious Traveling Companion, the delightful Rain (who just like the Medium-Sized Girl has to learn a lot), and Faye, who’s surrounded by the Baby, Joss, and Tarin, and- okay there are a lot of characters. A whole assemble of them. Now, oftentimes that turns me off because I am terrible at keeping character names straight. But the cast in Timekeepers is very distinct and I had no problem keeping up. Plus, the storytelling is in a lot of their names, which solidifies their identities even more so.

Now, let me throw one of the countless great paragraphs at you that’ll find in this story (don’t worry, no spoilers).

Most of the glass was gone from the buildings of downtown Bend. Window panes stood empty and sharp. Shattered door frames shuddered in the current. Wood-braced buildings sagged, water-logged and rotting. Faye wondered how much longer those would last. Their odor suggested they weren’t long for this world. 

There were people here, though they all stayed in the distance. Most people did, these days. There had been one middle-distance person, a few days back, but Faye was pretty sure that had been accidental. The middle-distancer had been cleaning his glasses. Once he had returned the lenses to his face and noticed Faye’s party approaching, he had scampered off into a more proper distant-distance.


It showcases two things Timekeepers does really well. It sets the scene (sometimes a heartbreaking one, sometimes a gorgeous one) and then it follows up with prose that leaks character.

I recommend reading this, okay? Go on. Do it. You can start with the first chapter right here: Timekeepers 1.1

Find it here: Witches and Warlocks Anonymous
Author: jaylinmullican

Book Review: The Graverobber’s Sword

A Dungeon’s and Dragons like adventure with a crude as it gets hero, a dutiful sword, and a lot of heart.

By Jessy Jordan. Get it on Amazon!

The Graverobber's Sword

ZEPHELOUS IS AN INSTRUMENT of destiny, an awakened sword passed from hero to hero to combat the ever-looming threat of chaos and darkness. That is, until its previous wielder met his untimely end without naming a successor. Now it lies in wait, clutched in the death-grip of a friend, waiting for a new hero…

KERA NO-CLAN DOESN’T BELIEVE in heroes, destiny, or sobriety. Spending most of her life running from her past, she has little aspirations beyond her next drink. She spends her waking hours robbing graves and pawning what she finds to fuel her hazy nights, with little consideration for tomorrow. Little did she know that one grave–one sword–would change her life, whether she wanted it or not.

She is now forced to face a destiny that she has been unknowingly hurtling towards, racing against time to face the consequences of her own actions while hating every second of it.

What I expected:

Going into Graverobber’s Sword, I was prepared for a sort of buddy tale shared between a sentient sword who digs destiny and greatness, and his new wielder who doesn’t.

This wasn’t it though.

What I got:

A Dungeon’s and Dragon’s like adventure campaign that occasionally goes off the rails.

While the book starts out as I’d expected and we’re focused very much on Kera and Zeph, it quickly takes a turn before they (or we) can get comfortable. Not saying Kera was anywhere near comfortable. Neither was Zeph. Because hoo-boy, Kera is a mess. And that mess meets Smith and his daughter and then we get to see just how much of a piece of work she really is.

Right about thereabouts, I almost put the book down. Kera’s distrust for others and her absolute disregard for anyone but herself came to a boil and really, really tested me. But then I didn’t — and I got to admit that I admire the author for getting that reaction out of me and convincing me to keep reading anyway.

After introducing us to Smith and his daughter and the disaster that follows, the book takes another turn and all of a sudden we’ve got a Quest and a band of reluctant campaigners on our hands. Each member of the group is unique, comes with their own baggage, and they spend the rest of the book unpacking said baggage in mostly very unfortunate circumstances.

By the time the book was over, I’d grown to care for all of them, with Will probably being my favourite. And then I realised there’s a sequel, so I guess I am gonna have to go and check that out.

Bit like you should check out this one.

Get it on Amazon!

Book Review: The Firemage’s Vengeance

This is the third book in the Academy Journals by Garrett Robinson. Get it here on Amazon. And the whole Academy Journals here.

Image result for the firemages vengeance

Hoo boy.

The third book following Ebon and his friends through their exciting (too exciting) life, doesn’t waste any time. It throws us right back into the thick of a conflict that runs so much deeper than personal vendettas.

Haunted by the choices they’ve had to make at the end of The Mindmage’s Wrath, Ebon, Theren, and Kalem are now more than ever in need of a big hug. Seriously. Mages they may be (mages in training, at least – except Theren, she’s scary good) but they’re young still anyway, and yet shoulder a world of secrets and pain.

Which doesn’t get any easier when the Academy is once again under attack, and they’re back to solving riddles and chasing a villain. They take personal responsibility really serious, even with their own heads on the line this time around.

Luckily, they’re not alone. And no, I don’t just mean Mako. Though, yes, Mako is there. Of course he’s there, and IreallywanttoknowmoreaboutMako,okay?

By now, our young heroes gathered a comforting supporting cast around them, from a lover turned rival turned ally, all the way to nobility. And it doesn’t matter how brief their appearances might be, they are all compelling characters that help complete a picture that comes together from a complex set of puzzle pieces.

I suppose that highlights one of the things I’ve truly enjoyed about this series: How everything has consequences and how Ebon’s life, his struggles, are all really just a small part of something much greater.

Firemage’s Vengeance feels like a pot that’s just been about to boil over and really mess up your stove, but then you get there just in time and prevent disaster at the last second. Sort of. Some spilled out and now there’s a stinky crust under the pot, but the worst of it got contained. And also you’ve now got this really delicious mystery food ready to eat later, even if you have to scrape the stove.

… okay, I don’t know where I was going with this comparison. Something about how the book allows for Ebon and his friends to thwart a villain, to save lives, and yet it sets the stage for much greater things to come, things way past the academy’s walls – and so much closer to Ebon’s heart than before.

It’s a great book, okay.

It’s a great series.

If pressed to find something to nitpick, then maybe I’d whine a little about how Kalem didn’t grow nearly as much as Ebon or Theren did, remaining a relative constant voice of reason with a side of coward. Which isn’t a bad thing, to be fair. They needed him. And we needed him, in particular to show us how just far out some of their plans really were.

And that’s it. That’s how much of the Academy Journals we got right now, which makes me a relatively sad Taff, since I’d really like to see how this continues (AND MAKO) right away. But patience is a virtue and all that, so I’m going to try my hand at this and maybe go read some of the other books in the Underrealm setting.

Whiiich you should do, too.

Just saying.

Book Review: The Mindmage’s Wrath

This is the second book in the Academy Journals by Garrett Robinson. Get it here on Amazon. And the whole Academy Journals here.

The Mindmage’s Wrath picks up right where the Transmuter’s Alchemist’s Touch left off, with our young goldbag Ebon and his friends ready to get into more trouble while the Seat around them is still recovering from the final events of the first book.

I liked Alchemist’s Touch well enough already. It was good, it really was, and you know what? This one is Gooder, with Ebon growing into more of himself page by page, and the world revealing itself to us in greater detail chapter by chapter. We meet his sister. See more of his family’s politics, and especially where his aunt fits into all of it.

But you know what’s best? Mako! MakoMakoMako! There is more Mako! I swear I was making little giddy noises every time he made an appearance, and by the end I was convinced he’s my favourite and I’ll be one sad Taff if something happens to him.

Except Mako is, of course, not what this story is about. He’s just someone that Taff gets incredibly excited about.

Instead, this time, Ebon and his friends are faced with a murder in the Academy, alongside with the thefts of dangerous artefacts that could threaten more than just the Academy, but the Seat and the entire world itself. It’s a delightful little whodunit with a healthy sprinkle of more political intrigue around the goldbag families of Underrealm.

The pacing in which the murder mystery unravels is great, and I liked how the reader is given a chance to piece things together themselves, which gives us a chance to scream at Ebon from outside the pages if we figure it out first.

Again, I’d love to recommend this book. It’s a great follow up to the first one, sets us up for great things to come, and please can I have more Mako?

Book Review: The Alchemist’s Touch

This is the first book in the Academy Journals by Garrett Robinson. Get it here on Amazon. And the whole Academy Journals here.

The Alchemist's Touch: A Book of Underrealm (The Academy Journals 1) by [Robinson, Garrett]

Ebon is an (at times painfully) shy sixteen-year-old boy, who has lived a sheltered life under the thumb of his wealthy and cruel father. His family name carries a lot of baggage with it and seems to be universally feared, though we don’t quite find out why. Not yet, anyway.

Oh, and he’s an Alchemist. Errr, Transmuter, sorry. Except he never got to practice his magic, since that was just one of those things his father forbade him to do. Right along with growing a spine, apparently. Or speaking up. Or having an original thought. Really, his dad is a dick.

Poor Ebon. But hey! He gets his greatest wish, that one thing he’s dreamed of for so long and is allowed to attend the Academy, where he promptly tries to play catchup since he’s about six years late to the party. It’s okay though, ’cause for some reason the benches and stuff in the room made for ten year olds fit him, too. Or maybe he was just awkwardly squeezed into them and had to hunch the whole time. That’ll do a number on the posture.

Ebon is… a little inconsistent at times, though it sort of makes sense, considering how he’s so far behind on being allowed to be himself. Fortunately, he manages to make friends at the Academy relatively quickly. He also makes enemies though, naturally. In particular there’s one going by the name of Lillith, and I admit that their rivalry (if that is what we want to call it) is probably the only thing that I didn’t enjoy much. It came out of no-where and felt just a little too unreasonably cruel and “Ha ha, high school kids, amirght?

Are we really that horrible to each other? Wait. Don’t answer that.

His friendships, on the other hand, feel well deserved and organic, and I liked both Theren and Kalem reasonably well. Ebon, of course, needs them both, and it isn’t until long that he’s swept into a conspiracy hatched by his father. Or so we are led to believe, because there are still questions unanswered by the end. Even for Ebon, who decided to try and unravel the mystery, his two friends by his side.

It goes reasonably well. Sort of. Kind of.

Overall, I liked this book, though I am finding it a little hard to place? It’s not a story about a magical academy, for one. Even though it takes place in one. It’s also not really a coming of age sort of story since Ebon has still so much room to grow. It’s also not one entirely about personal growth in his craft, considering he barely manages two proper spells throughout the entire thing. Adventure? Kind of? Maybe? Mystery? Hmmm, getting there. A bit of political intrigue?

Alright, it’s probably all of the above. Plus, it’s just generally a really nice read. I’m glad I picked it up.

… and, just for the record, my favourite character in the whole thing is Mako and I want to know more about him. Which one of the reasons why I will keep reading through the series, hoping to uncover more.