As regular readers of my reviews know, I've got a soft spot for westerns. Something about the archetypical dusty town out west where good versus evil...moreAs regular readers of my reviews know, I've got a soft spot for westerns. Something about the archetypical dusty town out west where good versus evil gets settled with six guns makes me very happy. And I've also got a fondness for steampunk.
So, Liberation at 50 Paces, a western steampunk short story, was set perfectly to make me a very happy reader. Not only do we have the dusty town and a duel, but there's also pitch perfect western voice. Oh yes, very happy Keryl over here.
Now, full disclosure time here. I know and like Jarod Crews. He didn't ask me for a review, nor did he read this before it went live.
Okay, now that's out of the way, let's talk about Liberation.
First off, it's a novelette. Though, being of an old-school turn of mind, I'd call it a short story. Either way, we're talking about an hour or so of easy reading.
People who are wary of short stories often complain about the fact that it's hard to really get to know a character in such a tiny bit of space. And I'll admit, as a writer, I consider that the number one challenge for writing a short story. There are a number of tricks for how to get character across quickly, foremost among them a distinctive voice, and in Liberation, Crews absolutely nailed the voice.
Less than five paragraphs in you feel like you know Hanson, (the main character) because his voice is so clear, so perfectly unique. Honestly, and this probably says as much about my geek cred as Crews' writing style, the western voice was so well done, when I was reading, I could hear Nathan Fillion's Malcolm Reynolds speaking.
For short stories, plot is often the next level of concern. Many short stories don't really have one. They're more prose poems than actual tales. And, while I'm a character reader, I do have to have something happen to keep me enjoying a tale.
I was pleased to see there was a distinct plot arc for Liberation. At first glance, the plot is fairly generic. Boy meets beautiful girl, boy falls into insta-love with beautiful girl, boy does something stupid for girl, girl's very powerful husband is understandably upset about the whole thing. And I'll admit, I was starting to get worried that this was going to be a great character trapped in a blah story, and then Crews pulled out a fabulous twist at the end, making me very, very happy.
Do I have quibbles about this? Sure. (When don't I?)
The story revolves around the idea of freedom. And that's a great theme, especially for a Western. Still, I would have liked to have seen more done with it. Hanson lives in a slave trading town, which he hates. It's a symbol for both Hanson's personal feelings of being bound, and also a meta for how damaged and constraining the world this story is set in is. Yes, this is a short story, but a thousand or so more words would have fully cemented this theme into place and given us a bit more concrete motivation for Hanson's actions.
The steampunk aspect of this story is just setting. It's cool setting, with some really interesting gizmos that are fabulous, but, nothing about it is vitally important to the plot. This could have been written as a straight western set in Texas in 1859 and would have worked just as well.
Lastly, I'm not entirely sure how old Hanson is. I know he's over sixteen (his sixteenth birthday gets mentioned). But he veers from acting very childish to very adult. His father refers to him as a boy. His voice sounds adult (most of the time). He's certainly gotten himself into a very adult situation. I guess the reason this bothers me is that the voice I hear speaking in my mind is that of a full adult, and then he turns around and does something that seems suitable for a teenager.
As I said, quibbles.
On the whole, this is a very fine bit of short story writing. It's well worth the hour of reading time. (less)
A while back, I reviewed An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom: Lovers and Beloveds. And I really enjoyed it. It was a glorious mix of epic polit...moreA while back, I reviewed An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom: Lovers and Beloveds. And I really enjoyed it. It was a glorious mix of epic politics and an erotic coming of age that just made me happy all the way through. Did I have some quibbles? Sure, but they were minor, and the whole thing was just a lovely book.
Recently, MeiLin Miranda sent me book two in the series, Son in Sorrow, and I'm happy to say, I love this one. Lovers and Beloveds was a good, solid, first book, and Son in Sorrow is even better.
These books cover so much and so deeply they are hard to categorize, but I'll try. These are the stories of what it takes to go from being a boy to a man to a king.There are scads of boy-turns-into-man stories out there, and usually they just scratch the surface, as if making a few hard decisions and killing monsters is enough to do the job. It's not. And Miranda does a brilliant job showing this.
These stories deal with not just the idea of making hard decisions, but also the soft ones, the ones that look easy on the surface but ripple outward over the years. In Lovers and Beloved the joys, erotic and emotional, of love were studied. In Son in Sorrow, the pain of love lost, jealousy, and the desire for revenge are on the menu.
This is love bound by the larger world filled with political intrigue. It's not enough that Temmin, now twenty, has to sort himself out, but he must do it on a grand stage as the Heir of a mighty kingdom, in the eyes of everyone and with scores of men out to plot his downfall.
Like Lovers, Son in Sorrow is filled with first rate world building. This reads as a history of a real world, just one you've never met before. Like Lovers, the story in story technique is used to great effect as a way to help young Temmin understand what he needs to know to help grasp at least some of what is going on around him.
Unlike Lovers, Son in Sorrow spends more time with the secondary characters. Plot threads only hinted at in Lovers get picked up, taken along for a quick tantalizing visit, and then left to germinate. Characters who flitted in and out of Lovers get their own screen time, and I'm eagerly awaiting to see where they go. A few new ones pop up as well, and seeing how well Miranda has done with the first two books, I'm happily anticipating and debating where they'll come in later in the story and how.
This is an author who does her homework. The Greater History is a complex and EPIC tale, and so far, more than 600 pages into the series we're still meeting new characters, learning new history, and setting up what is going to be an absolute corker of a tale. Yet, with the fact that this is all set up for a greater story, the bits we've already gotten do not feel unimportant or rushed. There's no sense of the author biding her time, just waiting for all the characters to get into place. This planning for the grand show to come is just as important, and interesting, as what I hope will be heading our way in the future.
So, that said, out you get for a copy of Lovers and Beloveds and Son in Sorrow. Read them! Then bookmark Miss Miranda's page so that you can get in on the next one as soon as it's out. It will be well worth your time. (less)
I ended up reading Each Angel Burns by Kathleen Valentine because of the debate as to whether or not it was a "Catholic" novel. A while back it was re...moreI ended up reading Each Angel Burns by Kathleen Valentine because of the debate as to whether or not it was a "Catholic" novel. A while back it was reviewed on a Catholic fiction site and the reviewer didn't think it was much of a Catholic novel. This resulted in some discussion and controversy. Now, while it's true that I'm not wildly qualified to judge this, I'm not any sort of literary scholar, I do know basic Catholic theology and I like to read. So onto the To Be Read list it went. Months later, I'm adding my two cents to the pot.
But before we get into that, let's talk about it as just a novel.
As a novel it is elegant and graceful, with characters I enjoyed and a writing style that mirrored the gentle souls of the main characters.
The story line is... meandering... and honestly I could have handled a few less detours from the main plot. None of them are terrible or badly written, but one in particular made me want to yell, "No, Valentine...the main plot, stick to the main plot!" I truly enjoyed these characters and wanted to spend time with them, but by the time we were reaching the climax of the story, the fine eddies of extra storyline were getting on my nerves.
Almost all of the main action takes place in flashbacks. And once again, they aren't badly written, but they do add a distance from the events, and I would have liked the immediacy of going through most of the main plot points first hand. One of the flashbacks I completely understand, and fully see it's value. But most of the rest of them followed the pattern of the main story moving ahead a day or two, then one of the characters would remember the night before. In that sort of case, there wasn't much need for the flashback.
It's a little rough on the proofreading front. As any of my regular readers know, I've seen much, much, much worse recently, but I wouldn't call it a clean copy, either. Call it a solid B effort for proofing.
So, all in all, as a novel, I liked it. I read it in two days, and when I wasn't reading I was thinking about it. That, to me, is a sign of a good novel.
So, it's a good novel, but is it a Catholic novel? It depends on what makes a Catholic Novel a Catholic Novel. I'd say it's a novel decorated with Catholicism, but not actually a Catholic novel.
It's certainly dressed in the physical details of Catholic life. Most of it is set in a deconsecrated convent. And like the convent most of the characters were, once upon a time, Catholic, but no longer practicing in any meaningful way. There are still the trappings of a Catholic life, but, with one exception, the spark of faith that makes those trappings alive has long left these people. At one point, one of the characters says, "We're meant to be Catholic..." and I think that's a good way of looking at it. Not, 'we are Catholic,' but 'we're meant to be Catholic.'
I'll take this one step farther with the actually Catholic character, a priest named Pete. In his own personal journey, I can see flashes of Catholic thought and ideas, but in the way he interacts with the other main characters, his best friend, Gabe, and his one time love, Maggie, there is nothing distinctly Catholic about his actions. When it comes to how he deals with his friends, he could have just as easily been a Pastor, and much more easily been a Rabbi.
In fact, besides Father Pete's sexual identity in relation to his faith, and the setting, there's nothing specifically Christian about this story, let alone Catholic. If there was anything in this book specifically relating to salvation by Jesus, I missed it. I'd say the only concrete theological idea espoused by this story is: where love is, there is God also. That's an idea that's not difficult to place in any given tradition.
For me, the question of the 'Catholicness', let alone Christianity, of this novel comes from the actions of the Father Pete. Pete is a compelling character, one I'd very much enjoy sitting down to dinner with, and not because he's described as the most gorgeous man in the history of maleness. Not to say I'd mind that, but I digress... He's a scholar, a dedicated servant of God, a man of intellectual depth and vibrancy, and a deep, deep well of compassion.
And, while his compassion feels very comforting, it underlies his devotion to his Lord, and if I correctly understand the hierarchical and rigid standards of Catholic theology, undermines it. Given a situation where his best friends are falling in love and committing adultery together, he is pleased for them. Gabe's wife is cheating on him. Maggie's husband is corporeal evil on two legs. Gabe and Maggie are just about perfect for each other. So, for most of us, being pleased at our friends' happiness would be an appropriate response. At least, if we weren't priests.
But Pete is a priest. This is a man who sees his two dearest friends, people he supposedly loves, throwing their souls into mortal peril, and he is pleased for them. Divorce and adultery are great big deals in Catholic theology. Marriage is a sacrament, and breaking that sacrament is a mortal sin. And while separation, and in some cases divorce, are allowable by Catholic doctrine, remarriage without an annulment is not. And, while it's true that in Catholic theology there's no such thing as a direct ticket to hell, moving in with your girlfriend while you're still married to your wife is skating awfully close to the edge of it.
Pete mentions his concern for their souls, once, but his actions: never suggesting Gabe seek marriage counseling or try to reconcile with his wife, let alone suggesting Gabe and Maggie have a chaste relationship, and being willing to officiate Gabe and Maggie's wedding once Gabe's divorce (Annulment is never mentioned either, just Gabe's divorce.) is finalized, shows that he's significantly less worried about their eternal souls than he is for their comfort in this fleeting life.
Beyond that, there is the fact that, by the end of the story we are shown that God clearly approves of all of this as well. If you believe that sex is integral to love, and that wherever love is, there is God, then this book is fine. That would be something that I personally believe. But that's not Catholic theology.
So, perhaps this is a gentle subversion of the Catholic Novel. It is a book that lovingly touches on the accoutrements of Catholicism, but they are only setting. It is a novel that creates an intensely sympathetic priest, who, while living up to the letter of his vows, places more value on this temporal life than the life eternal to come. A man who is more interested in his friends being happy than good. And there is a version of a God who gives laws, yet smiles when they are broken. I think Valentine's deconsecrated convent is a perfect metaphor for this story: it is beautiful, steeped in traditions and memories that those inside appreciate on an esthetic level, but have no intention of living by. (less)
Prophecy of Kings: The Trilogy got added to the To Be Read list after seeing a 'Please Review My Book' thread on Amazon. I read the first chapter, it...moreProphecy of Kings: The Trilogy got added to the To Be Read list after seeing a 'Please Review My Book' thread on Amazon. I read the first chapter, it looked good, and onto the list it went.
Months later (because I'm not setting any speed records for book reviewing) I picked it back up again.
I didn't finish the trilogy.
I read all the way through the first book, and it's okay. There's nothing terribly wrong with the story or the plot. But it's not great, and the characters didn't do much for me. It's a very basic, generic high fantasy: A Young Prince With A Destiny teams up with the Recovering Alcoholic Warrior. They both get roped into a dubious quest by The Dark Mage. Eventually they're befriended by The Good Elf. There's an overarching plot involving the return of Great Evil and a lesser quest plot to see about Finding The Good That Can Save Us From Great Evil. Mostly though, book one sets the scene and introduces characters.
If that plot and those character types are your idea of a good time, grab a copy of this, you'll like it.
As for me, I'm a fan of character driven plot. And I like my characters smart. They can start off innocent and trusting (stupid), but they've got to have a pretty quick learning curve. It absolutely kills me to watch characters make the same mistakes over and over and over.
Which is part of why I drug through this book, reading a page or two at a time and feeling no compelling need to keep going. Kaplyn, The Prince With A Destiny, doesn't ever seem to learn anything. Now, by the end of Legacy of the Eldrich (Book One) that slow learning curve has bitten him, badly. So my hope is that in Dragon Riders (Book Two) he's finally learning. But I wasn't hopeful enough to do more than skim the first few chapters of Dragon Riders.
The world building is okay. Not great, not terrible. It's a pretty standard medieval-esque world filled with standard fantasy critters. The magical system was slightly off the beaten track, with the Dark Mage (technically a sorcerer) gaining his power by working with demons. The Elves (Alvalah) are all albinos, but besides that, they're the standard forest-dwelling, nature-loving, vegetarians. There's a tiny bit of politics, but it's forgotten about nineteen sentences after it gets brought up.
The formatting and proofing is okay. It's not great. In my copy random squares pop up in the text. Why? I have no idea. It doesn't look like some sort of bad translation of a non-standard character. They're between words, not in the middle of them. It's not every page, or even every chapter, but it is often enough to make an impression. The proofing needed help, too. Mostly punctuation issues, the sort of thing that if you're into the story you don't notice, but if you're already dragging through it, sticks out big time.
The writing is (Are you sensing a theme, yet?) okay. It's competent. I'll forgive a lot for gloriously sparkling snark infested dialog, and that just wasn't there. And I'm always happy to see beautiful word choice, and that wasn't there, either. Once again, it's not bad, there's nothing terribly wrong with any of this. But there was nothing about the writing that made me want to keep turning pages, either.
On a story edit side, I'd say the Quest For Good to Save Us plot line could have used some more urgency. We're told the Great Evil will be showing up in sixty years. Which isn't precisely the sort of timeline that makes readers want to go ripping through the pages to see if the good guys save the day in the nick of time. We get some more urgency toward the end, which helps.
There's a nice almost twist at the end. Alert readers probably know it's coming from about the 80% mark, but the characters are genuinely surprised. Actually the end is the best bit of the book, but slogging through 200 pages to get to the decent twenty pages didn't thrill me. And I'll admit that I'm still a bit fuzzy on what precisely happened in the end. Not that I can't tell you what happened in a blow by blow sort of way. I'm fuzzy on what precisely one of the characters thought he was doing at the end and why.
So, all in all, it's okay. I didn't hate it. I didn't love it. I know fantasy readers come in many, many flavors, and this is a story that will appeal to some of them. Just not me.(less)
**spoiler alert** I really, really wanted to like Blood of Requiem. Really. I respect Daniel Arenson and sort of know him through different online ind...more**spoiler alert** I really, really wanted to like Blood of Requiem. Really. I respect Daniel Arenson and sort of know him through different online indie writer communities. His books have gorgeous cover art, and from his comments, I know he's a consummate professional.
Burt, beyond that, Blood of Requiem has weredragons. Seriously, how cool is that?
So, I was looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, it really wasn't my cup of tea. I prefer character driven novels with a certain realism to them. That wasn't Blood of Requiem.
There's a lot of action in Blood of Requiem. I got about sixty percent of the way through it, and I'm going to guess seventy percent of that is a battle, a chase, or the lead bad guy remembering raping/torturing or actually raping/torturing someone. Character and plot development are rather thin on the ground.
The lead bad guy, Dies Irae, is EVIL! And in case we didn't get the idea when we found out he's personally responsible for the almost eradication of an entire species, he's also a serial raping sadist. And we get to spend some time in his head, enjoying the rape and torture of innocents. They are distinctly uncomfortable scenes. Very well written scenes, evocative of pure evil, but not exactly comfortable reading. Not to say that they are especially graphic, this isn't The Human Centipede, but it's still a lot more rape than I want to deal with in my fiction.
I like my bad guys at least vaguely realistic. In the case of evil overlords, that means the evil overlord has to provide some level of value to his people, or else he doesn't get to be the evil overlord for very long. Absolute psychopaths can only rule by fear alone for so long (history seems to indicate this is about three years) before someone kills them. Dies Irae has been ruling for ten years, and it doesn't look like he's going anywhere anytime soon.
Put more plainly: if you want to maintain control, you've got to keep the nobles happy. Keeping them so afraid that they won't look you in the eye for fear of being eaten alive by baby griffins (No, that's not hyperbole; that scene is in the book.) is unlikely to produce happy nobles. What it's likely to produce is poison in your cup, a troop of 'loyal' soldiers who put blades in your back, and if that doesn't work, outright insurrection.
Irae came to power through a civil war, which begs another question: how bad were things before? The 'good guys' were the previous rulers. They, for obvious reasons, have a very romantic view of their past life, but still, part of running a successful coup involves making sure that your nobles are better off now than they were before. With constant rape, indiscriminate torture, and years of bloody war, unless things were really bad before, I'm not seeing the nobles going along with this.
I also like it when the characters don't heal up like Wile E. Coyote. With all the action in this book, obviously people get hurt: often and badly. But, within a matter of minutes (occasionally hours) they're back up and fighting. And while I can understand that once or twice in extreme circumstances, this happens over and over. Maybe, at some point in the book after I stopped reading, we learn that there's a horde of clerics casting healing spells, but as of the point where I stopped, I had to assume that everyone involved had Wolverine-level healing powers, but no one mentions it as out of the ordinary. The main characters are all Vir Requis (weredragons) so maybe the super healing speed is part of that, but since all but these six Vir Requis were slaughtered in combat, apparently super speedy healing is not a race trait.
So, Blood of Requiem didn't do it for me. It's well written in a visual sense. If you want to know what everything looks like, this is a great book. If you love action-packed books with absolutely despicable villains, this one might be for you. But by half-way in, I had to give up. I didn't want to spend anymore time in Dies Irae's head. It's too dark, too painful a place. I didn't want to go on another chase. I'd already been on more than I could count. I didn't want to watch another rape. One would have been more than enough, and I was way past one by sixty percent in. I skimmed ahead to the end, reading bits and pieces, and saw that the book wasn't going to change. It wasn't suddenly going to become character driven or realistic. So, I put it aside. (less)