Objective Score (Amazon and Goodreads Score): 5/5
TL;DR: A book that got me, someone who doesn’t really like Urban Fantasy, to finish the book and actively seek out time to listen (I did the audiobook). There were occasional flaws, but not nearly enough to lower the score. Well-written and fast-paced.
Subjective Score (Personal Tastes): 81/100
Pros for me:
Oxivius steals every scene he is in
Reminds me of several books and tv shows I like
I genuinely cared about the outcome and felt the danger in every moment
Well-written and a good pace
Cons for me:
A bit spicy for my tastes. Pretty tasteful, but not my thing. This could be a positive for others.
I had trouble relating to the quippy-ness and characterization of Amber. I understand she is a popular character with others from reviews I’ve read, and it does fit the genre.
Sometimes the wording could have been a bit more varied (mostly in describing appearances), but this was an occasional issue that was probably more obvious because I listened to the audiobook.
The Long Story:
Infernal Games is an excellent debut by established author Reed Logan Westgate. Westgate makes the most of his debut by digging deep into some of the darkest parts of legend and lore and exposing it for all to see.
In this book, we follow Xlina, a Baku from Japanese lore, as she tries to free herself from a mistake made early on in the narrative. This work contains a lot of levity and danger, and it is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seat.
Westgate made the Urban Fantasy Genre, not something I usually seek out, accessible and interesting to me. He used a diverse group of characters to create a dysfunctional found family that will keep you coming back for more.
My only other foray into Urban Fantasy that I can recall was the Dresden Files, and I feel like this compares favorably to that series. A bit less self-serious with more tongue-in-cheek humor and heart than that series. The characters in this book are just more human and vulnerable than Harry Dresden and co.
The pacing was fast and kept the various obstacles and antagonists coming at our cast and it made me wonder how they could ever get out of these situations alive. The danger was there and you could tell the characters were always moments away from tragedy. This sort of pacing is clearly intentional and the sign of a well-crafted narrative.
Some of the trappings of this genre still aren’t my favorite things in the world: quippy-ness, detailed wardrobes, and other little nit-picky things, but Westgate makes them palatable. Besides, how can I worry about those things when the fate of Portland, Maine and more are on the line?
I encourage you to give this series a chance, even if you don’t like Urban Fantasy. I wouldn’t consider myself an Urban Fantasy convert, but I am a fan of what Westgate is putting out there!
Will I read book 2, Dirge of the Dead:
Yes. This book delivers everything it promises, and I can tell that this is an author that cares deeply about his craft. I am expecting an excellent follow-up
My interview with Reed Logan Westgate:
So, to start off, tell us a little bit about yourself? What made you want to be a writer?
Sure, I was born and raised in Sanford, a little town in southern Maine. I wrote my first book in second grade. My teacher helped me bind it together with ribbons and cardboard cover. I think it was maybe 10 pages long and terrible. I was a prodigious reader. Growing up, I was the only kid I knew that asked for books for Christmas. By the time I got to high school, I had the workings of my first novel. It was a fantasy piece that I worked on whenever I got the chance. Unfortunately, my parents were less than thrilled with my aspirations. My dad was an old-school blue-collar factor worker. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t just settle for a factory job that had decent pay and benefits to raise a family. Instead of pursuing my ambitions in creative writing, I took that factory job like my dad wanted.
I hated it. It was soul crushing for me. I soon jumped into community college. My parents refused to do the FAFSA, so I was stuck on my own without federal aid. By this time, the realities of life and bills had done a number on my ambitions. I was willing to do anything to get out of that factory. I applied to the Atlantic Culinary Academy to get my culinary arts degree. I was super excited and nervous but worked up the courage to meet with admissions. I bombed. Turned out I didn’t know what kind of cook I wanted, and with my only experience being fast food, they weren’t sure I was ready for a culinary program. Broken-hearted, I left the office, but fate would spin the wheel again. The culinary academy shared admin offices with McIntosh College. Across the hall, the admissions rep had been eating her lunch and listening to my interview. She heard I had taken two years of accounting and caught me in the hall. She asked if I wanted to join McIntosh’s accounting program, and I figured anything was better than the assembly line.
For the next twenty years, I did the life thing. Worked in multiple fields using my accounting degree. I lost sight of the dreams of my youth, which had quickly been replaced with a family and responsibilities. I’d like to say I was just too busy to finish my novel, but that would be a lie. I was too scared. If I tried and failed, then the dream would be dead. It would be over. As long as I never finished anything it was always looming as an intangible somewhere in the ether. Someday. The dream would be alive, albeit on life support.
Then came my oldest daughter, Emma. Emma who wanted to be a pro wrestler. Emma, who everyone said was too smart for such a career. It was during a fiery… debate with my daughter that I began a lecture about needing to chase what makes her happy over the all mighty dollar. That working for a salary would never be fulfilling if her heart wasn’t in it. Teenaged Emma wasted no time in throwing back my hypocrisy. It stung, but she was right. I had parked my dream for what was safe, because I was afraid to fail at it. So I sat down and started writing. The Infernal Games were born.
As far as the Baku Trilogy, I see a lot of drawing from various mythologies and legends. What made you choose to write about these, sometimes obscure, creatures and supernatural entities? Was there a specific inspiration? What was your research process like?
When I jumped into Urban Fantasy, I knew I wanted to do something different from vampires and werewolves. I wanted to explore more. So, I started building my world with a simple premise. It was all real. Every legend, every religion, and every myth. Nothing was off the table. I often get sucked into research holes, spending weeks learning about some obscure lore or religious tidbit and then twisting and turning it until it fits into my world. It’s probably my favorite part of writing Urban Fantasy. Xlina was a straightforward character. I have always had vivid dreams and I often dream the answers to problems at work or chapters when writing. I wanted my main character to have dream magic of some kind. After a bit of research, I narrowed it down to the Baku from Japanese lore. This gave me to ability to have her powers also be a curse. To be trapped in horrific nightmares every night.
What books, video games, tv, and movies inspired you? I couldn’t help feel like I had some familiarity with your work from other media. Not that it was derivative, but we all emulate what we love.
Definitely the obvious Urban Fantasy series like Supernatural, Charmed, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I liked the gritty and dark moments from Supernatural, the elements that kissed the line of horror while still retaining the ability to keep humorous. At the same time, the snarky tough heroine model that Buffy Summers was growing up clearly influenced some of my character choices.
Game wise Monte Cook’s Invisible Sun allowed to run campaigns in a surreal setting. That game lit the spark in my Urban Fantasy creativity. I enjoyed playing in that mystical world and exploring different magics and secrets within the world. It’s probably one of the biggest drivers in changing from writing traditional fantasy.
If I recall correctly, this was your debut. Now with the gift of hindsight, how do you feel about it? What worked well, and what do you wish you could change? How do you feel your writing has changed since Infernal Games?
Absolutely. The Infernal Games was my big debut. I have learned so much since then. From the original launch, the book has gotten a cover upgrade, but largely remains the same. I went big. Borrowed a heap of cash from my 401K and went all out. Paid for editing, layout, covers, and etc. In hindsight, I overspent, botched the launch terribly, and didn’t market well for the first year. My online presence was next to nothing because I had never been a social person. I found myself needing to find ways to put myself out there. I promised myself that no matter how the first book did; I was going to finish the trilogy. I knew from the start when the story would end and so I figured to truly give it a shot; I had to finish.
Each book in the series I try to deliver something that can stand on its own. By book two, Dirge of the Dead, I had found my groove and my voice. I had received enough feedback that I felt deep down I could do it. More importantly, I was enjoying it. Writing had rekindled a part of me that I thought was gone.
What have you written since Infernal Games? What’s next for you and your writing? And where can we follow you?
I have wrapped up the Baku Trilogy and in doing so revealed that this trilogy is just the beginning. It sets the stage for a wider world. Book two, Dirge of the Dead, pick up immediately after the end of The Infernal Games and see the wily necromancer Oxivius doing everything in his power to mend Xlina’s broken heart. Even storming the gates of Hell. Book two fills in more of the Oxivius backstory, giving us peeks and moments to explore just how old and powerful the Necromancer is. Book three, Beyond The Mist Dark Messiah, is the epic climax to the story. Literally the end of the world as we know it, but every ending has a new beginning. At the end of Dark Messiah readers are rewarded with the big payoffs on their favorite characters and ushered into a whole new avenue of growth.
Next on the horizon is the Soulstealer Trilogy. With an aggressive release schedule, all three books will be out by the fall of 2023. Not a huge feat as I have been writing Oxivius’ back story since the beginning of the Baku Trilogy. By popular demand, I felt it was time to go back and tell the Necromancer’s tale. I am super eager to share this series with everyone, and I promise plenty of our favorite cannibal necromancer as we see him grow from the monster into the man.
Following Soulstealer, the groundwork has been laid for the Mistfall Trilogy. Picking up after the events of Dark Messiah, our heroes will have to deal with the world they broke. That makes nine books in my Baku-verse. I have a sci-fi novel on the back burner just waiting for the right protagonist to show up. Someday, I would like to return and try my hand at fantasy again. One thing is certain, I am not stopping any time soon.
I’m going to end this like my weekly scribe interviews:
Shout out a Twitter of Social Media Friend:
A big shout-out to @ViviAnneHunt who always brings positive vibes to the writing community on twitter. Vivi just released her romance novel Kai’s Healing Smiles.
Favorite Indie Book(s):
I have been reading a huge backlog of indie self published books. I am a big fan of Jeff Schanz and his Merrick, The Drifter series. For Sci-Fi I really enjoyed Jesse Seth Frankel’s Catnip. For traditional fantasy I thoroughly enjoyed Traitor’s We Are. (Awwwww)
Who is an artist/writer/creator we should all be watching:
Artist is the talented Micha Cole aka Lady Pirotessa. She has done some amazing renderings of my characters and her portfolio is straight fire.
For indie music I am really enjoying No Resolve for rock and Mitch Rossell for country.
If the Baku Trilogy was real and you found yourself in the center of everything—what would your role be, what would you say to one character, and are you secretly a mythical creature?
I would love to have Ox and Xlina as friends and be part of the gang. Knowing my luck, I would be the beat cop or landlord an npc in my own world. If I had a choice… I would want to be of the druid order, a Keeper of the Mist.