Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey is urban fantasy with a decidedly noir detective flavor to it. James Stark awakes in the middle of a cemetery out of sorts. Can't blame him. He just returned to our world after spending eleven years in Hell. Not as a deceased person, but as a living, breathing human, sent there by his once friend but now arch-nemesis, Mason Faim. Stark's back, and he's only got one thing on his mind: revenge.

So begins the tale of Sandman Slim, who we come to learn escaped from Hell where he most recently was serving as the personal assassin to one of Lucifer's demonic generals. Life in Hell for Stark began as one might expect. But when he not only survives the initial assaults but becomes stronger after each one, Stark begins to wonder what's going on. He takes it in stride, though, it being impossible for him to leave until his employer bequeaths him with a very special key that allows him to travel undetected and instantaneously from one shadow to another and—magically—between worlds. Stark doesn't waste any time. He leaves Hell as soon as he can, returning to our world and setting out to find Mason and his cronies, who were all complicit in sending Stark to Hell.

Sandman Slim reminded me in many ways of the recent season of Supernatural: angels and demons are at each other's throats, battling each other for dominance of the mortal world while all sorts of other nasties wreak their own particular sort of havoc. I don't read enough urban fantasy to know if such premises are anything unusual. My guess is not. But where Sandman Slim really stood out for me was in Kadrey's narration and in his "hero", Stark.

Kadrey captures perfectly the flavor of a Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane hardboiled detective novel, except that Stark, aka, Sandman Slim, is not a detective per se. He does share many of Marlowe or Hammer's mannerisms, though, in that he is brusque, foul-mouthed, not afraid to take a punch (or give one), and, despite his cynicism, still will make the choice that keeps others from slipping into the hell that his own life has become.

Kadrey's writing is fast-paced, gripping, and laugh out loud hilarious at times. When Stark finds himself commiserating with a talking head, what can you do but laugh? The action is a mix of shoot'em up, fisticuffs, and some new weaponry straight from Hell. Oh, and magic. Stark, Mason, and others are all magicians, and have certain magical abilities as a result.

Sandman Slim was offered as a free Kindle download by Amazon some time ago. The next book in the series, Kill the Deadalt, is already on my "to read" list. This is a great read that I highly recommend.

The Mark of Ran by Paul Kearney

The Mark of Ran by Paul Kearney is the first in the Sea Beggars duology. As my mind wanders over the story and its characters, I'm not quite sure where the series title comes into play. The main character, Rol Cortishane, is at times without home or hearth, but never does he beg. He never needs to. Cast into the world after his guardian/grandfather is slain by an angry mob, Rol seeks out an old associate of his grandfather's in whom he finds a mentor willing to train him in the ways of his ancestry. Rol is not human. While he looks human enough, certain traits come to the forefront when Rol is pushed emotionally or physically: his eyes glow, his strength is superhuman, and he heals quickly.

While the story is entertaining enough, it seemed to jump from place to place a bit too often with less than smooth transitions between. Much of the tale revolves around Rol's initial training, his interactions with his mentor, and his love/hate relationship with the mysterious and beautiful Rowen, who is not human, either. About halfway through, Rol takes to the sea, and while I expected the story to really take off from that point, it instead fizzles in a somewhat predictable direction.

I've heard good things about Kearney, so it was with some disappointment I have to say that I will not be reading the second book in this series. The author's Monarchies of God and the novel, The Ten Thousand, have both stood out in others' reviews, though, so I'll set my sights on those the next time Kearney's name comes around.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest is a modern day urban fantasy with deep roots going back to the time of the Civil War. That fact is interesting because Priest's latest work, Boneshaker, Dreadnought, and Clementine, are all set in an alternate history where the American Civil War continued well beyond its 4 years. That's more of an aside, however, as Four and Twenty Blackbirds does not take place in the same world as those other novels.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a ghost story. The lead character, Eden Moore, is haunted by three women who died under unknown circumstances. Eden suspects the three have something to do with her own mysterious origins, and so she sets out to discover where she comes from. The story is really that: Eden follows one clue after another, reacquainting herself with long lost relatives while staying ahead of an odd cousin who wants nothing more than to end her life.

I would classify the story as urban fantasy. Eden is a fairly typical, spunky heroine of the genre. Other characters are interesting and colorful. The ghosts are mysterious, but I would have liked to have seen more of them. Their own origin is not revealed until the climatic ending.

The term "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" is not new. Its origin seems to lie in the nursery rhyme, Sing a Song of Sixpence, which begins,

Sing a song of sixpence,

A pocket full of rye.

Four and twenty blackbirds,

Baked in a pie.

Both Mercedes Lackey and Neil Gaiman contributed works that bear the name. There's even a Brooklyn pie shop that uses the name.

Those facts aside, Four and Twenty Blackbirds was an enjoyable read, though it was lacking a certain oomph.

My Book Review Guidelines

It's getting to the point where enough people are seeing my book reviews that I'm starting to receive a fair number of inquiries asking if I'd like to review their books. I'm OK with that. In fact, I welcome it. There's so much fiction out there that I know I'll never read it all let alone actually see it. So I love it when someone brings a new book to my attention. Longtime readers of this blog know I love a good ARC.

That said, I thought it would be a good idea to post up a list of general submission guidelines. What I'll review and what I won't and my preferred formats, in other words.

If you'd like for me to review a novel or short piece, read on.

If you're serious about getting the most out of a review and are interested in what kind of reach this blog gets, you can view my w3counter stats.


I'm primarily a reader of fantasy and science fiction (in that order). Those are also the genres I tend to focus on with this blog. It should come as no surprise then that those are the genres I will most readily accept for review. However, I also like a good horror novel, especially those with a Lovecraftian slant. If you have something which fits into one of these genre categories, you're good. If not, and you're not sure, send me an email.


I own a Kindle, so my preferred format (and one which hopefully makes it easy for submitters) is either MOBI (Kindle) or PDF. If you want to send a paper format book, no problem. Shoot me an email or contact me via Twitter and I'll provide my mailing address.


I don't discriminate between indie or traditional sources. In fact, I try to highlight Kindle authors, whether established or new. I must admit, though, that the majority of my reviews up to this point have been from traditional publishers. That can definitely change, so don't let the whole self-publishing/indie stigma keep you from requesting a review here or anywhere else.


Last, and possibly most important, expect objectivity with any review I write. If a novel needs work, then I'll say so. Ditto if the characters or story doesn't do it for me. I'm fair but honest in my book reviews, or at least I make my best effort towards those ends.

Book Review: Draculas by Crouch, Kilborn, Strand, & Wilson

Joe Konrath of A Newbie's Guide to Publishing fame posted an offer giving away free ARC's of an upcoming horror eBook he and three other authors wrote in exchange for a review here and on I've gotten a lot of good info from Joe's blog, so I figured I'd do him a favor, read the ARC, and give him a favorable review. So much for good intentions…

Draculas was written in record time (2 months?) as an experiment to see if an online only novel could reach Amazon's Top 100 in Kindle eBook sales supported solely by online reviews and marketing. The experiment worked. Draculas hit the Top 100 in its first week, if not sooner. The novel received a phenomenal number of 4 or 5 star reviews. From what I read, it's selling very well.

That's all great, and I wish the authors best of luck and mucho dinero. There's just one problem I had with this book: it just isn't that good.

The writing is fine. It's the soulless characters and superficial storyline that ultimately led me to abandon this novel after reading just 10% on my Kindle. It mostly reminded me of a bad Sci-Fi channel movie (you know, like Sharktopus). Amusing for brief moments as you're channel surfing, but not something you're going to stay tuned into for long.

Given the rushed quality of the novel, I have to wonder how many of those 4 or 5 star reviews on Amazon were put up as a favor to the authors. I know Joe helps a lot of people out with his blog (perhaps the other authors do as well; I don't know), but I can't in good conscious give Draculas anything more than 2 stars.