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Free Friday: Today’s top free Amazon sci-fi and fantasy books for July 23
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? Well, I 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 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, Amazon allows you to lend your e-books, for free, to your friends. Even free e-books. Here are the instructions.
Most of these books are the first book in the series, and in each case, I’ve checked to see whether the rest of the books are free as well, or whether they’re in Kindle Unlimited. Learn more about Kindle Unlimited here.
The list is accurate as of the time of writing but may have changed since the story was posted.
1. Dust and Shadow by Lindsey Pogue
This is the first book in the three-book Forgotten Lands series. The second book is $4.99 each and is not in Kindle Unlimited, and the third book is due out in November and is now available for pre-order.
From Maria Korolov:
This is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi western. They lost me at “post-apocalyptic” and “western.” Not my favorite sub-genres. So I’m prejudiced against the book going in.
On the other hand, there’s a kick-ass woman on the cover holding a sword. Maybe she’ll kill some things. I’m in a killing kind of mood today. So it’s got that going for it.
It’s 2031, and Jo lives with her parents and sister and servants. Is it a young adult book? That’s another strike against it for me. Also, there’s an grammatical error on the first page. There’s a sandstorm outside and her mom isn’t home yet. According to the prologue, something called The Shift started hundreds of years ago, during the Industrial Revolution. Is this our Industrial Revolution, from the 1700s and 1800s? Or an alternate world Industrial Revolution? It says that black lung killed nearly everyone, so maybe an alternate world. Jo is eight years old, so maybe she’s got her dates confused. The marshal arrives, with her mother’s body. He claims that she was killed by drifters — but Jo’s dad thinks the marshal killed her.
Then the book picks up again eleven years later. That makes Jo… nineteen. Had to do some math there. So this is a young adult book. She’s still working on the ranch. Her farm — the entire town, in fact — is surrounded by a wall of reinforced iron, copper and steel. Jo, taking after her mother, is now the mechanic in the family, and her younger sister cooks, sews, and bosses the servants around. There’s a new marshal. People are dying of dehydration. Oh, and Jo’s dad is talking about her needing to marry, even though she doesn’t want to.
Then the story switches to Clayton’s point of view. He’s the marshal’s son and likes to hang out with prostitutes, play cards, and is in line to be the next marshal.
I don’t think that Jo is as kick-ass as the cover makes her out to be. Maybe she’ll grow into some ass-kicking as the book goes on, but it’s a little too somber for me. It’s the end of the week, and I want something with a little more pep in it.
2. Waking the Beast by Lacey Thorn
This is the first book in the ten-book Awakening Pride shifter romance series. The other books are all $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
Strike one for me: the naked guy’s chest on the cover. That doesn’t mean I won’t like the book. But I wouldn’t pick it up if I saw it at the library or bookstore.
Abby wakes up in a cell, next to a guy who’s only wearing a snug pair of boxer briefs. The same ones as on the cover, I presume. She overhears their captors talk about drugging her and the other guy, who’s name is Utah.
The captors leave, and Abby shakes Utah awake. She’s got a crush on Tau, but she’s not tall and buxom, so doesn’t think he’d be interested in her. Hot hunky guys don’t go for nerdy little girls like her, what with her unruly mop of curls and thick glasses.
No, Abby, hot hunky guys will go for everybody. Plus, the nerd look is in. They just don’t go for you. Maybe it’s because of all the insecurity you’re projecting all over the place. You should work on that.
Anyway, Abby turns out to have spent her life searching for shape shifters, the mystical tribe of people who turn into cats. And Harlan, her father’s cousin, has been secretly having her followed because he think she’s onto something. Oh, and he’s evil and is the one who had Abby and Utah drugged and captured. Harlan and his goons have noticed that Abby has been hanging out at the bar where Utah works, drooling all over him, and decided that he must be one of the descendants of that shape-shifting tribe. Abby tries to explain that she was only hanging out because she’s got a crush on him, but they don’t believe her because she wears baggy jeans. So they’re going to torture Utah until he shape-shifts.
When that doesn’t work, they inject Utah with some kind of drug. And Utah hulks out, breaks his chains, and rips out the throat of one of the guards with his bare hands.
Okay, this is promising. I like the violence and all the sexual energy hanging in the air here.
I’m embarrassed to say that there’s a definite chance I’ll be coming back to finish this book this weekend.
3. Inker and Crown by Megan O’Russell
This is the first book in the three-book Guilds of Ilbrea series. The second book is $5.99 and is not in Kindle Unlimited. The third book will be released next summer and is now available for pre-order.
From Maria Korolov:
From the cover, this looks like it would be an epic fantasy, a sub-genre that I’m fifty-fifty on.
Some guy named Cade wants to cause a rebellion in the country of Ilbrea, starting with its capital city, Ilara. Ena is spying on one of his speeches.
Cade is handsome, with curly, blonde hair and blonde shoulders. He looks like a hero, but Ena worries that innocents will die if Cade gets his way and a battle breaks out.
She’s up in the rafters watching him, then swings down on a rope into the street and walks away through the crowd. A little kid thinks she’s a fairy because her hair is streaked with many colors and she’s wearing a matching multi-colored skirt. She heads to the cathedral square where a big celebration is under way, and climbs up on a statue to see better. I like all the climbing.
She doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for the leaders of the country. They don’t seem to care much about the civilian population, either. But wait, among all the soldiers and sailors and healers, there are some map makers, one of whom is a girl with red hair, lost in a world of men. Ena feels pity for her. Is there a chance that Ena and the red-haired map maker will get together? I have high hopes!
Then the king and queen show up, followed by the kingdom’s sorcerers. Now all the most-powerful people in the kingdom are gathered together in that one cathedral. If a fire were to start and burn them up, then the country would be free, Ena thinks.
Then we switch to Niko’s point of view. He’s inside the cathedral, one of the map makers in the attendance, suffering through all the speeches. One of the topics in the speeches are where people are going to be sent next. There are things happening at various distant parts of the country where the map makers will be needed.
Then we switch to Adrial, who’s got a bad leg. Standing in the cathedral for hours has been torture for him, but now he can relax at a private party the map makers are throwing where they discuss where they’ll be sent next. The map makers are led by a Lord Karron, and they’ve all become part of the Karron clan. Adrial, a brilliant prodigy, is in line to take over and become the next Lord Scribe of Ilbrea.
Then Adrial sees a girl with shimmering colorful hair dancing in the crowd, her colorful skirt spinning around her like a cloud. Their eyes meet. And the girl, Ena I presume, climbs a column up to the balcony where Adrial is standing. She delivers three mysterious glass vials to Adrial and then disappears into the hall. He tells the others that the vials hold ink.
Then we switch to Mara, another map paper. Maybe this is the girl that Ena felt sorry for before? Oh, no, Mara is in bed with one of the soldiers, Tham. It’s the day after the big celebration, and they’re going to find out where they’ll be sent. Will Tham be sent to the south, with most of the other soldiers? Or will he be accompanying the map makers? They’re in love, but they can’t tell anyone that they’re together. And Mara, as a map maker, is not allowed to marry. Male map makers can. But not women.
So Mara asks Lord Karron’s daughter, Allora, to pull some strings so that she and Tham will be assigned to the same mission. Allora knows her secret. And she’s already gotten the ball rolling. Mara and Tham will be going to the north, to the white mountains. Allora and her father depend on Mara. Depend on her to keep some clan secrets. And Allora even has a plan in place in case Mara gets pregnant — she’ll fake an illness, go into seclusion with Mara until the child is born, then raise the secret child as her own ward.
Their secrets would get her hanged if people find out. Allora is in love with Niko, but can’t marry him either, for reasons.
And I’m out. We’re five chapters in and I haven’t seen a good stabbing yet, and all this romantic drama is too much for me.
But in case you’re into romantic drama and fancy costumes and palace intrigue, the book is extremely well written and compelling. It pulls you in. If I was trapped by bad weather in a seaside cottage and the only thing to read was this book, I would read it very happily, palace intrigue and romantic drama and all.
4. Dark Legacy by Luanne Bennett
This is second book in the three-book House of Winterborne series. The other books are $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
Katherine, a witch, plans to commit suicide by drowning. She’s taken a magic potion that nullifies her immortality so that she can do it. Her goal? To protect her loved ones from her destiny. So the queen of Clan Winterborne named her daughter, Morgan, as her successor, passing over her oldest daughter, Avery. Then she walked out into the waves.
A month later, Morgan and her brother are at her mother’s funeral service. Even though her body had not been found, all the members of her clan had felt her death.
Morgan is 25, and not only inherits the clan leadership position but also will start preparing to become the CEO of one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world.
She’s not ready for the responsibility. Not only does everyone around her see it, she herself sees it. Plus, after the funeral service she rescues an injured bird and, instead of taking it to a vet like a normal crazy bird-loving rich person, gives it immortal blood in order to heal it and turns it into some kind of weird giant crow-eagle mix. Which she then lets loose to go do its own thing.
She might sound like a fun character to some people, but to me, she just comes across as irresponsible, and not in a fun, over-the-top kind of way. Plus, all the family drama is annoying to me. Odds are, I won’t come back and finish the book. But if you’re a fan of irresponsible magic users with complicated family dynamics and a mysterious destiny, then this book is extremely readable.
5. Elvish by S.G. Prince
This is the first book in the three-book The Elvish Trilogy series. The second book is $5.99 but is in Kindle Unlimited. The third book will be released at the end of this month and is now available for pre-order.
From Maria Korolov:
Venick, a fighters and a hunter, is up against a mama bear. He’s accidentally caught his foot in a bear trap and the bear is mad at him for trying to stab her in the throat.
He’s mortified that this is how he’s going to die. Except — someone shoots the bear with an arrow. It’s the elves. Turns out, he’s a trespasser in their lands, forced to hunt further and further because food in the mountains was scarce.
The elves are about to kill him, and he doesn’t want to die. So he lies and tell them that he crossed the border because he’s been sent to Evov, a secret elven city. He claims to be on a mission for the elven queen. He speaks elvish but pretends he doesn’t. In elvish, he wouldn’t be able to tell a lie. The language is magical and won’t allow it. He suggests that the elves teach him elvish, so that he can prove that he’s speaking the truth, or leave him, and let fate decide what happens to him. Teaching him elvish would take years. Instead, one of the elves frees him and, when the scent of his blood draws wolves, defends him from the wolves. Then the same elf stitches up her wound. Clearly, she’s not a good judge of character.
She decides to take him with them, and teach him the elvish language along the way.
I’m not a fan of either of these characters, but do have to the say that the world building is extremely compelling. I wouldn’t mind spending more time there.
6. Fate of Wizardoms Boxed Set by Jeffrey L. Kohanek
This is a box set of all three books in the The Wizardoms Epic series.
From Maria Korolov:
This is another epic fantasy. It’s a good week for epic fantasy fans!
Lord Malvorian suspects that his high wizard, Gurgan, has been skimming from the mines, using the surplus to hire his own secret army. His seer has predicted it. There’s a battle that Malvorian wins, having been warned about it, and by so doing he sets a prophecy in motion. The prophecy means that he will have much more power. The next step for him, in order for the prophecy to come true, is that he must find the Eye of Obscurance — and do it without the Enchanters Guild finding out.
Meanwhile, Rhoa, is on her way to a party. She claims to be Her Grace, 16-year-old Wizardess Misa Wrenthal of Shear. But she’s actually 19. Just short. She’s in heels, a gown, hair piled up on her head, and wears a stolen tiara to complete her look. She doesn’t actually have any magic, and if she’s discovered, things will go badly for her.
The party is at the estate of Palkan Forca, head of the wizard guild. His son Godwin, 15, asks Rhoa to dance, then offers her a tour of the manor. He takes her to his father’s study, a circular room at the top of the tower. Godwin makes a move on her, so she knocks him out, changes into her cat burglar clothes, and makes her way to the next tower over, which belongs to the Enchanters Guild. There’s a storeroom of magical artifacts at the top of the tower.
Meanwhile, Jace, disguised as a female servant, is on his way to rob that same exact storeroom. Great minds think alike. But Rhoa’s already found the amulet she’s after, and the two fight over it, setting off alarms.
I loved this beginning. Full of action, adventure and derring-do. I can definitely see this a movie — or mini series. Both Rhoa and Jace are fun, competent characters who are competing for the same prize. I’m looking forward to seeing Jace try to track Rhoa down to steal the amulet from her, while both of them have to evade the Enchanters.
7. Demonic Indemnity by Craig McLay
This is the first of three books in the Demonic Indemnity series. The other books are $3.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
I love, love, love the opening of this novel. Crimson Seal Property & Casualty is a 3,200-year-old insurance company, and Tim is the first human to be working in its Special Investigations Unit. He had started at the company’s call center ten years previously, with his freshly minted demonology degree, and worked his way up to assistant underwriter and then claims adjuster. Now, he’ll be investigating fraudulent activity, both internal and external.
I love the fact that Tim has all the certifications, including Chartered Supernatural Insurance Professional, Certified Infernal Auditor, and Licensed Paranormal Insurance.
And I love the fact that Crimson Seal is the third-largest supernatural insurer based on gross written premiums. I’m getting a huge kick out of all this — I used to cover financial services and the industry jargon is music to my ears.
The wider paranormal community considers humans to be too weak for messy investigative work, too vulnerable to even the mildest threats, like fairies and slow-moving zombies. But now there are three humans in senior management, one of whom is the new executive vice president of claims, and one of her goals is to foster greater diversity and inclusion. This causes the demons who work at the company to grumble about PC malarkey.
Anyway, Tim’s new coworkers include a vampire, a werewolf, and a half-succubus with red hair and eyes who can suck the soul out of someone’s body. Tim doesn’t mind the vampire. His brother is a vampire, so he’s used to it. His new boss is a three-headed demon who smells of sulfur. There are seven electronic air fresheners in his office trying to fight the stench and failing. His mug of boiling tar says “underworld’s best boss.”
I’m going to stop reading now and save the book for later on this weekend.
I can tell from the first page that I’m going to enjoy this book, finish it, then go on to find all the other books by the same author.
8. Tales of Wychwood by Daniel Martin Eckhart
This is a stand-alone book, not part of a series.
From Maria Korolov:
I don’t want to read this book. I want the author to write his autobiography. Daniel Martin Eckhart has served in the Swiss military and guarded the Pope’s life in the Vatican. He also worked for the United Nations, driving trucks across the Sinai Desert, delivering diplomatic mail to Damascus and driving armored limousines in Beirut. Then he moved to New York and became a screenwriter, and worked on TV shows and movies. His IMDB page is here.
From Amira Loutfi:
This one has no table of contents. I had no idea how emotionally dependent I was on the table of contents page — but the lack of one here threw me off. I am a little scared now, and I don’t think that was the author’s intention!
It seems like a modern urban fairy tale. And I will be skimming to get to the good parts.
So Wychwood Forest has been shrinking due to human development. As it shrunk, the legends pertaining to it grew. Nice. Throughout the years, strange things have been happening in Wychwood and the nearby village, fueling said legends. Yikes. I like that. Maybe this is supposed to be a little scary.
Awesome … the forest is now within the private property of a royal, and it is surrounded by a fence. People who drive by are able to escape, but if you loiter for a moment, you’ll be affected by its pull. You might want to be careful — many others have jumped the fence and disappeared mysteriously.
Roberta, the witch of Wychwood, is lying to her family. She seems kind of sweet, so her deception is a bit disturbing. I still don’t know why she would lie to them, but it’s a good book if you like a slow-paced eerie fairy tale.
9. Storm Born by Christine Pope
This is the first book of the eight-book The Witches of Wheeler Park series. The other books are $2.99 to $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
Jake is working on a project that the primus — leader of his clan — had approved six months earlier. He wants him to see what progress had been made. They both belong to the Wilcox Witch Clan. And in this world, the witches all agree they have to keep their existence a secret.
The prologue introduces the project and it’s a bit slow. I skimmed a bunch of the dialogue but then — Yes! I got to the juicy part. Turns out Jake is working with a team to create a system that can locate witches and warlocks born outside of the magical community. Good going. These characters and this project are deeply entrenched in the real world, btw. For example, they earn university degrees and sometimes see non-magical doctors when they are sick.
The perspective shifts and we’re hearing the story through the eyes of a young girl preparing to go to college. I’m still unsure what the plot is, actually. Apparently, whenever she gets upset a tornado appears out of nowhere and flattens a barn. Oh, and you’re trying to tell me “but it was only that one time” and “oh Amira, it’s just a coincidence.” Well, if it is a coincidence then why does a dangerous storm element appear every time — every SINGLE time — this girl gets upset?
Just kidding, of course. Obviously, this new narrator must be one of the children born outside the magical community.
And oh, these witches are very wealthy.
Back at the lab — with Jake’s team and his project — the system lights up and presents the location of the girl we were just reading about.
So far I’ve been enjoying this story, but with a lot of skimming.
10. Taken by Hattie Jacks
This is the first book of the five-book Haalux Empire series. The other books are $0.99 to $3.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
Jayne and Rex are quite a couple here. Jayne is a mouthy snarky human girl who has been abducted by aliens. Rex captured her, while she was high on narcotics, aboard another ship that was trying to sneak past his “quadrant.”
Rex is a huge monstrous alien who doesn’t even know what a human is … and now he’s in charge of one. He’s angry because he feels like he’s been demoted, even though he’s technically the new commander. Jayne is in serious pain when her narcotics gradually wear off. Half her face is covered in bruises and her ribs are broken.
When he finally decides to bring her to the medic, he starts to feel attracted to her in spite of himself.
All this happened in the first two chapters, titled Jayne and Rex. It’s an alien romance where the perspective switches back and forth.
The characters are cute. I like Jayne, Rex, and the medic. And the world-building is good.
So I skipped ahead to chapter 37. Jayne is already calling Rex “my warrior.” He’s in a nasty fight with another huge alien. They are so close. Hmm… Oh, and the word “cock” is mentioned 51 times.
I think I already told you enough about this to help you decide whether or not to read it. If you feel somewhat inclined, I’d say go get it while it’s free.
Do you have other free books for us to check out? Email me at [email protected].