Review of "Poets in Hell"

All Your Favorite Poets, United in Eternal Torment!

Poets in Hell is the first of the Hell books that I’ve read and it is a blast. I was a little nervous starting at number seventeen in the series, but let me assure you that this is a complete volume which you are able to enjoy on its own merits. The stories are all penned by different authors, but there is a grand continuity to each of them. There is certainly a set of rules that each writer is familiar with, and you see references to various common characters that make the book a cohesive unit. Every author was assigned a certain poet who makes an appearance in his or her story so Shakespeare, Coolige, Nietzsche, Li Po, Browning, etc., all appear in various stories. I think English Majors will find this collection especially delightful, and actually I’m surprised that it took 17 volumes to get to poets!

I was especially impressed by the consistency of quality between the stories. All the contributors of this volume are very talented adding their own special twist to the shared universe. Chris and Janet Morris start things off with a couple of tales that are especially lyrical. One of them involves a flayed Odysseus who is on a quest to retrieve his skin—a chilling image to be sure, but worthy of the epic tradition that birthed Odysseus.

I have to say that I enjoyed seeing Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Beowulf making appearances in this tomb as well. Also, although this novel is set in Hell, I wouldn’t call it a “terror” novel by any means. As can be predicted, there are some fairly gruesome scenes, and there are plenty of adult themes, but it’s not any more gory or graphic than a typical fantasy novel.

Many of the stories involve tormenting poets by forcing them to go and either judge or participate in “poetry slams” which is pretty funny. In fact, there is a lot of humor sprinkled throughout this book, which is somewhat surprising in a “Hell” themed anthology.

The more of a background you have in literature, the more fun this novel is going to be for you. It’s frankly delightful to see famous poets and writers depicted in a way that affectionately highlights their specific, identifiable quirks. You can tell that the contributors to “Poets in Hell” picked writers that they were especially fond of. This anthology is unique in that not only does it introduce you to some modern writers you might not have heard of before, it also presents you with some historical ones whose works you might be inclined to explore. This is the kind of book that I’d like to see more available in high school classrooms (haha, imagine that!), because it’s exactly the type of thing to pique the curiosity of 17-18 year olds. Too bad our world is too Hellish to allow functional education tools.

Do check out “Poets in Hell.” I’m off to go and read some of the earlier volumes.

Get your copy of Poets in Hell here!

Review of “Shadow’s Son” by Jon Sprunk

The Introspective Assassin

I found “Shadow’s Son” by Jon Sprunk to be a nice little fantasy novel. In the first chapter, we are introduced to Caim, an assassin with a highly developed sense of morality in the midst of a job gone wrong. The first chapter of this book is a very nice little exercise in fantasy writing. The characters are introduced well and the action is quick and decisive. If “Shadow’s Son” were a movie, the first chapter would be like the first segment you get in a James Bond movie before the title sequence.

When I say that Caim has a highly developed sense of morality, I don’t mean that he believes his actions are correct. He doesn’t, and the contradiction of what he believes versus how he behaves is something of a torment. Caim gets through it by trying not to think about it too much, but that tactic fails him when he falls into the company of Josephine—a young noblewoman who is, herself, a target of assassination.

This book is mainly an exercise in getting to know Caim and his world. There is a plot to overthrow the local government going on, but I was far more interested in the development of Caim the character. Caim possesses a couple magical abilities that scare and confuse him, but which he is willing to call upon when all other defenses have failed. Among Caim’s abilities appears to be the power to control shadows, or to render them into tangible, violent beings which may come to his defense. We come to learn that there is a mystery to Caim’s heritage which explains these abilities, but the scraps of information are few and far between.

Also of interest is Kit, a ghostlike character who alternates between helping and antagonizing Caim. This character had the potential to be problematic, but she is very well realized in this book and I thought the story could have used more of her. Her presence again suggests that Caim is more than he appears, but he’s too busy running for his life in this novel to spend all that much time dwelling on who sent Kit or what she might be.

As I was reading, I often saw a similarity between Caim and Batman. They both are representative of a certain common character archetype—I suppose you could call them the “moral vigilante.” Caim, as opposed to Batman, has no problem being lethal, but he is also a little more vulnerable than Batman. As the novel progresses, the young woman Josephine, who he is protecting, causes him to become introspective as to the purpose of his whole life.

This was a very effective book and it succeeds in introducing the reader to some interesting new characters as well as fleshing out the world they inhabit. Even at the conclusion, there are plenty of questions left to be answered about Caim, his power, and his ancestry. In a very real sense, this book felt like the first step in an epic tale of self-discovery. You have to wonder, maybe with a sense of trepidation, what an assassin might find when he goes on such a quest.

About the reviewer: Walter Rhein is the author of "The Reader of Acheron," "Beyond Birkie Fever" and "The Bone Sword."  He is also the editor of and a contributor to "Nine Heroes." 

Words with Bobby Nash, Author of "Ghost Gal: The Wild Hunt"

Tell us a little about yourself

My name is Bobby Nash. I’m a writer who lives in Bethlehem, Georgia. I write novels, comic books, short prose, graphic novels, and have recently dipped my toe into screenwriting. I sold my first story in 1992, but really didn’t become busy as a writer until 2005 when my first novel, Evil Ways was released. Since then I’ve kept fairly busy writing for a number of publishers. It’s been a wild ride and I’m loving it.

Tell us about your books

I’ve had somewhere around 100 stories published. I really should get a count on those one day because I get this question from time to time. I won’t bore you with a full list here, but you can find information on all of my work at

Some recently released titles I worked on include Snow Falls for Stark Raving Press, Lance Star: Sky RangerVol. 4 for Airship 27, Box Thirteen: Adventure Wanted! for Radio Archives, The New Adventures of Major Lacy and Amusement, Inc. for Pro Se Press’ Pulp Obscura, and Alexandra Holzer’s Ghost Gal: TheWild Hunt for Raven’s Head Press.

An upcoming fantasy project is a graphic novel adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At The Earth’s Core for Sequential Pulp Comics and Dark Horse Comics. I wrote the adaptation with art by Jamie Chase.

What are your influences in the fantasy genre?

Influences come from everywhere. I enjoy the work of not only other writers, but artists, filmakers, and more. There are some truly creative people out there.

Please give us your views on the influence of fantasy in modern society?

I think we all like a little fantasy in our lives, that small “what if?” moment where our normal world might intersect with some fasntastic element. It’s those moments that I love to capture in my work. I ask what if? Then pull the thread and see what happens.

Do you think fantasy still has lessons to teach us about who we are and the human condition?

Oh, sure. Fantasy, much like science fiction, is a wonderful way of telling stories that shine a light back on the real world around us. Fantasy allows us to talk about real world issues by wrapping them in a fantasy setting. That’s a remarkable gift.

Tell us your views on authors using violence and/or sex in their writing? Is this part of the heroic tradition in your view?

Sex and violence have their uses in fiction. Not every story requires them, but some do. When I write a story using sex and violence it isn’t to glorify those things, but to show them as part of the character(s) in question. Heroic fiction has certainly tapped into both of these concepts over time. A heroic character is usually fighting against something. Sometimes that is a physical thing, sometimes it’s not.

What are your definitions of a ‘hero’?

A hero is the one who stands between the bad and those the bad seeks to hurt and refuses to move. It’s not always easy to be a hero, but true heroes stand their ground when they need to do so.

Do you use ‘anti-heroes’ in your books?

I write a lot of pulp characters, many of whom, by their very definition, fall under the heading of anti-hero. Characters like The Spider, for instance, fall into the shoot ‘em all and sort it out later category. From one side, he’s the hero. From another, he’s an anti-hero. I love playing with those shades of gray.

Who is your favorite fantasy/mythic hero?

Good question. I had to think on this one for awhile, but I think I’ll go with Hercules.

Why do you think fantasy continues to be so popular?

I think people like to escape into fantastic stories and fantasy is a great place to do just that.

Tell us about one (or more) of your fantasy characters - what makes him or her different/important/heroic?

I love Lance Star: Sky Ranger. Although he’s just a normal guy, we’ve put him in many fantasy situations and he somehow manages to thrive in them. He’s not the type of guy you would expect to be a fantasy hero, but he’ll surprise you. That’s part of his charm.

What fantasy creatures/races do you use in your worlds? Why did you choose these?

The pulp world is full of vicious critters, monsters from hidden lands, and all manner of beasts human and otherwise. Now, with the new Ghost Gal novel series I’m writing, I’ve added supernatural and paranormal entities to the list. There’s no shortage of great creatures to pull from.

How much research do you do for your books? What sources do you prefer?

The amount of research varies from project to project. Most of the pulp projects I work on tend to be period pieces so I do a lot of research on those specific time periods to try and get those details as accurate as possible. It’s fun to look back and see how much things have changed since the 1930’s. The internet and the library are great places to start. For more modern day research, I have spent time with police, FBI, and others as research.

Apart from fantasy what do you like to read?

I love reading a good crime thriller.

What was the last book you read and what did you think of it?

The last book I read was Raylan by Elmore Leonard. It was really good. I’m currently reading the first book in Van Allen Plexico’s The Shattering Saga, Legion I: Lords of Fire. It’s really good.

Can you remember the first fantasy book you ever read?

I really can’t. I read a lot when I was a kid. I want to say it might have been a Conan novel from my school library, but that’s a guess.

Do you watch fantasy films/play fantasy based PC games? Do you think these reflect the fantasy genre adequately?

I’m not a gamer, but I love a good fantasy movie. I think movies and TV are perfect for telling fantasy adventures.

Tell us about how you promote your work. Which strategies do you find useful? Which do you think are least effective?

I spend a lot of time on promotion. In addition to social media and the internet, I have a monthly email newsletter (shoot an email to and I’ll add you to the list if you’re interested), I sent our press releases, do interviews like this one, set up at conventions and writers conferences, do book signings, workshops, and author events, things like that. It’s all about getting the books in front of potential readers so I try to do that whenever I can. It’s a balancing act though. You have to be careful not to become annoying with your promotion.

What are your opinions on authors commenting on reviews?

Commenting on reviews never goes well for the author. It’s not worth it, especially if you disagree with the review. The best thing to do is let it go and move on. However, if you absolutely want to say something, thank the reviewer for taking the time to leave the review. Arguing with a reviewer never ever works out for the author. Just don’t do it.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write what you love. If your end goal is to write as a career, then you have to treat it like a job. By that, I mean you have to meet deadlines and you have to write even on those days you don’t feel like writing. Once you’re committed to a publisher, you have to meet that commitment.

Author Bio:

From his secret lair in the wilds of Bethlehem, Georgia, 2013 Pulp Ark Award Winning Best Author, Bobby Nash writes a little bit of everything including novels, comic books, short prose, graphic novels, screenplays, media tie-ins, and more.

Between writing deadlines, Bobby is an actor and extra in movies and television, including appearances in Deviant Pictures’ Fat Chance, FOX’s The Following, USA’s Satisfaction, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, and more. He is also the co-host of the Earth Station One podcast ( and a member of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers and International Thriller Writers.

Bobby was named Best Author in the 2013 Pulp Ark Awards, his first professional writing award. Rick Ruby, a character co-created by Bobby and author Sean Taylor also snagged a Pulp Ark Award for Best New Pulp Character of 2013. Bobby was also nominated for the 2014 New Pulp Awards and Pulp Factory Awards for his work.



Video: Janet and Chris Morris at the Library of Congress (with Walter Rhein)

Janet and Chris Morris just sent me the excellent video from their recent talk at the Library of Congress.  I had the opportunity to attend this presentation and the honor of introducing Janet and Chris.  This was really a wonderful time, and I'm looking forward to more speaking opportunities so I can meet the wonderful readers and writers who participate on this blog and the Heroic Fantasy Facebook group.

Please give this video a like, share, tweet, or whatever.  Click here for the original You Tube link.  Also, make sure you pick up your copies of The Reader of Acheron, Poets in Hell, The Sacred Band, Beyond Sanctuary, and Nine Heroes (among others).

See you at the next one!

Review of "Tamed" by Douglas Brown

Move Over Michael Chrichton

Tamed” is a slick werewolf thriller that puts a new twist on an old favorite and emerges with a great modern day fantasy. Douglas Brown balances the right amount of adventure with enough of a touch of social criticism that you know not to take the fantastical events of this story entirely seriously. The result is a narrative that has fun with pretty implausible situations and kind of winks as it takes the reader through an explosive, action filled joy ride. This is a quick, entertaining read, the kind of book that’s perfect for a three or four hour plane ride.

There are some readers that get a little bent out of shape over implausible events in a book or film. “The Fast and the Furious” movies come to mind as narratives that break the laws of physics every five seconds and which alienate a certain percentage of their viewers for that reason. However, I’m the type of person who likes that type of thing. If I want reality, I’ll look out a window. I prefer it when an author feels the freedom to explore ideas using radical scenarios that are stimulating and engaging. I think you go into “Tamed” knowing what you’re in for, and Brown doesn’t ever break the rules he establishes from the beginning.

I think it’s rather amusing that Brown conceived of having a corporation that would be willing to exploit the existence of werewolves for financial gain. I also think it’s revealing that in the reviews I’ve read of this book nobody finds that narrative device to be destructive to their suspension of disbelief. You don’t read any reviews that say, “a corporation would never do that,” which is a pretty scary insight into our current social state of mind when you think about it.

The corporate introduction of werewolves as pets to the affluent in mainstream society is not the focus of the novel, and is only revealed in passing—but that subdued back story really captured my imagination. There are a lot of hints of bribery and behind the scenes collusion which, yeah, are exactly what big dollar enterprises like this would probably do. In fact, the WereHouse is the most ruthless, blood hungry entity in the whole book (which is ironic in a novel populated by man eating beasts).

The story mainly follows the events that lead to the collapse of the “werewolves as pets” empire. Revealing the true nature of the werewolves as well as the death squads that are employed to keep rouges in line provides a nice sequence of revelations throughout the book. The narrative is kind of like the breaking of a scandal, you see it at its very worst and then you go backwards along the sequence of bad decisions that led to the ultimate corruption. Lance Armstrong would probably read this and have a lot of sympathy for the WereHouse.

This is the kind of novel that could be adapted to the big screen with relative ease. I kept imagining Jeremy Renner in the role of Aiden and maybe Robin Wright as Christine. The book works very well as an action fantasy, but it gives you just that touch of social criticism (if you feel inclined to dwell on such things) to lend the overall novel some teeth. Highly recommended!

Get your copy here!

Reviewer Bio:
Walter Rhein is the author of "The Reader of Acheron," "Beyond Birkie Fever," and "The Bone Sword."  He is also the editor of "Nine Heroes."