The Indie Fantasy book reviews post on Tuesday. When I don’t have a review ready I’ll post something else such as an Indie author interview, discuss my TBR lists, and dissect some of my favorite Fantasy Classics.
Beatrice is the victim of an arranged match to the Duke of Saffredento, who hastily abandons her to an estate full of forgotten traditions and curses. When the portrait of a strange woman begins turning up in the house, she summons the great sorcerer, Hildigrim Blackbeard, to investigate. The portrait, it seems, has traveled through time to find her—and bring her back by any means necessary.
Byrd Nash Review
Full disclosure, I love this guy’s books. I started out with a different book that he posted about on IG so he might be getting several reviews from me. Because historical feeling + magic = count me there.
These books hit all my favorite buttons: historical-like fantasy (this is an imaginary land that seems to exist with other more well-known European countries), a sorcerer Hildigrim with overtones of Nostradamus (which I love of course), and lots of well written female characters of various ages (mothers, nurses, damsels).
It’s unusual (for me) to read an Indie book and be consumed with finishing it. Yes consumed. Consumed as like “on fire.” As soon as I hit about page 5 of The Astrologer’s Portrait (review for that later) I knew I was a goner. I immediately went and bought all of his other books.
Grasso brings us into a beautiful world filed with magical words.
He is a wordsmith.
Not surprising I guess since he is an English professor but I think it bears mentioning. The lack of word craft by indie authors is the size and density of a black hole. Words should be used with as much thought as notes are in a score.
Let me give you some examples from The Winged Turban.
“You only see the smallest part of what you call reality – the most insignificant part. The rest pulls you about like a kite, in the wind, through you flap you arms like wings and consider yourself a bird.”The Winged Turban
There’s a loveliness to his language, how his characters speak, what they notice. When reading The Astrologer’s Portrait it made me sit up and take notice.
However, this art with words may be why he has had problems getting his books noticed – his reading audience will not be the person looking for a quick adventure fix or who wants a roller-coaster ride that breaks your neck (this seems to be the current trend in fantasy being written by gamers and it is utterly exhausting with surface characters and little plot other than kill, stab, jump, explosion).
His audience will be the more educated reader looking for a longer read that pulls them into a new world so they can forget their lives for hours.
Look at this gem:
“I’m too old for heroics,” Lucas laughed. “If I can just spend my declining years with a roof over my head, I won’t complain.”
“You could find the same in a coffin!” Hildigrim scowled.The Winged Turban
Grasso has a love of language and it shines in his work. Because I just can’t get enough, here’s some more examples.
… the key making the faintest – but still echoing – click in the darkness. Tatyana’s snores easily devoured it and went hunting for larger prey.The Winged Turban
This author must sneak off to write poetry. Or maybe he’s a frustrated poet?
There was nothing human here, Hildigrim noted. Only a dull impression of isolation and order.The Winged Turban
In his world magic is of the type that just exists. Sorcerers are part of every day life. There is a magical realism aspect to this I really do enjoy in this time of authors making bloated and convoluted worlds that are just words on paper.
That doesn’t mean that the magic isn’t explained – there is a philosophical discussion by his characters when they are discussing the time-travel conundrum at the heart of The Winged Turban. Which makes the magic feel real but yet so vast that it is still mysterious. Okay, you’ll just have to read it!
This is probably why the books strongly remind me of Judith Merkle Riley who I absolutely adore. JMR’s books are at a higher writing level but the flavor and spirit of her books can be found here.
“And the extra arm – was that part of the curse?”The Winged Turban
“No, that was her regret shining through…”
Another thing I love about these books is the ensemble cast. You find women in various stages of life and position.
I rarely read male authors anymore because of their inability to write female characters. This isn’t a problem with Grasso – his female characters are often the leads with far more wisdom and judgement than the male characters.
However, an ensemble can sometimes muddle the message. This is most evident at about midway through his books when we get added characters who while interesting do slow down the plot action. The reader can lose track of what is happening and the main theme of the problem.
It also means that some characters get less screen time – and I find myself wishing I knew more of certain characters such as Madame Theroux and Arial – their story could have been a book in itself. And I wish had more time to savor the romance between Hildigrim and Dorothea.
The psuedo-historical feel to the books make them intriguing but can also make them a bit frustrating. If you want to know the exact time period – there won’t be one. I do think this is where the books could benefit some – give us a more clear time period of when it’s taken place by mentioning historical milestones from other countries.
This gives the reader an anchor in understanding the dress, manners, and technology.
And while I do love Grasso’s prose sometimes he gets lost in it – we get swirled away in a current running to fast with words and images so lose the thread of the story. A bit tighter on this would also improve the overall book.
A smaller quibble would be a change of title and book cover to reach the audience that he well deserves.