Lenni Reviews: "The Thousand Year Beach" by Tobi Hirotaka - Translated by Matt Treyvaud

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and it suggested for mature readers.

When mysterious spiders attack their small beach town, the remaining surviving AI's must battle to save what little that remains.

If I were to sum this up, I would describe this as if the minds behind Black Mirror re-wrote the ending to Wreck it Ralph.  The book has you thinking about the nature of what an AI really is and what they are forced to do at the hands of human users.

The characters may be just in-game characters, but they have all the personality and depth, I got sucked into the world right away. I had so much fun reading this and I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes original cyberpunk stories. The action starts right up and doesn't let up very often; making this book hard to put down. Beautifully written and tense, this was a great read. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief" by Lisa Tuttle

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review.

Finding herself in desperate need of a new job and place to live, Mill Lane happens upon an advertisement for a brave assistant with a good memory. After inquiring, Lane becomes the partner of Mr. Jasper Jesperson, a detective. Pickings are slim at first until a sleepwalker and the disappearances of several local psychics both fall into their laps. Now, it is up to Jasper and Lane to solve these seemingly unrelated cases.

This book is just good fun. Jasper is the sort of detective character who is smart, clever, and charismatic yet a bit irresponsible. Lane is also intelligent yet charmingly self-depreciating and together they make a formidable pair you will enjoy following though the story as it unfolds.

Although this genre is not my expertise, I think I can safely call this a cozy mystery and I has a lot of fun reading it. I was on the edge of my seat and I would love to read the next one when I get my hands on it. 4 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Ashes to Fire" by Emily B. Martin

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

In an attempt to bring peace, Queen Mona agrees to meet with the man who cost her her kingdom and many of her friends, King Celeno. But instead of diplomacy, Queen Mona ends up on the run after her ship is blown up and she is kidnapped along with Celeno's wife, Queen Gemma.

Despite being the second book in a series, enough details are filled in so you understand why things are the way they are and Martin includes these details well, without getting bogged down in clunky exposition. The cast of varied personalities all play off each other and the plot twists and turns like spinning poi (a reference you will understand when you read the book, which you should) making this a page-turning adventure. I can't speak to how well this fits in with the first book in the series but I can say I am absolutely looking forward to the next one! 3.8 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Conflict Management" by Rachel White

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

When Morgan's boss, Lawrence, makes a pass at him one too many time, Morgan tells him he will sue Law if he doesn't knock it off. Law obliges and Morgan can finally have normal workdays. That is until Law's brother ends up in the hospital after a suicide attempt, Morgan learns his boss is more than just a former creeper. As they get more friendly, Law's pet project - a merger with another company - has major problems and Morgan may have to be the whistle blower that costs Law his job.

Morgan and Law are so delightfully awkward, I found myself identifying with them right away. White doesn't make her characters overly perfect or overly evil; as evidenced my Morgan's ill-fated relationship with Harvey and the way Law's brother Christopher's schizophrenia is handled. Racism and mental illness can be tricky to include without being preachy or over-exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. The realistic way the characters are presented made reading through this book enjoyable.

Since the romance takes its time, this is not a book peppered with sex scenes. The focus is more on Morgan and Law's feelings for each other and how the mess going on in the company impacts their professional and private relationships. The smut IS there so this book earns its 18+ status.

My only real gripe would be with Morgan's roommate, Anita. She's the only character who came off cartoonish to me. Luckily she isn't as distracting as a character like that can get. She says her spiel then the plot resumes.

Without blithering on further, I enjoyed the premise and the slow burn romance. I give it a solid 3.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "More Things in Heaven and Earth" by Paul Comeau

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

Danny Crawford's religious father decided to stop him from being gay by dumping the boy into conversion therapy. Desperate to escape the abuse in his home at the hands of his homophobic father, Danny is willing to die. While in the hospital recovering from his botched suicide attempt, his plight moves Damien; a vampire pretending to be a priest in order to feed on terminal patients. Damien decides to take the boy in but Danny's father is determined to fix the 'embarrassment' that is his son.

I had such high hopes for this given the premise but my overall impression is that of reading a textbook. The POV will switch, the prose seems to talk AT you, and the whole thing comes off as a methodical checklist of what a gay paranormal romance is supposed to contain without the heart other stories have. Damien switches back and forth between contemporary vampire and old world vampire in his language and that knocked me right out of the book. I couldn't get fully immersed.

This book feels like a missed opportunity. It could have been a really touching, beautiful story that brought up the very real horrors of conversion therapy but I feel like I got a particularly detailed wiki entry. It isn't even very smutty as the sex scenes are all fade to black. I have to give this a 2 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Fenced-In Felix" by Cheyenne Blue

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

Felix Jameson has been working on turning her family's land into a hospitality business including cabins, campgrounds, and trail rides with her own horses. As she's doing errands and distributing some promotional materials around her small Australian town, she meets Josie, a drifter currently bar tending at the local watering hole. Felix tries to avoid getting involved but Josie also needs a place to board her horse; Flame. But Flame looks eerily like a recently stolen racehorse, leading Felix to wonder what this woman she has fallen for may be involved in.

This book is in a series called "Girl Meets Girl" but it functions perfectly fine as a standalone story.

I got a real good sense of the Australian outback and Felix and Josie as characters. I love how the mystery surrounding the horses moves their relationship and while that initial event brings them together; it follows along with them in a very real way. As the mystery deepens, so does Felix and Josie's connection. It's also comforting for everything to be wrapped up in a realistic way so we avoid an unrealistically neat ending.

If I were to nitpick, I would say that the ending needed an epilogue for some of the unanswered questions as to the fate of the horse after the investigation (I am trying to avoid spoilers). Also, it kinda bugged me in the beginning when Felix kept saying Josie wasn't beautiful. And I don't mean "she wasn't beautiful; she was - insert descriptive term like 'compelling'-". It it was just eh, not pretty. Ok then, what are you attracted to? Just her butt? I got over it but it raised my eyebrow... Overall? 4 out of 5. A very sweet and saucy lesbian romance.

Lenni Reviews: "Cross My Heart" by Catt Ford

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

Daniel Hunter sees Lana Renault pass him in the streets and is immediately smitten by this beautiful, elegant, and classy Parisian woman. But Lana is Roland Reynolds; who feels more comfortable living as Lana and wearing women's clothing without judgment. Having had painful and violent reactions in the past, Lana has resigned herself to a life of loneliness. Daniel's gentle and romantic pursuit of her is very tempting but Lana is terrified of how Daniel may react to the truth.

This book reminds me of those old black and white romance movies with some deliciously smutty bits thrown in. At times it does fall into the trap of being too perfect but this is a book for hopeless romantics who believe in happily ever after - which I am not. But, with Ford's writing, I almost believe it. Starting off a bit slow but touching my heart, I give this book a 3.7 out of 5. 

Lenni Reviews: "Counting to Zero" by A. J. Quinn

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+

The NSA orders Dr. Emma Thorpe to put together a team of hackers - off the books - in order to help the US government fight cyber terrorism. One of the people tapped is Paxton James, currently in an Indonesian jail because she was set up for a crime she didn't commit. Paxton is willing to deal as long as it gets her out of jail and it doesn't hurt that Emma is hot. But trust won't come easy to the betrayed Pax or the hardened agent Thorpe and they must learn to deal with their mounting attraction and fight a cyber criminal with ties to Pax's criminal past.

If you like your romances a little slow, this is a good example of the main couple having an instant attraction but not the insta-love so many romance novels tend to use as a trope. The situation these characters are in gives them some real issues to deal with so the real focus of this novel is the cyber crime. Quinn has created some smart, interesting, and fun characters who are a pleasure to get to know but somehow, it all comes off a little rushed. Granted, they're chasing a cyber-criminal trying to kill people so it's not like they have time to sit around and have tea to discuss their feelings. There is enough here to enjoy a quick, romantic thriller with some strong female characters. If I had one real gripe, it's that Pax must be part terminator because every ten seconds she's getting injured and recovers unrealistically fast. 3.8 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Spell Cat" by Tara Lain

*This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

Professor Killian Barth teaches the history of witchcraft and has a unique perspective on the matter considering he is indeed a witch. He is the most powerful male witch to come along in generations.  Keeping his identity a secret from regular humans, he catches the eye of the quantum physics professor; Blane Genneau. Their attraction is instant but Killian is being forced to marry another witch, Lavender, in order to save the witch race by pumping out magical children. But not only is Killian gay, Lavender is in love with someone else, and Killian finds the magnetism between him and Blane is too strong to resist. There's also the added rub that if a witch sleeps with a human, it will drain the witch's power away. Can Killian find a way to not only be with the one he loves but overcome prejudice against humans, find a way to save his race, and convince a man of science to believe magic is real?

First off, I have to point out that Lain made Lavender a likable character. It's so easy to fall into that trope of one of the people in the forced marriage being a complete horror to make the main character look even more put upon. But Lavender is a kind, sweet person and even tries to help Killian whenever she can. That was very refreshing.

While this book was decently written and cute, sometimes it felt a little contrived. It has this fanfiction like quality to it where everyone is too perfect, too pretty, and sex literally tears the skies apart it's so good. I mean, geez, nobody even had an interesting mole or tattoo... I also would have liked to see the fantasy elements explored more. I know that they're technically supposed to take a back seat to the romance but there are some interesting concepts here that I felt were glossed over to get the couple where they needed to be. But I do give this book credit for turning a couple tropes on their heads, having some fun characters and steamy romance scenes. 3 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Deadlight Jack" by Mark Onspaugh

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Jimmy Kalmaku and George Watters may seem like any other old retirees, but they are both supernatural heroes who saved the world. When George’s grandson vanishes while on vacation in the Louisiana bayou, both men must use their abilities to the utmost in order to defeat the terrifying Deadlight Jack.

This book is like Murder She Wrote or Columbo except with demons and old men using magic. George and Jimmy's rapport is a pleasure to read. You can tell they're old friends and are just the best. About 10% George says the line: "The only pickups I'm gonna be making are of pretty girls who like jazz and want to go dancing with the area's black Astaire."

"Too cute!!"

"Too cute!!"

I found myself chuckling and smiling whenever they talked. I did find it amusing how people kept mistaking them for a gay couple (especially considering how much gay smut romance I read...) and that joke is thankfully not overused. It would have been really easy to use that gag to DEATH but Onspaugh kept it at the level such things should be in real life; not that big a deal.

Deadlight Jack is legitimately horrifying; so when the actual plot gets going it's tense and exciting. The humor is still there but you feel that impending danger. The ending may have been a little deus ex machina but you're having so much fun, it's acceptable. I can tell so much love was put in this book. This is George and Jimmy's second adventure (I plan to read the first just for fun) and the epilogue makes noise about a possible third. I sure hope that's true because I am totally on board. 4.7 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Octavia Butler's Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation" by Damian Duffy and John Jennings

In this adaptation of Octavia Butler's groundbreaking story of a young Black woman thrust back in time to see her slave ancestors, you get a gripping and harrowing view of this tale.

Having not read the original, I can say that this is a hard story to get through. Butler's depiction of the life of slaves on a plantation in antebellum South is raw, unfiltered, and heartbreaking. And as our main character grapples with being treated like garbage by the same man who is intrinsic to her existence so she has to protect him? Yikes...

The art style is sketchy and raw; it really is perfect for this story. You feel every punch, every whip crack, every pejorative word. By the end you're almost relieved because it's so hard to deal with so much raw evil but it's part of our history and it's more important now than ever to be reminded so as not to head down the same path. I think Octavia Butler would be proud of this adaptation. 4.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "A Kind of Honesty" by Lane Hayes

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated for 18+

Tim Chalmers is a drummer for an up and coming band named Spiral. The stress of his new fame and recent tabloid fodder breakup with a supermodel sends him to a dive bar for what he thinks is a one night stand. Turns out the man; Carter Hamilton-Temple, is a friend of a friend and Tim runs into him at a birthday party. As one night turns into three then four, both men find themselves wanting more but the stress of Tim's fame and Carter's painful past dealings with bisexual men keep them from taking the next step.

First the good stuff. The writing starts off strong and sets a great scene. Despite it being from Tim's perspective, you can glean a lot of what Carter's feelings are just from Tim's observations; as they are detailed and well written. Tim is just the right amount of sassy and Carter has this reserved strength and power that makes him likable and fun.

The "bad" stuff. The band is TOO good. Dropping little bombs like breaking The Beatles records felt kinda silly; like Bella being the most beautiful girl in the world. Spiral could have easily been a hugely popular band without making them seem overly perfect.

As for the relationship, this is another case of the conflict persisting because the plot demands that the characters don't offer any reasonable explanation. I think Carter gave up too easily after it was made clear to him that Tim's ex-was a manipulative liar. Yes, Tim has other issues but I feel Carter jumped the gun and could have been as understanding as he was presented at the beginning.

Overall, not terrible but not great either. The writing was OK, the setup was OK, and eve the sex scenes were OK... All of it just OK. Nothing stood out to me as being particularly memorable but I did enjoy it so I give this a 3.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Timing" by Mary Calmes

*This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+.

Stefan Joss has been invited to be in his best friend's wedding. Not only does his boss take this as a chance to take on a sales deal to the trip to Texas, Stefan has to deal with his friend's brother, Rand Holloway; who has made no effort to restrain his hatred of Stefan. With the chaos of the wedding and meeting with his client, Stefan learns there is more to Rand's feelings than hatred and his business deal ends up risking his life.

While meant as a romantic mystery kind of story like Mystery of Nevermore, the mystery in this book took far back seat to the romance. Not a criticism, just something I noticed. I can see either adding more of the mystery or taking it out entirely and just having the wedding be the backdrop that brings Stephan and Rand together.

Anyways, Rand as a hard-ass cowboy coming to terms with how he fucked up and will do his part to fix it and Stefan putting in effort too worked for me. I liked them both and I wanted to see them together. The smexy times are prevalent and positively indulgent so if you want a healthy dose of manluvin, this book is more than happy to dole it out along with some romantic sappiness.

When it came to the action/mystery parts, I kinda got whiplash. You're crusin along in this lovey dovey romance and WHAM! Rape! Murder! Guns!

"Well... That took an uncomfortable turn..."

"Well... That took an uncomfortable turn..."

Even so, I enjoyed this book. You can feel the love all over; even aside for our main pair. The details in describing ranch life (Rand owns a ranch) were written well enough to get a real feel for the setting and I ended this book with a cheesy grin because it was so damn sweet. 4 out of 5.
 

Lenni Reviews: "The Deadbringer" by E. M. Markoff

Kira Vidal is a Deadbringer, possessing the ability to summon souls and raise the dead. Likely the last of his kind, this fifteen year old boy hides his abilities while living with his uncle. In order to live in peace, he has to keep out of reach of the Ascendancy and their elite soldiers called the Sanctifiers; who are charged with the mission of killing all Deadbringers. When a stranger shows up at their door asking for help, Kira's secret is exposed and he must protect his uncle while learning the truth behind his powers.

The world-building done in this novel is accomplished by dumping you in and wishing you luck yet at the same time it's immersive enough for you to get lost in it. There are a lot of interesting and distinct characters and while some may fall into typical fantasy tropes (like the mysterious counsel of evil hidden in shadow, climactic battle at a wall with ground troops, horned people, etc...), they all managed to get into my head clearly so I stayed interested throughout the entire book. At times the conversations lagged or got bogged down in WAY more complicated words than necessary; the narrative meandered off on occasion but once the story centered on Kira and his journey, this novel shined. Even with the cliffhanger ending (Arrgh! Where's the next one!!!), I ended this book feeling like I had a good time. As a fan of dark fantasy, I give this story a 3.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: "Iron Goddess" by Dharma Kelleher

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reformed ex-con Shea Stevens has left a family history of crime behind her. Now the owner of Iron Goddess bike shop, Shea is content to build custom bikes, run her business, and enjoy her new relationship with her girlfriend. Things get complicated when not only is her shop robbed; an employee is shot, and her sister, Wendy, shows up after a decade of estrangement begging for help because her daughter has been kidnapped. Old ties come back to cause Shea much more trouble than just a couple stolen bikes.

I gotta say, this book was badass. There are straight, gay, and trans characters and they are people first. Their gender or sexuality are not used as tools to advance the plot, it is simply part of who they are as a complete character; not sterotypes at all.

Even though the motorcycle gangs were over the top with their racism, sexism, and at times an overt lack of logic, I'm not going to claim any knowledge of gang culture to call the book out on its portrayal of them. Overall, Shea was a believable character making the best of a shitty situation and everything works out as best she can manage without getting killed. A non-stop ride from start to finish, I give this book a 4 out of 5.

For more of Lenni's writing, check out Haunting Hypatia.

Lenni Reviews: "Like Heaven on Earth" by Jaime Samms

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review and is rated 18+.

Cobolt Winslow is involved in an unhealthy, long-distance relationship with Calvin Denvers. Calvin infected Cobolt with HIV, which cost Cobolt his dancing career in their ballet company as his body became too weak to put up with such strenuous activity. The only stable person Cobolt has come to rely on Malory Preston; a driver who works for Cobolt's brother, Azure. As his health takes a turn for the better, Calvin comes back into the picture and Cobolt is faced with choosing between dancing and his growing attraction to Preston.

I cannot go any further without mentioning the naming conventions in this book. Yes, they are a little odd (at least for me) because it was like reading characters from a fantasy novel but this isn't fantasy. I did get used to it as the book went on.

The relationship between Cobolt and Preston works and makes sense the way those characters are written; even if there are times where I felt Cobolt needed a swat of sense on the back of his head. If a character can frustrate you, he/she is well written.

Other than that, this book is short, sweet, sultry when it needs to be, but standard. Cobolt and Calvin's HIV status is handled with maturity and not used as a crutch or a lame gimmick to make the characters act a certain way. The dancing was immersively written and the subtle nuances of stage culture were there but not as dark as something like Black Swan. I enjoyed it and by the end I was cheering for Cobolt but - and it's likely my personal bias here - the attempts to make Calvin a sympathetic character failed miserably. It would take MUCH more than 204 pages for an abusive cheater to redeem himself in my eyes but this is certainly not the book's fault. I'm betting since this is the third in the "Dance, Love, Live" series (and yes, this novel can totally stand on it's own), I'm sure Calvin has or will get an entire book to himself to work out his issues. As for this book, a happy 3.5 out of 5.

 

Lenni Reviews: "The Devouring God" by James Kendley

**This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.**

Ghost hunters Takuda, Mori, and Suzuki are sent to investigate some mysterious and disturbing calls made to a local mental health facility. As the case goes on, they notice the clues come to them way too easy. Bodies start piling up all leading to a mysterious and evil artifact.

This book does a great job setting an atmosphere of tension and mystery. The writing is competent enough to give you a real sense of Japan (in 1993). It was intriguing to see the characters change the longer they do this treacherous job; as if corrupted by the very evil they are hunting. Our three main characters work off of each other well in a delicate balance of annoyance and loyalty. Endo - the villain - talks like The Architect from The Matrix; pontificating in a way that even makes other characters snap at him to get to the point. I gotta say, Endo is MUCH less annoying and makes WAY more sense than The Architect so it wasn't completely painful to read his little speeches.

On the whole, this book is written well enough that I didn't feel I was missing information from the first book in this series. The ending is left quite obviously open for a new story so while the immediate problem was solved; you're left curiously unsatisfied. The over-arching evil is still out there. If I come across the next one, I'm intrigued enough to want to pick it up as this one was an enjoyable, supernatural horror. 4.5 out of 5.

For more reviews, check out Haunting Hypatia.

Lenni Reviews: "Twisted Dreams: Dreamlands #4) by Felicitas Ivey

After the craziness of Unquiet Dreams, Keno is now a 'guest' of the wizard Kheper in the Egyptian lands and was forced to give in to the violent nature of his ancestor in order to save Mason's life and his own. As the unknown Darkness spreads through the Dreamlands, Samojirou takes Mason, Wolf, and Tholf to rescue Keno while Keno and Kheper investigate the Darkness. But will Keno want to be rescued after taking a life?

Keno's internal struggle about having to kill is the major part of his character development in this book. His ancestor was discussed in such hushed, ominous tones, Keno never wanted to be anything like him. There isn't time to dwell or escape his pain for long as he works with Kheper; who turns out to be a pretty cool magician and a man of honor - not at all as creepy as he seemed in the previous book. 

With two teams coming at the Darkness from two different directions, we get some really detailed and rich writing. You get a sense of realness to a very unreal world. But darnit, if it doesn't end on a cliffhanger! Man, do I wanna see the Dreamlands come together to beat the Darkness. I'm sure other cultures along with the Japanese and Egyptians will come into play. More of the Vikings would be cool! It would be such an epic showdown. 4.5 out of 5.

Lenni Reviews: Song of Song by L. J. LaBarthe

Song of Song is a science fiction romance by L. J. LaBarthe. Set in the far future where humanity has expanded beyond Earth, this book stars Dex (short for Dex742A-GR23), a genetically engineered man called a Boxie, and his AI cat, Manx, fleeing their home in search of freedom. Dex has been created to serve one purpose and if he deviates from that purpose, he will be killed. Once he and his fellow Boxies have been ordered to turn in their AI companions, Dex is too attached to his friend and decides to flee. While in outer space, Chen Lau Song is a fugitive fleeing the oppressive government on a sentient and evolving ship called Fa'a. The government wants to use Fa'a as a weapon but as the genius who created her, Song decided to run with his ship to make sure she couldn't be used as a tool or a template for other warships. Dex and Song meet when Fa'a is damaged and Song commandeers the ship on which Dex is hiding. Their mutual desire for freedom is what brings them together just as the despot seeking control of Fa'a and the entire galaxy; Cory Lewis Atticus Melvile (you can tell he's bad because he's way over named...) plots and schemes - willing to go to any lengths to capture them.

The sci-fi world built in this novel is very well done even if the characters are a bit cliche. You have the eccentric genius in Song, the man who wants out of his slotted life in Dex, and the evil businessman in Cory. It really is the setting and the overarching plot that sets this book apart; making it more a sci-fi with romantic elements than the other way around. If you're looking for the emphasis to be all on the budding relationship between Song and Dex, you may be let down. But the story as a whole is very entertaining. Manx and Fa'a are adorable characters and the rest of the cast and crew are likable characters fleshed out just enough so you care about what happens to them. Except for Cory... He's a twit.

If this story could have been fleshed out some more, it would have been even more fun. The universe created here has so much potential and I hope LaBarthe has more planned for it. I mean, come on. You CANNOT have a character named Shafaquat: Sultana of Agony and Cleverness with no back story! I can see an entire book about just her, easily.

If you like your sci-fi with a sweet little M/M romance, Song of Song will live up to your expectations. While some adult situations are present, they're not overwhelming and I had a great time reading this book.

Lenni Reviews: 'Into the Darkness' by A. M. Rycroft

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Aeryne Ravane, a sword for hire, has been on a mission to discover the treasures of the deceased hero Tynan Selvantyr. Having been raised on his tales, Aeryne is excited to explore The Black Caverns and learn her hero's secrets; but the treasures contained therein are so much more than gold as she discovers even heroes have their deadly secrets.

This book is more about the journey than the result, in my opinion. Aeryne meets a young thief, the ghost of her hero, a vampire, and magic priests on her quest to defeat evil and come to terms with her past. Clocking in at 467 pages, the final climactic battle is around the 400 page mark. I did enjoy watching the main party of this sword and sorcery novel come together and grow as a group, the settings are well described and fun (or scary when applicable) to read; but there were points that had me muttering the dreaded "are we there yet" because I wanted the bad guy to get what was coming to him. It began to drag towards the middle there, but it picked up and it was worth reading through to the end.

All in all, Into the Darkness is a pretty cool book with some interesting characters. Everyone is fallible and real, and the story is overall fun if you enjoy these types of fantasy novels.