Another entry into Stephen King’s Hard Case Crime writing (the first was 2005′s Colorado Kid) Joyland was released in June of this year. Unlike other...moreAnother entry into Stephen King’s Hard Case Crime writing (the first was 2005′s Colorado Kid) Joyland was released in June of this year. Unlike other King novels Joyland leans a bit more heavily on the mystery aspects of the story rather than the horror though King does manage to toss in a touch of the supernatural. That being said this isn’t a horror novel, nor is it quite a mystery novel nor is is quite a thriller novel; instead the novel feels a bit more like a bildungsroman than anything else. Joyland is, above all things, a coming of age story. Perhaps, it might be better say that Joyland is a snapshot of a young man’s final days of youth. Joyland is Stephen King at his best. Sure it isn’t a novel full of the fear and dread of ‘Salems Lot or the wonder and the weird of The Gunslinger but it demonstrates King’s ability to capture the mood and energy of a place and a person.
Joyland begins as Devin Jones, an upstanding young man from New England flees his breakup with his college girlfriend by taking a job at a South Carolina amusement park; the titular Joyland. Heartbroken, Devin finds comfort in his work and his friends as he attempts to pick up the pieces of his broken heart and move on with his life. Joyland, is a novel told from the present looking towards the past. The narrator, seemingly an older version of Devin, is the one who relates the story to us. Indeed, the knowledge that Devin himself narrates the novel colors the the prose quite a bit and the novel oscillates between the bright technicolor of Joyland to the rain soaked gray of Devin’s broken heart. King intimately captures how those formative years of heartbreak color ones life going forward and how that same heartbreak spreads like an oil stain across the surface of our memories. It’s something I think almost everyone goes through at one time or another and King’s ability to capture not only those feelings, but the sensation of looking back at a similar time in one’s own life is quite uncanny.
There are many elements of Joyland that reminded me of similar King fiction. I was particularly struck by there is the wheel-chair bound Mike who bore similarities to Danny Torrance (The Shining), Jack Sawyer (The Talisman), and Marty Coslow (Cylce of the Werewolf) and the South Carolina seaside setting, particularly during the late summer/autumn months, which reminded me of the early chapters of The Talisman and empty-feeling Arcadia Beach. Of course these are things only a long time King reader would notice and they don’t detract from the overall quality of Joyland’s story. I do feel like they’re worth noting since all tend to channel some of King’s best, distilling down his characterization of both people and place into its most potent and believable.
Joyland is a moving and emotional novel that encapsulates quite vividly the state of mind embodied by youth just on the cusp of adulthood. While the element of the supernatural King employs in the novel does much to push the plot forward it also isn’t necessarily important to Devin’s emotional journey. It works as a familiar touchstone for King fans and its ties to Devin’s own journey, it involves the ghost of a young woman whose own youthful years were robbed from her, work as a fascinating parallel to Devin’s own emotional “unfinished business.” Joyland is a novel that only the Stephen King of the present day could have written and it stands as one of his strongest and most accessible works of fiction to date.(less)
I tend to suffer from zombie burnout rather easily, only occasionally dipping my foot into the ever increasing pool of zombie fiction, and by all acco...moreI tend to suffer from zombie burnout rather easily, only occasionally dipping my foot into the ever increasing pool of zombie fiction, and by all accounts my reluctance towards zombie fiction meant I rather missed out when it comes to Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series (Feed, Deadline, Blackout). However, the notion behind Grant’s most recent horror novel fascinated me (in a “Ew, that’s disturbing” kind of way). In Parasite the company SymboGen has developed a genetically engineered parasite, a tapeworm to be precise, which bolsters and improves the human immune system. Just about everyone has one of these parasites and in the opening chapters of the novel it is her parasite which save’s Sally Mitchell’s life after a fatal car crash.
Sally wakes up with an undocumented type of amnesia having no memories at all, everything from her family, her personal life, right on down to basic social interaction is no longer present. Forced to reacquire these skills over time Sally is essentially an entirely new person; an entity almost entirely separate from the woman she was before the crash. A significant portion of the novels first half focuses on this fact and Grant’s does a wonderful job at conveying the strides Sally has made in forming new memories and also the difficulties she has in her everyday life. I thought that some of Sally’s condition, and exactly what happened to her, was a bit easy to piece together right from the get go. I thought that Grant hinted a bit too strongly about Sally’s condition and the revelation, while important for Sally late in the novel, lacked the impact it needed.
While much of Parasite focuses on Sally’s struggles it also slowly becomes clear that other stranger things are occurring as people begin entering strange fugue-like walking coma states. Seemingly forgetting everything about themselves until they are essentially left in a coma. Grant doesn’t go full-out zombie with these folks. The people with the “sleeping sickness” are viewed through the lens of medical science, at least to an extent, and the means through which the disease is spread is kept in the dark throughout the novel. As incidents of the sleeping sickness increase in the novel so does the tension, particularly when one of the infected speaks a mangled version of Sally’s name. That tension takes a bit of a backseat in the second half of the novel. Grant goes into full on info-dump mode in the late novel. This definitely takes a bit of the novel’s momentum away. The revelations take much of the mystery away and with out the uneasiness inspired by the unknown factor the novel feels a bit weaker as a result. Grant still manages to pack some rather frightening scenes into the later sections of the novel. I was particularly chilled by her depiction of a military medical facility as wall as Sally’s home encounter with some of those with the sleeping sickness.
However, and this may sound strange, my favorite parts of Parasite involved a fictional children’s book called Don’t Go Out Alone. Used as a cipher and a metaphor in the novel the children’s story is both haunting and utterly fascinating. I was absolutely enchanted by the few passages revealed in dialogue and those used as epigraphs and the description of the overall plot of the story given in the novel made desperately wish Don’t Go Out Alone was a real book. In fact it was the presence of Don’t Go Out Alone that really helped me get through the exposition heavy second half of the novel.
Grant, despite some faltering, definitely manages to up the tension as the novel nears the end. Unfortunately, this is also the problem since when things are set to get the most explosive the novel ends. To say that the ending is abrupt might be a bit of an understatement. Parasite is the first part of a duology a fact that is both disappointing and heartening. A refreshing blend of science fiction and horror Parasite is an entertaining and frequently chilling book that fans for horror should definitely give it a look. Parasite is to the world of parasites what Jurassic Park is to the world of dinosaurs.(less)
This slim novella displays the brutality and darkness during the rule of James I as a result of persecution against witches and papists or, as it is o...moreThis slim novella displays the brutality and darkness during the rule of James I as a result of persecution against witches and papists or, as it is oft-repeated in the novel “witchery popery popery witchery.” The Daylight Gate is based on the real-life Pendle witch trials that occurred in 1612, trials which just marked their 400th anniversary this in August of 2012. The heroine of The Daylight Gate, is Alice Nutter, a woman of means and unattached who worked for the Queen before her death and who, in the story at least, belonged to an elite circle of mystics headed up by none other than John Dee.
Winterson pulls no punches in depicting the brutality of the times particularly as it pertains to women. Countless times throughout the novel they are dehumanized and dismissed. In the case of the Demdikes and the Chattoxes this issue is compounded by their poverty and their rivalry and their survival, and their willingness to eat even on a fast day, taken as evidence of witchery rather than symptoms of their poverty. Alice Nutter is an extraordinarily fascinating women in the story not just because of her ties to John Dee but because her wealth, independence, and assertiveness make her just as much an outcast as the poverty stricken Demdikes and Chattoxes.
Of course unlike in real life The Daylight Gate gives the reader insight into Nutter’s “real-life” experience with real magic and the experiments of John Dee and his circle. Her youthful appearance, despite her advanced age, thanks to a seemingly mystical elixer brewed by the renowned, or reviled, alchemist and occultist. Complicating things further is Nutter’s affair with a woman and, later in the novella, a Jesuit. Indeed, Winterson has packed into Alice Nutter’s character precisely all of the things that the clerk Thomas Potts was looking for each and every time he regales against “witchery popery popery witchery.” At the same time Winterson also paints Nutter as a decent human being, willing to look out for those without means of their own, and one willing to stand by her principles.
Winterson’s command of language is excellent and right from the open her words swathe the landscape of Pendle Hill in deep vibrant shades that evoke an air of gloom and oppression. Winterson uses history as a jumping off point, crafting a story laden with not only the real horror of the times but also crafting some truly terrible scenes of the supernatural and the strange. At one point a severed head (dug up from an old grave) with the severed tongue of a young man (bitten off early in the novel during an intense and distrubing scene of attempted rape just barely stopped by Nutter) sown into its mouth is tossed into a cauldron. This is all well and creepy enough on its own but when that head speaks later in the novel it is down right terrifying. Winterson’s blend of human horror and supernatural terror is a potent one and lends The Daylight Gate a narrative weight the belies its rather slim size.
This is an intense novel and those made uncomfortable by the realistic portrayal of the people of the time, particularly the violence against women, should stay well clear of The Daylight Gate. I also felt that The Daylight Gate suffered some as a result of its brevity. There are moments where elements of the plot feel a bit underdeveloped and the rather large cast of characters means, with the exception of Alice Nutter, we spend very little time getting into the history and background of many of the characters. The Daylight Gate is a dark and disturbing tale about history and magic that fans of horror and the supernatural should be more than willing to try.(less)
Richard Matheson’s Hell House may be the best haunted house story of all time. This is another horror novel which I’ve known about forever but for som...moreRichard Matheson’s Hell House may be the best haunted house story of all time. This is another horror novel which I’ve known about forever but for some reason just haven’t read. The premise of the novel is fairly straightforward: a rich dying business man offers a noted scientist, Dr. Barrett, an obscene sum of money to determine whether or not the spirit can linger by investigating the titular Hell House. Accompanying Dr. Barrett on this journey are his assistant and wife (Dr. Barrett had polio which has left him with a bum leg) Edith, a spiritual medium Florence Tanner, and the sole survivor of the previous excursion to Hell House (also a medium) Benjamin Franklin Fischer.
The real juiciest bits of Hell House, and where Matheson’s talent truly shines, is in the portrayal of the competing beliefs between the various individuals on the expedition. Dr. Barrett has very strong, deeply rooted beliefs in the science. His reliance on logic, reason, and the scientific method is as fervorous and nigh fanatical as Florence’s belief on the lingering presence of spirits and the power God. In the middle of this conflict between science and spirituality is Benjamin whose past experience’s with the house have left him shaken. He is skeptical of Dr. Barrett’s hypotheses but openly recognizes the dangerous nature of Florence’s openness towards whatever it is that inhabit’s Hell House. Last but not least is Edith, will to believe in her husband’s science but drawn like a moth to the flame of Florence’s spirituality.
A midst the complicated morass of competing ideas is Hell House, the former home of Emeric Belasco whose forceful personality drew people to him pulling them into an ever deepening spiral of hedonism and blasphemy that would put the Marquis de Sade to shame. The novel never disputes that something inhabits the walls and grounds of Belasco’s house. From the very moment the characters enter the house it begins working at their weak points; driving wedges into the already vast differences in opinions. Even the very architecture itself seeming to prey upon the psyche of the various characters.
Matheson strikes a masterful balance between the looming horror of the house itself and the complicated psyches of the four protagonists. It is this combination that elevates the novel to the status of classic. However, I will say that I was somewhat disappointed by the novel’s conclusion. The build up of fear and tension was so great during the novels middle section that the final chapters felt a bit weaker by the resolution of that fear. It isn’t something that ruins the novel but it definitely softens the impact of the fear quite a bit. I definitely prefer a touch of ambiguity in horror, just enough to leave me with that lingering sense of dread, and it is unfortunate that Matheson doesn’t really do that here.
Regardless of that minor issue Hell House is definitely a classic of the genre that despite its age holds up even today. While there are aspects of some of the technology used in the novel that might not jive with our more modern sensibilities this is really a minor issue and the strength of the prose easily overcomes any such difficulties. Fans of horror who’ve yet to give Matheson’s seminal haunted house tale a shot should definitely do so as soon as possible; I was definitely a bit of an idiot for waiting so long.(less)
Believe it or not my mother is the chief impetus for my decision to finally read Stephen King’s The Shining; it also doesn’t hurt that the sequel, Doc...moreBelieve it or not my mother is the chief impetus for my decision to finally read Stephen King’s The Shining; it also doesn’t hurt that the sequel, Doctor Sleep, also just recently released. My mother has told me, repeatedly, that the book is much better than the Kubrick film so I figured now would be the time put that claim to the test. Over the years my stance on “the book is always better” has softened and all but melted away. Truth be told I’m more inclined to say (in 99.9% of all cases, I’m looking at you World War Z) simply that “the movie is different from the book.”
Film, as a primarily visual medium, has an entirely different set of requirements than prose fiction and concessions must be made to reflect that difference. While my friend might complain about the “atrocious” differences between Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Tolkein’s masterpiece I am hard-pressed to fault Jackson for his decisions and I will argue, until the end of my days, that a direct translation of Tolkein’s work into film would not necessarily make the most compelling of films (I shudder at the montages of singing hobbits that would plague the film long before we’ve even left the Shire).
Stanley Kubrick is a seminal director whose touch and vision have influenced the world of film for generations to come. As such, his vision of The Shining is deeply meshed with the world of pop culture and the film’s visual style ring’s true to this day. I say this because that fact makes coming to The Shining as a novel after having experience the film a bit strange. In, On Writing, Stephen King equates writing to telepathy. The author sets an image or thought down on the page and you the reader read it and, depending on the author’s skill, receive and envision that very same thought or image. With The Shining the Kubrick film is interference with that communication. Given my experience with the film, and its prominence as a cultural icon, it difficult to divorce King’s words from Kubrick’s imagery.
Reading The Shining now my brain has two competing visions with the images from Kubrick’s film often superseding the words of King’s fiction. That being said their are considerable difference between the movie and the book. King’s book leans far more heavily on the supernatural and the presence of the Overlook looms far greater than in the film. King conveys a sense of malicious intelligence to the old hotel and the presence insinuates its way into all of the character’s in the story. The Overlook is a character in and of itself and King easily and masterfully conveys the sense of the hotel as a living, breathing, entity.
The glimpse inside the internal live’s of Jack and Wendy, thanks in part to the narrative structure as well as Danny’s own childish interpretation of his parent’s thoughts and emotions, offers greater insight into the personal demons that they are both struggling through. The novel examines Jack’s corruption by the hotel as a much more gradual process than in the film. While Jack is certainly troubled when he arrives at the Overlook there isn’t quite as much tension from the start as there is in the film. The novel portray’s both Jack’s and Wendy’s outlook for the future as hopeful. Jack’s interactions with the ongoing party at the Overlook definitely take on a more fevered tone in the novel and take a decidedly more supernatural air than in the film.
The titular shining is also of greater importance over the course of the novel. Danny’s gift feels like a bit of a throwaway in the film but in the novel it is Danny’s connection to those around him that helps hold the novel together. King even manages to create and interesting parallel between Jack’s need for alcohol and the Overlook’s need for Danny’s powers; both represent ultimately destructive desire which leads to their downfall. King stays remarkably focused on the character internal and external struggle to the point where the science fiction and fantasy fan in me was a bit frustrated by the lack of explanation behind Danny’s abilities and the Overlook’s malicious power. There were some other irregularities that bugged me: the lone bike that Jack and his friend ran over at night but with no child’s body, and the lingering questions regarding Jack’s beating of his student (there seemed to be some implied mystery there that I was missing) or maybe I was just infected by Jack’s own confusion towards the novel’s end.
There are differences between the Kubrick’s adaptation and King’s novel. At first glance these differences are superficial but the cumulative result of these changes is that The Shining as a book and film are work with vastly different tone. If you’ve not seen Kubrick’s The Shining I honestly recommend you read King’s novel The Shining first. The film’s distinct visual styling and well-known actors have left an indelible mark in popular culture; to such a degree that its influence is hard to ignore while reading the novel. While I have no doubt that individuals will have a unique, and likely visceral, reaction to The Shining as both a book and a film I would argue that both versions of The Shining, King’s original novel and Kubrick’s adaptation, stand well on their own.(less)
Blood Song is a title that has been sitting in my Kindle library for quite a while now but for some reason I just hadn’t read it yet. With Orbit have...moreBlood Song is a title that has been sitting in my Kindle library for quite a while now but for some reason I just hadn’t read it yet. With Orbit have re-released Blood Song this year I decided to finally give in and read it. Vaelin Al Sorna is our primary narrator for the tale in Blood Song. Given at young age by his father to a Monastic order of warrior monks (one of Six Orders) Vaelin rises through their ranks, acquiring a handful of companions: human, canine, and equine. Vaelin eventually comes to the attention of the King and is drawn into the world of politics, his father was the King’s most trusted General, and becomes embroiled in the King’s plans for economic conquest. Meanwhile, mysterious forces work behind the scenes manipulating events and magic to prepare the way for “the one who waits.”
This book was pretty damn awesome. That being said it is also full of familiar fantasy elements that stays true to its traditional roots. At the same time Blood Song manages to walk a very fine line between the grim and gritty fantasy of more recent years and the hope and optimism of the past. Much like Rothfus’ Kingkiller Chronicles the structure of Blood Song takes the form of an oral history being related by the protagonist to a historian. Much like that other series the various sections of Blood Song are broken up by some verbal sparring between Vaelin and his skeptical, borderline antagonist chronicler Lord Verniers. I don’t know why but this sort of framing for a fantasy novel remains one my favorite; it should come as no small surprise that I enjoyed it here as well.
Vaelin is not an outright unreliable narrator but over the course of the novel Ryan drops enough information to show us that he is molded by the culture he grew up in and his knowledge and perception of the world around him is limited to what he has been taught. As a result Vaelin remains a rather curious lens through which we experience the various peoples and cultures of his world. There are many moments where the narrative feels very much like a spotlight shown on a particular place and time with much of the surrounding world hidden in the shadows just out of sight. Ryan uses this to his advantage creating a fast-moving focused narrative that never strays far from the story at hand. The reader learns and Vaelin learns and the information is never overwhelming and never distracts from the plot.
While Blood Song doesn’t shy away from violence and there are certainly dark deeds and black portents the novel manages to never feel as oppressive or grim as it could. Indeed there is a bit of a sword and sorcery vibe to the world of Blood Song. The lack of lengthy exposition, the inclusion of magic whose workings remain mysterious, and heavy reliance on character development over world building lend the novel a decided old school feel. While Blood Song introduces the idea of a world-endangering threat its intrusion into the story is typically reflected in the cost it has on Vaelin’s life. The resulting examination of the costs of power and the effect of reputation present an epic story that manages to still maintain a very personal touch.
Blood Song, originally released by the author in January of 2012 was picked up and released by Orbit books in July of 2013. I admit that I’m a bit ashamed that I didn’t jump on the Blood Song bandwagon earlier. Blood Song, the first in the Raven’s Shadow series, is a title that fantasy fans should not miss. Well wrought characters, a fascinating world, and crackling prose that makes the novel’s staggering 592 pages fly by make a Blood Song a novel not to be missed. The wait for 2014′s Tower Lord is going to be a long one.(less)
The Shadow of the Soul is the second book in the noir/horror series The Forgotten Gods/The Dog-Faced Gods by Sarah Pinborough. Ace Trade is releasing...moreThe Shadow of the Soul is the second book in the noir/horror series The Forgotten Gods/The Dog-Faced Gods by Sarah Pinborough. Ace Trade is releasing the books here in the US a couple of months apart from one another as each was previously published in the UK between 2010-2011. The Shadow of the Soul picks up almost exactly where A Matter of Blood left off. DI Cass Jone has met with some success in his past cases but that success has cast a harsh light on the corruption within the London police force; a fact further ostracizing him from his peers. To make matters worse the lingering court cases resulting from his work in A Matter of Blood have left him with a boring case load. Of course that won’t remain the case as a series suicides hits London’s student body all linked by the mysterious phrase “Chaos in the Darkness.”
Pinborough seemingly took all the things that were great about A Matter of Blood and distilled them into a near perfect form in The Shadow of the Soul. A Matter of Blood was a fast read but The Shadow of the Soul moves like lightning. This was a book that, even more than its predecessor, I simply could not put down and I ended up devouring it in a little over a day. Pinborough peels back more layers to the dark currents of the supernatural that ran through the previous novel. We learn a staggering amount of information about the players involved in The Bank. Yet, at the same time, Pinborough manages to be quite cagey about the details. We learn enough to form impressions, to get ideas, but we don’t really know anything for certain. It is an utterly brilliant tactic that hints just enough to be unsettling.
Cass’ predicament in The Shadow of the Soul is tied heavily to the revelations regarding Cass’ nephew and brother from A Matter of Blood. Cass was told to keep his nose out of anything dealing with the Bank but the nature of those previous revelations have set him on an nigh unwavering path of conflict; plus it seems the Bank didn’t get the same message about meddling. Pinborough does a fantastic job a obfuscating the way in which all of the novel’s parts fit together until the very end. I was initially frustrated by this fact early in the novel but Pinborough manages to slowly conjure a sensation of both convergence and unraveling as the novel moves on. It is a curious effect that is greatly underscored by the increased reliance on the weird.
The weird elements in The Shadow of the Soul are increased greatly over A Matter of Blood and I absolutely love it. Pinborough’s ability to reveal new bits of detail that simultaneously reveal the depth of her world while providing a dark grist that can be further ground by the imagination is intoxicating. There are so many elements from The Shadow of the Soul that provide a greater insight into the shadowy figures behind the Bank that I’m not even certain what I can or should mention. Juicy tidbits like one of the shadowy figures behinds the Bank’s comment that there are people “still willing to offer them their children” (which to me calls to mind the Ammonite god Moloch), and decidedly cryptic titles like the Architect, weird creatures and strange experiments create a suitably mysterious and enticing blend that mixes surprisingly well with the cynicism and troubled nature of our protagonist.
Even more than A Matter of Blood, The Shadow of the Soul relies heavily on providing the reader with only partial information about the supernatural elements of the world. This is an element that I absolutely love; the willingness to rely on the imaginations of the reader has always felt like a rare trait in the world of horror fiction but it is one that Sarah Pinborough seems to embrace whole-heartedly. While The Shadow of the Soul concludes with less decisiveness than the previous novel it also manages to end on a note that leaves me foaming at the mouth for the third volume The Chosen Seed. Sarah Pinborough has crafted a series that leaves me wanting more and a highly recommend fans of horror and dark fantasy jump on the Forgotten Gods series as soon as possible.(less)
The superhero novel is something that’s relatively new or, at the very least, a rather specific sub-genre of the greater speculative fiction world. To...moreThe superhero novel is something that’s relatively new or, at the very least, a rather specific sub-genre of the greater speculative fiction world. Tom King’s A Once Crowded Sky is a meta-fictional superhero novel. It’s an original tale but one that plays within and with the conventions and tropes of the comic book world. As a result King’s novel will likely be a bit obtuse for readers who aren’t well versed in the tropes and in-jokes of the comic book world. Indeed, one of the novel the novel’s primary themes and oft-repeated phrases that heroes “always come back” is one of the biggest and most well-known tropes of the comic book world. There have been numerous real-life comic books that have addressed, avoided, lamp-shaded, acknowledged this trope. A Once Crowded Sky tackles the effects from the death of heroes and massive change enacted by the many large crossovers that occur in the comic book world and examines them in greater detail.
While King’s novel is enhanced by illustrations from Tom Fowler (Venom, Quantum and Woody) it is a story primarily told through text rather than image. There is a part of me that wonders why A Once Crowded Sky wasn’t written as an original graphic novel. However, while there are many scenes that could be beautifully conveyed through art (and Fowler would certainly have chops to convey it) the novel’s heavy focus on the interior lives of its heroes, and the need to quickly construct a familiar yet unique comic book world, is well served via prose rather than sequential art. The novel opens in the fictional city of Arcadia where all the superheroes have given up their powers to the world’s greatest superhero Ultimate so that he could defeat the mysterious threat known only as the Blue. The only hero that refused the call to action was Ultimate’s former sidekick PenUltimate who has retired from the superhero life. Now, as Arcadia’s only hero Pen finds the call back to action growing ever louder.
Part of A Once Crowded Sky deals with the ramifications of a hero losing their power. The question at hand during parts of the novel seems to be whether it is the powers or man (or woman) that defines the hero. King examines this through a variety of character’s whose responses cover all the ground between denial and acceptance. For several of the characters in the novel the notion that heroes “always come back” becomes almost a religious mantra and for others a curse. Watching the interplay between these contrary reactions is part of the novel’s fun. There is a surprising amount of depth to the examination of the notion of sacrifice and identity that belies the four-color Ben-Day dotted feel of the world of Arcadia. The primary means through which the reader experiences the inner-conflict is the character Soldier of Freedom. As perhaps the world’s oldest hero (in the story he has typically been frozen and unfrozen during times of conflict) he is perhaps the most knowledgeable as to how that notion on the cyclical nature of violence and conflict and it is through his thoughts and actions that the reader really gets to grips with the toll that cycle can inflict upon a hero.
King’s obvious major influence for A Once Crowded Sky is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. Whereas Watchmen lightly employed the metafiction through The Tales of the Black Freighter, A Once Crowded Sky instead ties the elements of metafiction more directly into the story itself. I don’t want to get too deeply into those elements here, lest I spoil things, but King’s use of metafiction more directly examines the role of reader within the text and how expectation shapes the comic book form. This last bit is slightly problematic as I think it might only be more apparent to readers familiar with comics. It’s the sort of examination that might be tiresome if done with a heavy hand but King’s adept characterization and deft hand at world-building smooth the edges between the various deeper elements of story to create a seamless whole.
A Once Crowded Sky is a book that seems expressly designed for comic book readers. While readers of fiction might enjoy the overall story thanks to King’s skills they will likely miss out a thought provoking examination on a form and its consumers. This is a particularly impressive debut novel from Tom King and I can’t wait to see what else he will cook up.
The Companions mark’s the first R. A. Salvatore penned Forgotten Realms novel that I’ve read in quite some time. With the Wizards of the Coast wrappin...moreThe Companions mark’s the first R. A. Salvatore penned Forgotten Realms novel that I’ve read in quite some time. With the Wizards of the Coast wrapping up the playtests for the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons the Realms has been targeted for a bit of a facelift via a major cross-media event called The Sundering. While I was at one times a voracious consumer of the Forgotten Realms novels, particularly in my teens, I have since moved on and while I’ve checked back in here and there I’ve not followed along too closely with the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden and the Companions of Mithral Hall. While R. A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard was not the first Forgotten Realms novel (that title belongs to Douglas Niles’ Darkwalker on Moonshae) it wasn’t too far behind and given the wild popularity of Drizzt and the Companions throughout the years it seem appropriate that the simply title The Companions kicks off The Sundering.
The Companions is a contemplative novel that is as much a meditation on the fictional past of the Forgotten Realms as it is the start to a new era in the Realms’ history. Despite his prominent place on the cover of the novel Salvatore’s iconic Drow hero appears more in the background instead focusing on the rest of the titular Companions. Indeed the focus of the novel is on reborn figures of Catti-brie, Bruenor, and Regis. The Sundering is an event that looms over the novel and the Resurrection and rebirth of Drizzt’s deceased friends marks the opening gambit of the ranger’s patron diety Mielikki in events to come. Over the course of the novel the three companion who chose to return to life get a second chance to become something more than what they were while at the same time attempting to cling to who they were.
The Companions is a novel that moves on a brisk pace and the tonality walks a fine line between nostalgia drenched reminiscence of the novels early and final chapters and contemplation on the nature of identity both in the new lives of Regis, Catti-brie, and Bruenor and the interstitial meditations in Drizzt’s journal. The latter concept is indeed a fascinating one and Salvatore keeps this inner examination of identity as light as he is able while also keeping the novels plot moving forward. In the end this is also the problem as the novel’s “plot” so to speak feels largely nonexistent. The novel has a beginning and an end but is the middle which feels a bit listless and unfocused. While the Companions are brought back to aid Drizzt at a particular place and time the period getting there offers little insight into the what they need to do or what threat the world faces. Indeed I have to wonder if some other format, something similar to John Scalzi’s serialized Human Division, might have better served the story at hand rather than the traditional novel format.
The Sundering, for all its hype as a cross-media Realms defining event is largely a marketing ploy to drive sales. This isn’t something I really have a problem with but the opening salvo in that event seems like a pandering attempt to cater to the long-term fans nostalgia for the Realms as it was. While shared world novels appeal to a particular subset of readers it seems utterly strange to me that the opening work in a major cross-media event doesn’t even attempt to cater to new readers. While as a past fan of Drizzt and the Companions I enjoyed The Companions I don’t know if I can honestly that say that this is a particularly good novel. It certainly has moments but it doesn’t feel to me like it holds together as a cohesive whole; a fact which isn’t helped by what felt like a rushed and confused ending.
As the kick-off to what is supposed to a MAJOR SUPER HUGE BIG EVENT The Companions isn’t the sort of wiz-bang spectacle one would expect. Perhaps the writers of the Forgotten Realms learned a harsh a lesson from the poorly disguised editorial handwaving of the Spellplague, but the editorial mantra of the “return to core” seems to be carrying across everything that carries the Dungeons and Dragons brand at a much slower pace than the Spellplague did. The Companions marks a slow and contemplative start to The Sundering that will face a tough audience of readers from various portions of the Forgotten Realms’ history. I’m certainly on board for the forseeable future and I will be looking forward to see how Paul S. Kemp takes his characters into the Realms’ old/new past/future.(less)