Hello and welcome to the first issue of Hidden Gems. This is a new feature in which we look at books with a lot of promise that might benefit from some extra exposure. It’s your chance to find a cherished ‘Hidden Gem’!
In issue 1 we have 6 suggestions, many of which come highly recommended from bloggers and reviewers. If you like nice covers too, there are some beauties on this list. Let’s see if there’s something in issue #1 to add to your TBR…
Heart of a Lion – Stephen Zimmer
Stephen Zimmer has now finished his Dark Sun Dawn trilogy, featuring the most badass of badass women, Rayden Valkyrie. Where some readers can be frustrated by main characters who display fighting prowess albeit with an air of arrogance or lack of true humility, Rayden is a hero that people need, especially in the current climate. She is the compassionate, loyal and courageous friend to the good, the unrelenting scourge of the not-so-good,
Talked about as being both throwback and progressive, Heart of a Lion is a story for the modern audience, incorporating elements of the sword and sorcery adventures of yesteryear with a refreshing present day twist. This book is a perfect example of being loved pretty universally by those that have read it, but lacking the exposure to be read by a wider audience.
Especially at 275 pages, and part of a finished trilogy that is rated just as highly by its readers, it’s definitely worth giving a chance.
Rayden Valkyrie. She walks alone, serving no king, emperor, or master. Forged in the fires of tragedy, she has no place she truly calls home.
A deadly warrior wielding both blade and axe, Rayden is the bane of the wicked and corrupt. To many others, she is the most loyal and dedicated of friends, an ally who is unyielding in the most dangerous of circumstances.
The people of the far southern lands she has just aided claim that she has the heart of a lion. For Rayden, a long journey to the lands of the far northern tribes who adopted her as a child beckons, with an ocean lying in between.
Her path will lead her once more into the center of a maelstrom, one involving a rising empire that is said to be making use of the darkest kinds of sorcery to grow its power. Making new friends and discoveries amid tremendous peril, Rayden makes her way to the north.
Monstrous beasts, supernatural powers, and the bloody specter of war have been a part of her world for a long time and this journey will be no different. Rayden chooses the battles that she will fight, whether she takes up the cause of one individual or an entire people.
Both friends and enemies alike will swiftly learn that the people of the far southern lands spoke truly. Rayden Valkyrie has the heart of a lion.
Heart of a Lion is Book One of the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.
Late Summer, Early Spring – Patricia Correll
Feudal Japan is the setting for this two-part historical fantasy. Described as “The perfect treat for anyone looking for beautiful writing, ancient mythology, and casual inclusion of gay characters.”
At 210 pages, this book is an escape into a fantasy world that won’t be as overbearing as a thick tome, especially with the (at time of writing) Covid-19 situation sapping many readers’ concentration levels.
The first story comes at you fast, with the second part, set 8 years later, introducing more character development and depth. Magic and fantasy elements are delicately interwoven with Japanese culture and mythology.
Hour of the Lotus
General Sho Iwata is devastated when the man he secretly loves, Prince Narita, is struck with a mysterious illness. Iwata’s current lover, Hiroshi, is well aware of the general’s unrequited passion. But that isn’t his biggest problem. His sister is Narita’s favorite consort, but Hiroshi believes she has been replaced by an imposter. When they discover the true cause of the illness, they will have to battle an ancient spirit and survive.
Lord General Iwata Sho sets out in search of the mysterious Fox Hunter. When he finds his former lover, Hiroshi, he discovers a changed man, scarred inside and out and consumed by vengeance. Together with Narita’s grown son Daigo, Iwata and Hiroshi pursue the malicious spirit as it leaves bloodshed in its wake. Iwata worries about what will become of Hiroshi when the fox is defeated—if Hiroshi’s revenge doesn’t kill him first.
A Storm of Silver and Ash – Marion Blackwood
Pretty much the antithesis to Rayden Valkyrie in Heart of a Lion, main character Oncoming Storm has little care for ethics and principles, a thief who lurks in the shadows, a knife in the dark who isn’t averse to double crossing. Despite this, she’s a likeable character with motives, history and depth, with a sense of humour layered in for good measure.
The dark, gritty medieval (but with guns) setting has been likened to the Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed video games, other reviewers getting Peaky Blinders, Mistborn and Six of Crows vibes.
This is a book that has everything – Action, character development, depth, twists and turns, emotion, a beautifully crafted world and natural, immersive interactions between the characters.
What would you sacrifice to save your friend?
Your soul? Your humanity? Your life?
The Oncoming Storm is a name whispered in awe throughout the Underworld. She’s known as a master thief and a lethal knife-wielder – some even say she has the skills of an assassin. All of it is true. She’s also a sarcastic smartmouth with the social graces of a bull.
You will find her running across rooftops, sneaking in the shadows, and breaking into houses. That is, if she’s not busy getting ambushed and blackmailed into a seemingly impossible mission. Grudgingly caught in a dangerous power struggle, the Oncoming Storm must leave behind the world she knows and maneuver through scheming assassins, calculating elves, and desperate royals.
Before her adventure is over, she will have loved, saved, killed, and double-crossed those around her. The only question is, who? The clock is ticking, and before time runs out, the Oncoming Storm must decide who to trust and who to betray…
Behind the Throne – K. B. Wagers
Behind the Throne is the start of a trilogy and wider series, the follow-on trilogy beginning with highly praised ‘There Before the Chaos’ which picks up at a later date. This is certainly a book (and series) that doesn’t yet have the readership to match the praise it has received from those who have read it.
This sci-fi story features the fun and adventure of familiar space operas whilst adding the intrigue, betrayals, plots and schemes that made series like Game of Thrones so popular. It has plenty of its own unique takes too – for example, a female dominated, matriarchal society. Whilst this isn’t the first time it’s been done it is still a refreshing take on what is usually a male dominated world. This isn’t to say men don’t have key parts to play in the story and much like Priory of the Orange Tree, just because it can be labelled a feminist story does not make it unsuitable for male readers. Quite the opposite in fact; it can give male readers a different perspective and challenge our attitudes, whilst providing a great story for anyone to enjoy.
Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive.
Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.
But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can’t do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She’ll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.
A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy – not to mention an all-out galactic war – Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .
Edge of the Breach – Halo Scot
This one’s a lot darker than the other books in this issue, as you’ll probably know just by reading the synopsis. It’s also a book that 93% of reviewers rate 4 or 5 stars, a huge mark of approval amongst reviewers, with the enjoyment of a book being so subjective. It was actually only published 3 months ago at the time of writing, which explains the lower number of reviews. That figure will surely grow pretty rapidly with more exposure, which you can get in on ahead of the curve.
Perhaps part of the initial appeal is the plot device of people gaining their power depending on their season of birth. It tends to be a popular choice from my experience when a book introduces different factions or types of people with unique traits or abilities – Harry Potter, Divergent, A Song of Ice and Fire being three massively popular examples in which this is used successfully.
Unlike the first of these two examples however, prepare yourself for very dark themes and horrific brutality. Whilst this may sound off-putting to some, it’s an emotional story, its darkness there to serve a purpose rather than being gratuitous. It’s post apocalyptic, it’s raw and visceral, it’s intended to make you feel. And it’s bloody good.
We all become monsters at the edge of the breach. In a post-apocalyptic world where season of birth determines power — spring healers, summer mages, fall shapeshifters, and winter shields — a man and a woman emerge from tragic childhoods to lead humanity on opposite sides of an interrealm war.
There is a hole in the sky. They call it the Rift. A portal to the gods. The scar of a suffering world. Through it, the gods rule the last scraps of civilization, harkening war. As chaos beckons, two leaders emerge from the ashes of a dying planet.
Julian Kyder is the son of an abusive rape victim who compensates for his abandonment through psychopathy. Sira Rune is a cancer survivor who dedicates her life to living free and fearless while experiencing the taboo and the unorthodox. Rune is the only one unafraid of Kyder, and that terrifies him, because he only knows how to function through fear. Even though she gives him more chances than he deserves, how much violence can she forgive? When is a person beyond redemption? While he struggles to control his demons and she struggles to find purpose, the gods drag the ruined world into war.
Salvaged – Madeleine Roux
Salvaged comes highly recommended by Kriti Khare (read her review here) in which she draws parallels to the Alien film franchise, which of course immediately sparked my interest, being a huge fan, and looking for similar books myself.
Salvaged, like Alien features a strong female lead attempting to navigate amongst and survive an extraterrestrial threat within the confines of a spaceship. Salvaged promises the same atmospheric tension and intrigue though on plenty of its own merits, lest we do it the disservice of making too many comparisons to an existing franchise. Madeleine Roux usually writes YA fiction so if you’re familiar with the name, this is her first foray into adult sci-fi and as such may be grittier and darker than you are expecting. Go for this one if you are feeling a tense, claustrophobic space horror.
A WOMAN ON THE RUN. A CAPTAIN ADRIFT IN SPACE. ONE OF THEM IS INFECTED WITH AN ALIEN PARASITE.
In this dark science fiction thriller, a young woman must confront her past so the human race will have a future.
Rosalyn Devar is on the run from her famous family, the bioengineering job she’s come to hate, and her messed-up life. She’s run all the way to outer space, where she’s taken a position as a “space janitor,” cleaning up ill-fated research expeditions. But no matter how far she goes, Rosalyn can’t escape herself. After too many mistakes on the job, she’s given one last chance: take care of salvaging the Brigantine, a research vessel that has gone dark, with all crew aboard thought dead.
But the Brigantine’s crew are very much alive–if not entirely human. Now Rosalyn is trapped on board, alone with a crew infected by a mysterious parasitic alien. The captain, Edison Aries, seems to still maintain some control over himself and the crew, but he won’t be able to keep fighting much longer. Rosalyn and Edison must find a way to stop the parasite’s onslaught…or it may take over the entire human race.
I’d love to hear if this issue has prompted you to read any of the featured books, or whether you have already read any of them and want to share your thoughts! Book suggestions for future posts always welcome.
Please note: I have not read all of these books myself. Some of the conclusions are taken from the input of multiple respected reviewers and personal research.