David Craig's Thorns of a Black Rose was published by Elsewhen Press in a digital edition in July 2019 and in paperback in October 2019.

About David Craig:

Aside from three months living on an oil tanker sailing back and forth between America and Africa, and two years living in a pub, David Craig grew up on the west coast of Scotland. He studied Software Engineering at university, but lost interest in the subject after (and admittedly prior to) graduation. He currently works as a resourcing administrator for a public service contact centre, and lives near Glasgow with his wife, daughter and two rabbits.

Being a published writer had been a life-long dream, and one that he was delighted to finally realise with his debut novel, Resurrection Men, the first in the Sooty Feathers series, published by Elsewhen Press in 2018. Before the next book in the Sooty Feathers series though, Elsewhen Press has published his latest fantasy epic Thorns of a Black Rose.

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About Thorns of a Black Rose:

Revenge and responsibility, confrontation and consequences.

A hot desert land of diverse peoples dealing with demons, mages, natural disasters ... and the Black Rose assassins.

Having endured two years of hardship and loss on a quest for vengeance, Shukara arrives in the city of Mask where her pouch is stolen by Tamira, a young street-smart thief. Hunting down the thief, Shukara discovers that Tamira has emptied the pouch, throwing away some of the rarer reagents that Shukara needs for her magick. Being unfamiliar with Mask and unsure of where to find replacements for her reagents, Shukara shows mercy to Tamira in exchange for her help in replacing what has been lost. Together they brave the intrigues of Mask, and soon discover that they have a mutual enemy in the Black Rose, an almost legendary band of merciless assassins. But this is just the start of their journeys...

REVIEW: THORNS OF A BLACK ROSE BY DAVID CRAIG

Because I enjoyed reading David Craig's debut novel, Resurrection Men, and found it compelling, I was eager to take a look at this second novel. I'm pleased to say that Thorns of a Black Rose is a highly enjoyable epic fantasy novel which reads like a combination of Arabian Nights, The Thief of Baghdad and Assassin's Creed with a faint touch of Laurence of Arabia. It's a fully satisfying tale of thievery, assassinations, survival and vengeance.

Thorns of a Black Rose is a compelling and immersive novel that instantly caught my interest with its swiftly moving and gradually unfolding story. This novel offers readers a fresh and exciting story in a compact format, and what's best, readers won't have to wait for any sequels when they've finished the story, because it's a standalone story.

This novel begins with Tamira stealing food for herself and running away from those who are trying to catch her. At the harbour she notices a woman, Shukara, who walks off the boat. Tamira follows Shukara and steals her pouch which contains rare reagents that are needed for magick. Shukara is startled and annoyed by the theft and tries to finds new reagents to replace the missing ones, but can't find them anywhere in the city. Frustrated, she decides to take matters into her own hands and begins to search for the thief. When Shukara catches Tamira, she shows mercy to her in exchange for help in replacing what has been lost. Soon, they discover that they have a mutual enemy in the Black Rose, which is a band of skilled and merciless assassins who leave black roses on the bodies of the persons that are marked for death...

This powerful beginning paves the way for an entertaining story that will keep readers turning pages. The story's entertainment values are enhanced by fluent prose and well written dialogues.

The characterisation is splendid and surprisingly vivid. The protagonists, Shukara and Tamira, are well-created and intriguing characters, because the author writes captivatingly about them and tells about how they find themselves facing a mutual and very dangerous enemy that doesn't hesitate to kill people. Jassan is also an interesting character and I enjoyed reading about how he helped Shukara and Tamira to achieve their goals.

Here are a few words about Shukara, Tamira and Jassan:

Shukara is a magicker (a mage) who, after travelling a long time, arrives in the city of Mask. She has arrived there for a reason, because she needs to do something, but keeps things to herself. Tamira is a thirteen-year-old thief. She lives on Mask's streets, searches for food and steals goods to sell for coin to buy food. Because Mask is her home, she knows the city well and can outrun those who are trying to catch her. Jassan is a Kavari ranger who guides people across the desert. He knows the desert and has learned to survive there.

The worldbuilding is rich and immersive, because the author has envisioned a world where assassins, merchants and thieves are grasping at power and where assassinations are an effective - and often necessary - way of dealing with enemies. The author's vision of the world is immensely vibrant, because the world is influenced by ancient Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries. It feels as if he has taken many well known elements that are related to these countries, their myths and their cultures and has poured magic and action all over the blend to create something original and thrilling.

I enjoyed reading about Mask, because it's an ancient and vast city that has a dark and terrifying side to it. Mask is co-ruled by the Cult of Hrek and the Merchant Council, but the bloodthirsty Cult holds the real power over the city. Mask is a dangerous place for those who are less fortunate, because crimes are severely punished and thieves may easily found themselves maimed or killed. The city is also dangerous to others, because doing something that upsets the Cult will most surely mean a bloody and terrifying death.

The Cult of Hrek is a fascinating part of the story arc, because it brings plenty of darkness to it. The members of the Cult sacrifice people to their god, Hrek, and have bloody rituals. As a fan of dark fantasy elements, I was intrigued by the Cult and their deeds. I also want to mention briefly that I was fascinated by what was revealed about an ancient mage, the Bone King.

The Black Rose is an important and captivating part of the story, because they're a band of assassins. I was wholly mesmerised by the author's way of writing about them, because he wrote excellently about their deeds and how they dealt with their targets without mercy.

Reading about the magic was also interesting for me, because the author has come up with an intriguing magic system. In this novel, a piece of wytchwood is the principal component of magic, and reagents are required for powerful and complicated spells (some reagents are more difficult to find than others and acquiring them can be arduous and even dangerous). It's great that the author writes about politics concerning those who use magic, because it brings depth to the story.

I like David Craig's writing style, because he writes fluent and swiftly flowing prose. When I began to read this novel, I found it easy to immerse myself into the story and was immediately drawn to the characters' adventures, because the story flowed well and the author's decriptions about the happenings were genuinely gripping.

I give this novel full five stars on the scale from one to five stars, because it's wonderful entertainment from start to finish and has a few well-placed surprises. I'm not sure if the author will ever write more stories set in the same world, but I hope that he will do so in the near future, because it would be great to read a sequel or a companion novel, for there are many things left to explore in the world.

David Craig's Thorns of a Black Rose is a slice of fantasy excellence in a single volume. I can highly recommend this novel to readers who love entertaining and fast-paced stories, because the unfolding story is a rich and rewarding reading experience.

My final words are:

This novel is excellent fantasy entertainment!

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