The Skull Gates
by P.G. Badzey
Stone Owl Press

"Disagreement turns to rancor, then to bitterness, then to spite, then to hatred."

Author P.G. Badzey again combines his aerospace industry expertise with his love of epic fantasy in this installment of the Grey Riders series. His unique perspective includes Christianity and fictional faiths, science-based magic, and sword and sorcery in the world of Damora—a setting that derives from and rivals J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth in cultural and genealogical complexity.

In this episode, the Riders and their Pegasi mounts confront the forces of evil in a quest to find and destroy Skull Gates, the spacetime portals to Hades constructed by the Ja'al cult. The story opens with Eric Indidarc, Khyron Demaris, Connor Lomin, Buckminster Bydecy, Darius Cabot, and Andyn Eleandir on a mission to observe a suspected Skull Gate in a remote forest glade. This first ambush of many rousing battles ensues with Ja'al cultists and bull satyrs, replete with a dragon attack and many magical parries and counter-parries. Over the coming weeks, the Riders also seek sisters Brandawyn and Megan Alenar, sweethearts of Darius and Eric, who have gone silent on their mission to southern regions.

The detailed maps and glossary are essential to understand better the world of Damora, the characters, and their cultural lineages. A visit to Badzey's website also enlightens with its expanded descriptions of Damora's geography, religions, and timelines. More plot-driven than character-oriented, the story's conflict and tension remain high from beginning to end, whether the Riders engage in battle mode, or the story turns to the dilemmas of the captive Alenar sisters. The complex tale is understandable without reading previous installments, and there is sufficient allusion to the characters' prior status without resorting to heavy doses of backstory. The book ends with a cliffhanger, a move that will have fans clamoring for the saga's next chapter.

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