Did you know that Amazon has a list of the top-selling and free sci-fi and fantasy books? The list changes constantly — authors and publishers set their books to free temporarily to promote their work, and, of course, books move up and down in the rankings. Read on to find your fun free read for this weekend! And grab the books quickly because they don’t always stay free for long.
This week’s list is completely different from those of the previous weeks. So if you’re a fan of free books, there are going to be new things to read all the time. If you want to get this list in your inbox every Friday afternoon, subscribe to the MetaStellar weekly newsletter.
There are a lot of books to go through, so this week I’m being helped out by a couple of other members of our MetaStellar community. If you’d like to join me in doing these reviews — and taping our regular Free Friday videos — email me at [email protected].
5. Glimmer of Christmas by Heather G. Harris
This is a novella set in the same universe as the seven-book The Other Realm urban fantasy series. The other books are $4.99 each but they are all in Kindle Unlimited. This is the author’s second time on our Free Friday list. We previously reviewed Glimmer of the Other, the first of seven books in The Other Realm urban fantasy series, in April of 2023.
From Maria Korolov:
I read the first book in the series and loved it, but I haven’t finished the second book yet, so I was a little apprehensive about reading this novella since it sits between books two and three. What if I spoil the story for myself?
I’ll take the risk.
The story begins in a similar way as the first book in the series — with a guy in a compromising sexual position. In the first book, a guy was having an intimate encounter with a stuffed fox. This time, the guy — a different guy — is hanging naked from a bunch of ropes. His wife hired Jinx, one of my favorite new urban fantasy heroines, to figure out what her husband’s been up to. The wife isn’t upset that the guy is kinky. She’s worried that he’s getting his kinks on with someone else.
Unfortunately, the first few pages hint at events in book two that I haven’t read yet. So, if you’re interested in this novella, and haven’t read the others, I recommend you do that first.
Jinx figures out what’s up with the guy, tells the wife, and heads to her office, which she rents from the local vampire leader. There are clients waiting for her.
Specifically, a very scary witch and a little girl. Seems that the child has lost her Christmas sack. It’s like a Christmas stocking, but bigger. The girl lost her parents in a car crash and is now being cared for by the witch’s coven. The girl’s mother had made the sack by hand — but now nobody can find it. The witch wants to hire Jinx to find the girl’s sack. Jinx has also lost her parents, so she can sympathize. She takes the case.
Her first thought is that one of the other kids in the witch’s coven took the sack as a prank, so that’s her first destination.
I love Jinx, so I’m definitely going to stick with this novella, as well as the rest of the series. The Christmas theme is an added bonus.
4. The Glass Palace by Kathryn Trattner
This is a standalone book, a retelling of the classic fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” If you like this author’s style, she has plenty of other fantasy books on Amazon. This is the author’s first time on our Free Friday list.
From Terrence Smith:
This book is not what one would typically call my go-to genre. It takes place in 1890 and follows a young woman, Astrid, whose father arranged a marriage for her when she was just a little girl.
After her father dies, and all his possessions are sold to pay off his debts, she travels from her home in Amsterdam to Siberia to meet Tyhr, the man to whom she was betrothed. There, she finds a bulky man donned in black, wearing a silver mask which he would not remove. This is throwing off vibes of a Gothic romance, such as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, which I do not go out of my way to read.
Strangely, however, I am getting into it.
The writing is beautiful. It does an effective job of portraying the atmosphere, including the cold and beauty of the train station in which she arrives. It also illustrates everything Astrid is feeling, making it palpable to anyone who has not lost her whole family like she has. She is also an avid reader, to which anyone reading this story could relate. She tries her hardest to ignore the man who fetches her in the train cabin, just wanting to be left alone with her books.
I am also intrigued by the mystery of just who this Tyhr is. He seems like an imposing figure, hinting at a possible Beauty and the Beast dynamic. Astrid describes her wedding ring as getting warmer as she gets closer to her final destination, and him, implying some kind of mystic connection between the two of them. The fact that he wears a mask and refuses to remove it also reminds me of Alan Moore’s vigilante V from V for Vendetta.
I am willing to continue with this story and see where it goes. This is also a title that will be up many Eyre fans’ alley as well.
3. Blood Feud by J.W. Webb
This is the first of six books in the Berserker & Slayer epic fantasy series. The other books are $0.99 to $4.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited and the fifth book in the series, Dealers in Death, is also free today. This is the author’s first time on our Free Friday list.
From Kristin Noland:
Set in a fictional wintery and rough land, the story starts with a baby, Jaran, grandson of the ruler of a mythical island kingdom, being taken from his mother by a specter named Traveler in order to save Jaran’s life.
An evil queen has taken control over the island kingdom through sorcery and wants Jaran’s head. The Traveler hides Jaran and his mother, Bera, for twenty-seven years, outside this kingdom.
Now, the evil queen’s husband, the king — who’s also Jaran’s uncle — sends assassins to kill Jaran, but Jaran is a skilled warrior with magic on his side and escapes the first assassin’s attack.
While questioning the assassin, Jalan learns his uncle sent him and that the island kingdom is not a myth as the Traveler told him, but a real place where Jaran was born.
Quick-witted and battle-hardened, Jaran uses this new knowledge and sets out to make the sorceress who destroyed his family pay.
I bonded quickly with Jaran. He’s a strong warrior who goes after what he wants no matter the cost. The villain, the evil queen, is an interesting character. She is an evil seductress as well as a sorceress, who knows what she wants—uncontested power. The violent winter setting is the perfect backdrop for this dark tale.
The book is very well written and fast-paced. I enjoyed the prologue and chapter one, but won’t be finishing the novel. However, it will thrill fans of high fantasy with its magic, intricate powerplays, and brutality.
2. Kings of Ruin by Daniel Arenson
This is the first of six books in the Kingdoms of Sand epic fantasy series. The other books are $0.99 to $4.99 each, and are not in Kindle Unlimited. The author has been on our list before. In fact, we reviewed this particular book in January of 2023. We also reviewed Earth Alone, the first of 15 books in the Earthrise space opera series in October of 2022. And we reviewed Starship Freedom, the first of five books in the Starship Freedom science fiction adventure series, in February of 2023.
From Maria Korolov:
This is an epic fantasy billed as Game of Thrones meets Spartacus, and the author is a USA Today bestseller. That sounds pretty good, and I had high hopes for this book going in.
We start out with Maya, a young woman with magic powers and an evil older half-sister. The older sister, Ofeer, is a product of rape — their mother had been attacked by invaders. Now the invaders are back again, and they nearly destroyed the country the first time around. Maya’s family are the rulers, and her older brother will eventually inherit the kingdom — if it survives. Oh, and magic powers are illegal here.
I did not like Maya. She seemed to be one of those “too stupid to live” people. Knowing that magic is forbidden, she still uses it to heal a sick dog. Out in public. Without checking if anyone is watching. A prince — one of the invaders — shows up and kills the dog for a laugh. And Ofeer and the prince laugh about it. I don’t like seeing a sick dog mistreated. I don’t like the way that Maya seems nice, but is lacking any common sense. And Ofeer is just evil. I didn’t like anyone in this first chapter.
Then we switch to the point of view of one of Maya’s siblings, Epher, the older brother who’s in line to inherit the kingdom. He’s worried about the enemy fleet that just showed up. And he’s also bickering with his two other siblings — this is a large family! — one sister is a fighter, and she just wants to kill everyone, again with no thought of consequences. And there’s also another brother, who just likes to drink and have a good time. Also with no thought of consequences. Epher is the only one of the lot who seems to have any common sense, and he’s burdened by the guilt of hearing his mother’s screams as she was raped when the invaders were here the last time. But he comes across as a little too pious and sanctimonious. He’s a bit of a scold. I sympathize with him — I’m the oldest kid in my family, too — but he’s not exactly fun to spend time with.
Then we move to the point of view of Ofeer, the evil sister, as she seduces the invading prince right in front of Maya and the prince’s soldiers and then has sex with him. She’s sick of her family and of their stupid little kingdom and wants to go live in the big evil empire with all the cool people.
Then we switch to the point of view of Marcus, the evil emperor of the invading empire. He’s got tens of thousands of slaves marching to their doom, prisoners being crucified right and left, all the horrible excesses of Rome. And here is where we learn that the country that Maya is from is a place where people get circumcised. So I’m guessing this is an allegory for the story of Israel in Roman times.
I’m not personally opposed to this setting. I’ve read other speculative fiction books set either in historic Rome or in similar cultures and I liked them. But this particular series of books is a little too grim and depressing for me. There’s just horrible suffering in every direction, and in my escapist reading I like to get a little break from that kind of thing. Especially since that’s all we see on the news these days.
But if you like your epic fantasy on the grim side — and plenty of people do — then I do have to say that the writing style is very compelling, and the book pulls you in. The story moves along at a good, solid clip, and there’s plenty of tension and high stakes right from the start.
1. The Zoo of Intelligent Animals by D.A. Holdsworth
This is the second of two books in The Cleremont Conjectures sci-fi series, though it is actually a prequel to the first book. The previous book is $3.99 but it is in Kindle Unlimited. This is the author’s first time on our Free Friday list.
From Melody Friedenthal:
The book caught my interest from the get-go: set in London, England, a second communication has been received, in English, in the 1420 mHz frequency long-predicted to be where aliens might communicate across space, and the SETI folks have agreed its origin is extraterrestrial in origin.
One small nit: the first communication in that band was described as “strong, clear, blank, and inexplicable.” I am unable to guess what a “blank signal” might be.
Elizabeth Belfort, a staffer at some super-secret British agency, has been tasked to tell two gentlemen the content of the message. Sir Claude Danziger appears to be more interested in its typographical aspects, i.e. comma placement, than in the fact of Earth receiving a message from the aliens. A message, by the way, that is rather rude. His nephew, Dr. Artemas James, is also present, and his appearance is milquetoast compared to his uncle – but they both dress in a quintessentially early 20th-century British aristocratic way. Elizabeth’s secondary confidential mission is to convince Sir Claude to join a committee that will discuss how to react to the alien signal.
Sir Claude hints that he knows a lot more about this message, like who sent it, but he’s unwilling to share that info – just yet – with Elizabeth.
We’re also introduced to Professor Dr. Setiawan. As an anthropologist, he knows that all garments are costumes, and he dresses elegantly with his chosen costume from the past. He is somewhat mystical, fussy about his appearance, and is a foreigner in London. His “sixth sense” tells him he’s being watched. He’s got an obsession with ants. And ant colonies and their interconnectedness may be a plot point…
The author has set up several sources of tension in the first few chapters. The settings and dress of the characters are evocatively described, the plot is intriguing, For one thing, why are Sir Claude, whom we’re told is a botanist, and Dr. James, who’s an expert in theodicy, important to SETI?
First-contact lovers will enjoy this story, which is professionally written and amusingly told. I definitely want to read more.
Have you read any of these books? Are you planning to? Let us know in the comments!
And watch Maria talk about all five books in the video below: