Sunday, July 30, 2017

Steel Empires Will Keep You Enthralled

Hey everyone!
I just had the pleasure of reading the first book in Steel Empires, a stellar series by J.L. Gribble. We met a few years back through Cleveland ConCoction and have kept in touch. I'm sad to say it took me this long to get to Steel Victory, book one in the Steel Empires series, but it was perfect timing. Gribble is about to release book 3, Steel Blood, so it's a great time to share my thoughts, along with an excerpt she provided just for you lucky folks.

So what do I think? 

Steel Victory, book 1 in the Steel Empires series, is great! It's a thrilling post-apocalyptic look at our world after war and nuclear fallout—then add mages, elves, vampires, were-creatures, human greed and politics, and you have a melting pot of emotions and racially charged volatility. It almost seems like too much just talking about the concept behind Steel Empires, but Gribble boils fantasy down to the core elements of humanity in all of us and it isn't difficult to follow in the least. 

Gribble's world flows like a recipe. With a little essence of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire, Steel Empires is setting the stage for something new and highly entertaining. I recommend that you read Steel Victory today.

What? My word not enough?

Fine then. Enjoy the excerpt, readers... Take the stage, Hanna. 

Since the elevator pitch for Steel Empires Book 3: Steel Blood is “Romeo and Juliet with werewolves and weredragons—with bonus feminism,” it was only obvious that the novel had to somehow include the quintessential “No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir; but I bite my thumb, sir” quote!

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The moment the sun set, they checked out of their hotel and returned to the shore district. Mikelos wanted to make sure all their belongings had been transferred from the ferry to the Qin ship. Victory wanted to see Mikelos’ face when he saw the Qin transport junk, still constructed in the old fashion. Qin’s navy had not suffered when elven magic set back the rest of the world’s military technology by almost two hundred years after the Last War.

She had already spotted the sails towering over the district warehouses, disappearing into the night sky. Mikelos had been too caught up with getting to the customs house for the official declaration that they were leaving Roman territory. But after they left the offices, the crowd clustered on the sidewalk brought them up short. There appeared to be an old-fashioned standoff occurring on the street before them.

Three men bristled in the middle of the empty road, two versus one. The first wore plain jeans and a shirt proclaiming him a supporter of a British rugby team. His accent pegged him as British as well. A native even, not the drawl more common in the British colonies north of Limani. He must be a member of the British trade delegation also scheduled to board the ship with Victory and Mikelos that night.

He wasn’t a werewolf, though. His posture radiated hostility and fierceness, but he carried none of the furry scent Victory associated with most werecreatures. She shouldn’t be surprised. Not everyone in the delegation could be nobility.

Mikelos, however, gripped her arm as he gaped at two Qin men opposite, marked by their tilted eyes and black hair tied in clubs at the nape of their necks. One wore summer-weight silk robes in deep scarlet embroidered with abstract swirling patterns in dusky rose, though the other sported more familiar Western-style slacks and button-up.

But the invectives now pouring from the robed man’s mouth surprised even her. They were directed at the Brit before him, who stood with fists balled. “— So why don’t you run back to your mangy lord and tell him he’d better show more respect for his superiors than you have shown me tonight.” He spoke Loquella with ease, with a clipped accent.

The Brit stepped forward once, crowding the space before the two Qin. “Earl Wallace will show your superiors precisely the amount of respect they deserve. If they are anything like you two scaly bastards, it won’t be much respect at all.”

“He’ll roll over and show his belly before the might of Governor Yu,” the Qin said.

The Brit laughed. “He’ll lick his arse before the might of Governor Yu.” He raised one hand and bit a thumbnail, then flicked his thumb at the robed Qin. He didn’t get the insult, but his friend did. The man in pants threw the first punch, snapping the Brit’s head to the side. But the Brit recovered at once and tackled his aggressor. They both crashed to the street in a mess of limbs, leaving the robed Qin shouting above them.

It was like watching a train wreck, exactly the sort of political bullshit Victory had been concerned about dealing with. But she had expected pointed jibes over state dinners and cocktail parties, not brawling in the streets. This was embarrassing for everyone. She passed Mikelos her overnight bag and waded into the fray, shaking off the standing Qin who tried to grab her arm when she passed.

At this point, the Brit kneeled over his attacker and alternated punching him in the face with each fist. Victory grabbed the back of his jeans and hauled him to his feet, tightening her hand on his waistband when he tried to rush forward again. The man on the ground groaned and attempted to staunch the flow of blood from his nose. Her nostrils flared as the aroma permeated the ocean-scented air around her, but she had already eaten that evening. She was too old and too disciplined for such a petty distraction.

She threw her other arm up when the robed Qin tried to approach. “Stop,” she said. She didn’t know whether it was the snap in her voice or her use of a two-hundred-year-old Qin dialect that brought him to a halt.

But Victory did know she wasn’t the reason the man threw himself to his knees, body bowed low and scuffing his robes on the dirty street, nor was she the reason for the gasp that rose through the surrounding crowd.

Victory risked a glance over her shoulder. She stifled her own gasp, instead schooling her face into a mask of studied neutrality.

A sinuous creature the height of a small horse padded down the street on claws the size of kitchen knives. Its iridescent scales shimmered every shade of green under the streetlamps, and its long snout sported both long whiskers and teeth. Its tall ears aimed front, and the intelligence in its eyes missed nothing of the scene before it.

Before him, Victory corrected herself. There were no female weredragons.

Tugging the Brit around with her to face the dragon, she bent at the waist in a show of respect. After her sharp jerk at the back of his pants, her captive followed suit. He grunted in surprise, but did not struggle when he saw what stood before them.

She kept herself low, waiting for the dragon to make the first move. The hair at the back of her neck tingled, but she resisted the urge to look up. She was not the aggressor here, and regardless of how the fight had started, she knew it would be in everyone’s best interest to keep it from escalating further.

Victory, survivor of the Last War, tried not to quake in her boots at the fear that the opening shots of a new world war had been fired by ignorant fools on the streets of a Roman city.

Present-day Victory was irritated over the whole situation. When flames didn’t shoot from the dragon’s throat, the muscles in her shoulders loosened. Present-day Victory could handle this situation.

The dragon spoke, breaking the palpable tension in the street. “My thanks to you, mistress, for keeping these pups in line.” His voice echoed on the sibilants, lending eerie secondary tones to his words.

Gasps rose in the crowd around them, from Romans more familiar with werepanthers and the occasional werebear. Werecreatures retained full intelligence when they shifted, except on the nights of the full moon, but couldn’t speak any human language in animal form. The dragons were the exception. It had been one of the benefits of working with Xian on scouting missions, all those years ago. She straightened, tugging the Brit along with her.

“My pleasure, sir,” Victory said.

“Do you mark fault with either party?”

“I was not present for the beginning of the altercation,” she said. “I withhold judgement.”

“Do any witnesses volunteer judgement?” The dragon surveyed the otherwise silent street, now packed with people spilling out of the shops and restaurants for the unfolding drama.

But they were all good Roman citizens, with no interest in the petty squabbles of foreigners unless it had a direct benefit to themselves. No one moved.

The light bent, and the air shifted, and in the space between one twitch of the crowd and the next, a middle-aged gentleman stood where the dragon had been. A final mutter of whispers echoed through the crowd, mostly about how the man had retained his clothing through his shift, but people started to disperse now that the spectacle of the dragon was gone. Soon, the only bystander was Mikelos, still clutching the two overnight bags.

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About the book:
As her children begin lives of their own, Victory struggles with the loneliness of an empty nest. Just when the city of Limani could not seem smaller, an old friend requests that she come out of retirement for one final mercenary contract—to bodyguard his granddaughter, a princess of the Qin Empire.

For the first time in a century, the Qin and British Empires are reopening diplomatic relations. Alongside the British delegation, Victory and her daywalker Mikelos arrive in the Qin colony city of Jiang Yi Yue. As the Qin weredragons and British werewolves take careful steps toward a lasting peace between their people, a connection between the Qin princess and a British nobleman throw everyone’s plans in disarray.

Meanwhile, a third faction stalks the city under the cover of darkness.
This is not a typical romance. It’s a good thing Victory is not a typical vampire.

Buy links:

Thanks Hanna. I hope everyone enjoyed that small taste of book 3. I will be heading out to grab book 2 of Steel Empires next, but for those of you who missed book 1, you can grab it here on Amazon. Here's a little about J.L. Gribble. She's a very interesting writer and a fun-loving gal. Come by ConCoction and meet her in March if you get the chance. 

Fingers crossed that she'll be returning again now that I've said that, lol.

About the author:

By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.


She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).



Weston Kincade ~ Author of the A Life of Death collection, The Priors, and Strange Circumstances