#SPFBO Review : Calico Thunder Rides Again by T.A. Hernandez

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300 books           10 Judges            1 winner

The 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.

You can find my updates for batch 1batch 2batch 3, Batch 4 and Batch 5 by clicking on the  links.

This week and next I will be posting reviews for the ten books I rolled forward to read fully.  Hopefully five reviews this week followed by an update and cuts and semi finalist announcements on Saturday.  I will then repeat this format the following week. I won’t be posting a rating for the books at this point.

CalicoMy first book is Calico Thunder Rides Again by T.A. Hernandez.  This is a book that I was very keen to tuck into.  I thought the cover was great and in actual fact it really does give a good representation of the contents plus I was really looking forward to reading about a circus with fantasy animals.

At just 200 pages this is probably one of the lighter books from my batch but that didn’t have an adverse impact on my enjoyment.  I really enjoyed Calico Thunder and I hope the author plans more escapades from the characters and fantasy beasts.  I would certainly like to read more.

Jake Strickland inherited a circus from his father and whilst this is new territory for him over the course of a few years he’s turned things around, the circus is doing well and for the first time Jake feels at ease. The Circus is holding its own and on a personal note Jake has formed a strong relationship with one of the entertainers (Grace) who manages the fantasy animals (Calico Thunder in particular).  Of course, it never pays to count your chickens (or griffins as the case may be) and Jake is called upon by a mobster boss who is about to call in an old debt and turn Jake’s world on its head.

Calico Thunder is set in an alternate 1920s America. Magic is very real, as are fantasy beasts and other unusual characters (such as Bruno – who is an enchanter for the Circus who can perform all sorts of magic such as contacting people through mirrors).  This gives the whole circus background a really interesting twist that I thoroughly enjoyed.  On top of this, many magic practices have been prohibited and this has led to an increase in crime, speakeasies popping up across the US selling any number of illegal charms and jinxes and driving the rise in criminal syndicates.

There are a number of aspects that I really enjoyed about this book.

I loved the era coupled with the circus setting.  The two worked so naturally together and the easy writing style captures the period remarkably well.  In fact, given the length of this I’m really impressed at the strength of feeling I developed for the show, the characters and the animals.

The plot is good if fairly simple – but I think the simplicity works here as the focus feels more on the characters who really do stand out from the page.  Jake finds himself in a very tricky situation with very little hope of success and the real possibility of losing the circus and characters that he has really come to care for and so the majority of the plot revolves around his desperate attempts to find a solution.

The characters are easy to like.  Jake and Grace work really well together forming a cohesive front in times of need.  Bruno is also really easy to like and lets just be honest – Calico Thunder is something of a show stealer.  And, all these attachments add to an overall sense of despair about how Jake will ever pull the rabbit out of the hat.

In terms of criticisms. Well, usually, when I’m really enjoying a book that feels relatively short, I’m greedy for more.  As it happens, I think the length of this works very well, yes, I would like more, of course I would, but this first instalment works very well in terms of feeling like a first episode and in that respect it gives the reader something else to look forward to.  I think the only real (although again, slight) issue I had was with the final chapters where the risk that Jake and Grace took didn’t feel quite as tense as I would have liked, and maybe a little too easily resolved.  That being said, I still had nerves enough on their behalf wondering whether everything would go smoothly or not.

I was blissfully unaware of the need to have a magic circus in my reading life and so this came as a very happy surprise.

My thanks to the author for a review copy.  This has not affected my opinion.