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Free Friday: Today’s top free Amazon sci-fi and fantasy books for Apr. 16
By Maria Korolov and Amira Loutfi
Did you know that Amazon has a list of the top-selling and free sci-fi and fantasy books?
The list changes constantly — authors set their books to free temporarily to promote their work, and, of course, books move up and down in the rankings. But are any of the books actually worth reading? WeI read the first few chapters of each to find out, so you don’t have to.
This week’s list is completely different from those of the previous weeks. So if you’re a fan of free books, it looks like there are going to be new things to read all the time.
I’ve also noticed that if you try to open the list on a mobile device, it will take you to the listings that cost money, instead. I’ve found that by switching to the “desktop site” in the mobile browser, the free list comes up. Oh, and if there’s a book that catches your eye, grab it quickly, since the books are often free for only a short time. And I also learned something new last week — Amazon allows you to lend your e-books, for free, to your friends. Even free e-books. Here are the instructions.
1. The Kerrigan Kids Box Set by W. J. May
Guilder University is a magical school where powerful students use their magic to rebel against learning. And according to the narration, all the students hate the school. You enter at age 13 and remain till you are at least 18 years old. Aria, our protagonist, suffers from living under the shadow of her parents who saved the world several times, reshaping the magical community.
She has several friends who suffer from the same condition. Because of their parent’s incredible success, there’s no more work to be done.
She’s got a magical “tatu” on her lower back. Having “ink” in this world is a sign of power. Aria’s father (one of the seven saviors) is said to have possessed “unprecedented power.” Her uncle, and the father of another friend of hers, also played a role in changing the world for the better by his unmatched prophetic sight.
Because they were all raised together since childhood, Aria and her friends form a gang at the school and they constantly flaunt their high status by disrupting class and violating school rules.
And there’s no explanation within the first chapter as to why and how all these powerful students are stuck at university. There is clearly something wrong with the school, and something wrong with this powerful set of troublemakers, but I am unsure whether or not the author ever dives in to address this issue any further.
There is also a lot of lame flirtation. Please make it stop.
And please stop using the word “plop.” Unfortunately for me, the word “plop” is used twice in this book.
2. A Ritual of Fire by J.L. Hendricks
This is the first book in the The FBI Dragon Chronicles trilogy. The other books are $3.99 each but are both in Kindle Unlimited.
The book starts out strong, right in the middle of a supernatural crime scene. I’m a big fan of shows like CSI, so this was promising.
FBI agent Alyson is a shape-shifter whose other form is a dragon, and her partner, Vlad, is a vampire. Which answers one of the biggest questions I often have with urban fantasy books — why are the paranormals all in hiding, instead of working for the police? Well, here they are actually putting their abilities to good use.
The style is matter-of-fact, the mystery is fun, the crime scene is bloody but not too gory.
My only quibble with the book is that first-person point of view switches back and forth between Alyson and Vlad, which makes me think that the romance is going to be the focus here.
But I’m going to look past that because of the forensics and the crime solving and the black magic. And the dragons. Well, dragon. Looks like Alyson is the last of them, with the rest all extinct. In order to keep her dragon-hood a secret, she pretends to be a saber-toothed tiger shape-shifter instead, since nobody wants to see one of those shift in front of them. Because saber-toothed tigers usually make a big bloody mess.
This is my type of book and I plan to finish it this weekend. The fact that the other two books are in Kindle Unlimited is an added bonus.
3. Post-Human Omnibus by David Simpson
This is the first four books of the six-book Post-Human Series. The last two books are $3.99 and $7.99 but are both in Kindle Unlimited.
This is a sci-fi action thriller set during World War III, where the main character, Dr. Craig Emilson, has to risk his life to battle a powerful AI and an army of super-soldiers in order to save humanity.
The book starts out in the near future, with an explanation of the difference between narrow and strong artificial intelligence. Narrow is what we have now in Google Maps and Siri. General is when we get Star Trek’s Data — or the Skynet from the Terminator movies.
I’m a big fan of the Terminator movies and I cover artificial intelligence at my day job. So the topic is of high interest to me, and I like thrillers very much.
The book starts out with Craig being sent out on assignment — he and a bunch of other soldiers are going to jump out of orbit and land in China, where nuclear weapons have just hit China’s AI computer. Their job is to confirm that the computer is dead, and, if not, to blow up what’s left of it. The computer deep underground, so the nukes might not have been enough.
I keep quibbling over technical details, like, wouldn’t the Chinese have distributed backups? But what sci-fi book doesn’t have technical details you can quibble with? The main character isn’t compelling enough to make me not want to put the book down, but I might come back and finish it later if I’ve got some down time.
4. Return to the Enchanted Island by Johary Ravaloson
A debut novel, a retelling of the origin myths of Madagascar, this literary book won the Prix du roman de l’Ocean Indien.
This is a slow, lyrical novel about a rich teenage boy who gets in trouble at school for taking drugs and is sent away to boarding school in France. It starts very, very slowly. The writing is beautiful, and reminds me a bit of Life of Pi.
Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of beautifully written stories. And I became even less of a fan after Life of Pi pulled me in with its lyrical writing and then destroyed me with its horrific ending.
I don’t know about the ending of the Return to the Enchanted Island — and I don’t plan to finish it — but I can say that the novel differs from Life of Pi in one other way, and that is that the protagonist, the spoiled rich kid, is not particularly sympathetic.
This reads like a book you’d get assigned in English class or chosen by one of those book clubs where people drink wine during meetings while soft jazz plays in the background. It’s the kind of book that seeks to elevate the soul.
I don’t want my soul elevated just now. I’m going to go back to that FBI dragon shape-changer book, thank you very much.
5. Emerald Dreams by Nicole Knight
This is the first book in the Dream Traveler trilogy. The second book is $3.99 and is in Kindle Unlimited. The third book isn’t due out until next year.
High schooler Violet Brown isn’t wealthy, but she studied hard and got a scholarship to Arlington Prep. She’s picked on by spoiled rich kids, has a crush on the football star. While helping her mom clean up the attic, she finds an emerald pendant. She puts it on before going to bed, then wakes up in a different world, one with dragons and two suns instead of one, and is found by a knight who tells her about their world and takes her to see a scholar who can help figure out what’s happened to her.
I’m not particularly fond of high school settings, and the main character seems annoying to me, so I won’t be finishing this book.
But I have to say that it is breezy and very readable, so worth picking up if that is the kind of book you’re into.
6. Bad Luck Charlie by Scott Baron
This is the first book of the nine-book Dragon Mage series in which a spaceship accidentally goes through a wormhole to another galaxy where they encounter space pirates and talking dragons. The rest of the book range from $0.99 to $3.99 but are all in Kindle Unlimited.
This one has a pretty good opening scene. The spaceship is falling apart and the crew, including Charlie, is struggling to make it through the “powerful radiologic properties” of a foreign atmosphere.
Charlie has been working for a space company on a top-secret project for the past five years. The point of it is to bend space so that a spacecraft can reach a research center on Mars quickly. One day he receives a call informing him that an early test of the “moon jump” has succeeded.
Their eccentric billionaire boss wants Charlie to lead the next mission to Mars, and I greatly appreciate the tense conversation he has with Vickie about this sudden change.
I think this author is pretty good at empathizing with his characters and understanding their motivations.
If you enjoy fast-paced hard science fiction mixed with strong character development, suspense, and depth, you should probably download this one. Each chapter is brief and pulls the plot forward in a meaningful way… I only read the first 4, but that’s my impression so far!
I’ll probably finish it this weekend.
7. A Witch Called Red by Sami Valentine
This is the first book in the six-book Red Witch Chronicles series. The other books are $0.99 to $4.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited. The sixth book isn’t out yet, though — it is scheduled to come out in July.
Red wakes up in the hospital. Her bracelet says “Jane Doe,” and she doesn’t remember who she is. Plus, she thinks its 2010, even though the book is set in 2018. They call her “Red” because of her red hair. Oh, and she’s got fang marks on her neck. She thinks she was bitten by a vampire. Yeah, she knows that they exist. But it doesn’t look like she was turned into a vampire herself, just has scars from her encounter.
Her choice is to stay at the hospital while social workers arrange for her housing and find her work. Or she can go off with Vic, the guy who found her and made sure she got to the hospital, and becomes a supernatural bounty hunter.
She picks the latter. On the one hand, it’s a little dumb to go off and become a supernatural bounty hunter with a total stranger when you can’t even remember anything. On the other hand, it would be a very boring book if it was just about her navigating the social services bureaucracy maze and slowly rebuilding her life.
So it turns out that she’s got magical abilities and enjoys staking vampires. Also, she knows Spanish, and is good at math.
In theory, this is the kind of book I love and if this was a TV show, it would be on my watch list already. But in a book, the pacing feels off to me. Her decision to join Vic seems to come out of nowhere and takes just a moment at very start of the book. Her entire first year after waking up in the hospital goes by in a couple of paragraphs. This could have been interesting stuff.
In the first chapter, she stakes a skater vampire outside a convenience store. Skater as in annoying teenager who skateboards. The scene has a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe, with the vampire underestimating her at first. Then, at the end of the chapter, we discover that she and Vic have a murder to solve. What? Where did that come from? Then, after waking up from a sexy dream featuring a mystery man, she and Vic go off to see a vampire, a helpful vampire with a soul.
I might finish this book. Red is not super compelling, but interesting enough, and I do like books about mystery-solving, vampire-staking bounty hunters.
8. Atlantis Riptide by Allie Burton
This is the first book in the five-book Lost Daughters of Atlantis YA series. The other two books are $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
Pearl ran away from the circus to work at the Kingdom of Atlantis Miniature Golf Course. A toddler falls into the fake lagoon, and she dives in after him. The cold water doesn’t bother her, and she can see clearly even though the water is murky. Also, she has super strength underwater. And can give CPR under water.
She’s in hiding. She doesn’t to go back to the circus, doesn’t want her abilities to be discovered, so she is working a menial job for cash and sleeps outside, in a scavenged sleeping bag.
A fellow golf course employee, Chase, helps her save an otter and then saves her from a whirlpool. And then they kiss — and its her first kiss ever.
Pearl is a weird mix of extreme teenage shyness and fear and self-doubt and weakness, and supernatural abilities. I don’t have much sympathy for her, just frustration.
This one also opens with a well-written action scene. Cadet Ava Davies has been captured by the seemingly ruthless inhabitants of an alien planet.
What? How did that happen?
First, she finessed her way on a mission towards Dragath25, “the prison planet,” where the New Earth Council had decided to maroon all the worst criminals of the world.
Then, Ava’s spacecraft gets shot down onto the planet. The surviving crew must immediately flee from the criminals marooned there. As mentioned above, they have been captured.
So what draws Ava to the “prison planet?” Freedom, apparently.
Before becoming a cadet, Ava was a sex slave to one of the members of the New Earth Council. He owns the prisons on Dragath25. Her former master imprisoned her using the same technology that is used on Dragath25, and the ore that is able to undo the operation is also present there.
It’s a little too much action for my taste, but I can certainly see myself skimming those parts and reading the rest of it this weekend.
This is the first book in the Trials And Tribulations trilogy. The other two books are $3.99 each, but are both in Kindle Unlimited.
Ying Hsu is a Chinese paranormal researcher who was captured and forced to work as a researcher in a Bulgarian laboratory. One of the experimental subjects, a werewolf, kills her fellow researcher, another Chinese scientist. Then the book switches to another point of view, Stephen, who’s a spy or agent of some sort for some kind of organization that not of this Earth. Then the point of view switches to another member of that organization. Then to a Russian journalist who’s interested in what Stephen is doing in Bulgaria. Then to yet another group.
I was super confused about who all these people were and what they had to do with each other, but I like the style and pacing.
I cheated and read some of the reviews and realized that this is actually a successor series to the 21-book Kurtherian Gambit series. That series is in Kindle Unlimited, so I’m going to go read the first book in that one, Death Becomes Her.
Do you have other free books for me to check out? Email me at [email protected].