All of my recommendations are for authors that I love to read and respect as writers, but this month I’m also recommending an author who is a friend. I met J.L. Gribble through the Seton Hill University WPF program. She graduated before I arrived so we didn’t go through the MFA program together, but she always came to the yearly alumni workshop, In Your Write Mind (see my report on this year’s workshop here) and so I’d seen her around. Until about a year ago, I knew more “of” her than actually knowing her, but last year we joined a group of authors who mutually support and promote each other. That led to reading each other’s books, and that in turn led to us becoming fans as well as friends.
J.L.’s books (to date) are all set in the same world: an alternate Earth where the existence of vampires, were-creatures, and elves caused massive changes to history, such as: the Roman Empire is still a thing, and the Romans and Britannia are at each other’s necks most of the time. Also, the Qin empire (China) and Britannia got into a huge war two hundred years prior to the start of the series, nearly wiping out the world with nuclear weapons and creating a vast Wasteland in North America. They were stopped by the elves, who cast a magical spell on the world suppressing technology.
The first book in the series, Steel Victory, acts as a sort of primer to the world. We’re introduced to our two main series protagonists, a vampire named Victory and her adopted human daughter Toria. They live in a neutral city called Limani that sits between the British colonies to the north and the Roman colonies to the south on the East Coast of what in our world is the US. Limani was founded by the Greeks before they were subsumed by the Romans, and it has held on to its tenuous neutral status for a long time. But that status is threatened by encroaching forces from without and prejudice and fear from within.
In the second book, Steel Magic, Toria and her partner Kane (partner here is a magical term–they’re a bonded mage pair, and were raised as brother and sister) go off on their first mercenary contract. In the course of fulfilling their contract, Kane falls in love and their group ends up uncovering secrets about the world’s magic that cause them to have to make some very difficult decisions.
The third book, Steel Blood, takes place concurrently with Steel Magic and follows Victory’s adventures while Toria and Kane are off investigating magic. Steel Blood officially releases next week, but I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of the paperback at IYWM. The story starts when Victory and her daywalker Mikelos head to a Qin province during a trade negotiation with Britannia, and is complicated by a headstrong Qin princess who wants to escape her rigidly proscribed life and a reckless British Earl who wants to prove his worth. Their solution: get married, despite objections on all sides. And of course Victory finds herself right in the middle, since she’s assigned as the princess’s bodyguard.
I can recommend all three books without a moment’s hesitation. They are tightly plotted and written, with a great mix of action, mystery, family relationships, and romance. The characters are diverse, the women are strong (and not just because they kick ass with swords), and the worldbuilding is exquisite. Having beta-read the fourth book (which won’t be out until next year), I can also guarantee that the series continues to get better with each installment.
The Steel Empires series is not to be missed!