Monday, March 1, 2021

Review: The Islevale Cycle by D.B. Jackson (@DBJackson)

When I first saw Time's Children come out, I snatched that baby up, and I'm glad I did. Time travel and demons with an epic fantasy adventure feel? Yes, please! Angry Robot publishes a lot of great stuff, and I see D.B. Jackson (pen name of David Coe) on a lot of people's shelves alongside my favorite books. Now I see why. 

The Islevale Cycle by D.B. Jackson delivers a gripping, well-paced fantasy adventure with compelling characters and a unique magic system.

Time's Children (book one) hooked me with its drastic magic costs, the inclusion of small children, and demons that are truly "other." D. B. Jackson takes time travel to the next level by exacting daunting costs for those who Walk through time, giving his magic system a unique feel, and keeping his human characters grounded, relatable in their struggle to outwit high odds with limited resources. 

And did I mention that there's a baby? Children are naturally left out of most adventure fantasy because they're fragile and can't stick it to the antagonist. With Islevale's themes of maturity, love, and family, including a child works excellently. In book two, Time's Demon, time demon Droë brings her own layer of complexity to these themes with her child-like appearance and her almost-love fascination with human Walker Tobias, who is actually 15 but now appears older and finds himself taking care of a baby. 

In following these themes, the Islevale Cycle includes NSFW scenes of nakedness, and scenes portraying sex, without delving into explicit erotica. Genre-wise, characters become couples or wish to become so, but the series starts with a heavy dose of adventure that drives the plot apart from romance. Sex and violence are all handled well and definitely not just for shock value. It's an adult-audience series with complex, adult views on humanity and love.

Speaking of Droë, I don't want to spoil too much, so let's just say that the demons in the Islevale Cycle give off a spine-shivering sense of "other," as one tends to do when one's sustenance is literally the years stolen from human lives. And while time demons appear humanoid, one demon type is literally a mist cloud and figures wonderfully into sailor's lore. And, of course, where there are pirates, there are also beautiful, enigmatic sea demons. Readers who enjoy fae in fiction but crave something new will love D.B. Jackson's unique demon classes.

Also, there are pirates! D. B. Jackson shows a wide range of lifestyles as his characters cross vast distances in a complex world, with a mind for how age and gender effects experiences. We start in a school for young mages but soon visit castles, pirate ships, port towns, and seaside slums, and all the nooks and crannies of human existence that those imply. There's also a bit of political intrigue, as politics underpin why Tobias Walks back in time in the first place, and how he ends up with a baby. I prefer character-driven stories, so I was pleased with how all the politics and cool magic feeds directly into character motivations.

This might sound a little strange, but I love how nice and considerate the characters are to each other. (Uh, to their friends. You know. The ones they're not murdering or getting murdered by?) The dialogue feels real and I quite enjoy the considerate attitude of POV characters for their loved ones. There are high stakes a-plenty, but characters also talk to each other like you would hope a friend would talk to you if your lives were in danger. This not only contrasts well with the demons, who are a step removed from human emotion and the workings of human relationships, but also provides depth for conflict between the antagonists and the protagonists. Without sacrificing a sense of right and wrong, D. B. Jackson shows how characters like Droë set on their paths, how they, too, fight from a sense of something good to pursue or protect.

Pick up the D. B. Jackson's Islevale Cycle and let Tobias and Droë take you on an epic fantasy adventure full of time travel, demons, and the harried pursuit of life, liberty, and love:

Book 1: Time's Children

Read an interview with D. B. Jackson based on book one here. Another interview asks about Islevale's magic system here.

Book 2: Time's Demon

Read an excerpt from Time's Demon and meet winged demons here
Another interview talks about time travel and how it's handled differently for an anthology David B. Coe edited, Temporarily Deactivated.

Book 3: Time's Assassin

Once you've read the books, give them some love on Amazon and Goodreads!

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