Review: Portals

Portals Cover

Book: Portals (anthology)
Genre: Fantasy

Authors:
Maronda’s Quest by Christy Thomas
Entrance of Lost Souls by Echo Shea
Mexmur, the Huntress by Anna Simpson
Where Once were Hearts by Havva Murat
Ordinary World by Laurie Treacy
The Lunatic Queen by Michael Siciliano

Description: “No matter what world you call home, or what your station in life, there are just some paths that weren’t meant to be tread.”

Link: Roane Publishing – Portals

Review:
Portals is a collection of stories revolving around a portal (illustrated above). The stories include magic, dragons, a unique troll and witches and warlocks. Romance is well represented in some and there are some solid writing to be enjoyed.

Maronda’s Quest

The writing feels slightly clumsy at times and when it is wooden it takes you out of the story. Parts of it were much better, but overall it seems as though this was much more of a first draft than even something ready for beta readers.
The characters are familiar in a bad way and the rules of the world are inconsistent as Vikings are involved yet in such a world it seemed common for women to be married when they reached adulthood. It is not clear in which century this story was supposed to have taken place. To add to the inconsistencies, the main character knows about the universe, which raises the question of the level of knowledge and technology available.
The description of the primary relationship is not subtle. The ending, while suitable for the storyline at that point, feels more rushed and it contributes to the sense the flow of the scenes wasn’t handled well. There isn’t much information regarding the immediate environment at times which creates confusion. Much of the characters’ emotions were left out and this means readers will have to do some writing of their own while they’re reading in order to complete the core of the characters.
The world in which the story lives wasn’t set well. You don’t get a clear idea of what the larger world is like.
It seems to have fallen victim to an attempt to fit a much larger story into a limited vessel. Bits and pieces were nice and suggest the writing should be much better than it is.
While the general concept of the story is not unusual, it is strange and requires the reader to realise a little too much. Good books might tend to leave much to the reader’s imagination and interpretation, but that is more down to the smaller things, such as details in faces and exact distances. It is the reader’s responsibility to conjure those images in their mind, but in this case you have to reorient yourself from time to time before continuing with the story.
This story seems like it would be much better if given the space to mature. It doesn’t seem suited or properly developed as a short story.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 3/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 4/10

Entrance of Lost Souls

This story, set in the modern world, was nicely written from the first-person perspective as it includes a lot of realistic thoughts from an interesting character. Some of the setting description is a little confusing but other than that there is little to complain about.
The story is not given an introduction, so the reader has to draw on other stories to properly form the world, which in an anthology is not a bad idea. Instead of building up an entirely new world from scratch, the author focuses on the characters while also describing her own.
The pace of the story is most certainly not slow. There is running as the main character chases something one minute and is being chased the next. The focus might be more on action than emotion, but there is still some emotional moments in the story, which round it off. There are multiple different elements, including mystery, thriller, action, adventure as well as comedy sprinkled here and there.
The main character, a troll of special design both in terms of its physical attributes and personality, gives the story an appealing attitude. She’s relatable in the way she thinks about things and deals with other people. It’s reminiscent of Buffy in that sense. At the end of the day she’s just a being trying to make a living, albeit a distinctly odd living and one which more than a few people would like.
The writing is not void of problems, such as certain plausibility and perhaps continuity issues, but they are so minor they don’t impact the story heavily and may even go unnoticed. The reader does have to ignore various questions brought up by the troll’s current situation and how it really goes about its job, but there is a dog present with a fun personality and it is something the reader can enjoy as it shows its worth in a nice partnership between canine and troll. The secondary characters are painted well enough given this is a short story, although they don’t seem to be given enough attention.
There are quite a few questions left unanswered but the story itself is enjoyable and getting to knowing the troll should be fun for many.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 7/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 7/10

Mexmur, the Huntress

The story begins well and shows a lot of promise but that isn’t quite realised. The laws of the world aren’t well-defined and as a result it is not clear what type of magic is involved and how it interacts with the rest of the world. The focus of all of the stories in this anthology is the portal on the cover, but this story did not properly outline what that world really was. Even though the main character does not know, the author should have provided that explanation better to answer questions and/or provide closure.
The description of the only magical creature present is nice. The dragon is unique, and a little strange as far as its agenda goes. The rest of the story shares that problem. This may be a short story, but what makes these good is an economic use of words. The reader might be left just as confused as the main character by the unfolding events and her personality is not set up well to feel natural. In addition, the title of the story and the story itself don’t really seem to work, something which is highlighted at its end.
The huntress is supposed to be a key figure but really is just carried along for the ride as she does not even really make any major contributions to the outcome other than protecting a dragon from immediate harm. There also wasn’t another character to take the reins of the story, making it simply move along as though it was a storm and the characters in it were just pieces of debris being tossed around for a while.
Overall, the writing was decent and the scenes were well set. The happy ending in it seems like it really shouldn’t have been there as it feels both rushed and inconsistent with the characters involved. Nevertheless, there were some original aspects of the story, and one in particular, regarding fairy tales, which was a pleasant touch to it.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 4/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 5/10

Where Once were Hearts

The best part of this story is the quality of the writing. It’s something which you might expect from a well selling novel. The flow of the story also works well with the length limit. The reader can read from start to finish and not feel as though anything was rushed or the story was merely a piece of something larger. While the beginning of the story is a little strange, the rest of it makes up for the slight confusion involved in understanding the setting and how the portal is used. Although the portal is not given much focus, it serves its purpose. It’s inclusion visually in the story is not the best, and almost feels like a secondary addition, but after that the story picks up.
The portrayal of each character is good, as is the colourful personalities. The entire story reads as a horror with a twist, coming in the form of romance made possible by the oddity of the main character. He has a conscience which seems unrealistically strong, especially given the life-threatening situation. While his actions seem a little much, given he is willing to do extraordinary things for someone he has just met, the story does not suffer too much from it.
Simply reading this story is enjoyable, even if the genre and setting is not preferable to a reader. It does not suffer from such issues like words being repeated too close to each other as is the case from time to time in other stories in this anthology. The fairly original element, being the mix of magic and technology, running throughout the story is not given a good background but fortunately the focus of the story is more on character interaction.
This story is worth reading just for the sake of reading and the exposure of interesting characters.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 7/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 8/10

Ordinary World

The atmosphere of this story becomes clear at a very early stage. The author’s history of contemporary romance is put on display on many occasions and drives the bulk of the story, so much so the fantasy and the anthology’s theme is not introduced until late on and with a flurry at the end. It is also notably longer and flows very differently than the other stories, due in part to the diary-like structure. That said, it was well written and entertaining. The various elements showing the main character’s teenage life as well as her modern and supernatural struggles are well woven into the tale. Nothing seems forced or given a lack of attention.
One unfortunate, largely circumstantial, fault of the story is the contemporary setting and style of all but its latter stages. It seems out of place entirely in this fantasy anthology and continues for quite a while with its suitability left in question. That does not impact on the story, though, as it is sufficiently interesting and natural to keep the reader nourished with an innocent, warm and funny teen romance as well as odd adult characters. In any event, such a style is not unknown, and if the reader remains mindful the story will change, it will be entertaining for them.
The main character is likeable, relatable and sweet with a pleasant twist of fire. She dominates the story and is made to do so well. The magic component is very familiar. The author uses some of the modern pop references she included to add substance economically. The additional references, to video games and cosplay are a nice surprise and work well with the story and characters, each of which have their own distinct personality and add their own colour.
The only significant faults to the story are some isolated instances of cumbersome writing, some slightly common (cheesy/corny/…) emotional pieces and to some there might be some unwanted predictability present, although the rest of it was used well. In the end, however, these faults do not harm the quality of the story much. Perhaps the end was not up to the level of the rest, but given that level, that is not much reason to feel disappointed.
This story has a pleasantly surprising amount of substance of a full-length novel and is very much worth the read for fans of fantasy and contemporary romance alike.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 8/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 8/10

The Lunatic Queen

The most striking things about this story are the eastern European theme and its more mature sequences. This is certainly not one which should be read to children, as there is a dark sexual situation, albeit brief, and a scene involving intimate murder. While the latter is present in the other stories in this anthology, the deaths are as emotional and dark as the ones in this one.
The writing itself was good. The characters were well-formed and interesting. The storyline was so similar enough to other tales its lack of background was not necessary. The plight of the main characters, a young couple, were obvious, as was the urgency of their situation. The emotional bond they shared was handled well, given the literal and metaphorical darkness involved in the story.
The ending may have been poetic in a sense, but it was a little abrupt and strange. Still, it did not damage the value of what came before it. One of the obstacles of the protagonists were creatures which were both familiar and fairly unique. Much of the story was brutal, but the ultimately it is a tale of struggle, desperation and love which seems like it should be better than it is.

Rating:
General (strictly compared to other similar works in the genre): 7/10
Weighted (audience, author and personal opinion considered): 6/10

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