Some articles may include Amazon affiliate links. All proceeds go to helping us pay for original stories and to support writers of speculative fiction. Read more here.
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. Star Forged by Justin Sloan
This is the first of five books in the Ascension Gate series. The second book is also on the top ten free books list today. The other three books are $0.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
The cover tells me that this is my kind of book. Space opera. Adventure. Exploration. Strong female protagonist in form-fitting armor shooting a laser ray gun.
I’m excited. Plus, the second book in the series is also on today’s top ten list, which makes me think that people really enjoy reading these books. And the fact that the rest are in Kindle Unlimited is also a big plus. Last week, I got into a fantasy series in which the other books cost money, and I shelled out more than $20 to read the rest of them.
The book starts out with Trent Helms, a Space Fleet marine, at the Kennedy Space Center, watching a star gate open, a gate to a habitable planet in the Krastion galaxy. There isn’t actually a galaxy with that name. I Googled it. I’m slightly disappointed.
Anyway, they’ve sent probes through before, but this is the first time humans will be going through.
And I’m getting hung up on another detail. The author says that the probes came back with readings, but no images. Why not? Images are just numbers. Does this mean that some sensors work and others don’t? That’s a bad sign. I personally wouldn’t send humans through until all my probe sensors were working correctly. After all, maybe it means that there’s so much electromagnetic radiation that the camera lenses are getting toasted. I don’t think this is going to go well.
The series is set in the near future, where humans are already terraforming Mars and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Finding a planet that’s already habitable, no terraforming required, will be a huge win.
There’s a bunch of backstory and exposition to wade through before we actually get to the action, including some relationship stuff that I’m skimming over. I want to find out if they’re all going to be fried to a crisp when they go through.
I can’t believe that all these marines are gossiping about who’s sleeping with whom as they wait. It seems a little inappropriate. Maybe it’s just nerves.
They’re sending six ships through, each ship with two dozen people. So they’re risking the lives of around 144 people without having any imaging data. I’m getting more and more concerned about these folks.
But as they’re getting ready to board, they’re attacked by a strange group with red glowing eyes and scaly skin. Trent Helms is able to make it on board and his ship takes off. I would have aborted the mission at this point. If attackers were able to get this far, they might have done some damage to the ships. And, in the fighting it looks like some of the marines and other crew members might have been hurt. The trip is already risky enough as it is.
Then we’re in Washington D.C., with Trent’s ex-girlfriend, Shrina Collins. I skipped over the details of their relationship in the previous chapter, but I don’t feel like going back. Anyway, Shrina is some kind of hero. She’s previously saved the president’s life and was involved in other serious action, but she’d rather be home watching the launch with her little sister instead of here with political big-wigs. And there are a lot of references to previous events, including the creation of super-soldiers. I cheated and looked at the reviews, and it seems that there’s a prequel series, Biotech Wars, that has three books in it, $2.99 to $4.99 each, but all in Kindle Unlimited.
If I like the beginning of this book, I’ll go and read that series first, but to be honest, I’m not impressed so far.
There’s more gossip about relationships — really, do these people have nothing better to talk about? — when Shrina and the big-wigs see the attack on television. Sirens start going off, and the Secret Service takes the president off to safety — because there’s an attack happening here in D.C., as well. And on the news, there are reports of attacks in other cities around the world. She pulls off her heels and starts running somewhere, barefoot. One of the attackers shows up ahead of her, to attack a father with a small boy in his arms, and she shoots it down. The attacker also has glowing red eyes — and long, sharp teeth. Like a vampire. She thinks that the attackers might be genetically modified, like the super soldiers in the Space Fleet Marines.
Oh, and she’s running to get home to her sister and her grandparents. Isn’t she on duty? She sees a cop car. While the cops are being killed by the attackers she steals the cop car, leaves the cops to die, and hightails it home. What? I’m horrified.
Back at the Kennedy Space Center, the attackers took over two of the ships and shot down a third. Communications are down. And, guess what, the Marines are still planning to go through the star gate. What? Why?
Meanwhile, the attackers take down another ship.
Trent’s ship goes through the gate to the other galaxy, where they’re met by a giant set of red eyes drifting through space. Ships are being blown up. The marines all panic. The author says they “were screaming like children.” And then the gate closes behind them. Trent barely makes it to an escape pod before his ship is destroyed. He think’s he’s now stranded, alone, in another galaxy.
All these people are total amateurs. Marines come under attack all the time. They’re trained for it. They don’t scream like little children. They abort missions when things go sideways, especially when — as seems to be the case here — there’s no actual urgent need to continue with the mission at that particular time. These guys are incompetent fools, not trained soldiers. I have no sympathy for either Trent or his ex-girlfriend. They’re both useless. I’m guessing that if they ever succeed at anything it’s because of dumb luck.
I can’t even.
Other reviewers also say that the author grossly misrepresents the military, and that the series overall is a mish-mash of tropes and plotlines.
But hey, some people like it.
2. The Magic of Unkindness by Kevan Dale
This is the first book in the three-book The Books of Conjury series. The other books are $2.99 and $3.99 each, and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
Right off, I hate the cover. It makes me think the book is going to be some kind of touchy-feely, sad, princess-y thing. But then again, I loved the cover of the previous book on this list and look where that got me.
The book starts out with a young woman descending into death. Her name is Kate Finch, though I had to read the book’s description to find out — her name isn’t mentioned until the fourth chapter, and then only her last name. I did a search, and her first name isn’t mentioned until page 184.
Anyway, Kate is surprised by the lack of angels, gates or brimstone, the absence of her brothers, parents, and the seven masters, all of whom were killed before she was.
It’s a strong, powerfully-written opening.
Ah. She’s a sixteen-year-old indentured apprentice who’s just made the crossing from London to Boston with some guy named Silas Wilkes, who was murdered shortly after their arrival in Boston. And she’s not dead. When she opens her eyes, she sees Wilkes’ dead body. And there’s another dead body on top of her, a woman.
She’s on a wagon, and two murderers are taking the bodies somewhere. And the murderers are frightened about where they’re going.
The murderers delivered the bodies — five, total — to a gent named Mr. Swaine. He’s concerned that the authorities will be concerned, but the murderers tell him that the victims were fresh off a ship and nobody will miss them.
She’s pretending to be dead when they’re attacked by a giant man. The two murderers are killed before Swaine does some magic and stops the attacker, and notices that our protagonist is still alive.
Swaine takes her into his house, treats her hurt throat, and gives her a magic pendant to wear for her own protection. Then he asks her to help drag the bodies to a barn.
This book is set in the eighteenth century, and the writing style is appropriate for the period, but still readable and accessible.
So anyway, Swaine casts some protective magic around her, and does a test, and finds out that she’s a witch, the first one seen for nearly a hundred years. And he tells her not to touch any his books or papers, to leave the house, or to talk to anyone. He’s a sorcerer, and he can bring the dead back to life — kind of, like zombies, inhabited by demons.
Swaine forces her to be his servant, so she waits while he’s asleep then steals some food and runs away. She’s attacked by demons, and runs to two strangers for help — who also turn out to be murderers. The demon kills one of them, Swaine shows up and drives away the demon, then the demon comes back and kills the other attacker. Swaine gives her a choice — stay with him, or leave.
The book is very readable. It reminds me a bit of Jane Eyre, except with sorcerers, demons, zombies, and witchcraft.
But it’s not really my thing.
3. Shrouded Kingdom by Rachel Medhurst
This is the first book in the four-book series The Lost Queen of Althea. The rest of the books are $2.99 and $3,99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited. The fourth book isn’t out yet, and has no scheduled release date.
The book starts with Layanna being shot at with an arrow as she runs through the trees back to her village. The woods seem to come up right to the village square, and she thrusts out of the woods into the village square. Thrusts? Really?
Anyway, the village is Remedia, one of the smallest in the kingdom of Mediya. The woods are supposed to be a sacred, peaceful place where villagers picked nuts and fruits and hunted deer, boar, and rabbits.
Her father, who’s been trying to marry her off for two years, is an advisor at the village, and who likes to hang out at the inn. Looking for her father there, Layanna meets a stranger, who moves unusually quickly, and is dressed unusually well. He says he’s a researcher, working for the king. He claims to be a mortal man, but Layanna thinks he’s lying and refuses to answer more than a couple of his questions. When the stranger leaves, Layanna asks the barkeep to walk her home. The stranger is already there, and ominously tells her not to forget him before he rides away on his horse.
She knows that something is off, and her perfect village is in danger.
I’m not a fan of coming-of-age books, and Layanna doesn’t grab me as a protagonist. Plus, the way she keeps describing the village and the whole kingdom as being so perfect and wonderful is a little off-putting.
But that might just be me.
4. Beneath Black Sails by Clare Sager
This is the first book in the four-book Beneath Black Sails series. The other books are $0.99 to $4.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited. The fourth book isn’t out yet, though — it’s scheduled to be released next year, in May of 2022.
Lady Vice, a pirate, is about to maroon the officers of a slave ship on a tropical island.
She’s from Albion, which outlawed slavery as an affront to the fae hundreds of years before. Vice has fae blood and magic powers. She can manipulate the ocean waves.
The pirates repair and disguise the slaver ship in order to sell it. Vice convinces the pirate captain, FitzRoy, to split the proceeds with the slaves themselves. But she’d rather get the ship for herself, so she can be a captain. FitzRoy has promised her her own ship.
But then, in port, she spots an even better ship. A beautiful, fast one, much better than the slow slaver brig, the Venatrix. She wants to convince FitzRoy to capture it for her.
But the Venatrix is a pirate hunting ship. And it’s hunting her.
Vice wasn’t always a pirate. She used to be Lady Avice Ferrers. She’s going to dress up as a lady again, and go to the governor’s ball, and find out who this pirate hunter is.
Turns out, the pirate hunter is a couple of years older than her, and very handsome. Of course, they meet at the ball and flirt.
If I was in the mood for a romance, I’d continue reading. The writing is breezy and light, a modern rom-com feel in a fantasy setting.
5. Prey & Prejudice by Marie Harte
This is the last book in the eight-book Cougar Falls series. The other books are $1.99 or $2.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
Miles is a shape shifter. His animal is a panther. He’s the head of a pride and of a multi-million dollar business.
Aren’t panthers solitary animals, though? According to Google, only lions are social and have prides.
The book starts out with pride politics, business issues and relationship drama. There’s some backstory here — probably references to previous books in the series.
Miles is annoyed at being the leader. The former leader, Quince, tricked him into taking the job, and he doesn’t want it.
Then Zoe shows up. She’s also a shape shifter, a Florida panther, which is kind of like a mountain lion, and she thinks Quince is still running the pride, and she wants to be in charge. She knows that Quince doesn’t want the job, either. She goes for a run to relax, in her panther form, and meets up with Miles. They knew each other as kids, but haven’t seen each other in seventeen years.
She tells him that she’s back to take over the pride from Quince, and he tells her that she can’t — because Quince isn’t in charge anymore. He is.
Of course, they’re immediately attracted to each other. And, also, obviously, they’re annoyed by each other.
And I’m annoyed by both of them. I’m skipping this book. It looks like it’s all politics and romance, and not much action. Well, not much non-bedroom action, at least. But it does have hot shifter-on-shifter sex, if that’s your thing.
6. Star Legacy by Justin Sloan
This is the the second of five books in the Ascension Gate series. The first book is also on the top ten free books list today — scroll up to read that review. The other three books are $0.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
If you’ve read the first review on this list, you know that I’m not a fan of the first book in the series. But I’ll give this on a shot. I do like the cover and the premise.
Espinoza is marooned on an alien planet with fourteen other genetically modified super soldiers, and they’re battling for their survival. They’ve already faced those weird red-eyed vampire things, a giant sandworm, a sandstorm, and then some glowing gold creature. The rest died in the crash landing or the battles.
Their mission is to stay alive, and to keep their one botanist alive.
And oh, joy, Trent is here. Well, here in the book, not on the same planet. He’s on a different alien planet. And he’s with a bunch of dragons now, and he’s got a new home, and magical powers. And he gets to fly on the back of dragons.
Meanwhile, Shrina is back on Earth. Specifically, in Iran. And she can fly now, and has wings, scaly skin, horns on her forearms, and claws. And she’s got a red glow in her eyes. But she’s holding on to the memory of her sister, and it’s helping keep her sane. Turns out, her sister had been taken by the vampires, Shrina went hunting them, got ambushed and almost killed, and turned into one herself. Or turned into something, at least.
It’s too much for me. And I still don’t like the characters.
Frankly, the series reads more like a paranormal romance with action thrown in, with all the relationship talk, than hard sci-fi.
7. Moon Glamour by Aimee Easterling
This is the first of three books in the Samhain Shifters series. The other books are $3.99 and $2.99 and are not in Kindle Unlimited. Also, the third book isn’t out yet — it’s due to be released in July.
The main character, Athena, is a werewolf on her way to a job interview at a museum. And she runs into another werewolf. Big and muscular, with scars on his face. Then on to her interview. Turns out, she’s not applying for a job at the museum. No, someone wants to hire her to steal something from the museum. The client gives her a sizeable down payment and leaves, then the werewolf is back, now with two buddies.
She gets away from the museum but the wolves catch up to her in an alley. Turns out, they don’t want to hurt her. They want to recruit her. To defend the world against a fae incursion.
She turns them down.
I’m guessing that she’ll join them eventually, fall in love with the one with the scars, and fight off the fae.
The premise appeals to me. But the characters — not so much.
8. Until All Curses Are Lifted by Tim Frankovich
This is the first of three books in the Heart of Fire series. The other books are $3.99 and $4.99 each but are both in Kindle Unlimited.
Marshal is cursed. A lord raped his mother. Normally, curses are punishments for what someone does, but the lords themselves are exempt. So Marshal is punished for his father’s crime. Specifically, he is mute. And not just mute – he can’t communicate in sign language and even has trouble with gestures, like nodding or shaking his head.
But as the oldest son, he’ll inherit his father’s magic when the man dies. So his half-brother tracks him down. If he kills Marshal, then he’ll be the oldest and the power will pass to him. But until he’s a lord himself, he’ll be punished with a curse. So he plans to have someone else do the killing on his behalf.
Marshal and his mother, who has magical healing abilities, have to flee — and find a way to remove the curse.
Meanwhile, off in another part of the world, Seri has finished university and is now at the Conclave, a group of magic users, where she, too, will become a mage. But first, as the newest acolyte, she’s being stuck with the grunt work, copying history scrolls onto fresh papyrus.
And in yet another location, assassin Kishin gets his new assignment — to kill Marshal. Kishin is already cursed, and the curse is pretty horrible, so he doesn’t care about any other curses.
I like the premise, but I don’t find any of the characters particularly compelling.
9. Lion Hearts Tiger by V. Vaughn
This is the first book of the six-book Heartland Shifters series. The other books are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
This is a series of “true mate” books where the protagonists are shapeshifters. This is a sub-genre of paranormal romance where shapeshifters mate for life. Turns out, in real life, animals will usually find someone else if something happens to their mate, and that includes swans and wolves. And even while supposedly in monogamous relationships, DNA studies show that the babies often belong to someone else. The one exception — so far — is prairie voles. Yes, I’m cynical and jaded.
Of course, I know that romance novels aren’t supposed to be realistic. They’re escapist fantasy, just like all fiction. If you over-think Harry Potter or James Bond those premises don’t make sense either.
It must be nice knowing that your spouse is never going to cheat or leave you.
But when I see see a “true mate” book, I’m instantly prejudiced against it. I can suspend my disbelief to accept shapeshifters. But lifelong faithfulness? That’s going too far!
Anyway. Lexi wakes up in a hospital room, hooked up to IVs, with no memory of who she is or what happened. There’s a guy there, waiting for her to wake up, Tristan. She gets stressed out, pulls out the IVs, and starts to change. Tristan tries to calm her down and tells her that they have to leave before she changes. Telling her to calm down doesn’t work.
Then we switch to Tristan’s point of view. With a name like Tristan, I already hate him. That, and the whole telling a woman to calm down thing. He’s been looking for Lexi for a week before he found her in this human hospital.
The doctor comes in. He’s excited about how fast Lexi is healing. She was in a car accident during a storm. Tristan tells Lexi that if the humans find out what she is, she’ll spend the rest of her life as a pincushion in a government lab somewhere. They have to get away.
But Lexi isn’t sure about going off with him. After all, he’s a total stranger to her, even though he tells her that they’re mated. And doctors are doctors. Then a voice in her head tells her that she’ll be safe with Tristran. So, she’s hearing voices, she thinks. It would probably be better to stay in the hospital. Plus, she’d just hallucinated that her hands grew claws.
Finally, Tristan shows her a photo of them together.
In the SUV driving away, Lexi starts to second-guess her choice. Maybe the photo was Photoshopped and Tristan is a stalker.
I’ve read seven chapters of this, bouncing from one of them to the other and back again, and nothing has happened. He dressed her, took her home, and we find out that he was planning to propose before she got into an accident.
Is the whole book going to be like this? Slow and horribly boring? I’m going to peek at the Amazon reviews. The reviewers love it, but there’s zero indication that anything at all happens in the book, besides her slowly regaining her memories. And the author has been on the USA Today bestseller list.
I’m missing something, I guess. Maybe the milk of human kindness? But a book about nice people in love who live happily ever after doesn’t appeal to me.
10. The Underworld Saga by Eva Pohler
This is the first three books in the nine-book Underworld Saga series. The other books are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
Another paranormal romance. I’m starting to feel that I hate love.
I hate this book, the cover, the title, the description. At this point, I just want to spend a few hours with people who couldn’t care less about anyone else’s feelings while killing them in various brutal, inventive ways.
Anyway, let’s read this thing.
Therese, seventeen, is on her way home with her parents from some social function where she had to wear a dress that was more like a straightjacket. Then somebody starts shooting at them. Yay!
Their car goes into a lake, her mother’s shot through her throat, her father is stuck, crushed under the steering wheel shaft. Panicked, she gulps water.
In the next chapter, Than is helping a man and woman through the next stage of their journey, across Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. They keep asking about Therese. Than leads them to a raft where Charon is waiting. Than is bored in his job, doing the same thing over and over again. At least humans get to see some excitement.
Back on Earth, Therese is standing on the shore of the lake, and she dives back into the cold water to get back to her parents and save them. Or does she? Maybe she’s dreaming. She can breathe underwater. She can fly. Her parents are there, and they tell her they’re okay. She makes her boobs bigger. She flies over the raft with her parents in it. She tries to follow them, but Than and his brother, Hip, tell her that she’s not dead and can’t follow them. Hip wants to keep her, but Than tells him to let her go.
Therese wakes up in the hospital. Her Aunt Carol tells her that she’s been in a coma for a week, and her parents have already been buried.
Therese falls back asleep and is able to find Hip again, learns that her parents have made it to the Elysian fields, and there’s no way for her to bring them back. But Hip gives her a tour of the rest of the underworld, and introduces her to Cerberus, the three-headed dog. Therese and Hip flirt, in a teenager kind of way, even though Hip must be thousands of years old. Gross.
When Therese wakes back up in the hospital it’s the next day, and the police are there, asking her about what she saw. Then her friends come to visit.
So I guess this is the story of a teenage girl with special powers — she has the ability to control her dreams — falling in love with a literal Greek god.
I’m not going to keep reading.
It’s disappointing that there wasn’t a single book this week that I wanted to stick with.
Ah well, I still have plenty left over from previous weeks!
Do you have other free books for us to check out? Email me at [email protected].
Edited by Melody Friedenthal
MetaStellar editor and publisher Maria Korolov is a science fiction novelist, writing stories set in a future virtual world. And, during the day, she is an award-winning freelance technology journalist who covers artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and enterprise virtual reality. See her Amazon author page here and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email her at [email protected]. She is also the editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business, one of the top global sites covering virtual reality.