A few days ago I wrote an overview of noblebright fantasy, which you can find here on my site and on Noblebright.org. I want to make noblebright fantasy a recognized subgenre of fantasy the way grimdark is now.
In a discussion elsewhere on the internet, one author mentioned to me that, while the term is great, much of classic fantasy literature fits the noblebright definition. He questioned whether there is any utility in inventing a term for something that already exists and continues to be written. I agree… many of the best-loved works of fantasy are noblebright, or at least closer to noblebright than they are to grimdark. But I think there’s value in defining noblebright, not only for ourselves as writers, but also for readers. I want you to be able to find noblebright works if that’s what you want; having a recognized subgenre as a search term will hopefully make it easier to find the books you’re looking for. Steampunk wasn’t a subgenre until someone gave it a name… now it’s easier to find steampunk if that’s what you’re looking for. It may have existed before, but giving it a name gives it presence.
In that overview post, I promised reviews of the books in this first noblebright fantasy boxed set, along with content notes and caveats as appropriate. The first set of reviews is below. The books are in alphabetical order by author’s last name in the set, but that’s not the order in which I’m reading them, so please bear with me as we jump around. I’ve linked to the books individually below, and of course you are welcome to buy them that way, but you’ll get a much better deal if you buy the boxed set! If, after reading the books individually or in the set, you are inclined to leave reviews, that would be awesome.
Light in the Darkness: A Noblebright Fantasy Boxed Set is on preorder now with a release date of October 18. The preorder price is only $0.99 for all twelve novels – normally buying all of them individually would cost $$$, so get the set while it’s hot!
Pen Pal by Francesca Forrest – I’ve reviewed Pen Pal before. It’s a story of a young girl and a political activist on the other side of the world. It’s a story of friendship and generosity, of innocence challenged but not lost, and of the bright, shining idea that if you just love deeply enough, you can make a difference. The prose is deceptively simple, but the story is not, and I’ll be reading this again. Content rating: squeaky clean.
Pen Pal starts with a message in a bottle and ends with revolution.
Em, a child from a floating community off the Gulf Coast, drops a message into the sea. It ends up in the hands of Kaya, an activist on the other side of the world, imprisoned above the molten lava of the Ruby Lake. Em and Kaya are both living precarious lives, at the mercy of societal, natural, and perhaps supernatural forces beyond their control. Kaya’s letters inspire Em, and Em’s comfort Kaya—but soon their correspondence becomes more than personal. Individual lives, communities, and the fate of an entire nation will be changed by this exchange of letters.
Pen Pal is a story of friendship and bravery across age, distance, and culture, at the intersection of the natural and supernatural world.
Lhind the Thief by Sherwood Smith – This is an absolutely delightful story of magic, trust, kindness, friendship, and unrepentant escapism. I discovered this through the Storybundle which included The King’s Sword last year and, much to my own embarrassment, only just got around to reading it. Here is a lovely interview between Francesca Forrest (whose book Pen Pal I loved) and Sherwood Smith in which, among other things, Sherwood talks about what makes a good villain. I was delighted to discover that the book now has a sequel, Lhind the Spy, and I will undoubtedly end up reading everything I can find by this author. Content rating: squeaky clean.
Lhind has been on the run all her life.
Stealing what she needs, using magic for disguise, she never stays anywhere long. Lhind even has secrets from herself, for she has few memories, and those are troubling.
But life is good until she gets caught by Rajanas the warrior-prince, Thianra the bard, and Hlanan the scribe. And that’s when adventure begins, because someone very powerful wants them all dead.
As they evade pursuit and work to uncover their enemies, Lhind struggles with the invisible bonds of friendship and trust, while Hlanan begins uncovering her secrets one by one.
This romantic fantasy adventure will appeal to fans of A POSSE OF PRINCESSES.
Six Celestial Swords by T. A. Miles – This is a wuxia-influenced epic adventure with an ensemble cast that revolves around Xu Liang, a mystic and the closest advisor to the Empress. I particularly enjoyed the world-building and setting. The prose was slower and more deliberate than many other modern fantasy novels, with focus on elegance and beauty rather than grab-you-by-the-throat pacing. Content Caveat: There is a subplot of same-sex attraction that appears near the end of the book. Physically very little happens (a couple of kisses happen on the page, nothing else off the page is even implied), but there is emotion and drama associated with this sub-plot. If you’re wondering why I included this book, my post about noblebright explains how it relates to clean fantasy, Christian fantasy, and YA fantasy. Content rating: caveated PG-13
INSPIRED BY the rising chaos in Sheng Fan, Xu Liang, mystic and officer of the Imperial Court, leaves his homeland for the barbarian outer lands in search of four magical blades to unite with two sacred weapons already in the possession of the Empire. His plan is to bring all of the blades together and return them to Sheng Fan’s Empress as a symbol of unity that will bolster the people’s faith in the Imperial family and assist against the surge of dark forces. Complicating his plan is not the finding of the blades, but finding them with bearers; foreigners who have no intention of parting with them and less intention of serving an Empire they’ve scarcely heard of.
It becomes Xu Liang’s task to ally himself with these barbarians of the outer realms and unite them with his cause, as well as with one another. Only the complete reunion of all six blades and their fated bearers can stand against chaos, rising like a dragon from slumber beneath the foundation of a nation unprepared.
The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker – I first read this several years ago and enjoyed it immensely. The line you may not be able to read in the thumbnail reads “A high fantasy in an age of steam,” which captures the feel of the series pretty well. Flawed, funny characters grow as friends and as people while fighting the baddies of the Empire. I enjoyed the entire series. Content rating: Clean-ish (sexual innuendo and humor).
Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads. But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.
Worse, Sicarius, the empire’s most notorious assassin, is in town. He’s tied in with the chaos somehow, but Amaranthe would be a fool to cross his path. Unfortunately, her superiors order her to hunt him down. Either they have an unprecedented belief in her skills… or someone wants her dead.
The Emperor’s Edge is approximately 105,000 words.
The King’s Sword by C. J. Brightley – Ok, maybe it’s cheating to add this mini review of my own book, but I haven’t finished reading all the other books yet. The King’s Sword is character-focused “epic” fantasy; it’s epic in feel and setting, but not in scope. Instead, it’s tightly focused on the main characters and the decisions they make. I’m rather partial to it, partly because it’s my first novel and partly because I love the characters so much. I hope you enjoy it too.
A disillusioned soldier. A spoiled, untried prince. A coup that threatens the country they love.
When retired soldier Kemen finds the young prince Hakan fleeing an attempted assassination, he reluctantly takes the role of mentor and guardian. Keeping the prince alive is challenging enough. Making him a man is harder.
As usurper Vidar tightens his grip on power, Kemen wrestles with questions of duty and honor. What if the prince isn’t the best ruler after all?
Invasion looms, and Kemen’s decisions will shape the fate of a nation. What will he sacrifice for friendship and honor?
Reviews of the other books will follow soon!
The 3D image above is for Amazon, but we also have this lovely one for B&N and other retailers who prefer a flat image.