Beneath Within

Overall - Best described as a slow-paced fantasy with excellent world-building. The characters are distinctive and, while we don't learn by Chapter 9 how their stories intertwine, all of the POVs maintained my interest. The author has clearly put a lot of thought into creating this underground society and the environment, people, abilities, and monsters are all creatively impressive. 

Style - It’s a multiple POV tale, so it’s a slow-burn process getting to know the cast, which is fairly large early on. I didn't have many issues keeping things straight, although there is a group that has an alternative form of communication that made it a bit tough to keep track of who was speaking. It's a cool idea but could use some refinement. 4.5/5

Grammar - I caught no substantial errors here.  The author continues to make patch edits when needed. 5/5

Story - World-building is certainly the strongest point to me. The setting in the underground city is unique, the factions are well thought out, and everything is presented very organically. While the plot is relatively slow-moving the sheer creativity of the world more than makes up for it.  Without getting into spoilers I have to say that the abilities of House Bheorse were really cool and a couple of action scenes with them were well done. 5/5

Character - I reviewed at Chapter 9 and, due to the multiple POV format, I don’t feel like I spent significant time with any of the characters yet. This is not really a criticism, just more of an acknowledgment that there’s a lot more to get to. They’re all sufficiently interesting and distinctive enough to this point and buoyed by the strong world-building. 5/5


Grammar – Through eight chapters I caught exactly one misspelled word. That’s it. I’ll misspell more than that in this review. I don’t care much about grammatical errors and don’t look too hard for them, but nothing egregious jumped out to me at all.

Story – Vitus, a city of the undead that feels completely alive.  The worldbuilding is well planned and frankly, a lot of fun. There are so many nice touches here to make the setting vibrant and grungy. My personal favorite was a restaurant named “Hot Sesame Sinewdles”, so fitting for a place serving the undead and a great pun. The world’s social and corporate structures are explained without being dwelled on and the author adds some cool touches to the biology of the various undead. While only eight chapters didn’t give me a solid grasp of the main plotline it moved along pretty briskly.  There is a grounded introduction to the MC and her mundane, undead life. There’s a tastefully steamy scene (not overly graphic) and a gritty fight. So far, there’s really something for everyone.

Style – The author expertly wields descriptive prose and uses some absolutely fantastic similes/metaphors. The writing is down-to-earth, witty, and emotional when need be. The only ding here for me is a few moments of switching tenses (past to present).  

Characters – The MC and two others get significant development early on. The MC especially is very well fleshed out in short order. She’s relatable, funny (if a bit of a passive sad-sack), and easy to warm up to and root for. The other characters are a bit more rambunctious, but I don’t think they overwhelm her in a negative way. The MC seems to be the calm straw that stirs a very wild drink so far.

Overall – I totally dug this and highly recommend it. It’s a creative genre mashup – grungy, witty, urban fantasy with some dashes of romance and action (and that's only 8 chapters in)

Drinker of the Yew: A Necromancer's Tale

Full disclaimer - this was an agreed-upon review swap.

Grammar – Unless it's egregious I don’t even catch it as I read for story/characters. Nothing popped to me or interrupted my flow.

Story – Told predominantly through the first-person POV of MC Nayinis, the story is grand in scope. It chronicles her journey from birth through her life and magical pursuits. As such, it really only touches on major events and large amounts of time will pass by quickly, which is effective as the author can skim over the minutiae of a years-long apprenticeship and focus on the juicier parts. The magical system used here reminds me of the one from Netflix’s The Witcher, wherein using magic has consequences and the magical organizations invariably get sucked into conflicts/politics. And the world-building is top-notch. Every facet of this world is meticulously mapped out.

Character – This is the only section I’ll ding the story just a bit on. Nayinis is a very interesting MC, but as she is the centerpiece and narrator, it often feels like a one-person show. The peripheral characters fulfill their functions and keep her story going but I never felt like I really got to know any of them before she passed on by them. There was one chapter that switched up to two other characters interacting and this provided a nice change of pace. Nayinis proves capable of carrying the tale mostly on her own, so it’s not a sizeable flaw.

Style – This one I’m going to struggle to put into words.  Simply, the style is fantastic. The best description I can give is that it invokes a feeling like this – You’re searching through a basement or attic and, under a loose board, you find an aged, leather-bound journal. Upon reading it you discover it’s the diary of some long-ago sorceress chronicling her journey towards power (or destruction, who knows yet). The style used here makes the tale feel ancient and forbidden. The author uses a lot of repetition (which I was initially ready to ding points for) but it works in a poetic rhythm sort of way.  For instance, in one paragraph multiple consecutive sentences start with “It was during that winter...”. At first, it felt like a literary rule violation, but it quickly becomes obvious that it’s an effective stylistic choice.

Overall – Anyone looking for an epic tale told in a very unique, almost classical style, should check this out. It starts a bit slow as the world-building bricks are laid but once Nayinis gets going on her journey it’s easy to get swept away in the grandiosity of it.  

Serpent's Herald

Mysterious fantasy with strong world-building

Disclaimer: Reviewed through Chapter 12

Overall – 5/5 The story is a rich fantasy with really well-planned out world-building.  The MC is likable (if a bit naïve at times) and the rest of the cast is memorable and distinctive. There are a lot of mysteries presented and not many solved by Chapter 12 so readers will have to be patient for the payoff (but early instinct tells me it’s worth it).

Style – 5/5 Story was consistent in tone and perspective. The dialogue was snappy and the descriptions were well done. The author nailed some good chuckles and some unique details. I had several moments of reading a sentence and thinking “Ooo, I like the way the author phrased that”.

Story – 5/5 Story gets off to a bit of a slow start but is capably carried early on by its strong world-building. There is a lot of mythology and lore thrown out in the beginning chapters. While it’s a ton of information to absorb the author has clearly mapped out the details, which makes it easier to remember.  The pace picks up around Chapter 8 and things get pretty mysterious.

Grammar – 4.5/5 I’m never one to enjoy being on grammar patrol. The story needs a bit of comma work but was pretty much error-free otherwise (I can remember only one typo that jumped out at me). No issues here that interfered with my reading and that’s the most important part.

Characters – 5/5 This was a highlight to me. While there are only a few main characters through Chapter 12, all had distinct personalities and voices. Even the side characters were fun, my favorite being the innkeeper in Chapter 4, who only had a few lines but made the most of them. Some commenters seemed to dislike the speech pattern of De’al, but I thought it captured pretty well a man operating on the edge of madness.

Final Verdict: I'd highly recommend this for fans of detailed world-building in a fantasy setting and slow-burn mysteries.