The Before We Go Blog is now down to the final two books from our initial pile of 30: Demons, Ink, and The Forever King. What an exciting trip it has been. As a team we were very fortunate, and also in some ways cursed to have such a good selection of books. There were very few easy choices for us as reviewers. And, we as a team had many discussions weighing out what we saw as the merits for different books. Many of our choices came down to the finest of details that had to sway us one way or another, especially as we neared the end of the first leg of this SPFBO7 journey. While our finalist selection edged out all of the other books in the semi-finals points-wise, this was not a shut-out. Our semi-finalist selections are all excellent books. Books, that had our pool not been so incredibly deep could be going to the final in their own right. And, I know that I can speak for my team when I say that we are better for having read these books.
Now, on to the reviews!
by clayton snyder
by clayton snyder
What is it about?
Jack Nyx is down on his luck. Demons bound to his flesh, his ex’s soul in a jar, and on his last dime, he takes the one job he shouldn’t.But a quick buck never comes easy, and Jack is in the deep end of the fecal pool. Desperate, he enlists the help of street witch, Ivy Sosye.In over their heads, trapped between the demons they know and the devil they don’t, the last thing Jack needs is to fall for his best friend.Hunted, cursed, and in love is no way to go through life. Then again, it’s better than dead.
Jodie – In Demons, Ink by Clayton W. Snyder, we’ve got a pretty solid setup. Jack Nyx is a grizzled kind of character, one who has been kicked around by life but is a sweet guy deep down. Okay, really deep down. He will do pretty much any job if it’ll pay well enough. He is asked to find a missing girl, but the job is a lot more complex than it seems at first. Then again, so is Jack. See, Jack has company of the demonic variety. Demons, Ink was an entertaining read, but I also had some quibbles with it.
I really liked Jack’s smart mouth. It felt very reminiscent of one of my favorite movies (Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, which has Robert Downey Jr. but is devoid of demons). Of course, snark like that has a fine line to walk. It can either add to the story immensely, or it can detract from it. Overall, I felt it added. However, every now and again I felt like it was trying a bit too hard.
Another issue I had was the number of things that had already happened and were just kind of thrown in. In general, I like books that have a predeveloped history, but in this case it sort of confused me. I honestly thought Demons, Ink was a sequel and I had missed an entire book.
The way the demons are bound is incredibly cool and the premise is a ton of fun. I can say with confidence that Demons, Ink will appeal to fans of Harry Dresden.
I rate it a 7/10
Becca – For this book – you need a notebook and a backstory that isn’t there. I was confused at times on some of what was going on, and then trying to read between the lines on other parts. I really did like the demons, they were the true redeeming area of this book.
G.M. – Demons, Ink is a hell of a book. You can take that pun as intended or not. We follow down-on-his-luck Private Eye Jack Nyx as he is drawn through a deadly case involving heaven and hell, as well as the demons that have been tattooed into his body. Along with a street-smart witch, they uncover a conspiracy of angels and demons that involve Nyx’s ex-lover and former mentor that has implications for existence as we know it.
The book reads like a well-written, breakneck mash-up of The Dresden Files, John Wick, Lucifer (both the show and the comic, somehow), Hap and Leonard, and American Gods. If that sounds like a lot, it actually kind of is. I felt the book struggle under the weight of all the various concepts being thrown around, which wasn’t helped by its rapid pace. The book is in a rush to get from one action set piece to another, nearly all of which end with Jack Nyx getting knocked the hell out, and then recovering in a second location. On the whole, the speed causes several interesting concepts to feel like they are glossed over, or like they pop in and out as needed (or sometimes not needed). Additionally, a few characters feel like afterthoughts, as well as the entire background world outside of angels and demons. There is a lot going on in this book, to the point that it has expectations of the reader like a sequel or third installment of a series would. It does not hold your hand as it goes quickly through concepts and backstory that it expects should be old hat to you by now, and I found it difficult to keep up at times. If the narrative pulled back on introducing concepts and instead spent more of its time fleshing out others while sacrificing some of its speed, it would certainly be in a better place.
I’ve heard that Snyder is also known for his humor and, though this is my first read of his, I went in expecting it. Immediately upon starting the book, the narrative tone and voice struck me as brilliant and witty, mashing up typical noir self-narration with dark, sharp wit. However, this doesn’t necessarily continue through the remainder. There are certain asides that feel forced, especially given the grimdark nature of things. And jokey dialogue between character seems out of place, or just pop culture references for their own sake, which took me out of the story a lot of the time. I have no problem with pop culture references (believe me), but I wish these had been integrated better rather than feeling shoehorned in.
Yeah, maybe that’s a lot of gripes I had with Demons, Ink. But that’s only because the story is so intricate and brutal, and the voice and prose so deftly written, I wanted to see it play out in pitch perfection in all aspects. Snyder is a talented writer, no doubt, and if you’re looking for a grimdark fantasy mystery, this is definitely one to pick up. Just be sure to take a deep breath, pay attention to all the clues, and hang on for the ride. 7/10
Eleni – A solid and gritty Urban Fantasy with cool characters and my kind of humor. Magic system is badass and the plot unfolds fast while keeping you hooked. The references to real world pop culture are also very well integrated and pleasant to catch. 8/10
- Dark and brutal urban fantasy
- Sarcasm, Wit, Snark
- Detective noir
- Fast pacing
- Themes: Pain, abuse, and demons
- Content Warning: Abuse and child sacrifice
Demon’s Ink is a dark and brutal urban fantasy. There isn’t really any other way to describe it. The protagonist Jack Nyx is something of a private investigator, only he doesn’t just work for people who can’t get help from the police…he also tends to do a lot of work for less than savory characters. Like crime bosses. He doesn’t necessarily love his work, but hey it’s work. The other thing you need to know about Jack is he has demons. Not the metaphorical kind, but the real kind. More than one. He’s learned to “control” them through the use of tattoos (hence the ink part of the title). They give him powers no ordinary person has. There are others out there like him, there are celestials (think angels), witches, the list goes on. They all exist within the regular world, hidden in plain sight.
Jack is down on his luck and nearly broke. His relationships haven’t worked out, he’s been abused, his parents (real and adoptive) are gone, and his best friend’s head is floating in a jar in his apartment. The head can still talk btw. This is the best friend he had killed because…well…there’s a story behind that but I’ll let you read about it. I just mention it to give you a feel for how this story sets itself up. A new job lands in Jack’s lap and he can’t say no to it. Only he isn’t prepared for what’s to come.
Demon’s Ink hits hard and every lesson is one written in pain. Like I said above, it’s dark and brutal. Jack (and EVERYONE around him) is put through the wringer and beat, cut, shot, blown up, you name it. Demons, witches, and celestials all battle it out amid the every-day lives of normal people who are otherwise unaware. And Jack is caught in the middle of it. And poor Jack, he can’t get a break. It’s one bad thing after another, and as you read you discover that’s been his life; one bad thing after another, and every time there’s been a glimmer of hope it’s been quashed. Hard. This current case is no exception as it drags up his past in ways he never expected.
To help alleviate the dark and brutal aspects of the story Snyder weaves in a lot of sarcasm, wit, and snark. I’ve only read one other book by Snyder, but I feel like this is something typical of his writing. Some readers really don’t like stories filled with these elements, but I think they serve a real purpose here. Without the banter associated with them the book would feel very, very heavy. The sarcasm, wit, and snark help to make things a little lighter, and keep a bit of hope and sunshine present when things get really bad. It’s always good to have a little laugh to break the tension.
Demon’s Ink takes detective noir fiction and adds a fantasy element. Nyx fits that down on his luck, surly, victimized investigator who has some addictions and habits that make him the kind of person the police don’t wish to associate with, and throws in some demon possession, magic, and supernatural climactic battles for thrills. That, and Nyx’s clients are often the bad guys. The narrative follows the typical noir pattern, random stranger brings a case, detective doesn’t want it but needs to pay bills, detective takes the case against his better judgement because bills and he wants to help the innocent, things go sideways really quick, more bad things happen, plot twists and turns, and then climax. It’s told in the first person from Nyx’s point of view, partly in the present to move the story along, and partly with flashbacks that help to explain he got to this point.
The book isn’t long (the paperback is only 220 pages) and the pacing is fast. The scenes in the present tend to move along quickly with lots of action. Snyder throws in those flashback scenes to give some background, but they also help to slow things down every so often to allow the reader (and the characters) time to catch their breath. The back and forth between the two work well together, dashing forward with the narrative and slowing down to build some depth, without which you wouldn’t have the emotional tie to, and investment in Nyx’s character.
Those emotional ties and that investment come through some of the themes in the book. I’ve already mentioned them above, but they deserve additional comment because they are woven throughout the story. Pain and abuse are both significant aspects of Nyx’s life. He was abused as a child and the pain of that abuse has carried forward into his adult life. He can’t escape from it and it informs his actions and decisions. The pain and abuse are also large factors in what makes this a dark story. And though the demons are very real and not meant to be a metaphor it’s easy to see how they can be read as a metaphor to real life in our world; to see how abuse and suffering can lead to struggles with our own personal “demons.” This is one of the ways I think fantasy does a great job of allowing us to explore our lives through metaphor.
Demon’s Ink doesn’t break new ground in detective noir fantasy, but it is a solid read. Snyder hooked me in the first couple pages and I was invested through to the end. I was never bored and I never felt pulled out of the narrative. I tend to like detective noir and like any well written version of it I was dying to know what would happen next, where the next plot twist would come, how Nyx would overcome it, and who the real baddie was behind it all. Add in the demons and all the other supernatural elements and it just got more tense and exciting. While the darker elements may turn off some readers (there’s even some off-screen child sacrifice) I felt drawn more to Nyx’s character because of them, and found myself thinking about how we treat people, especially when they are young, and the lasting impact such actions have on their lives.
Beth – Demons, Ink is a fantastic urban fantasy. It is the perfect blend of brutal and unforgiving, but with engaging characters. I loved the tattoo angle, as I am a fan of ink myself. It might be too dark for some readers, but for me, it was just right. 8/10
the forever king
by ben galley
the forever king
by ben galley
What is it about?
Revenge loves company.
Mithrid Fenn wants nothing to do with magick. Magick is a curse word, banned by the vast Arka Empire and punishable by death. Its purging has finally brought peace to war-torn Emaneska. Only a stubborn rebellion, led by the warlord Outlaw King, raids and pillages the empire’s northern fringes.
To cliff-brat Mithrid, this is an age of tranquility and childhood games. That is until an illegal spellbook washes up on her shores, and she finds herself thrust into a war she never knew existed.
Now hunted by daemons and mages, she is dragged inexorably north to Scalussen and its rebels fighting doggedly to preserve a memory of freedom. Mithrid holds no such ideals. She fights for revenge and nothing nobler. If spilling blood means helping the Outlaw King, then so be it. Even if it means all-out war.
Eleni – engaging narrative and flowing prose. The characters are vivid and I was already super invested only two chapters in! A really solid Norse-inspired fantasy that’s great for fans of John Gwynne! 9/10
Jodie – First of all, I need to point out that every author I’ve read so far in the contest has been extremely talented. Every single one. So, if you happen to be an author whose work was cut this year: please keep writing. If you happen to be a reader following this contest: the list of contestants this year would make a really awesome reading list.
The Forever King… ah, where do I start? This is the beginning of a new series that takes place in the same world as some of author Ben Galley’s previous books. I haven’t read the original series yet, so I was concerned that I would be a little lost. I wasn’t at all! While I am sure that the book will seem even richer to those who have experience in the world, I was still completely immersed in the story.
I was a little unsure about the main character, Mithrid, at first. She is (understandably) distrustful and it took me a while to really get a handle on her. I ended up really enjoying her development, which was completely believable, especially as it didn’t happen in one fell swoop. I am a big fan of characters that develop and grow in a book.
Of course, I have to mention the many races that make an appearance. Dragons!!! Need I say more? The creativity of the races was a joy to read.
One thing that I was slightly less than thrilled about is the appearance of Loki. It seems that he has been popping up pretty much everywhere lately and I have gotten rather tired of that. Oddly enough, his addition actually pulled me out of the narrative a bit, probably because he is so ubiquitous. However, he was used well, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.
Aside from the slight quibble, I found The Forever King to be an engrossing read and a promising start to what looks to be an epic series. 8.5/10
Becca – LOVED THIS BOOK! I sat and read through it in one sitting! This is the book that everyone needs to have on their list – and share with their fantasy loving friends as well. Ben Galley does not disappoint with this thrilling tale! 9/10
G.M. – The Forever King is a book that grabs you from the first pages and shakes you so hard that you have no choice but to say “Now THIS is fantasy!”. Several staple fantasy concepts and characters are introduced in the first few chapters and in such a colorful, beautifully written way, that they will hook you instantly. And it’s quite clear that there’s a rich backstory and lore to the world that – while not necessary to deep dive into – just scream at how well put together the whole thing is. There’s a well-thought-out vision for this saga and I am here for it. 9/10
Beth – I loved this book. It pretty much had me in the first chapter and got better from there. The Forever King has a richness of storytelling. It is round, if that makes sense. The characters are rounded out, the background and worldbuilding is detailed enough that I can get a mental picture going, but not so much that my imagination isn’t fully engaged. It is the kind of book that makes me excited and clamoring for more. 9/10
So who is our finalist going to be?
Points totaled, our winner, and the selection as our finalist for team Before We Go Blog is The Forever King.
Congratulations to Ben Galley. Final Score 8.9/10