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When I got my first Kindle way back in 2011, I discovered Amazon’s Top 100 Free ebook list and I hit that thing hard. Checking out ebooks from the library wasn’t widely available yet and I didn’t have the $$$ to drop a couple hundred dollars to build up my collection. The Top 100 Free saved me. It jump-started my library, and handily introduced me to some authors that I now call my favorites. Don’t get me wrong, I also had to wade through a lot of entirely unreadable garbage to find a few gems. It seems selfish to keep them to myself, so I’ll now share them with you.
Jeff Wheeler is probably my best Top 100 find. When I first found him he was a self-published author of fantasy and nerdy science fiction; writing at night while doing something tech-y with computers at Intel during the day. His books had more typos than reviews. But then he found a publisher, his novels got a little spit and polish, and now many of his books have thousands of positive ratings on Amazon and Goodreads. They’re not flashy thrill rides, or particularly diverse. They can also be slow at times, but his stories are interesting, his world building and magic systems are well developed, and his main characters are uplifting moral bastions in a time when lying sleazeballs always seem to get ahead. He has four or five different series, but here are a few of my favorites.
This was my initial exposure to Wheeler back in 2012. I got the first book The Wretched of Muirwood off the free list and put my life entirely on hold (sorry, honey) for the next 36 hours until I finished all three books. I inhaled them. I loved them so much, I posted about it on Facebook.
The wretched (an abandoned child/orphan) in question is Lia, a young teenage girl who works in the kitchens of a serene and remote abbey. She possesses secret magical abilities that no wretched should have, and when she is forced to hide an injured soldier she is caught up in a struggle between a corrupt king and the rebels trying to restore goodness and honor to the kingdom. Wanting desperately to keep her beloved abbey safe from the ravages of war, she will have to explore the depths of her magic and go on a journey to discover the shocking secrets of her origins. Lia is a courageous, capable, and humble heroine who is easy to like and root for. There’s a second Muirwood trilogy I can also recommend called The Covenant of Muirwood, which takes place a few hundred years after the setting of this series.
This is a 6-part series, but the first three could be a standalone trilogy. The first book is written from the perspective of 8 year old Owen, growing up as a political hostage to a ruthless and paranoid king. He ages into adulthood, and the books follow his rise from scared child to an impressive strategist and lord of the realm. Owen faces difficult decisions as he grows closer to an increasingly desperate and cruel king, and his loyalty to the crown is tested as he is asked to sacrifice the things he holds most dear. The last three books (with the final installment coming out this November) follow the lives of the next generation in Kingsfountain and incorporates elements from the Arthurian legends. The series has battles, politics, magic and wizards, spies and poisoners. And an enchanted, prophetic chess set. So, there’s that.
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