Slaves of God is an interesting idea. Part horror story, part coming-of-age, it tracks the flight of two teenage boys across the country from a determined killer. Travis is a seventeen year old who has started to discover he is victim of a strange condition where he starts to disappear. The condition is accompanied by some unwholesome more-than-sexual appetites directed at fellow classmates. Peter is an orphan residing in a home. He is intelligent but a loner – damaged by an encounter with a killer years before.
The opening chapter of the book was well constructed; a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a brazen act of violence and a casual departure. The scene certainly grabbed my attention and put me on my guard for an exciting read. The mystery surrounding Travis’ illness promised a journey down a dark road and I was interested to see how Peter was going to fit into the central story. Basically, I liked how the author set the story up and was eager to see where he would take it. Unfortunately the story didn’t really live up to the promise of the opening chapters.
Firstly, I had a problem with the consistency of characterisations throughout the novel. The issue was most evident in the portrayal of Father Death. At first, we experience a very calculated and cold killer. As the story progressed, we experienced more of his background and understood his “vocation” a bit better, but his mission was tainted by his sympathies. He couldn’t forget the human side even as his resolve was unwavering. But at some point, this seemed to be discarded and there was a cruelty and ruthlessness apparent which didn’t gel. If a thought process had been provided to show a transition of states perhaps it wouldn’t have seen so disjointed, but for my part, I just felt that the character had become a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces did not actually fit together – like his earlier aversion to nursing homes because they reminded him of hospitals, later discarded by a glee in carrying out an execution in a hospital.
Peter was not immune to inconsistencies in characterisation. In particular, we experience an intense shyness Peter has in showering with other boys. He showers earlier or later to try to avoid sharing the facilities with other residents of the home. All of this is somehow forgotten later in the story as he strips down in a public restroom in front of Travis to bathe himself. These kinds of inconsistencies suggest to me that although the characters were important to the author in creating the story, he didn’t really get to know and understand them.
While consistency of characterisation within each character was an issue to me, the voice each character lent to the narrative was a bit too homogeneous. Again Father Death and Peter featured, most evident in their reference to people and places. An example that remained in my mind was the references to small country towns. Both characters used terms such as “shitsplat” or “buttcrack” as descriptives. Perhaps if the attitudes and terms used weren’t so distinctive it wouldn’t have been a point of focus for me. As it was, I started to think that the author had momentarily forgotten that these were two very different characters. And while mentioning these small towns, it was jarring that the imaginary town of Bippy seemed to transport itself between Iowa and Nebraska during the story.
A small consistency issue with a town’s location was not seriously detrimental. However, as the narrative progressed, the situations themselves became more absurd. Serious injuries are suffered and although the author can’t seem to decide whether these injuries are broken bones or fractures, oscillating between both descriptions as if there were no difference, the actors continue their stunt work hampered but still able. It’s bizarre to be made aware of someone’s fractured limbs and then read of them jumping into a car and speeding down a road. It’s not like the author forgets these injuries exist, we’re reminded of blinding pain and almost losing consciousness – and yet the action continues.
There was a real direction to this story, an aim. When this was revealed it was a bit difficult to understand its feasibility. It was, at best, a stress on my suspension of disbelief. But, absurdity builds on absurdity. While Father Death takes himself out of the story, Travis introduces strange metaphysical discoveries that I suppose I could gloss over in an impatience to discover the darkness behind the killer, alluded to but never revealed. However, revelation brought not satisfaction, merely acute disbelief. Motivations dribble like nonsense from various characters, the finale not aligning logically with any aspect of the story preceding it.
Overall, it’s hard to give any kind of positive assessment other than the fact that there was a basic idea or premise that I thought quite interesting, a fantastic opening chapter and competent prose. But that isn’t enough for me in this case. Whether characters were expected to be of one dimension or three, I expected some kind of consistency and the plot really needed to make some kind of sense. Without that, the enjoyment I might have experienced watching the coming of age of Travis and Peter and the ill-fated trajectory of Father Death didn’t actualise.
Price at the time of review: $4.99 US
Available: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Sony
Author site: http://www.brianrappatta.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10396592-slaves-of-god
Is that the time? I better hotfoot it if I’m going to make it to the store before the action is over and I miss my opportunity.
A thorough showering later, I stood before my dresser and puzzled over what to wear. Formal was out of the question, but business casual might make an appropriate impression – and I really should shave…
What am I doing? I’m planning this like a dinner date – am I looking for romance at the bookstore? No, I’m hoping to catch a few seconds with Hugh Howey as he tours the few remaining bookstores around Melbourne signing copies of his books Wool and Shift. I’ll get to this encounter a little later, but let me pause for a moment and consider.
I guess I’m considered a voracious reader by some standards, although I’m knowledgeable enough to understand my reading exploits pale in comparison to some others. I have my favourite authors and there are quite a few, but as I look at the zero hands required to tally up the times I have endeavoured to meet these authors or even to discover that they are in town, I start to tease at Hugh’s visit. Why should this author inspire action where others have not even brought about curiosity?
I think my response is related to my perceptions of the fiction market. Only a couple of years ago, I would have called this a market of books. The author, for me, remained very much words printed on the cover; a way to group a selection of books to maximise my reading pleasure. I read many books during that “era” that still sit at the top of my exclusive shelf of favourites so I could hardly call myself regretful. However, my perceptions have altered, my first e-reader purchase, the catalyst. My eyes now see the fiction market as authors who write stories. I was well behind the curve on that one, so don’t imagine I have any delusions to the contrary. Interestingly, this is an internal metamorphosis I had already gone through with music and software development years before. The fact that it took so long for me to discover the same truths about the world of fiction is testament to my lack of evolutionary prowess.
So how does a market of people differ from a market of books? For me, the answer is self-evident. More than ever before, authors are coming out from behind their work to commune with their readers. Maybe that’s just good business sense in this new digital market with a glut of content and drastically increased competition for an audience that could not possibly be increasing in linear proportion. Then again, maybe authors always wanted this connection, and the increasing ease of communicating through social media platforms and blogs has provided the means. There could be multiple reasons and I don’t presume to have my finger on this pulse, but the impression seems to be that author/readership communities are much more prevalent and more immediate than ever before.
Hugh Howey is an example of how this evolutionary market might work well. He is very much a human being, one who seems to enjoy connecting with his audience as human beings. He doesn’t engage in tirades against those who might exploit his work. He won’t let casual theft of his work result in any action that might disadvantage those who choose to support him. He encourages the creativity of his reader community by publishing their own art on his site and even endorsing derivative works of fiction. So does all this “heart of gold” activity leave him poor and loved? Well, I guess a self-pubbed author being able to fly over to Australia to sign books as a result of his control-retained-print-only publishing deal with a major publishing house pretty much answers that question. Of course, being able to write great stories that people want to read isn’t going to hurt his prospects either.
I have trouble imagining a publisher caring for an author the way a reader might. No publisher is going to have the reach of a dedicated set of readers around the world who will further the aims of that author without any compensation other than being able to read the author’s stories. How can a publisher hope to compete with that? The answer is that they can’t. So authors engaging with readers seems like a pretty savvy thing to do as Hugh’s success in the industry demonstrates pretty well.
So this is all very well, but Hugh’s success doesn’t make me want to meet him any more than Stephen King’s does. It did provide me with today’s opportunity for which I’m grateful, but success doesn’t make me want to shake another’s hand. What compelled me is possibly a feeling of equality. This doesn’t mean that I feel capable of writing a New York Times best seller. But it does mean that the writing and the reading is starting to feel a bit more like a partnership, and why wouldn’t you want to meet a business partner, someone with whom you have a relationship? I would think it was a natural inclination. And nothing in Hugh’s words or actions dismisses the notion.
And so there I was. Hugh arrived a little late with his publicist and I was a little late as well – we actually arrived at the same time. He jumped immediately into signing books left aside for him and I waited quietly wondering how I could introduce myself without interrupting him. The problem was solved by Hugh himself when he noticed me standing nearby and the introduction was made. He remembered me which was nice (or very smoothly done if you’re a natural cynic), and we chatted a little. It was fairly harmless – we didn’t delve into the meaning of life and I didn’t fall on my knees and pledge eternal devotion. Both outcomes would have been ludicrous and I have no talent for hero worship. However, although I would certainly have liked to have coffee or a meal and get to know Hugh further, I left satisfied that we had connected for a few moments, politely and respectfully. Perhaps I’ll get my dinner date on a future visit to Australia – after the publication of Dust? If so, I’ll definitely shave.
There is a crime. Of that we are certain. But we are not so sure of the place and time. Follow Maura through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole as we try to piece together reality from fantasy.
Under the Looking Glass is essentially a dramatic mystery that reveals itself slowly through the unreal imaginings or memories of Maura Reyes after a home invasion upsets her life. The condition of her husband is not fully known and the fate of her dog, unstated but seemingly dire. What follows is a particularly disjointed set of scenes that are played out between herself and several characters including her husband, her psychiatrist, a psychologist and two homicide detectives.
Understanding the images was like making my way through a mirror maze with reflections of the main character staring back at me at every turn. Slightly shifting variations of the same scene were repeated, while I tried to intuit the truth behind the narrative. What happened to her husband? Where and when is she? And why is she spending so much time on a fantastical ocean liner? Has she lost her mind?
The enigma of Maura Reyes, her past and present, slowly unravels under the weight of discordant images – a kind of subconscious interrogation, led by a white rabbit, on a Wonderland cruise and on the other side of looking glass under which she lies.
Interestingly, as the main character finally starts climbing out of the rabbit hole, the reader is pushed in. After my own fall, as reality crept insidiously towards me, I realised that up was down and what was dark had only become darker. On my side of the glass, I could do nothing but look on helplessly as my sympathies ricocheted like deflected bullets. I felt used; but in a good way.
There really isn’t much in the way of character development in this story – even for the main character herself. The story is more a cerebral exercise designed to leave us disoriented until the truth hits us like a hammer. If you really must engage with characters to enjoy a story, perhaps this will not be for you. This was not a character study, more like a character discovery.
I always find disjointed and fragmented stories difficult to enjoy. It’s hard to find a thread to commit myself to and each shift is a jolt out of the story. For this novel, the fragmentation made sense once the author had fully trapped me inside her web. However, sometimes even with clever ideas, the execution can still fail on some level, and knowing how necessary the approach might have been didn’t win me over fully. The snatches of scenes along with the protagonist’s reactions to them started to become a little repetitive. There’s only so many “What the Hell is going on?” reactions I can read before it starts sounding like a mantra, repeated to induce numbness rather than full engagement.
My reservations aside, I thought the little poison pill at the heart of this nightmare-scape was worth it. I enjoyed the revelation that I, not the main character, was the Alice in this twisted little fairytale. Having already been suitably impressed with The Puppet Maker’s Bones (review here), this story has done nothing to sate my appetite for this author’s work. If you don’t have a problem with a confusing kaleidoscope of scenes slowly resolving into a nasty reality, I think you’re going to love this one.
Price at the time of review: $2.99 US
Available: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Sony
Author site: http://alisatangredi.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16099064-under-the-looking-glass
An anthology of ten fables which cover ground from the fictitious Scottish space program to the adventures of an orange pig in the company of wolves, Storm Damage seems to hint at questions which it asks the reader to elaborate on and answer; if an answer is possible.
Starting off with the unusual Unicorn One, a hairdresser from Glasgow becomes the first in space for the much maligned Scottish space program. The story is carried forward with a particularly mundane narrative given the topic. Personally, I like to think of this story as a statement about the cult of celebrity. The absurdity of a hairdresser becoming an astronaut for reasons of photogenicity is compounded when Russia also wants to claim her as spokesperson. I’m left remembering the countless times that celebrity has been sufficient to give someone a platform for which they are unqualified.
Late Testing is a nasty little tale using the cruelty inflicted on an individual and the rationalisation of that act as representative of a larger crime, that of the mass slaughter of war; property as rationalisation for murder. This was one of the more dramatic stories of this anthology with a powerful message and I appreciated the images the author used in the telling.
The Magenta Tapestry looks at the rise and fall of the U.S.S.R. through a bloody fable of revenge. The Airman may have been a message about making peace with the horror of the Dresden bombings. The Pond explores the value we place on obsession through the story of a wealthy man attempting to make a deal with a old rival. And the title story, Storm Damage, is a bitter look at how powerless we are against the people and institutions who wish to feed off us, and that our simple wishes mean nothing to those who would exploit.
Not all stories won me over. I found the more traditionally written fable of The Orange Pig not quite to my taste and accordingly, I don’t think I found a meaning that suited me while reading. Additionally the last story, Sometimes all the World Comes Down, was another disjointed metaphysical exercise that I seem to come across more often as the last work of an anthology. I rarely appreciate them and this case was no exception.
However, this anthology proved again why I enjoy this author. He has a habit of making me work a little harder to connect with his message. But even if I feel I’m floundering, I can still sense something underneath the writing that may be apparent to more intelligent readers than myself. His narratives are often quite prosaic – such as in Unicorn One and the title story, but here he has also demonstrated some more poetic elements and imagery with Late Testing.
I reviewed Logan’s novel The Survival of Thomas Ford last year (review here) and I found it to be a great experience, giving the book an honourable mention in the 2012 Papyrus Independent Fiction Award (announcement here).
Price at the time of review: $2.99 US
Author site: http://johnaalogan.wordpress.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15986147-storm-damage
What do you do when you discover you have a hidden talent for time travel and you encounter a conspiracy to remove the importance of Benjamin Franklin from history? You probably get set for an adventure across time.
Charlie is an atypical teen who has trouble being noticed; his mother does not even remember his name. His father and aunt are historians who are absent more than present and he’s not able to get a girl to remember him long enough to get a date. It’s a strange existence until a chance encounter with a malevolent clockwork man sends him to the past where Oliver Twist antics and lusty thoughts for a damsel not quite in distress lead to history being irreparably harmed.
Untimed is a young adult time travel fantasy novel that interweaves a small amount of historical fact with a large amount of whimsy. It’s veritably littered with pop culture leavings and bears a small similarity to the oft-referenced Back to the Future movie franchise. The novel is fun and, in my opinion, firmly targeted at a young adult male audience.
Time travellers are a rare breed – the male traveller can jump backwards and the female traveller forwards. In an attempt to protect history from such potentially interfering characters, “Father Time” (or some other temporal deity) renders these travellers partially inconsequential. The notion is rather preposterous but makes for entertaining storytelling. When Charlie meets “the girl of his dreams” in the 18th century, he is actually acquainting himself with a fellow time traveller. Together they can travel across time and space in all directions. Unfortunately, due to a clever conspiracy hatched by our mysterious clockwork men, Benjamin Franklin is removed as a pivotal character in history and the future becomes one of clockwork dominance.
These strange clockwork antagonists thwart our heroes at every turn and give the story a relentless pace with Charlie’s father and aunt joining the adventure and creating a sidebar of familial tension.
There are sexual references and some fairly crass observations, which no doubt will appeal to teenagers. Take the following for example:
I’m not sure what surprises me more – that she’s a teen mother or that I just saw my first glimpse of tit.
The observation and attitude smacks of boyhood adolescence. The author has worked hard in giving our narrator a genuine voice and it’s done quite well throughout the novel. Additionally, the fledgling romance between Charlie and Yvaine ripens with teenage lust in a pretty genuine way, especially considering Yvaine is “experienced” by the time naive Charlie’s hormones get the better of him. The encounters aren’t specifically depicted, but are quite obvious – nothing I would expect should be denied to a teenage reader however.
This novel is the first in a series. The ending is left unceremoniously hung, quite similarly to the Michael J. Fox equivalent, but the book could be enjoyed in standalone fashion despite this.
Overall, this story was fun, fun, fun. The writing was clean and simple with neither the history nor the time travel becoming overbearing, the mechanics of the latter never taking itself too seriously. There was adventure, danger, humour, romance, sass and a bit of sex all punctuated with rather cute illustrations (well, maybe not the sex bit). If you have the opportunity to recommend a book to a teenage boy, take the risk in recommending this one. Of course, this should not be seen as a barrier to the older “teenager-in-spirit”.
Price at the time of review: $2.99 US
Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple
Author site: http://all-things-andy-gavin.com/author/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16277039-untimed
Biomites. Artificial stem cells, revolutionary in the treatment of almost everything – repairing or enhancing. But at what point does the artificial overwhelm the natural? At what point to we replace ourselves with our invention? What does it mean to remain human in an in-human age?
Halfskin is, at its heart, a techno-thriller. The main character targeted for death by an almost dystopian society because of the technology within him. However, I think the author is also painting in shades of grey to an extent.
Biomites are invented for medical reasons – rapid healing, saving lives; stem cells that replicate to repair the body, like a self-sustaining robot army for good. It’s soon discovered that Biomites are also useful for enhancing – improving intelligence, strengthening the body, reversing the ageing process.
It’s not difficult to understand that such an invention is going to cause some societal issues. In our story, moral lobbying helps introduce some extreme laws that state a Biomite composition of over 40% leads to quarantine and 50% results in a form of execution – or as the law states “shutting down”. Nix, our main character is stuck in this web of legislative murder. As a young boy his life is saved after an horrific car crash by a massive injection of Biomites, but as the Biomites replicate over the years and the new laws are introduced, Nix finds himself quarantined on what would be called Death Row – if the law still considered him human. It’s easy for the reader to smart at the injustice of Nix’s fate, to brand those protecting humanity as inhuman and the author does a great job of playing that angle. However, again, I don’t think the message is one-sided.
The author intersperses the action with small news stories or fragments of history that briefly touch upon the invention of the Biomite and a small sample of events that might start to explain how laws of selective “culling” could be introduced: the spelling bee where impossibly difficult words for a child are being spelled with ease, the baseball game with the baseball pitcher with almost super strength in his throwing arm, a number of events that would, over time, turn public opinion against those with Biomites.
What was fascinating to me was not so much how society might have reacted in the story, but how I would have reacted in a similar situation. The questions begin to float off the page:
“Are these super beings actually human?”
“If not, how do we protect ourselves from an in-human race?”
I found this to be a rather chilling aspect of the novel. We are presented with a main character and his older sister who are essentially the heroes of the novel, fighting the injustice of the laws and trying to escape their fate. It is easy to invest in them, follow them through the story and hope that they succeed. However, I was left with a nagging feeling, despite my sympathetic reaction, that perhaps I was on the wrong side.
I liked that the novel made me examine my reactions to the characters and the context of the story. I find it refreshing to have a response slightly more complex than “hero = good, villain = bad” and I think Halfskin delivered on this well. I liked the pacing and the more mind-bending elements; the discovery that the main characters can exert a kind of control over Biomites leads to some interesting scenes and one rather large twist.
There were a few things here and there that didn’t satisfy me quite as much as I would have liked. I found the ending petered out rather than closing confidently. It almost felt that the author had decided to make this part of a trilogy towards the end of the writing and it became important to have an ending that was merely a pause between novels. It wasn’t a cliffhanger and there is some closure – but it just felt a little limp to me. I would have much preferred this to remain a standalone novel foregoing a sequel. It’s a personal reaction, but one that I couldn’t shake off.
The novel was well written. However, I did feel that there were enough typos for me to think this required an extra proof-read. None of the errors really damaged the telling of the story, so it’s more of a minor quibble. But I thought it worth noting for those who are adamant that released novels should be error free.
Overall, I was satisfied with this novel. Last year I read and reviewed The Annihilation of Foreverland by the same author (review here) and I was similarly happy. The author creates stories that I want to read, an important talent for a novelist. I’m sure I’ll read more of his work in the future.
Price at the time of review: $0.99 US
Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel
Author site: http://bertauski.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16193991-halfskin?ac=1
Andre LaCroix moonlights as a fourth. All other times, he’s a Detroit cop. When someone starts to kill fourths, Andre pushes to be involved – and what follows is a race to find those responsible before Detroit is brought to its knees.
This is actually the third book I’ve read and reviewed for these authors, M. H. Mead being a nom de plume for a writing duo: Fate’s mirror in November 2011 (Review) and The Caline Conspiracy in July 2012 (Review). Obviously, something appeals in the writing because here I go again. I really liked Taking the Highway. A small sidebar in Fate’s Mirror has been fleshed out into a fascinating and exciting story.
In a world where car pooling is a necessity, one can earn a secondary income being a fourth – the extra passenger required to meet the strict car pooling laws for highway travel. It’s a competitive market and fourths are well dressed and well adjusted, a pleasure to have in your car. Thus fourths have a favourable impact on the city itself. So who would want to start killing them? I was drawn into this story very quickly, not just because the idea itself is innovative, but because, as usual, the authors write smoothly with likeable characters, witty dialogue that doesn’t become overbearing and a mystery that unravels at a pleasing pace. Additionally, the novel consists of sub-plots in the personal lives of the main characters which add interest without becoming distracting side quests.
I loved the Andre LaCroix character. He was a cool customer on the outside, but had enough personal issues churning around on the inside to keep him interesting throughout the story. He also forms the centre of the plot with everything branching out from him: his relationship with his brother and his nephew, his rivalry and dark past with a key member of his task force, his professional relationship with a suburban cop, even his moonlighting job as a fourth. Secrets are revealed, different parts of his life collide and he is dragged into the wreckage and hopefully back out again.
The story doesn’t always hang together perfectly. As the action heats up, I felt some of the logic slip just a little. Not all motivations were entirely clear to me even after the scheduled revelation. But it was hard to even notice while experiencing the adrenalin-fuelled finale. The last part of this book was like a blockbuster and I’m surprised my face wasn’t blue by the end from holding my breath.
Although this novel occurs in the same near-future as Fate’s Mirror and The Caline Conspiracy, each book quite happily exists as a standalone story and no particular reading order is required. After reading one, however, I believe it will be difficult to resist the others.
This dynamic writing duo always seems to come up with the goods and Taking the Highway is no exception. Good ideas, mystery, human interest, a romance that didn’t make me nauseous and action, action, action! They have me revving my engine for their next novel.
Price at the time of review: $4.59 US
Available: Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Diesel, iTunes
Author site: http://www.yangandcampion.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16181736-taking-the-highway
For each of us, there will come a time. A time at which we stop, and with the most confidence that we can have, we know. And we can draw a breath and say… that it was that day, or that event, or that string of thoughts, and emotions, that started it all.
The Followers is a small novella which I’m classifying as a mystery. To elaborate, it could be described as a psychological study – part multi-verse exploration, part unreliable narrator. If I were to draw a parallel to a movie, I would probably choose Donnie Darko.
The main narrator is a young boy who climbs up a tree near his house which he refers to as his Spirit Tree. From there he sees a sinister creature prior to falling. Most of our journey is with the boy and the narrative itself is in the first person. However, there is also a secondary narrative in the third person from the perspective of a adolescent girl named Carly who is driving to a friend’s place for drinks.
To concentrate firstly on the young boy, once he falls from his Spirit Tree, his narrative splinters into two parallel but quite different stories: one inhabits a surreal dreamscape, where he pursues the strange creature he saw just before his fall; the other seems to be a somewhat regular school day upon which a supernatural apparition has intruded. I’m not a big fan of dreamscape narrative. To me, it usually follows a sequence of fairly disjointed scenes and images which ends up feeling like a shopping list. Unfortunately, this novella was not an exception. The fact that this journey was intertwined with a slightly more regularly composed narrative actually made matters worse, the scenes cutting back and forth in a disorienting fashion.
After a while, Carly’s secondary narrative is introduced, which served to make a fairly messy and tiring experience even more chaotic. Who is Carly? How does she fit in with the protagonist’s story? Why should we care who she is and where she is going?
However, in the last quarter of the story, the author starts reaping what he has sown in the earlier stages of the novella. As I was reading, I was starting to feel that some images that had seemed so random earlier, were actually quite deliberate, and that the author was actually starting to work the different threads together. Indeed, the novella heads towards a rather clever intersection that left me with more appreciation of the story construction and not a few contemplative silences.
Overall, I felt that although The Followers was a rather intelligent construction when viewed in hindsight it was a case of the end not justifying the means, or at least not significantly enough for me to praise the work enthusiastically. Fortunately, although he might not have hit a sweet spot for me on this occasion, the effort has opened my eyes to this author and I’ll be looking to sample more of his work to see if I can find something that uses a similar intelligence packaged in a format I can more fully appreciate.
Price at the time of review: $0.99 US
Author site: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5814906.Evan_Bollinger
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13602484-the-followers
Bodies found in the aqueducts and a mysterious illness taking hold of the city. Are the incidents related? Is this the mystery to solve that will exonerate a motley bunch of outlaws – and will they survive the attempt?
Dark Currents is the second book in the Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker. My review of the first book is here. I felt that the first novel read very much the opening movie-length episode of a steampunk television series which I had affectionately nicknamed The A-Team of Steam. Nothing has changed with the second episode. This is pretty much how I’d imagine a second episode of a TV series would play out. The story arc not much progressed, a bit more of a spotlight on one of the main characters and a convenient mystery popping up to help things get off the ground.
Amaranthe is an ex-enforcer finding herself on the other side of the law and leads the team. She continues the ever so important romantic interest with the shady assassin, Sicarius. There is quite a bit of focus on the relationship of these two during the novel, but not without turning the spotlight on the rest of the team. Episode two is our chance as readers to become more acquainted with Books. We find Books feeling like he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group and there’s plenty of opportunity for us to examine his feelings, follow his love interest sub-plot and to revel in his inevitable feelings of belonging and greater self-respect by the end of the story. We also get to see him relating to the other team members. In fact, the interplay between the characters takes such a significant portion of the story that as a consequence, the plot itself didn’t impress overly much. It really felt like a stand-in story making room for more getting-to-know-you.
Firstly, the mystery itself just wasn’t that interesting. One might expect in a book like this that small events lead to an epic conspiracy. Not so here. The conspiracy is almost smaller than the discoveries of mutilated corpses floating around in the aqueducts under the city at the start of the story. The novel felt like a 300+ page side quest not much elevated beyond killing the rats in the inn-keeper’s cellar. The action scenes were not very well executed and the author even took what I consider the easy way out by rendering characters unconscious to skip chunks of action. In particular, there is a scene at a dam in the latter half of the book in which unconsciousness seemed to be used as a device to avoid what appeared to be a rather ludicrous finale to a crisis.
While the characterisations were indeed the highlight, I also felt that all the characters including the grim and very serious Sicarius were decidedly camp. Every conversation could be considered witty banter, the barbs flying even in the middle of a crisis. While I think this would probably work quite well in television, I started to find it tiresome by the second half of the book. Perhaps every piece of dialogue doesn’t need to have a joke in it. Perhaps Sicarius doesn’t need to arch his eyebrow constantly like a villain in a Mel Brooks movie.
I think, for me, what worked in the first novel, didn’t work in the second. The prose itself was very good, but it just wasn’t enough of a counter-balance for the content. If this were television, I’d probably watch the next episode where the tom-foolery might remain charming and the lack of progress on the main storyline would be expected. However, I’m not so sure when I’ll get around to reading the next book in the series. I think the series definitely has a market, but I’m beginning to think that the target audience doesn’t really include me.
Price at the time of review: $4.95 US
Available: Amazon, Smashwords, Sony, Diesel, Kobo, Barnes and Noble
Author site: http://www.lindsayburoker.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11672438-dark-currents
2012 was the first full year of operation for Papyrus Independent Author Reviews. What a great year for indie reading – at least for this reader!
There were some misfires for me, but being self-published has its pitfalls. Professional proof-reading and editing is a challenge for D.I.Y. e-publishing and although editing problems are necessarily reflected in my ratings, I definitely appreciate the issue. For all those authors I’ve read this year – even those I’ve given lower ratings, I’ve respected your achievements and encourage you to continue doing what many of us could or would not do.
For those who have submitted requests that did not actualise into a review, this is not necessarily a reflection of your efforts. Being a single reader/reviewer, my filtering process can sometimes be arbitrary and harsh.
Finally, let me say that although what I say goes on this site, I do not put myself up as the arbiter of good taste or quality either in writing or story-telling. Just like the authors I review here, I am just doing my best to showcase talent.
So in that vein, let me describe some of the more memorable indie reading experiences I’ve had this year.
In January 2012, I encountered the fascinating De Bello Lemures by Thomas Brookside (Click for Review). This blend of “found manuscript” fiction masquerading as a controversial historical analysis cemented my appreciation of this author. He applies the sensibility of a historian with the desire to entertain and it’s a winning combination.
March 2012 was a marvellous month for fiction. Wool (Omnibus) by Hugh Howey (Click for Review) demonstrated why this author has become the poster boy of independent fiction for 2012. The novel has gone on to attract interest from the BBC, Hollywood and even a major publisher who purchased the rights for a hardback/paperback release. After reading the book, I not only congratulate the author for his achievements, I will add my voice to the long list of endorsements. Of special note, the first part of this omnibus formed the best prologue to a story I can recall reading.
In the same month, I encountered the wonderful The Survival of Thomas Ford by John A. A. Logan (Click for Review). After reading this book I decided that Scottish authors were worth a risk. A dark and moody literary drama, this novel captivated me throughout. In February 2013, I will be reviewing his anthology Storm Damage. I’m looking forward to it.
In August, I encountered the science fiction anthology Dead Men Don’t Cry by Nancy Fulda (Click for Review). These tales were fantastic and I would highly recommend this author for lovers of science fiction short stories. I’m really looking forward to what she can do with a full length novel.
November was Martuk month with my reading of Martuk … the Holy by Jonathan Winn (Click for Review). This novel may be an acquired taste and not for every reader, but I found the prose to be mesmerising and the tale imbued with both a relentless darkness and an intoxicating sensuality. I’ll be hunting around for his next novel.
In December 2012, I capped off a great year with The Puppet Maker’s Bones by Alisa Tangredi (Click for Review). This was a dark and inventive fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed. Although part of a planned series, it can be happily read as a standalone. Expect another review of this author’s work in 2013.
Wool (Omnibus) – by Hugh Howey
After an internal debate, I am awarding Wool (Omnibus) the 2012 Papyrus Independent Fiction Award. This is an author who really knows how to tell a tale and the story continues with a prequel omnibus probably out sometime in 2013. The silo obviously has more secrets to divulge and I will be an avid reader for the foreseeable future.
Keep an eye out for a review of the next omnibus released by Mr Howey as I’ll probably make room for it not too long after its released. In the meantime, feel free to head on over to the author’s home page where he blogs about his writing and his books. He also maintains a forum for fans, obviously relishing the interaction with his readers. Indie done right? This reader says yes!