Review: Honor At Stake by Declan Finn

Enter the world of Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. It’s a world where good and evil reside. A world where vampires and other creatures of the night battle for control. A world of ninjas and mobsters. A world where personal issues interfere with relationships.

I am such a sucker for a good romance and this one delivered a sweet clean romance that left me begging for the next book to come out. Maybe beg isn’t the right word.

With Honor at StakeDeclan Finn creates a story that expertly balances action, suspense and romance that is less Twilight and more Christine Feehan’s Dark series.

Marco is a monster, or at least he thinks he is. He also happens to be a genius in his first year of studies to be a physician’s assistant, but his impatience with people and a dark secret sets him apart from everyone.

Then, along comes Amanda Colt, beautiful, smart and Russian. She peaks his interest, especially when she goes toe to toe with him while fencing. She is perfect for him, but she also has a secret.

Set in New York City, the story explores parts of Brooklyn (including a vampire bar run by an ex-cop from the 1800s), Central Park, and Manhattan. The fictional university and real Mount Olivet cemetary are the backdrops for important scenes in the story.

When bodies start turning up, the two pair up to take on the vampire hordes threatening the city. They pull together an unlikely team of gang members, Vatican ninjas and an FBI agent into the strange. But, who is pulling the strings behind the sudden surge of vampire activity and what does it have to do with the UN? That is what they have to find out in order to save humanity from the evil trying to overtake New York City … and a bigger threat that is only hinted at.

The fast-paced plot is full of explosive action. Between the fencing, fight scenes, explosions, a killer ex-girlfriend and Vatican ninjas with their 50 cal Desert Eagles, there isn’t a lot of time to rest. This alone makes it difficult to put down.

The vampire lore is consistent with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but with a few modern and theological twists added to make it more complicated. Thankfully, we’re back to vampires being killed by sunlight, wooden stakes and holy water. But, unlike Stoker’s version, all vampires are not bad in Declan’s book. Salvation is still possible for these creatures of the night. How? It’s complicated, but it makes sense that he shoehorns in redemption.

Interspersed with the action are scenes of heart touching romance. Declan sets up these two flawed characters who need to overcome their inner demons in order to have a relationship. Neither thinks that anyone would love them if they knew about their secrets. This leads to some very touching moments between the characters as well as moments when you want to scream.

Declan is a master at over the top action scenes that will even make the Pulp Revolution guys happy, but he’s also amazing at the little intimate moments that make you fall in love with the characters.

The Superversives among us should be happy enough with the depth of religious and moral depth added to the vampire mythos. Hopefully, you won’t mind natural law philosophy coming to play here. And yes, he made philosophy readable.

There is little question why Honor at Stake was nominated for best Horror Novel in the Dragon Awards in 2016. And nominated for Book of the Year by the Conservative Libertarian Fiction Alliance. And put on the #2 spot for best novel for Sad Puppies 4.

It’s not perfect. There are a few places that are a bit heavy handed on the info dumps and Marco’s relationship with his ex is a bit confusing. There are a few scenes that come off as cheesy, but, overall, it’s a great story.

Lucky for you, though, Books 2 and 3 are already out, so you can continue right along with the next book, because you will want to. Trust me on this. The ending of Honor at Stake leaves you hanging.

You can get the first four chapters of the book free here or get the complete book in Kindle or paperback on

Writing Superversive Romance

Can we have an honest talk about romance in novels?

Now, I’ve done romance before in my books, but mostly as a subplot. As most of us have figured out long ago, most men would rather go see John Wick on Valentine’s Day than the latest Twilight movie. So this isn’t rocket science.

With my novel Codename: Winterborn, for example, there were two romance subplots going on — though not at the same time.  One was between main character Kevin Anderson and his wife. Yes, I know, a romance story between a MARRIED COUPLE– gasp! Shock! Horror! SURELY, THIS IS THE END OF ALL THINGS!!!!!!

… Sorry. Can you tell I’ve been reading Daddy Warpig articles lately?

The second romantic subplot in Winteborn was between with hunter and prey, and even then, it was odd. It was very, … Laura, really.**  Though the main plot is heavy on the action.

[**Laura, a murder mystery in which a detective falls in love with the victim through her portrait. In the case of Codename: Winterborn, it was via files and seeing him in action]

With Codename: Winterborn, however, this took place over the course of months.

But the average romance novel takes, what, days? A week or two? Then the male and female leads jump into bed like sex-starved hyenas during mating season?  I think the longest courting period that I recall in romance fiction was a Sherrilyn Kenyon novel called Fantasy Lover where holding off on sex was a massive plot point, and involved breaking a curse from Geek deities. No, I’m not kidding.

Let’s just say that when I did something similar, it was with my novel A Pius Man. And you have no idea how much effort I put into trying to make that believable.

Then I worked on a Catholic Vampire Romance novel called Honor At Stake …

And that takes place over the course of 9 months. There’s a reason for that. Why?

Because I want a flipping love story. Something that looks real.  Something that feels real. Something that takes time to develop. Because no one — and by “no one” I mean any rational relationship — jumps into bed on the first date and expect the relationship to go anywhere. If you do, please stop kidding yourself.

The next challenge you should be considering is: I’m still a guy. How does a guy write romance? (While not being John C Wright, he can pen whatever novel he wants.)

Anyone who doesn’t know me is probably considering the easy answer: “Well, Declan, you’ve been in love before, right? Use your actual love life.”

To which I must sadly inform them: “Have you read my blogs about my love life? It looks like a train wreck.”

Yeah.  Fun fact: any relationship of mine that survived in real life for any length of time was unreal in so many ways, I can’t even describe it without people calling me a liar. I don’t even believe my own love life. I think if I wrote it up, it would look like fiction.

Besides, I suspect that a love story that is a blow by blow of a real relationship would probably bore the crap out of most people. Granted, I have an unfair advantage in my novels: I have vampires, Vatican Ninjas, and grenade launchers.

However, I was a follower of one of the better romances on television: Castle.

Yes, Castle.  It has character development, a relationship that grows out from mutual attraction, to partnership, to friendship, and then to love. They even get to love long before leaping into bed, and only 1 YEAR of that before engagement.

Which is sadly, an improvement over what we usually see on screen. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen: First Date, Sex, Friendship, love, and Marriage, in that order. Just once, I would like to see the order be: friendship, courtship, love, marriage, sex.

To give Castle it’s due, where else do you see friendship actually develop in the romance genre? The phrase “Let’s just be friends” is usually much the end of any romantic relationship — in romance novels, and in my own experience — but shouldn’t a man and a woman at least shoot for being friends before they leap into bed together? Radical notion, I know, but consider it for a moment.

Another technical that pops up in the occasional romance novel, and in in Castle, almost everyone around the main couple sees this relationship coming. This is traditional in the standard Nora Roberts novel, this is usually represented by the “plucky best friend” of the heroine, trying to push her out of her comfort zone to risk enough to actually end up with her heart’s desire.

Yes, risk and romance. If you think that the concept is merely for conflict within fiction, I suggest you reflect on a simple concept: at the end of the day, marriage is all about investing yourself totally and completely in another person. Each spouse belongs to the other, bound by a full commitment– spiritually bound, biologically bound, connected on all levels. Seriously, read Ephesians 5, and I mean all of it, not just the “approved” readings.

If this concept doesn’t even remotely scare you, please reflect on it some more. It should come to you shortly.

There is also another problem that comes in occasionally in fiction, that is, surprisingly enough, a factor in some actual relationship considerations. This is a belief by some people have that they are unloveable — “Seriously, what sane person could possibly love a creature like me? Only some broken psycho would express any interest — only the psychos have expressed an interest. And why would any “normal” person give me the time of day?”  If you think this is only reserved for fictional characters on angsty CW shows, then I applaud your confidence in how perfect you are.

In my execution of it, with my Love at First Bite series, my leads are Marco Catalano and Amanda Colt. And oy, these two have got relationships baggage that look like Samsonite, or maybe a Haliburton. One is a blood thirsty killer, the other’s a vampire. So you have two creatures of the night — would would rather be feared rather than loved, and one who eats people.

Now, I’m not going to say that this is the most unlikely duo I’ve ever created. The main couple in my Pius novels were pretty much the most opposite I could design two people while still making them human.

But when it comes to writing romance, I like little things. Little details. Little innocent things that can be taken the right way if characters looked at them really hard, but don’t because neither one thinks the other wants to go there. Little looks and touches, and smells and “if she hugs me any closer she’s going to realize I’m having a not-so-innocent reaction,” and “stay calm, or the increased heartbeat will give the game away.”

You know, things like that.  I’m told I do that well.

The short version is that in all things, there is a proper order. For a romance to be truly romance, sex should come last, and commitment should be more important than the sex. Because if two people aren’t joined in a blessed union, it just becomes one more carnal relationship, and what romance comes from that?

If you want to see a guy write not-bad romance, try the  Love At First Bite Series

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, a review


John Ringo’s second book in the Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners, is both better and worse than Grunge.Our hero from the last book, Chad, is continuing his mission to be a Monster Hunting killing machine. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he has to leave Seattle, his home base in Grunge. After complaining — a lot — about never wanting to be in the heat ever again, MHI headquarters has the perfect gig for him: New Orleans. The Big Easy has got a lot of problems, and it needs all the help it can get.

Sinners does a great job of capturing the flavor of New Orleans, especially when you consider that standard policy can boil down to “Don’t scare the tourists.” Every local either believes in the dark arts, or practices the dark arts. Of course, we have at least one team member who really wants to turn every other beastie into jambalaya, shootouts in cities of the dead, and one massive shootout at marti gras.

Oh, yes, and for the record, Mr. Ringo, I saw what you did there with those chapter titles.

Another thing Ringo did better here than in Grungeis build an emotional connection to his teammates. At the end of Grunge, one of Chad’s teammates dies.  Listening to John Ringo at DragonCon, we were supposed to feel the emotional impact of the character death. I didn’t then. Here? Oh yes. Characters were much better established, and for the most part, when characters died, I felt it.

Chad also has had a interesting, as well as a deep and abiding faith. This comes very apparent at the end, with a conclusion that’s uplifting enough that it deserves the label of Superversive.

Critics of Grungewill be happy to know that Chad spends less time getting lucky and more time being pummeled. There is even less sex in this book than in Grunge, and seriously, people, he spent more time on politics than sex. And for some reason, people claimed he was a Mary Sue …. to which I will soon reply with a blog post explaining what a Mary Sue looks like, because obviously, people have little to no experience with the phenomenon. Yes, he’s a super genius who’s good at shooting people, but he’s also hospitalized every few chapters.

The only thing that’s really off-putting about this novel is the marked shift from “looking backwards.”  In Grunge, there is a lot of time spend on his family, and Ringo outright states that the larger evil behind everything Chad is fighting is Chad’s brother. This book? Nope. Barely a whisper of Chad’s family, and not a whisper about what’s the ultimate evil of the trilogy. I’m wondering how much of that is editorial, or how much was in the process of the novel. These books are thinner than Ringo’s usual fair, so if you told me he wrote them as one continuous novel, broken up into a trilogy, that would explain certain things.

Also, in Grunge, time was spent on the moral of the story: “Chad” wrote each chapter to illustrate a point. Here, there’s no such clear lesson plan; “Chad” does have “pro-tips” scattered throughout, but the concept seems strangely abandoned. Perhaps this is due to the chaotic nature of New Orleans, where every night is insane, and the full moon is like Arkham asylum let everyone out on a day pass, so Chad is merely fitting in tips where he can.

Heh, it’s a coin toss.

Final verdict is still the same: Sinnersis even better than Grunge

Anyway, if you like this review, you might want to consider one of the following books for your reading pleasure.



Excellent article by Declan Finn. This article first appeared at A Pius Geek blog.

CS Lewis’ demon, Screwtape, once had to advise his nephew Wormwood about a moment when the junior demon could not influence his targeted human. Screwtape patiently explained that Wormwood made the mistake of allowing the targeted human to read a good book. Any demon worth his sulfur should know that they must make certain that the humans they tempt must only be made to read important books. When people read good books that warm the soul, it cloaks them in a fog that a demon can’t penetrate.

“Important” books like that have been why the term “literature” has always had a bad rap – especially 19ths and 20th century literature. Because, you will notice, that Lord of the Rings is rarely put in the literature section of a bookstore – if ever. I know of no English Literature program that will include Lord of the Rings as part of the curriculum. No. For “literature,” people are subjected to Steinbeck, or Lord of the Flies, or half of Russian literature, which makes you want to slit your wrists by the time you’re done. To heck with being subversive, I would submit that much of the drivel labeled as “literature” is in fact corrosive to the human spirit, if not the human soul.

Much of the science fiction during the Cold War has the same problem. Ellison’s I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream, may indeed be great literature, or may even be brilliant, but I do come away from it wondering why I cared, or why I read it. It’s a good example of Cold War science fiction, filled with the despair for the future. Heck, one of the reasons Star Trek worked so well is that it was perhaps the first Cold War sci-fi that showed a world after World War 3 that didn’t look like a variation on Mad Max or The Terminator.

So, that’s why Superversive fiction has always been a mystery to me – not because I didn’t understand the concept, but because I didn’t see the need for the term. Growing up, I always understood the difference between fiction that edifies and fiction that doesn’t. Which was my original problem with the concept of Superversive fiction. Shouldn’t all fiction be Superversive? Why does it need a moment, or coinage of a new term?

Obviously, the deeper one looks at some of the fiction being shoved into the face of the general population, the more it becomes apparent that we need a Superversive movement, mostly because of all the works being labeled “important” and then thrust into the face of the general reading public, insisting that we should read it. Too much fiction tries to be “important” fiction, and in being “important,” goes for “reality” … only their reality is grim, dismal, and becomes amazingly Unreal in the process. If you’re trying for literature, and making it a matter of despair, you’re doing it wrong. Because, sorry, I’ve met people whose lives have been misery, and hope is quite abundant in them. To be Jean Paul Sartre about life is to invite suicide. Indeed, when Sartre was asked about why he never killed himself if life was so absurd, he never had an answer.

Michael Straczynski, in his comic The Book of Lost Souls, has one tale of a street artist who recently lost her boyfriend to drug abuse. Soon after, the mural she made of him has come alive, and is talking to her … and telling her to come and join him, offering her a needle. And it is not the voice of a demon, or a monster, but, as our hero explains,

It is the voice of reason and resentment .… The voice of madness is the voice that Believes, despite all of the evidence to the contrary … that sustains us when logic demands that we surrender to the louder voice – the voice of reason, and resentment. And it always comes in the guise of those who love us most, who want only the best for us …. Someimes their motives are pure, wishing only to save us from pain. And sometimes the pain they wish to spare is their own, because if you can be convinced to set aside your own dreams, they can remain comfortable with their decision to do the same. The Voice of reason is the voice that tells us that our dreams are foolish ….[it sometimes becomes] a genius loci, the spirit of the place. And the spirit of this place is despair.”

And that’s the problem with those “literary” souls who want to sacrifice their characters, and their audience, on an altar of “reality.” Sometimes, just because something is “rational,” doesn’t necessarily make it true.

This concept of “the real” is as unreal as Tolstoy’s lie, that “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” an idea that probably requires being Russian to believe. Is there any more Russian concept than to believe that being happy is bland and uniform, but being miserable is unique? Perhaps even special? It is a lie, but perhaps Tolstoy didn’t know that at the time. If those of the self proclaimed literati truly see the world as miserable as they write it, it does make me wonder why the authors in question just don’t do away with themselves and leave the rest of us alone.

Unless, perhaps, they don’t believe the lie, and know that they peddle falsehoods. In which case, there is a place for those people who make others despair. Dante described it vividly.


I would argue that most true literature is written by those who aren’t trying. There is more truth in the hope of John Ringo’s Black Tide series, than in the shallow materialism of Wagner’s Ring cycle (his Twilight of the Gods has the hero die, the villain die, the king die and his sister die, the heroine die, and her horse die, and the mermaids of the Rhine get their ring back and they live happily ever after … and why did we care?). Then you have the epic scope of John C. Wright’s Iron Chamber of Memory and the magic around us, and the wonder and majesty of the world and the universe.

And if you doubt me that there’s wonder and majesty in the universe, go Google some Hubble photos.

If you’re writing a novel, and no one in it laughs, or has a reason to hope, or live … or if you write sci-fi and fantasy without a sense of wonder … or you write about space without the terrifying beauty of what’s in the dark … you might just be doing it wrong.

In fact, I’m almost certain you’re doing it wrong.

Just consider, for a moment, Captain America. The traditional story of Steve Rogers is about a psychically perfect human – not an ubermench, not a superman, or even a supernatural man, but essentially a preternatural man – and that says and suggests more about the dignity and ability of the human person than anything in that Thomas Hobbes knockoff, Lord of the Flies. (Yes, I have problems with a whole book based upon one line by a philosopher who has no real concept about how human beings, or society, works.) It suggests that, at the height of human nature, we are essentially good.

For those who claim to write “literature” and “true to life” fiction, being ignoble is real, and being noble is the fiction – mankind are merely meat machines that are no different than the animals on the nature channel. When the people of “literature” kill characters, it’s because “life is full of chance, anarchy, people die randomly and for not reason” … they ignore instances where people do die for reasons – God, country, honor, their fellow man. Because that might mean that one’s fellow man is worth dying for. There is no agape and phileo, there is usually only sex.

To write well is to write Superversive. To write fun, entertaining books is Superversive. To acknowledge the nobility and spirit of the human being is Superversive. Because to entertain well is to edify, to build up the reader. I would put more faith in Die Hard than in Lord of the Flies. I would put more faith in John Ringo, Larry Correia and Wright than all of the art films in all the world. I’d rather read CS Forester and David Weber than Heart of Darkness or Lord Jim. I’d rather read any Ringo novel with a 90% casualty rate than anything by Stephen King or George RR Martin with a similar body count. When John Ringo kills off someone, it’s for a dang good reason.

At the end of the day, Superversive fiction – any fiction worth its salt – could be summed up by GK Chesterton: “Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Which makes them a thousand times more real than anything most recent “literature” has to offer.

Why Superversive fiction? Because it might not be “real,” but it’s true.