That is a great line, and one that perfectly exemplifies this short tale from the bloody, gore-strewn pen of TerHunger knows no friend but its feeder…
That is a great line, and one that perfectly exemplifies this short tale from the bloody, gore-strewn pen of Terry M. West. Honger is a sad, violent tale, an otherwise simple story of monstrous cannibalism, but with a solid backstory and well-developed mythology.
Although he's been a monster for over 300 years, Willem Tenner never loses his humanity, making him a surprisingly sympathetic character. Sure, he murders a few people every season, devouring everything but their bones, but he takes no pleasure in it. When the Honger comes on, he is simply powerless to resist. In many ways, this quiet loner reminded me of Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk, wandering from life to life, minus the post-transformation shame and guilt.
When another monster arrives on the scene, a man who knows William's darkest most secrets, it's time to walk away from another life - but not before dealing with a few things first. After a slow build of character and mythology, the final third of the story races along, only becoming darker, bloodier, and even more chilling with each development. As for the climax, West always nails his endings, and this is no exception.
Cross is a fantastic writer, and there's a lot here to appreciate - the Starman-esque innocence of Alejandro, the near-apocalyptic catastrophes, and aCross is a fantastic writer, and there's a lot here to appreciate - the Starman-esque innocence of Alejandro, the near-apocalyptic catastrophes, and a quirky cast of characters. Unfortunately, the angel/devil aspect was too heavy for my tastes (I normally steer clear of angel stories, and only gave this a chance because I like Cross' writing), and the promised decadence of Gremory Jones and Club Mephistopheles wasn't enough to tip the scales....more
I had the great pleasure of meeting Ben Galley through Mark Lawrence's inaugural Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest. While the coming-of-age elemI had the great pleasure of meeting Ben Galley through Mark Lawrence's inaugural Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest. While the coming-of-age element in Bloodrush didn't work for me, there was enough imagination and narrative flair that I was definitely open to reading more of his work. So, when he offered me an early glance of his latest work, I was happy to give it a read.
The Heart of Stone is a much darker, more mature story than my introduction to Ben's world, and that's precisely what I was looking for. Task is a stone golem, built for war hundreds of years ago, and bought-and-sold like any other weapon over those violent centuries. I wondered myself just how engaging a golem could possibly be as a protagonist, but he did not disappoint. Here we have a weapon of war who is tired of war . . . a monster without a soul who is more man than those who own him. There's a heaviness to him (no pun intended) that somehow elevates each scene, rather than dragging us down into the blood and the mud.
Make no mistake, this is a novel of the grimdark subgenre, a violent fantasy that doesn't glorify war or paint its world in bright shades and pretty trappings. It's a book with very little in the way or love or laughter, but still a lot of heart. There are some good people with whom Trask surrounds himself - including a kick-ass young woman, a proud old knight, and a wheelchair enabled general - and they help him to grow into the redemption he has sought for so many years. The villains are almost too evil, but somehow they stop shy of becoming over-the-top caricatures. In fact, within the context of the ugliness of civil war, they're actually somewhat fitting.
While I suspect some readers may have an issue with the pacing, it worked for me. The first half of the novel is largely character development and world-building, which is perfectly fine when you have such an unusual protagonist whose moral dilemma is at the heart of the tale. Once the heart of the story kicks in, it's far easier to appreciate what's going on, knowing who (and what) is at stake. There is a conversation somewhere around the 70% mark, where Trask interrogates Lord Lash about the nature of the civil war, questioning everything from why the church takes sides to what each side has to lose, that really serves as the transition into epic storytelling.
Whereas Cthulhu Armageddon was comprised of equal parts horror, science fiction, and weird western, The Tower of Zhaal pushes the first two to the marWhereas Cthulhu Armageddon was comprised of equal parts horror, science fiction, and weird western, The Tower of Zhaal pushes the first two to the margins, thrusting us head-first into the depths of Lovecraftian horror.
I thought the first book was dark, but C.T. Phipps may as well have stamped "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" on the cover here and left it that. I mean, this is a book that starts with Booth and Mercury discussing when to kill him (before he turns into a monster); quickly has the party they're guarding slaughtered by cultists (for the sole purpose of getting Booth's attention); and then proceeds to have one of the Old Ones themselves reveal they've already witnessed humanity's end (but, if we're good, we might earn a false paradise in dreamland). At that point, most heroes would say, "Fuck it," throw their arms up in the air, and walk off the nearest cliff. Fortunately, Booth is too stubborn, too angry, and too rebellious to simply accept the fate that the Old One's decree.
If he can't prevent the end of the world, he'll at least ensure we face it on our own terms.
The twist here, compared to the first book, is that it's not just an insanely powerful madman standing in his way, but a heap of Cosmic Horrors as well. The stakes are raised, right from the start, and the sense of doom weighs heavily upon the story. In fact, Phipps introduces a whole new cast of supporting characters here, some of whom are just as memorable as Richard (my favorite supporting character from the first book), and most of whom die just as quickly and unceremoniously a death. He also broadens the world, taking us farther and faster than was previously possible, thanks to time/space warping "technology of the mind" developed under the oversight of the Old Ones at Miskatonic University.
Not surprisingly, this is a story that delves as deep into ethics as it does magic, often questioning whether the end justifies the means, whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and at what cost is survival no longer worth it? Nowhere, though, do those questions weigh more heavily than when Booth and crew pass from the ruins of Insmaw into the subterranean paradise of Shak’ta’hadron . . . and come across Booth's ex-wife. It's not necessarily the most important or exciting part of the story, but it's very much at the heart of what makes such a doom-laden story, fronted by such a gloomy protagonist, still so utterly compelling.
The climax at The Tower of Zhaal is not necessarily bigger than that of the first book, but it is certainly more significant, especially when it involves the words, "We have to summon Cthulhu." I will say no more on that front, but rest assured Phipps isn't merely content to play with the fringes of the Lovecraftian mythos, he's plunging right into its heart.
Right down to the title, which could have been lifted from a lost episode, Don't The Monsters All Get Scarier At Closing Time reads like a darker, morRight down to the title, which could have been lifted from a lost episode, Don't The Monsters All Get Scarier At Closing Time reads like a darker, more violent episode of the Twilight Zone. You know there's a bit twist coming, right from the start, but watching the story develop through its two characters is where the magic happens.
"Could you love something so hideous and offensive that it made you ill to look at it?"
Terry M. West opens the story with that strange, simple question, and keeps coming back to it over the course of the story. Every time Violet asks the question, the tension builds, and every time Russell delays an answer, the dread builds along with it. I won't say anything more about the story itself, but I will say that the climax pays off perfectly, with just the right amount of horror, gore, and monstrosity.
Told in the present-tense, with short, simple sentences that give it a sense of urgency, The Green Tea Heist is a story that starts weird, and then onTold in the present-tense, with short, simple sentences that give it a sense of urgency, The Green Tea Heist is a story that starts weird, and then only gets weirder. Donald Armfield mixes mob heist with zombie horror and splatterpunk erotica, creating a twisted tale that's more than just a guilty pleasure.
It all begins with a truck load of toxic waste, a distracted driver, and a crooked sheriff. The story then shifts to incorporate a modern day pirate, a mob family, and the scientists who connect them all. Stealing a rare diamond from a cruise ship should be easy, but toss in a zombie plague, and suddenly you've got yourself a story.
The Green Tea Heist is a crazy-ass story - violent and disgusting, with sex-crazed zombies who feel no pain, and who will go to any extreme to satiate their taste for the most tender of human flesh. If you ever doubt that Donald (or certain parts of human anatomy) could go there . . . oh, they do indeed.
The Only Child is . . . well, it's a lot of things, and I think that might be the problem. Andrew Pyper weaves what could have been an entirely satisfThe Only Child is . . . well, it's a lot of things, and I think that might be the problem. Andrew Pyper weaves what could have been an entirely satisfying gothic horror story, but then dilutes it with the trappings of a contemporary psychological thriller, drags it down with a 'hunter' subplot that's as weak as it is unwanted, and ties it all to a protagonist who loses all appeal after the first few chapters.
Dr. Lily Dominick is introduced as a smart, strong, independent young woman who chooses to confront and catalogue the monsters around us. There's a glimmer of humanity beneath her cool, clinical exterior that engages the reader and draws us is, but it's all too quickly extinguished. Instead, she's reduced to the role of victim, an emotionless pawn who forces the story forward, but about whose fate it's really hard to care.
Michael, the madman and monster at the heart of the tale, is really the only reason to keep reading, but even he wears thin after a while. His backstory is utterly fascinating, a tragic tale of gothic horror that ensnares Shelley, Stevenson, and Stoker, but it's only a small part of the story. Unfortunately, the bulk of the story involves his pursuit of Lily, and while there are some interesting questions there to drive the suspense, his threatening taunts and incestuous sexual innuendo are so over-the-top that he becomes a mockery of the genre. Even worse, their contrived cat-and-mouse game will have you mentally calculating the odds of continually being in the right place, at the right time, to see/hear/find the right thing.
The whole 'gothic' thing is played very well for about the first half of the novel, before it's almost completely forgotten. There are some great set pieces, such as the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center and the abandoned asylum in Budapest, but too much of the story takes place in airports, hotels, and tile-floor bathrooms. Similarly, Michael's diaries and journals are utterly fascinating, and really serve to bring the story to life, but then they just disappear. As for the hunter subplot, the story could have done very well without it. Aside from introducing a lame romantic subplot and orchestrating a violent climax that feels out of place for the genre, it never really serves a purpose. It never feels as if Lily is truly threatened by the hunters; we're not given enough detail to ever question (or care) whether they are good or bad; and their pursuit of Michael adds absolutely nothing to his story.
There's a really good gothic horror story buried in The Only Child - unfortunately, it's overwhelmed by a boring contemporary psychological drama and a clichéd procedural thriller. The twist ending (which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one) redeems it somewhat, but by that point it's too little too late.
I won't be so crass as to suggest The Only Child should have been aborted, but it's probably for the best that it doesn't have any siblings.
With the promise of "a rogue, a gorgon, a lusty centaur woman, a barbarian, a deformed lunatic, a professional henchman, a disgraced aristocrat and aWith the promise of "a rogue, a gorgon, a lusty centaur woman, a barbarian, a deformed lunatic, a professional henchman, a disgraced aristocrat and a beautiful slave girl," I went into this with some rather high hopes, and I'm pleased to say I enjoyed it accordingly. It's a rather simple tale at its heart, with a grand tournament at its heart, but there is a depth to the characters and their backstories that lends it significance.
Personally, I found Gorman (the henchman) and Terrance (the rogue) the most entertaining of the lot, but it was Oira (the gorgon) and Cyrus (the lunatic) who intrigued me the most with their tragic stories and unorthodox role in such a grand tournament. Overall, I'm pleased to say the story was actually deeper and more developed than I expected, a legitimate fantasy, rather than just the pulp adventure I assumed was before me.
Kings of the Wyld is a book I'd seen kicking around on social media - mostly in the circles of grimdark - but one to which I really hadn't paid much aKings of the Wyld is a book I'd seen kicking around on social media - mostly in the circles of grimdark - but one to which I really hadn't paid much attention. However, when an unexpected copy arrived in my mailbox, complete with a Canadian flag sticker on the front, the promise of "brazen fun and a rock & roll sensibility" from Sebastien de Castell on the back, and a cover blurb with a definite Expendables / Taken ring to it . . . well, I was suddenly intrigued.
While I can see the grimdark angle, I'm thinking we need a new category of fantasy for the likes of Andy Remic, Mark Smylie, and (now) Nicholas Eames. I'm going to coin it maturesmirk and see if that sticks.
What I'm talking about is an evolution of the epic fantasy novel, with characters, stories, and an overall tone that have grown up alongside long-time readers like myself. The teams of adventurers are still there; the enchanted forests are still prevalent; magical weapons still abound; and there are still elves, centaurs, dwarves, and dragons to be found. Unlike the stripped-down stories of grimdark, however, everything that defined epic fantasy in the 80s and 90s is still there - just with a new perspective. These maturesmirk stories never descend into parody or mockery, but they do poke fun at their own tropes and clichés, winking-and-nodding to the reader, even as they demonstrate a fearless, almost manic urge to be edgy, violent, profane, and sometimes even a bit kinky.
Kings of the Wyld does everything right. It has a solid story, fantastic characters, real imagination, and a killer sense of humor. Instead of being a save-the-world or complete-the-quest kind of story, it's a simple tale of a washed-up mercenary who is desperate to get the old band back together to rescue his daughter from a monstrous horde. Although Rose represents a goal or a destination, the story is more about the band, their shared history, and their relationships with one another. It's a story of friendships, alliances, and even betrayals, with a band of men driven by loves lost, broken, and distant. Gabriel is desperate to rescue his daughter and avoid his ex-wife, while Clay is heartbroken to be leaving his own wife and daughter behind. Moog is still haunted by the loss of his husband, while Matrick is eager to escape his cuckold harpy of a wife. As for Ganelon, the only reason he doesn't have a wife or daughter driving him is because he was abandoned by his friends years ago, a man-of-stone in a Gorgon prison.
In many ways, this is the equivalent of an epic fantasy road trip, an often-funny experience of male bonding and opportunistic heroics. Sure, the band gets robbed (twice) by an all-female gang of thieves and falls prey to an awkward band of cannibals, but they also take down a monstrous chimera, an angry dragon, and a legitimate giant. Along the way they hitch a ride on a magical airship, suffer through Moog's misfiring magic, and get hooked up with a remnant (most certainly not a zombie), a winged bounty hunter (with a split-personality), and a two-headed ettin (one of which lies to keep up the spirits of its blind brother).
Nicholas Eames knows how to write and, more importantly, he knows how to pace and structure a novel. He mixes action and humor in equal measure, and weaves genuine emotion into the heroics. It's a fun novel, but one where sorrow and melancholy are always lurking just under the narrative. I almost hate to say it, but it's a kick-ass rollercoaster of epic fantasy heroics . . . with heart. I loved the characters, loved the journey, and even loved the climax (where, all too often, grimdark falls short for me). As maturesmirk epics go, Kings of the Wyld is a fantastically fun read, from beginning to end, and I am already looking forward to the sequel.
Although the post-apocalyptic survival genre has been done to death (no pun intended), there's always room on my shelves for a well-told tale of mankiAlthough the post-apocalyptic survival genre has been done to death (no pun intended), there's always room on my shelves for a well-told tale of mankind's demise. Fortunately, not only does The Veil (Testaments I and II) have atmosphere, tension, and genuine sorrow, but it may very well be my favorite Joseph D'Lacey tale yet. Seriously, it takes everything I loved about Black Feathers, mixes in a vintage Skeleton Crew-era King, and runs it through a pulp filter.
The first story, Testament I, starts out like a traditional post-apocalyptic tale, with a small group of ordinary survivors trapped in a single city block, under siege from nocturnal zombie-like monsters. Rather than focus on the fight for survival and the glory of destruction, however, it looks instead at the sorrow, the loneliness, and the helplessness of impending death. It temporarily becomes a story of flight, of escape, and of the hope of rebirth . . . before a Twilight Zone twist knocks you on your ass.
The second story, Testament II, may very well be the creepiest thing I have read in ages. It opens with our narrator suspended in the darkness, deep underground, and stuck to a tentacle-like vine. He can't move, else the vine will crush and tear him into submission, leaving him helpless to evade the blood, shit, and piss raining down on him from above, while fresh screams surround him. He's just one man among many, stuck somewhere in the middle of an endless tower of vegetation. As awful as that is, though, it's the flashbacks to his family's flight into the countryside, the fungal-infested homes, and the strange woman who seduces him away from his wife and son that give the story true meaning. Again, it ultimately turns into a story of desperation and escape, but if you're looking for happy endings and human redemption . . . look elsewhere.
If you're interested in a well-told tale of humanity's sad demise, one that will get inside your head and mess with your emotions, then you need to give The Veil a read.
Although it suffers from some softness in the middle, Something Violent is a crazy-ass thriller with a killer shock of an opening, a brilliantly twistAlthough it suffers from some softness in the middle, Something Violent is a crazy-ass thriller with a killer shock of an opening, a brilliantly twisted climax, and a darkly satisfying conclusion. Kristopher Rufty weaves a tale that takes its inspiration from a number of sources, but which outdoes them all in terms of sheer audacity.
Ron McClure is a marriage counselor to the stars, a celebrity in his own right, complete with talk show appearances and a book deal. When he spots a beautiful woman sobbing in a liquor store parking lot, he has no idea where a well-intentioned conversation will end - but he certainly doesn't expect to be tasered, kidnapped, and tied up in a serial killer's basement. Despite what seems like his own impending death, he can't help but be drawn into the story of a serial killer couple who've lost their lust for killing together. In between thoughts of escape, he actually starts listening to their respective stories, compelled to solve them as he has so many others.
Jody and Seth are an interesting couple, creepy as hell and twice as frightening. The story of how they met is worthy of a book all its own, and theirs is a story that just gets darker and more complicated as their confessions go on. The tricky thing is, they're an almost likable couple, making it all too easy to get drawn into their tale of terror, torture, murder, and mayhem. There's almost something of a Natural Born Killers vibe to it, but without the silly, surreal, satiric element. This reads more like an uncensored early season episode of Criminal Minds. The real hook here, though, is Something Violent itself - a darknet, subscription-based website for serial killers and their most twisted fans. I won't get into too much detail, but it ties into both how Seth and Jody met and how they drifted apart, with another serial killer couple involved in it all.
Like I said, there were a few soft spots in the middle that I think could have been tightened up, but it's so well-told, with such fantastic characters, and just the right amount of violence, that its flaws are easy to excuse. There are some definite shocks along the way, and a key tipping point where our fascination turns to horror, but the pay-off is one of the best I've come across in the genre in ages.