The Fall Gauntlet: BEAR by J. A. Merkel (Book Review)

Benji and Soren will do anything to save their family, but the Crown isn’t going to make it easy . . .

Ten years after his mother was thrown into her off-world prison, Benji finally has a chance to save her. All he has to do is win the Fall Gauntlet, a fight-to-the-death tournament on the planet of Calypso, designed to please the gods and goddesses and keep them at bay. Benji’s success will usher in a new era of science and innovation, and he’s come too far to lose now.

But the Crown is three steps ahead. They’ve orchestrated every move, pushing Benji to the victory that will serve their own agenda. Winning the deathmatch will grant his wish to save his mother, but the Crown has other plans and won’t let go of Benji so easily.

As Benji learns the truth about the Crown’s desires, he is forced to make impossible choices, especially when he learns that his final opponent—the hulking young man behind the bear mask—is his brother, Soren.

J.A. Merkel’s Bear is part of The Fall Gauntlet, a collection of short stories about Benji and Soren’s adventures on the planet of Calypso.

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I received a complimentary copy of this book from Reedsy Discovery.  I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.


Ten years ago, the Crown imprisoned Soren and Benji’s mother for treason. Seven years ago, the Crown jailed their father and separated the two brothers. Now, the Crown is forcing Soren and Benji to fight in the Fall Gauntlet tournament, where only one will win, or so that was the Crown’s plan. 

Thanks to D, a guard, Benji was notified his opponent was none other than his brother, Soren the Bear. Benji could never take his brother’s life and had to devise a way to unveil his identity to Soren. Representing the lynx, Benji was a genius when it came to technology. Through his apprenticeship with Master Gherus, he furthered his understanding of the principles of physics and helped develop weaponry and tech for the Crown. He used his knowledge to find a way to break the technologically advanced mask he wore in battle and turn the tables on the Crown. 

For sci-fi or tech fans, you’ll love the author’s attention to detail when they describe what the arena sees when looking at the opponents: “two masked humans representing both a bear and a lynx, human-shaped with the ability to walk upright, but phospho-imaged to imitate those beasts, our masks morphing and sprouting hair, and our gauntlets growing retractable claws and fur.” The platform is impressive, as intimidating as the opponent standing before you: one hundred feet off the ground with spikes jutting into the air like giant shark teeth as deadly as a Megalodon’s. Fans of this genre will also love the fighter’s two prime weapons. Lynx carried a 6-foot-long gem staff while the Bear wielded a massive spiked club that could slaughter a whale. 

The Fall Gauntlet: BEAR is a non-stop thrill ride featuring exhilarating fight scenes and futuristic tech. It’s a novella I know gamers will want to see made into a game so they can play it for hours and hours. Brother versus brother. It’s a story that would captivate teens and adults on the big screen!

With the humorous final line of dialogue and cliffhanger ending, you’ll be ready to tackle the next book in the series (The Fall Gauntlet: Rat). 

J. A. Merkel is a master of imagery and a terrific storyteller. I recommend giving this new series a chance! 


Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 

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Meet the Author

J. A. Merkel writes speculative and science fiction filled with anti-heroes and tragic reversals. For Merkel, writing isn’t a chore. It’s a fantastical kingdom with thousands of doors where readers can stumble into their own special adventures, laughing, shouting, and journeying to find home.

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