Blurb: A rogue knight and epic fantasy series begins
An outcast rogue must break a curse laid on his fate, or die by his next birthday. A tale of magic, mischief, and the triumph of tricksters.
Harric, an outcast rogue, must break a curse put on his fate, or die on his nineteenth birthday. As the day approaches, nightmares from the spirit world stalk and tear at his sanity; sorcery eats at his soul.
To survive, he’ll need more than his usual tricks. He’ll need help—and a lot of it—but on the kingdom’s lawless frontier, his only allies are other outcasts. One of these outcasts is Caris, a mysterious, horse-whispering runaway, intent upon becoming the Queen’s first female knight. The other is Sir Willard—ex-immortal, ex-champion, now addicted to pain-killing herbs and banished from the court. With their help, Harric might keep his curse at bay. But for how long?
And both companions bring perils and secrets of their own: Caris bears the scars of a troubled past that still hunts her; Willard is at war with the Old Ones, an order of insane immortal knights who once enslaved the kingdom. The Old Ones have returned to murder Willard and seize the throne from his queen. Willard is both on the run from them, and on one final, desperate quest to save her.
Together, Harric and his companions must overcome fanatical armies, murderous sorcerers, and powerful supernatural foes.
Alone, Harric must face the temptation of a forbidden magic that could break his curse, but cost him the only woman he’s ever loved.
- Book Title: The Jack of Souls (Book 1 of The Unseen Moon series)
- Author: Stephen Merlino
- Genre: Rogue and Knight Epic Fantasy
- Length: 352 pages
- Release Date: December 20, 2014 (Tortoise Rampant Press)
My review: 5 out of 5 stars for The Jack of Souls: Book 1 of The Unseen Moon series by Stephen C. Merlino
That moment. You know the one… you’ve just read the last page of the last book of your current series-obsession, the one that has been the answer to every spare moment since… hmm… Now what? You’ve read all ten volumes of The Belgariad (okay, and all six of The Elenium). You’ve worn out your box set of LOTR, not to mention watched every one of the movies (extended version). You’ve even (shudder) found yourself thinking it might not be so bad to watch the entire Harry Potter series again. Sherlock has barely started filming Series 4. Your sister reminds you—yet again—that you could borrow all three volumes of her Fifty Shades set. And you um… might just have already memorized every line of Firefly. Who you gonna call?
Do not despair: I have good news! No…great news. Because Stephen Merlino has released The Jack of Souls, Book 1 of The Unseen Moon Series. And it’s the perfect epic fantasy. So why waste another moment reading this review, when you could be downloading the first volume of your brand new obsession?
Still reading? Seriously? Okay, I guess I could mention how Merlino takes every one of the sacred tenets of epic fantasy consecrated by patron saint J.R.R. Tolkien, paying loving homage even as he turns the genre sideways and makes it his bitch:
- Mystical hero from the past gathering a small band of Heroes, Simple Folk, and (probably) Lost Heir to the throne? Well, there is Sir Willard, who is no longer immortal, but is in fact…old. (“Used to eat whatever the Black Moon I wanted. Now it’s oats, or look out.”). His little band includes Harric—an outcast trickster whose (dead) mother is trying to kill him and whose girlfriend, Caris—a gifted student warrior whose magical connection to horses often leaves her unable to function in human terms—refuses to have anything to do with tricksters.
- Hobbit? Of course there’s Brolli—a magic-wielding chimp-like other.
- Super cool sword and horse? Sir Willard’s sword Belle is still as sharp as ever, not to mention Molly—his immortal, bad-tempered, magic horse.
- Dark force from the dark past returning for (unspecified) dark purpose? The villains in The Jack of Souls are really, really dark, with the most powerful and insane barely under the control of their deviously evil masters. But here’s the thing about all these old magic-using types—they’re all in Arkendia, a land whose god has given them three fundamental rules: “Let none of you worship or pray gods for favors, Nor bow down to high lords among you. Neither rely you on magic, and you shall be strong.” So—no gods, no high lords, and most especially no magic. Their favorite oath is “Gods leave me.” It’s kind of an uphill slog for the forces of evil.
- One ring to rule them all? There was going to be one, but the Queen got really annoyed at the implication that she needed a man, and then it accidentally got stuck on Caris’ hand, and… well the whole ring-thing is kind of a mess.
The Jack of Souls is a tribute to the Trickster, an exhilarating and funny and larger-than-life paen to the ones who might not be the strongest or bravest, but can out-think, outlast, or outplay their musclebound foes. It’s a lightning-paced rollercoaster world built of humor, bravery, brains, and excellent writing. The villains are unequivocally evil. The heroes are flawed, hexed, unlucky, or just plain old. And sometimes they smell really bad.
Are you really still reading this? I’m not kidding. Do yourself a favor now and grab a copy of The Jack of Souls. I’d give it five stars without question, and put Stephen Merlino on an auto-buy preorder for all future books. The Jack of Souls is just that good.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Excerpt from The Jack of Souls
Somewhere in the room, Lyla gasped.
Harric tried in vain to locate her in the dim wreckage of the bunks. Run, now! he wanted to whisper. He falls asleep! Go! But Sir Bannus’s crushing grip left him almost no breath to speak.
A movement in the darkness beside Bannus. Lyla! Harric motioned frantically for her to flee.
Bannus’s head jerked. The mad eyes found Harric. The fist tightened on Harric’s shirt until it seemed Harric’s ribs would pop, and his head began to ring. Run, Lyla…
White flashes raced before his eyes. His body heaved upward. His head whipped to the side, and his face grew heavy with blood.
Distantly, he experienced the sensation of flying.
My interview with Stephen Merlino
This winter, my guest Stephen Merlino published the first volume of his epic fantasy series, The Jack of Souls, and on February 19 it hit #1 on Amazon’s Fantasy Coming of Age eBook Best Seller list. I completely see why.
I’m so excited to have Stephen C. Merlino join us today to talk about his life and his writing.
What was your first car? 1974 California Sun Bug (Gold-colored Volkwagen Beetle w/ sun roof). Awesome.
Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly? Firefly. Hands down. I love the grittiness of the world Whedon creates, and I appreciate the “grayness” of the characters—it feels real to me; that is, the world isn’t black and white, good vs. evil, and the crew aren’t simply white-hat good guys. Captain Malcolm and his crew are complex and flawed but lovable and mostly good-hearted (with the exception of Jayne, who’s amoral as a jackal).
Of course, I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings, and I still love them, but at this point in my life I find the white-hats vs. the black-hats a bit hollow. As George R.R. Martin once said, “There are no dark lords. We are all gray lords.” And that’s the point, really—LIFE is gray lords, and I crave art that reflects life. Reading about and watching gray lords allows me to better understand my own grayness and the very gray world around me.
The thing is, it’s so much easier to write a black and white world filled with white-hats and black-hats. It’s easier to read, too. The white-hats are easy to like, the black hats easy to hate. Such stories don’t ask much of us as readers. Much more challenging is the gray character whose flaws make her real and complex and whose sometimes questionable actions make the reader conflicted. There’s no question this kind of character is harder to write. It requires careful balance of flaws and some fundamental good that redeems them to the reader.
In The Jack of Souls I aim to write gray lords, and I think I mostly succeed. I confess, there are some purely evil immortal knights, but the rest—even some who fight alongside the evil—are gray. One way to measure that is that they see themselves as the white hats, and they have sound reasons for believing it.
I try to write gray because it’s what I prefer to read, and Firefly is the epitome of gritty, complex gray. Messy world, messy language, messy relationships, messy morals, messy hearts. That’s the world I see around me. And when I watch Firefly’s world, I understand my own a little better.
Plus, no one writes dialogue like Whedon.
Worse movie ever? Fuzzy, cooing, waddling Ewoks. Nuf said.
Best guilty pleasure ever? WoW. No, Skyrim. Wait, Destiny!
What was the inspiration for The Jack of Souls? I wrote The Jack of Souls out of a deep love of tricksters. I love the wit-over-brawn motif—Odysseus over Achilles, Fox over Wolf, Raven over Eagle—so I like to play with it in my stories. The Jack of Souls is the tale of Harric, a rogue and con artist born in a land dominated by warriors and warrior culture. Harric must make his way among all that muscle and steel using only his wit and charm and training in trickery, a task complicated by the fact that the girl he loves is a straight-talking knight with zero tolerance for sneakery.
I call it, ‘A tale of mischief, magic, and the triumph of trickery.’
(Speaking of magic, one of my favorite parts of the story is a subplot borrowed from
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which leads to havoc and romantic calamity. So I guess I’d have to add that as an element of inspiration.)
Who would play you in the movie? Michael J. Fox.
About the Author
Stephen Merlino lives in Seattle, WA, where he writes, plays, and teaches high school English. He lives with the world’s most talented and desirable woman, two equally fabulous children, and three attack chickens.
Growing up in Seattle drove Stephen indoors for eight months of the year. Naturally, that meant he read a lot, and at the age of eleven he discovered the stories of J.R.R. Tolkein and fell in love with fantasy.
Summers and rare sunny days he spent with friends in wooded ravines or on the beaches of Puget Sound, building worlds in the sand, and fighting orcs and wizards with driftwood swords.
About the time a fifth reading of The Lord of the Rings failed to deliver the old magic, Stephen attended the University of Washington and fell in love with Chaucer and Shakespeare and all things English. Sadly, the closest he got to England back then was The Unicorn Pub on University Way, which wasn’t even run by an Englishman: it was run by a Scot named Angus. Still, he studied there, and as he sampled Angus’s weird ales, and devoured the Unicorn’s steak & kidney pie (with real offal!), he developed a passion for Scotland, too.
In college, he fell in love with writing, and when a kindly professor said of a story he’d written, “You should get that published!” Stephen took the encouragement literally, and spent the next years trying. The story remains unpublished, but the quest to develop it introduced Stephen to the world of agents (the story ultimately had two), and taught him much of craft and the value of what Jay Lake would call, “psychotic persistence.”
Add to that his abiding love of nerds–those who, as Sarah Vowel defines it, “go too far and care too much about a subject”–and you have Stephen Merlino in a nutshell.