Dead Beat isn't my favorite of the Dresden Files, but it had a rousing conclusion and countless developments that will a...moreNecromancy! Dinosaurs! Polka?!
Dead Beat isn't my favorite of the Dresden Files, but it had a rousing conclusion and countless developments that will affect the rest of the series.
Harry battles a pack of power-hungry necromancers in this one, and where death magic is involved, what are we likely to see? That's right, folks. Zombies! Butcher's version are all about obeying the will of the wizard animating them, an aspect that is more terrifying to me than the thought of a mindless, brain-lusting horde.
While the dead are banging down his door, Harry scrambles to find a book, preserve Murphy's reputation, and keep a polka-obsessed M.E. from joining the ranks of the dead. The result is about what you'd expect: Heaps of physical pain for Harry, some disappointment, and the usual steady stream of corny quips.
It was great to get back to Dresden's Chicago, though there were quite a few references to previous plot points that I'd just plumb forgotten. I haven't read the synopses for the coming books, but with all the nods to past cases and old foes, Dead Beatleft me with the distinct impression that Butcher is repositioning everyone for something big. As much as I love following Harry on a case-by-case basis, I'm eager to see how his world will expand and how he’ll be challenged in the near future.
There were so many new developments in this installment, highlighting what I really love about Butcher’s writing: He never lets his lead character stagnate. Harry is constantly changing and adapting as powerful temptations come his way. He’s increasingly cynical, while at the same time, his personal ties to the world grow stronger with each book. He’s becoming fiercer and more formidable and since he was already a force to be reckoned with, I see a lot of drama on the horizon.
As an aside, I hope that drama comes with a better editor. I don’t recall many inconsistencies in the previous books, but when there’s a power outage and the wizard is taking an elevator… (less)
Mercy’s arrival in the Tri-Cities is just as eventful as you’d hope.
This GN covers Mercy’s initial meetings with Adam and Stefan, as well as h...moreMercy’s arrival in the Tri-Cities is just as eventful as you’d hope.
This GN covers Mercy’s initial meetings with Adam and Stefan, as well as how she came to work for Zee. It’s fun to see the set-up for these relationships. However, I wasn’t a major fan of the artwork.
Zee is spot-on, as is Darryl. Stefan looks a mite more frightening than I’ve ever pictured him, with his hollow cheeks and zombie-ish pallor--looking as he does, no one could ever mistake him for a member of the living. Mercy was the greatest disappointment (and no, that is not a comment on the nudity, which I thought was very fitting). In some panels, she’s completely oversexualized. The Mercy of the books is a good-looking gal, not some buxom bombshell with curves that won’t quit and the face of a model. In other panels she looks like she spends night and day shooting steroids, with thighs that would rival a footballer's. These inconsistencies and exaggerations do not suit the character.
As for the story itself, Mercy seems more irascible than normal but she’s younger and only just finding her niche. She displays those same traits we love her for: helping when she can, sticking her nose into danger, and earning the begrudging respect of the supernatural beings she encounters. It’s a fitting origin-story. It also nicely establishes the tension between Mercy and Adam, as well as the fast friendship she shares with Stefan.
Overall, it’s a nice addition to the series, but it doesn’t make me yearn for more GN adaptations. (less)
I can't decide whether I like this series. The concept of Celestial Courts and a lawyer tasked with reducing the afterlife sentences of sinners is an...moreI can't decide whether I like this series. The concept of Celestial Courts and a lawyer tasked with reducing the afterlife sentences of sinners is an interesting one. The dead contact Bree with cryptic messages. From there, she investigates their murders and also finds the mitigating circumstances that should lessen their time in purgatory or free them from the clutches of Hell. It holds a good deal of promise.
Unfortunately, I still haven't taken to Bree. Her vicious temper makes it difficult to see her succeeding in any of her current roles: earthly lawyer, investigator, or celestial advocate. She lacks the patience to gain the trust of those she interviews, and she's very quick to take offense. She usually has a reason to be miffed, but I fail to see how constantly displaying her ire is advantageous. I wouldn't be able to take her seriously for long, and I can see why Detective Hunter is so frequently exasperated with her.
Bree's lack of finesse also doesn't help when it comes to evaluating clues. There were several staring her in the face from early on, but she was too riled up about her offended sensibilities to logic them out until the end of the story. Since these clues were provided by her "spirited" client, I don't understand why they didn't warrant immediate research compared to chatting with her earthly client's friends. Yes, both aspects were necessary to solve the case. However, everything would've been much clearer had she concentrated on these hints first.
Stanton strives to make Savannah and its environs a part of the story; frankly, she's working too hard at it. Instead of making the city come alive, her varied architectural descriptions only slow down the flow of the narrative. It's one thing to make me understand which homes are richly appointed and which are of a lower echelon. It's quite another to describe everything down to the type of flooring in the foyer. My eyes glazed over during these passages as I begged for the action to start up again.
The mystery itself was resolved suddenly, and not through any talent of Bree's. She has a way of tumbling into danger and tripping over the answers--a plot device that irks me. Why plant clues throughout the text if the heroine is just going to stumble blindly into the solution?
The overarching theme of a malevolent force gunning for Bree would be far more intriguing were it explained with as much detail as her client's decor. Bree is kept in the dark about most aspects of the system she's working within and it's frustrating. Her excuse of being too well-mannered to ask in-depth questions is tiring. If some nasty, greasy, foul spirit was banging down my door, I'd certainly demand some information! The excuse that her helpers are not allowed to do anything but guard her and nudge her in the right direction is all well and good, but I think the girl should be more insistent about learning what she's up against. She has an entire library of reference material concerning this new career and I don't think she's cracked a single tome. In short, I don't like it when heroines allow themselves to be swept up in the tide, flailing and floundering their way clear. Willful ignorance is not a virtue.
I own the next book in the series so I will certainly read it. For me to continue past that, I'd better see some thrilling action and shocking discoveries in Avenging Angels.(less)
**Implied spoilers for The Iron King and The Iron Daughter.**
It’s a bit of a cop-out, don’t you think, to create a trilogy…and then end it with what c...more**Implied spoilers for The Iron King and The Iron Daughter.**
It’s a bit of a cop-out, don’t you think, to create a trilogy…and then end it with what can only be described as an introduction to a fourth book?
That’s precisely what Kagawa does with The Iron Queen. She finishes the main thrust of the story - the Iron Kingdom’s encroachment on the Never Never - but leaves the romance hanging in the balance, necessitating a fourth book to wrap things up. Though the prospect of following Ash, Puck and Grim on their own adventure intrigues me, I can’t help but feel it’s a cheap tactic to extend the series. Or perhaps poor marketing on the publisher’s part.
I wasn’t eager to read this book. I enjoyed much of The Iron King because of the world Kagawa created, but The Iron Daughter fell flat. Meghan was whiny, obtuse and hyper-changeable, dragging the story down as only an unlikable heroine can. I went ahead with the third book for two reasons: first, Series OCD demanded I finish the trilogy (when I still thought it was a trilogy); second, my library had the e-book available.
The Iron Queen (noooo, these book titles don’t give the plot away, not at all) finds Meghan even more bratty and inept. I understand she’s young. I get that she’s overwhelmed. However, her aggressive demeanor does nothing to endear her to me. She snaps and glares, stomps and slams her way through the novel, attacking almost everyone who comes near. She’s a seventeen year old who has now been dealing with the fae for a year - I don’t expect her to still embody one large temper tantrum and be allowed to get away with it. It makes no sense for anyone to put faith in her (never mind two men to fawn all over her) when her only constant is pitching a hissy.
The task before her is an expected one: find and defeat the false Iron King before he succeeds in devastating the Never Never. Unfortunately, this goal echoes the first book’s too closely, making me wonder why we needed the second and third installments.
Most of what we discover in The Iron Queen is set in motion long before, yet the characters still act immensely surprised at the developments. For example, there’s a key revelation in book two that doesn’t come into play until the very end of this volume. It’s a painfully obvious connection, yet Meghan doesn’t come close to grasping it until (as usual) Grimalkin intervenes. His exasperation is palpable as he resorts to well-deserved condescension to coax the answer from Meghan. Beginning with “I am continuously amazed at the lack of preparation around here," (you and me both, bub) the cait sidhe radiates disapproval…and it only gets worse:
“Grimalkin sighed loudly… ‘Am I the only one here who has any insight at all?’ he said, looking at each of our faces. We stared at him, and he shook his head. ‘Drawing a blank are you? Think about what you just said, human. Repeat that last phrase, if you would.’”
Sadly, this exchange goes on for a while, continuing with: “Please attempt to use the brain I know is hidden somewhere in that head.” Later, when she finally understands: “‘Bravo,’ Grimalkin deadpanned, rolling his eyes. ‘The light bulb finally comes on.’” (76.4%) Grim and I both lost years of our lives waiting for Meghan and her companions to acknowledge what was staring them in the face.
Such conversations highlight why Grim is my favorite character - he’s the only one who sees how completely thick Meghan is. I'd even go so far as to claim Grim is the real hero of the story, since without his frequent intervention the leads would be dead and the Never Never barren/non-existent.
At the same time, his character vexes me. His words and behaviour imply that Kagawa knows full-well that her characters are idiots. If that’s the case, why not write them differently? The excuse that one of them is a teen in over her head only goes so far when she has two ancient beings at her side. Either Puck and Ash are not all they’re cracked up to be, or Meghan’s stupidity is catching.
There are a few high points. Unfortunately, many of these can (once again) be linked to ideas originating in other works. There are more anime-ish robots, walking tanks reminiscent of Star Wars/Labyrinth, and a fortress that’s a very close cousin to Howl’s Moving Castle. If one isn’t well-versed in these worlds, the concepts might seem original. Too many of us know different.
Will I read The Iron Knight? Probably. That damn Series OCD will compel me to eventually, against my better judgment. Also, I’ll admit I’m curious to see how Kagawa handles writing from a male POV. However, it’s not something I would dole out the cash for, nor would I ever encourage others to submit themselves to the head-desk level of frustration that is the Iron Fey series.(less)
**6.12.2011 ETA: Finished book three and this is one of the most frustrating YA series I've read to date. If you've no tolerance for angsty, bratty, o...more**6.12.2011 ETA: Finished book three and this is one of the most frustrating YA series I've read to date. If you've no tolerance for angsty, bratty, obtuse heroines, steer right clear of it.**
When I first read The Iron King I enjoyed it. I found Ash intriguing, Puck endearing, Grim deliciously mysterious, and the iron fey’s origins refreshing. I applauded Kagawa for conceptualizing a breed of fey borne of our obsession with technology. I noticed obvious similarities between The Iron King and the movie Labyrinth, but they didn’t prevent me from appreciating the story as a whole.
Time passed and friends read the book. In their reviews I found references to other works - plot points they’d come across before in movies, books, and manga - and I decided to lower my rating. Nevertheless, I still clung to the idea that these concerns fell into the FBS zone. Surely the second book would heighten my opinion of the series and distinguish it from other YA.
It surely did not.
Though I still enjoy the concept of the iron fey and the destruction their technology brings to a magic-dependant realm, The Iron Daughter was such a frustrating read that I may abandon the series. My exasperation can be summed up in one word: Meghan.
Apparently, our heroine is a fickle, emotionally-charged idiot. Time and again, her angsty cries defy all logic and she comes off as completely self-absorbed. Some examples? Gladly. (Slight spoilers for the trajectory of the romance.) - Ash explains he cannot show kindness towards her at Mab’s court because any weakness will be preyed upon. Yet when he publicly behaves in a boorish manner, she decides that he played her, anguishes over his rejection and begs him to snatch her up in an embrace in front of all of Winter. Waaah, I thought I was special, she cries. Guess that warning went in one ear and out the other. He shouldn’t have wasted his breath. - Ash makes an attempt to rescue her from Mab’s cruelty. Meghan chooses this tense, time-sensitive occasion to have a hissy fit in a hall, putting them at risk of getting caught. This is made all the worse by her admission that she’s being an idiot, preventing me from ever having any sympathy for her again. - Meghan learns of numerous precautions Ash put into place (at great risk to himself) to ensure her well-being, yet she still considers the possibility that he used glamour to manipulate her affections. - And the most confounding moment: Her love, for whom her soul was crying earlier on, sits in a corner dying. Instead of heeding Puck’s repeated statement that the boy needs a healer, Meghan takes the time to browse her CD collection and interrogate a bogey. Zero sense of urgency. But when they reach the healer, she bullies the woman into helping because her darling man doesn’t have much time left. Where was this fearsome concern over the passage of time, this “heart-twisting” worry, when she was quizzing the bogey under the bed?
Add to this the all too common love triangle. Not two minutes after going into a lengthy tirade about how she longs for Ash, Meghan actually thinks, “Why not try with Puck?” Why is this convention so frequently used in YA? Are teen emotions really this changeable in the writer’s eyes? In my experience, it’s the opposite. When a teenager finds someone to pine over, crush on, lust after they become absolutely fixated. Especially when the object of fixation is set in a Romeo and Juliette, us against the world, light.
Moreover, what do Puck and Ash see in her? It’s a common complaint across the UF genre: too often writers create a heroine with multiple suitors, only to fail to justify her allure to the reader. Other than Meghan’s odd powers and her unthinking willingness to tumble headlong into trouble, there’s nothing that sets her apart. The only character whose fascination I can understand is Grim - for him, it’s like a front row seat at a train wreck or the Jerry Springer show. Why shouldn’t he amuse himself?
As an aside, Puck and Ash’s relationship is far more deserving of discussion than Meghan’s relationship with either. As one character observes: “They’re either best friends or darkest enemies, I can’t tell which.” Neither can we, since they’re the embodiment of the fine line between love and hate. Forget Meghan - these two boys are perfect fodder for some slashy fanfic (making mental note to check the interwebs later).
Back to Grimalkin. These characters would be dead - many times over - without his help. He repeatedly pops in at the eleventh hour to save them, picking up the slack in their poorly conceived plans. Grim’s disdain-riddled comment that Ash, Meghan and Puck are “the hope of the NeverNever” is all too valid. With these illogical, inept children next in line to take up the mantle, Faery seems doomed regardless.
Grim’s timely interventions raise another problem: convenient plot points abound. Kagawa also frequently halts the action so she can insert some new twist, leading to scenes that feel forced and unnatural in context (a day trip to a spa comes to mind - frankly, every scene with the new character, Lea, seems out of place). (view spoiler)[I can’t get over the fact that Meghan’s Winter Formal just happens to take place while they’re in the real world, allowing Ms. Social Outcast to attend with not one but two attractive boys. Ah, a Cinderella moment. Not cliché at all. (hide spoiler)]
I remain impressed with Kagawa’s flair for economical yet highly-detailed descriptions of settings, but why must she resort to stale repetition for characters’ appearances and emotions? Disappointing.
Were this series a trilogy, I would willingly pick up the next book for the resolution of the iron fey plot. After all, the developments on that front were enough to keep me reading this installment. However, I notice that there is a fourth book on the horizon, and who knows how many more to follow. At this juncture, I’m not convinced the series is deserving of the time investment. Meghan sets my teeth on edge, and I can’t imagine her improving. This is going on the Maybe Later pile. Way, way later.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I asked dear Harry Dresden to pull me out of my reading slump, and what did he do?
He kept me up all night.
Blood Rites was just what I needed. A page...moreI asked dear Harry Dresden to pull me out of my reading slump, and what did he do?
He kept me up all night.
Blood Rites was just what I needed. A page-turner of a book, it’s filled with the humor and suspense I’ve come to expect from the Dresden Files. Within the first few pages, incendiary poo and a psychotic puppy ensured my amusement. By the end of the story, I’d learned a lot more about Harry and the secrets surrounding him--and in the harsh light of morning I only vaguely regret losing sleep because of it.
At its core, Blood Rites is all about family: the one you’re born into vs. the one you choose, the secrets kept and the lies told, the lengths people go to in order to protect their own. Along the way, Harry discovers truths about himself that threaten the foundations of his existence. We also get a glimpse into Murphy’s family, which makes very clear the source of her strength and determination. Last but not least, we gain insight into the White Court of vampires and Thomas’ place in the House of Raith.
Through these examinations of family, Butcher deftly introduces plot twists to keep the main story arc moving and Harry’s emotions churning. It’s a hallmark of a good series that the main character continues to learn and grow. Harry is a work in progress; watching him react to change and absorb its meaning is by turns entertaining and heartbreaking.
I’ve come to expect frenzied action and awesome feats from the wizard, but it’s his humanity and realism that keeps me coming back for more. (less)
Devil's Kiss is Sarwat Chadda's first novel. It's a decent debut to his UF series in terms of story, but I confess having problems with the cha...more**2.5**
Devil's Kiss is Sarwat Chadda's first novel. It's a decent debut to his UF series in terms of story, but I confess having problems with the characters.
Bilqis SanGreal is a member of the Knights Templar. Mind you, she has no desire to be. It's the family business, and so she has spent her entire life training to kill nasty, unholy creatures at the expense of a normal childhood. She has only one friend, little to no relationship with her father, and is surrounded by a bunch of warriors who don't approve of her inclusion in the first place. This sets Billi up as a difficult, resentful sort of teen. While I can understand her anger, it’s still very hard to connect with her. She is distant and contrary and often immature in her reactions. For a girl brought up to be a warrior, I’d expect more emotional discipline.
This is truly Billi's story. Supporting characters are barely explored because Billi is too ensconced in her resentment to let us know them. As a result, I cared little about the deaths that occurred and was even less concerned when Billi was in mortal peril.
The story centers around a cursed mirror, an ethereal being, and a cadre of ancient foes eager to cause havoc. As you'd expect from a book involving Templars, religion factors heavily: angels, the devil, and crucifixes galore. It's a genre niche I've been undecided on; Chadda hasn't helped me make up my mind. Meanwhile, the plot (which is NOT an angsty love triangle - despite the cover blurb‘s implications) moves along rather quickly but relies too heavily on Billi for its excitement level. Pitted against the major foe several times, Billi vehemently tries to deny her place in the grand scheme. She lacks a warrior's heart and so this reader was hard-pressed to accept her importance - or to understand how she keeps making it out alive.
Which brings me to an aside: why oh why do our heroes so often pause before delivering the killing blow? Especially when facing an enemy for whom he/she harbors no sympathy? It's a plot device I could gladly do without.
The book ends with most threads wrapped up, so I don’t feel an insistent need to read the next installment. My detachment from Billi doesn’t encourage me either, despite Chadda’s competent turn of phrase. I’m going to leave this series on the shelf. (less)
River Marked made me laugh, made me tear up, made me tense, and made me sigh in contentment. For some reason this sixth book of the series struck me i...moreRiver Marked made me laugh, made me tear up, made me tense, and made me sigh in contentment. For some reason this sixth book of the series struck me in a way none of the previous installments did. That in itself is a great feat on Briggs’ part; instead of growing stale over time, Mercy’s escapades are reaching new heights in a way few long-standing series accomplish.
Mercy and Adam are a dynamic, well-suited couple. While it’s been enjoyable watching their relationship develop, it was wonderful to see their interactions away from the pressures of home. Without the constant weight of responsibility, Adam’s personality has the opportunity to fully shine through. Without the expectations of the pack affecting Mercy’s behaviour, she allows herself to be fully vulnerable to Adam. Not to say their relationship wasn’t strong before, but I think River Marked gives them the opportunity to just be Mercy and Adam, two people who love and trust one another beyond all measure. Kudos to Briggs for striking a perfect balance - letting these two get emotional and sappy while still maintaining all the personality traits we’ve come to adore.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting Mercy and Adam’s one-on-one time, but this book delighted me further by incorporating another aspect I’ve been dying to delve into: Mercy’s heritage. It seems fitting that she discover more about her Native American roots now that she has a secure and loving support system to bolster her up. And my, oh my, does she learn a lot. Briggs weaves countless legends into the text, their inclusion so effortlessly executed that I hope it becomes a trend in later books. She made me excited to learn more, and I’ll certainly be researching some of the stories referenced. (view spoiler)[In particular, I need to find the “ruder” versions Calvin and Coyote mentioned so I can better picture that final scene in the kitchen. Heh heh.
Speaking of Coyote, I want him to pop up again as soon as possible. I’m always a sucker for Trickster portrayals, but Briggs’ version is especially endearing. It doesn’t hurt that his entire scene by the riverbank - chucking Mercy into the water, snatching her back from the creature, then conducting a series of quick experiments to figure out what they’re dealing with - reminded me distinctly of my darling Doctor Who. I’m almost tempted to drop the author a line and ask if she’s a fan. (hide spoiler)]
In terms of side stories, I was gratified to get an update on Stephan. He’s one of my favorite characters and his presence was greatly missed. I’m also a big fan of the wily walking stick, so any information on that is always welcome.
I’m not sure where Briggs will take the series next; there aren’t many distinct storylines in immediate need of attention. But this well-paced and skillfully plotted installment serves as proof that Briggs only gets better with time. No matter what the direction, I anxiously await more adventures.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Killer ladybugs! Nightgowned knights! Floote fighting?! Not to mention lots of pesto…Blameless has it all!
Even though I haven’t been left in a tizzy...moreKiller ladybugs! Nightgowned knights! Floote fighting?! Not to mention lots of pesto…Blameless has it all!
Even though I haven’t been left in a tizzy by this installment (no cliffhanger this time, intrepid readers), I’m still anxious to get my hands on the next book. Ohhh, July--why art thou so far away?
Looking back, I’ll admit I had a few issues with the second in thee series, Changeless. It was entertaining, but compared to the shininess that was Soulless it faltered in terms of plot cohesion and consistency of character personalities. I‘m happy to say Blameless does not suffer from the same problems.
Swinging back and forth between the pack’s activities in London and Alexia‘s travels through the Continent, the story allows us to get a better feel for both. We witness the werewolves’ drama mostly through the eyes of Professor Lyall, a character whose steadfast and sympathetic nature I find rather impressive. The more I learn about him, the more I adore him. He’s a perfect foil for the boisterous, demanding personalities surrounding him. His understated sense of humor, keen mind and efficient manner make the pack scenes intriguing and I’m thrilled to see him get more page-time.
Alexia’s jaunt across Europe and the Mediterranean is equally interesting and rather action-packed. Her parasol and its many perks come in handy more than once, as she and her companions fend off vampires and religious zealots. In fact, the group does so much fleeing in this novel that I fully appreciate Alexia’s yearning for a large armchair in a quiet library.
In between assassination attempts, Alexia gains some insight into her own soulless state, as well as tidbits regarding her father‘s past. Carriger doles out the information as pieces of an intricate puzzle. Even though Alexia is progressing in her quest for knowledge, there’s still scads of room for speculation. We have a long way to go before we see the whole picture, but getting there is half the fun.
Speaking of fun, Blameless introduces more steampunk gadgetry for Alexia (and me) to drool over. Carriger weaves these elements into the story with just the right amount of detail. We can clearly picture the inventions involved without things getting bogged down in minutia. And what inventions there are! I foresee even more of them in the future now that Alexia has befriended yet another scientist--I’m looking forward to it.
Addressing the character issues I had with the previous book, I’m thrilled to announce that all of the annoying personalities have been put back in their rightful places. The Loontwills are scarce, placing Felicity and family squarely where they belong: as side characters who, in small doses, add a level of comedy and allow Alexia to showcase her defiant attitude. Ivy, too, plays only a small role and comes off all the better for it. Carriger has restored her to the woman we met in Soulless: loveably dippy, but capable of pragmatism and a bit of insight when the occasion demands it. Lyall goes so far as to wonder how much of her foolishness is simply for show--a question I never would’ve asked about the Ivy depicted in Changeless. Does the character variation irk me? Yes. Does it annoy me enough to harp on it? No, because this version of Ivy is preferable and much more in line with a friend of Lady Maccon.
On the whole, another worthwhile volume in the Parasol Protectorate series--one filled with daring escapes, tantalizing clues, emotional upheavals, and as always, wit to spare. La, my darlings, I can’t wait for the next!(less)
“Modern horror is not often subtle. Most of those who practice the art of the unsettling far too often go for the jugular, forgetting that the best p...more“Modern horror is not often subtle. Most of those who practice the art of the unsettling far too often go for the jugular, forgetting that the best predators are stealthy. Nothing wrong with going for the jugular, of course, but writers of genuine skill and talent have more than one trick in their bags…Joe Hill is one stealthy bastard.”
So says Christopher Golden in his introduction to 20th Century Ghosts. And he’s correct.
I’ve read the first two installments of Hill’s Locke & Key series. His graphic novels are excellent in terms of raw emotion and twisted plots, and Rodriguez’ artwork drives home the subtle ways in which Hill builds bone-deep terror into his story. With that in mind, I was both nervous and excited to explore Hill’s prose.
I wasn’t disappointed.
In the sixteen stories chosen for this collection, Joe Hill proves himself a polished writer, capable of eliciting a wide variety of responses from the reader. Some made me laugh aloud, others caused my eyes to widen and my breath to stutter. A few prompted a bittersweet smile as I sympathized with a characters’ pain, and wished them better days ahead.
Even in the short story format, Hill manages to foster a connection between the characters and the reader. It probably helps that there are a few running themes, particularly the familial bonds between brothers or between a father and son. The exploration of these creates a sense of continuity despite the fact that the stories themselves are unrelated.
The titular short follows the template of a classic ghost story, complete with a haunting as well as messages from beyond the grave. Hill’s style elevates it by giving this ghost a purpose beyond herself and an influence that is still positive amidst all the creepy trappings. The ending is a chilling, exhilarating one, prompting both goosebumps and a sad smile.
Throughout many of these shorts, Hill pays homage to his influences and gives a nod to other writers. Two of his stories are more direct in their references - one dealing with the Van Helsings of Dracula fame, another a retelling of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Others hit a decidedly Twilight Zone-esque note, particularly “The Black Phone” and “Last Breath” where the seemingly impossible invades the real world and must be accepted, even embraced.
Even the more gruesome of his stories veer away from merely crude tactics; those with harsh imagery rely more on the emotional shock than the visualization of gore. As one of Hill’s characters states, “In horror, it’s often what you leave out that gives a story its power.” It’s a tactic the author uses to great effect, repeatedly giving us an inkling of madness, of the extraordinary, but leaving the how and why vague so our own imaginations can fill in the blanks.
Hill also offers an unexpected surprise: including several stories I wouldn’t stamp as horror at all. They may have inexplicable elements or explore the difficulties of human existence, but they include such positive outcomes that the resultant chill is one of hope and the constructive realization of potential. Incorporating these stories serves as an enhancement, showing the balance between the terrifying and the comforting, proving that one cannot be appreciated without the other.
All too often, anthologies can be tedious affairs. They are meant to showcase the best of an author’s work, but frequently consist of a few good stories weighed down by more mediocre offerings. 20th Century Ghosts holds closer to the true intention behind such collections, making me excited and eager to explore Hill’s writings and the thrills and chills his imagination conjures. (less)
Firstly, I appreciate this type of anthology. Even though I'd read some of the stories before, it's nice having everything gathered in one volume. Sec...moreFirstly, I appreciate this type of anthology. Even though I'd read some of the stories before, it's nice having everything gathered in one volume. Secondly, Butcher is quite talented at the short-story format. He crafts believable, contained, complete plots that add much in the way of character development without becoming required reading. Granted, there are certain references within the novels that aren't clear without delving into the shorts, but they generally aren't vital enough to throw off the main plot.
I also enjoyed the intros to each tale. They give a glimpse into Butcher's creative process and into the man himself. And thankfully, he seems like a rather cool, down-to-earth guy.
One who's a lil too gleeful over all the chaos he chucks at Harry...
A Restoration of Faith - *4* Short, sweet, and a good introduction to Harry. Murphy goes a little too easy on him compared to the officer we see in the beginning of the series proper.
Vignette - *4* Very brief, somehow reminding me of how much more cynical Harry has grown over the course of the series.
Something Borrowed - *4* Great story involving Billy and Georgia and a nasty fae plot. It clarified a comment I didn't understand in Small Favor. Seems like forever since Harry's mentioned these two, though perhaps there's something I'm forgetting? The scene where Harry calls out Georgia's evil stepmother is absolutely priceless.
It's My Birthday, Too - *4.5* I'd read this one in the original anthology, but I think it was before I'd gotten into the series (spoilers, grrr). Well plotted, swift moving, and definitely emotional in its own way - the latter something I couldn't appreciate fully the first time around.
Heorot - *3.5* Mac calls for help, which is shocking enough in and of itself without following it up with an attack from a hairy scary horny creature of lore. This one includes Miss Gard, whom I find very intriguing - all the moreso after Small Favor. Her musical choices now make perfect sense.
Day Off - *4* Oh, poor Harry. In the introduction, Butcher mentions feeling quite gleeful about throwing as many catastrophes as possible at his character. All the better for us that he's such a sadistic man, because this story is hilarious in its chaos.
Backup - *5* Loved seeing Thomas in action. Hearing about his Hunger first-hand and learning of his own personal crusades really rounds out his character. And his voice is Harry-like - shoring up their connection - but still distinct.
The Warrior - *5* Amazing follow-up to the events of Small Favor, with a scene so emotional and tense and human I stopped breathing for a moment. Fantastic, thoughtful ending, too.
Last Call - *3* The weakest thus far. A quick investigation with Murphy that results in forced emotions and an unlikely moment of vulnerability for the Sergeant.
Love Hurts - *2.5* Call me Blasphemer, but I'm just not a believer in the Harry/Karrin Meant-To-Be-ness. I think they empathize well with one another and balance each other out, but I've never felt the remotest bit of romantic chemistry between them. So stories like this annoy me. Stop with the forced sexual tension!
Aftermath - *4.5* An excellent, engaging story that gives me a whole new perspective on Murphy.
Seeing her through Harry’s eyes has always been hard. Too often, Butcher doesn’t do a capable enough job of distinguishing her voice from the wizard’s, making her more of a flat sounding board for exposition. Though she’s come far over the years, and no one would ever doubt her ability in a fight, it’s been difficult to get a proper feel for the woman. To fully appreciate her as a separate entity.
Aftermath changes that. Suddenly, she’s a far more layered personality, distinct from Dresden and coming into her own. As Sanya repeatedly proclaims, she is tiny, but fierce, and the concept is true right down to Murphy’s very core.
Teaming up with Billy (sorry, don’t know if he’ll ever be Will to me) to find the once again kidnapped Georgia (can the girl get a break?), we are treated to the purely human side of dealing with an investigation. Murph laments her inability to divine facts out of thin air as Dresden can, but she’s quick-thinking, logical, and cool-headed. Only we the readers know how hard-pressed she is to keep herself together.
We get an insight into her cop mindset -- the posturing she’s incorporated into her every interaction, an affectation she’s developed over her fifteen years on the force. She lays it all out in no uncertain terms: as a woman -- and an extraordinarily petite one at that -- she’s learned that she can never back down, that she’s walking in a world where body language and things left unsaid hold more power and weight than anything else. She’s built up an armor around her, and enhanced it by training her body as strictly as she’s disciplined her mind. Her will and focus are tremendous…and that helps explain why Harry had such a difficult time overcoming her denial of the supernatural in their early encounters.
Seeing Murph through Harry’s eyes does her a disservice. The wizard is well-intentioned, but his self-proclaimed blindness when it comes to women, his focus on their supposed soft-heartedness, lessens her. He’s always peering into her depths, trying to convince us that beneath the hard cop exterior there lurks a gooey center. He’s not wrong, of course: Murphy is thoroughly good people and her heart is nothing like stone. But in Aftermath we come by that knowledge comfortably, an undercurrent of sorrow and determination -- courage battling despair, as Gard states -- that pervades the piece rather than being forced upon us in offhand observations. Being in her head finally allowed the hard edges and the finer emotions to combine into an understandable and relatable whole.
It helps that we’re seeing Murphy do what she does best: defending her city from an abhorrent threat. Butcher showcases her fighting talents in a sequence that has her going at her attackers hard, but smart. Or as smartly as she can with what she’s facing. She uses her instincts and her training. She uses all the lessons she’s learned from previous supernatural encounters. She brings to bear the knowledge of magic her friend has bestowed upon her. She‘s no slouch, this woman. And seeing a “vanilla mortal“ face the monsters head-on, seeing her come out on top? It’s exceptionally gratifying.
Considering the emotional strain she’s under, it’s also remarkable. But (view spoiler)[losing Harry (hide spoiler)] has given her a sense of renewed purpose. Her devotion to Chicago and its citizens radiates throughout the story. Her belief in the example Harry has set is a fantastic testament to his influence, to the resilience and defiance he’s inspired in others. Experiencing all of that first-hand, from Murphy’s point of view, makes her so much more than a fierce ally to have at one’s back. It makes it abundantly clear that she’s a warrior. A survivor. And a damned good friend. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)