Here's a great Halloween read for you. I really, really loved Anne Pillsworth's Summoned, and the follow-up does not disappoint. What it does - andHere's a great Halloween read for you. I really, really loved Anne Pillsworth's Summoned, and the follow-up does not disappoint. What it does - and this is a good thing - is take the series in a direction I had not at all expected. The first book was out-and-out horror set firmly in the Cthulhu mythos by way of a teenage boy dabbling in magic that's way over his head. Fathomless remains in Lovecraft country, but eschews the shock and awe of horror for deeper levels of mystery and character development.
A year has passed since the events of Summoned and now our hero, Sean, is ready to start his magical training for real by spending summer break at Arkham University. There's a new kid who's studying magic as well, and who has a somewhat fishy relationship with seawater. Mysteries unfold about this new character and about Sean's own background, and the deeper he gets to unraveling them the less he knows who he can and can't trust in the magical community.
Two things in particular: I love how Anne writes teenagers, and I love how Anne writes magic. Her teenagers feel so much more authentic to me than most of the kids in teen fiction - they act like kids, for god's sake, and not like little adults, although you can definitely see them moving in that direction. (The closest comparison I can think of is Rowling's "troubled teen" version of Harry Potter from Order of the Phoenix, although toned town and more realistic.)
I love the depiction of the magical system in Anne's version of Lovecraft. It's not just hocus-pocus, but carries weight and has a personal cost to the practitioner. Nothing is as easy as waving a wand and saying some nonsense words. There's an actual sense of dread any time Sean tries to practice magic, that this might be the time that essentially does him in.
Anyway: good stuff. Looking forward to Unmortal. (Great title, by the way.)...more
Short version: Buy this book. The Outer Gods command it. So mote it be.
Anne Pillsworth’s Summoned sits in a lovely gray area between teeShort version: Buy this book. The Outer Gods command it. So mote it be.
Anne Pillsworth’s Summoned sits in a lovely gray area between teen fantasy and adult horror. Sean Wyndham is very much a normal teenager, but an online meeting with a person claiming to be a centuries-old Puritan wizard sets Sean on the path of half-serious magical experimentation. A simple test ritual goes terribly awry (as they do), unleashing a shambling, blood-thirsty monster straight from an alien netherworld into the sleepy New England suburbs.
This year I’ve wound up reading a lot more teen fiction than I normally do, and as a character Sean feels like a more authentic teenager than many of the heroes of YA fiction. Too often the protagonists of these novels feel like adults in teen clothing, their maturity explained away by the characters having had to grow up too fast due to childhood trauma or, more often than not, the hardships of living in a future dystopia. Sean feels much more real – a kid with an intense fixation on his personal interests, delusions of invincibility, and a sense that nothing he does will have any real cost or consequence, so why not dive in headfirst?
As an adult reader, I also appreciate that the grown-ups in Sean’s world are actual characters in their own right, not merely two-dimensional authoritarian figureheads to serve as obstacles or to dispense sage wisdom when the hero needs it most. A significant portion of the book is told from an adult viewpoint – that of Helen Arkwright, a young archivist at Miskatonic University in Arkham with access to the Necronomicon and other occult lore.
And yes, Cthulhu fans, it’s that Miskatonic, that Arkham, and that Necronomicon. Lovecraft’s Mythos was always intended to be an open-source playground for other writers to work in, and Summoned is set firmly in that universe. “The Dunwich Horror” in particular is name-checked as being based on events that actually took place.
That, for me, is part of what gives this book a broader appeal than just the target teen audience. Anne’s introducing younger readers to a world of classics that modern horror is founded on, and for adults is breathing new life into an old, dark stomping ground of existential terror.
I had the pleasure of reading a very early draft of this novel several years ago, so I’ve been looking forward to the sequel for quite a while. Congratulations, Anne! Now bring on book 2....more
Dang it, now I have to track down all of Caitlin Kiernan's books. I understand this is a spin-off from one of her novel series, but it stands well enoDang it, now I have to track down all of Caitlin Kiernan's books. I understand this is a spin-off from one of her novel series, but it stands well enough on its own. From reading this and her first novel, Silk, it seems that Kiernan has a talent for creating characters who might be delusional, actually in touch with the supernatural, or both, and never letting the reader completely in on what's real and what isn't. What that does in this instance is to add a very interesting wrinkle to an old-fashioned monster-hunter saga.
Dancy Flammarion wanders the South slaying creatures of the night with a kitchen knife at the behest of a scary guiding angel who may or may not exist. She's guided to a small town in South Carolina completely overrun by a legion of monsters that would give Hellboy pause, and is then left to deal with it entirely on her own (except for the questionable help of a talkative raven). What I want to know is why isn't this comic an ongoing monthly? Because now I definitely want there to be a volume 2....more
Prince Jorg is a monster, and that's a problem. No only that, but he's an irredeemable monster, a point that the author makes clear by throwing in (caPrince Jorg is a monster, and that's a problem. No only that, but he's an irredeemable monster, a point that the author makes clear by throwing in (callously? thoughtlessly? both?) a quick, mostly off-camera rape right there in the first few pages, removing any ability to identify or emotionally connect with the character.
However, to Jorg's credit, he's no Prince Joffrey. Jorg isn't a spoiled brat torturing others for sport, he's a victim in his own right of an unspeakable trauma who has taken his fate into his own hands despite his incredibly young age. Because he's a child, as one of the other characters points out late in the book, he has no true understanding of the value of the lives he destroys along the way to achieving his goal: to become Emperor and put an end to the ongoing Hundred War that dominates this far-future, post-apocalyptic fantasy realm.
In a sense, Jorg is a cross between Alex from A Clockwork Orange and Severian from The Book of the New Sun. Halfway through Prince of Thorns you also realize he's an unstoppable force of nature whose schemes always work out, and that's when the shock and awe wear thin and the book loses some of its steam. Hopefully Lawrence can find some new angle on the character as he follows into the sequels, otherwise Jorg's tendency to win all the time is going to get tedious.
For that reason I almost gave this one three stars, but after finishing Prince of Thorns I started another fantasy novel whose opening chapters are so badly written that I had to give this one four just for comparison. (Lawrence's prose is clear, clever, and lovely.) ...more
Damn, Scalzi went a little bit dark there. Then again, you shouldn't be able to contemplate the actual existence of biblical-style gods without a modiDamn, Scalzi went a little bit dark there. Then again, you shouldn't be able to contemplate the actual existence of biblical-style gods without a modicum of existential horror. Or very literal horror, as this story points out. Though this isn't written in the style of Lovecraft, I can imagine H.P. appreciating this story. I was also reminded of a realization I once had about Robert E. Howard's writing, in which the words "god" and "monster" are used synonymously.
It's also nice to know Scalzi can turn off the snark when he needs to....more
This was the volume that introduced me to Hellboy in the first place, and since I came to HB via stand-alone specials and shorts, these s2016 Re-Read:
This was the volume that introduced me to Hellboy in the first place, and since I came to HB via stand-alone specials and shorts, these stories exemplify what I like most about the character: not the over-arcing story of the Beast of the Apocalypse rejecting his inheritance, but the little vignettes that read like episodes of The X-Files if you just replaced Fox Mulder with Ben Grimm and let him clobber the "monster of the week" into submission.
Upon rereading these stories, it strikes me how tragic Hellboy's "monster of the week" usually is - as if being clobbered by the Big Red Ape would be the best thing for them in any case. "The Corpse" is the standout in this volume as the perfect Hellboy story, but the rest are uniformly outstanding as well. When this book first landed in my lap all those years ago, how could I not be hooked?...more
2016 Re-read: Hellboy Take Two serves as a direct sequel to Seed of Destruction, bringing back some of the same bad guys and even giving us the low-d 2016 Re-read: Hellboy Take Two serves as a direct sequel to Seed of Destruction, bringing back some of the same bad guys and even giving us the low-down on Rasputin and some hints as to Hellboy's grand destiny. However, despite all the exposition, Wake the Devil leaves me with a feeling of "What the hell just happened?" - a certain level of narrative confusion that I always felt afflicted the series and that I'm hoping reading the whole series through in a short span of time will help clear up.
More than in volume 1, Wake the Devil is outright funny. I particularly enjoyed Hellboy's difficulties with his jet-pack and the fact that some of the bad guys mistake him for a trained circus ape. Come to think of it, Mignola's drawing of him in this volume do make him look sort of apish....more
With the final volume in the Hellboy saga promised for later this year, what better time to read the whole thing from the start? The whol2016 re-read:
With the final volume in the Hellboy saga promised for later this year, what better time to read the whole thing from the start? The whole series is, of course, told out of chronological order (Mignola gives himself the last 75 years to play with in terms of storytelling). Seed of Destruction does the neat trick of showing Hellboy's origin and picking up his ongoing adventures in media res at the same time. He's been "the world's greatest paranormal investigator" for decades before finally running into the sorcerer who brought him into the world in the first place - and then the story really begins.
I'd forgotten that the initial Hellboy volumes were scripted by John Byrne, making this a much wordier comic than the later adventures scripted by Mignola himself. Everything is in service to the art, the world-building, and the fun/creepy character design. What cracks me up about the comics, and the one thing the movies got wrong, is that in Hellboy's world no one bats an eye to see an eight-foot, stubby-horned demon walking around. I guess that only make sense when the true monsters are something out of H.P. Lovecraft's wet dreams. For all their "evil," the denizens of Judeo-Christian Hell are still creatures in humanity's image. The monsters of the Lovecraft mythos that inspire Mignola's horrors are so alien and terrifying that by comparison the devil himself must look like an OK guy. ...more
I know that a lot of people like this book. I wanted to like it too. I started out liking it, then about fifty pages in I realized I'd been tricked inI know that a lot of people like this book. I wanted to like it too. I started out liking it, then about fifty pages in I realized I'd been tricked into reading a paranormal romance novel. Normally I'd have quit right there, but my book group is discussing Greyfriar this month, so I made myself finish it. Around the halfway point, I got over my ire and started enjoying the book for what it was, and not what I'd hoped it would be when I started. I'm glad I did, too - the climax of the book is really well done and sets a good hook for volume 2.
So what do I have against paranormal romance? Well, in this case... It starts off well with a human Princess under attack and on the run from an army of vampires. And let me say, I like these vampires. They're inhuman, alien monsters, with a psychology quite different from that of mere mortals. The world-building, what there is of it, is intriguing and drags you into the novel. And then...
The Princess is rescued by a Dashing Rogue who turns out to be... wait for it... a Prince in disguise. If you suddenly ask yourself, "What is this, a Disney movie?" you might understand how I feel. You might also suspect that you can predict every single story beat from that point on by applying the "beautiful, conflicted princess meets handsome superman with a dark secret" formula, and you'd be right.
I could go on about a few other pet peeves that Greyfriar rubs the wrong way, such as making every single character who isn't royalty a cardboard cutout, etc. but I won't. I know there's an audience out there for this sort of thing, but I'm not in it. I would, however, recommend this novel to any paranormal romance fan who wanted to sample something a little edgier than the normal bodice-ripper....more
Been putting off this one for a while, but I do enjoy Solomon Kane's particular flavor of bad-assery. Which is good, because otherwise there's not mucBeen putting off this one for a while, but I do enjoy Solomon Kane's particular flavor of bad-assery. Which is good, because otherwise there's not much here in the way of plot. The original Howard stories were steeped in mystery, but that mystery usually had a rhyme or explanation at the end. In the Dark Horse version of Kane, he just wanders the world and occasionally gets attacked at random by hell-spawned beasts of the pit, only because Solomon Kane is the kind of guy that sort of thing happens to....more
It seems like I've been reading a lot of sword n' sorcery lately, but nothing modern that was such a rousing, uncomplicated, straight-up adventure asIt seems like I've been reading a lot of sword n' sorcery lately, but nothing modern that was such a rousing, uncomplicated, straight-up adventure as Shadow's Son. It even opens up with what I'd characterize as a James Bond pre-credit sequence, for Pete's sake.
This is a book that gets straight to the point and sticks with it all the way through. Caim is an assassin haunted by 1) the murder of his father and 2) an invisible waif who only he can see. He also has mysterious shadow-based powers that he can neither explain nor control. Anyway, Caim gets hired to kill this guy, but someone else kills him first and Caim gets stuck rescuing the daughter of the man he was supposed to be executing and... Well, you get the idea. It's the kind of hard-boiled story that you'd be just as likely to find in a gangster or detective novel as in the fantasy department, and the fight scenes are second to none.
The ending leaves it open to infinite sequels, of course, but what I like is that instead of departing on a quest to save the world, or even a small part of it, Caim's overarching journey seems to be one of self-discovery, with the occasional ass-kicking thrown in for good measure....more
While there are many, many things to like about this book, I'm forced to admit that it's my least favorite of the Black Company novels so far. ProbablWhile there are many, many things to like about this book, I'm forced to admit that it's my least favorite of the Black Company novels so far. Probably because the Black Company isn't in it.
The Silver Spike is a coda of sorts to the original Black Company trilogy, which ended with the Dominator defeated and buried in the Barrowland and the remaining survivors of the Company riding off into the sunset. This book opens up with a gang of scummy bastards digging the Dominator's soul back up again and setting another wave of evil events in motion.
In essence, The Silver Spike is a tightly plotted crime novel in an epic fantasy setting, which is a really cool idea if you think about it. The problem is that Cook never gives us a character we can root for. Case, the narrator of the story, is likable but so peripheral to the action that we never really care or feel that he's in danger. As for the rest of the cast, there are characters we'd like to see die, characters we don't care about, and a few supporting players from the first three Black Company books.
In a big way, The Silver Spike feels like it's tying up loose ends from the first three books that were never that loose to begin with. The central premise is excellent, but the story may have worked better if it hadn't been tied into the larger Black Company mythology....more