I have a lot of respect for David Gaughran. I read his blog daily and his non fiction work Let’s Get Digital manages to be both inspiring and of pract...moreI have a lot of respect for David Gaughran. I read his blog daily and his non fiction work Let’s Get Digital manages to be both inspiring and of practical use so when I saw the chance to get a review copy of his first novel, A Storm Hits Valparaiso I jumped at it, not lease because I saw it as a way of repaying a little bit of what I’ve gotten from David over the past several months.
A Storm Hits Valparaiso is an epic story of love, hate, brotherhood, power, revenge, and the thirst for independence told from the points of view of a variety of people in positions both high and low. For the sake of perspective, Historical Fiction is not a genre I read a lot and I have no particular interest in South America. My home genre is Epic Fantasy though, so I am fully ready to accept a story that spans a continent where what’s at stake is the lives of every single person on the continent.
I wanted to love this book and I ended up just liking it.
Why did I like it?
Well, it has a little bit of everything it claims. There is love, of both the romantic and brotherly varieties. There is the simple struggle for survival of individuals juxtaposed against the larger struggle for the survival of a people with a regional identity. There is the desire of individual slaves to be free smacked right up next to the desire of a nation of people desiring to be free of a colonial power half a world away. In short, it has everything you would want in an epic.
Why then, didn’t I love it?
There are two things I would point to but I think they both stem from one overriding factor. The story is too big for the book. I come from a world of Epic Fantasy where doorstopper novels are, if not quite the norm, well within the normal range. A Storm Hits Valparaiso comes in at a bit less than a hundred thousand words which is fairly normal for a novel. But this isn’t a normal novel. We don’t have a main plot with a few sub plots. Gaughran is trying to tell us a real story from real history and if you haven’t noticed, real life is far more complex than your average novel.
To get into the specifics, I think A Storm Hits Valparaiso has two significant flaws.
One is characterization. It is spotty at best. There are, I think, two characters who are decently written though even there, we should have had more. In other cases, including what should have been one of the more emotional subplots there wasn’t enough characterization to make me actually care about the character. If I don’t care about them I don’t care about what happens to them and they—and the novel—lose all the dramatic tension they should have.
The other problem—and it’s related—is a showing/telling problem. There are a lot of places where Gaughran tells us something instead of showing us something and the story suffers as a result.
For example, there are two brothers, Jorge and Diego who get separated for a long time. When they get back together they find things aren’t quite like they were before and they end up growing apart. Gaughran tells us this and gives us a scene or two to illustrate. It should have been the reverse. Give us nine scenes where we can see that things are different and just a few lines where one of them recognizes the differences.
All in all, if you like historical fiction and/or have a particular affection for South America, I think you’ll really enjoy this story. (less)
Realmgolds has a little bit of a lot of things and as such is a little different than, well, everything. It has a little bit of politics, a little bit...moreRealmgolds has a little bit of a lot of things and as such is a little different than, well, everything. It has a little bit of politics, a little bit of war, a teensy weensy bit of romance, a bit of fantasy, a bit of steampunk, a little bibliphilic geekery.
It's good stuff.
A Realmgold is a chief executive in a federalist system of shared power. In this case, a young man named Determined is a somewhat reluctant (and unsurprisingly, ineffective) Realmgold of a country named Denning.
He sees his country is falling apart and decides he doesn't want his country to go down that way on his watch. The story tracks his growth as a person and a leader, as well as his relationship with the Realmgold of neighboring Koskant.
The end comes a bit quickly and might seem a tad anti climactic, but the focus here isn't really on the action, it's on the processes behind the action. What we see are civil servants, portrayed as anything from competent to heroic in their ability to address problems and make lives better.
It is, as I said, different, but it's entertaining and you should check it out.(less)
If you have ever read Chuck Wendig’s musings at terribleminds.com and thought them the demented ravings of a dangerously disturbed individual, Blackbi...moreIf you have ever read Chuck Wendig’s musings at terribleminds.com and thought them the demented ravings of a dangerously disturbed individual, Blackbirds will do nothing to assuage those fears.
Saying it is dark and gritty is akin to saying the Beatles didn’t suck. Our heroine, Miriam Black, is a fundamentally broken person. You don’t want to get to know her and you really don’t want to touch her.
And yet, Blackbirds is compelling in more than just a car wreck kind of way. Miriam knows she’s broken, knows how and why she’s broken, and still struggles to be less broken.
“What fate wants, fate gets,” she says, and yet she fights fate and does so, in part because she is fated to.
It’s sick, twisted, and a most excellent story.(less)
Chuck Wendig takes insightful writing advice, piles on a load of funny and vulgarity and guys like me eat it up. Which is to say, I respect him and wh...moreChuck Wendig takes insightful writing advice, piles on a load of funny and vulgarity and guys like me eat it up. Which is to say, I respect him and when I got the chance to get this novella free I jumped all over it like Jerry Sandusky at kindergarten recess.
If that last sentence bothered you then you don’t want to read Shotgun Gravy.
I don’t really like rating things from one star to five because when you get down to it, it’s just too goddamn dumb. Stories aren’t shoes. They’re more complicated. Genre matters but it’s not everything. Plot matters but it’s not everything. Characters matter but blah blah blah you get the idea.
Which is why this particular review is kind of difficult for me to write. I don’t really know what I think about Shotgun Gravy except that if the three volumes to come were out right now, I’d have bought them already. So, yeah, stick five stars on this puppy and let’s get on with it.
I didn’t really have any expectations going in which is probably odd but I think served me well as the story took some turns I really wouldn’t have imagined it taking. I’m not entirely convinced the last--or maybe second to last--turn really worked but I’d buy the next story in a heartbeat so it must have worked on some level.
Atlanta Burns is a great character with a great name. There’s a little ick in her backstory so if you think this is YA and you’re thinking of giving it to a youngish teenager you probably want to give it a read first. Also the word “fuck” shows up occasionally.
She’s tough or she wouldn’t have survived the ick in her past and while she’s superficially cynical she also has a fundamental sense of fairness and decency that most adults can’t muster. At the same time she’s got a whole boatload of emotional frailties that would make you weep if you actually knew her.
I’m not entirely sure why I loved this, but I did.(less)
I think this is likely to strike some people as being slow to get to the point and then terribly rushed over the last 15-20% of the story.
I didn't fin...moreI think this is likely to strike some people as being slow to get to the point and then terribly rushed over the last 15-20% of the story.
I didn't find it that way because I like characters as much or more than the story and the protagonist here is a heck of a character.
He starts out an interesting guy in a somewhat cliched situation and grows organically. That is, it feels like this could actually be someone's life. At one point there is a deus ex machina where the protagonist meets someone and the someone quickly makes a decision that profoundly changes the protagonists life but it didn't feel like a deus ex machina at the time.
Strange Places is a fairy tale to the last inch. It starts with a protagonist, Tayna, who is an orphaned girl in a terrible orphanage run by terrible...moreStrange Places is a fairy tale to the last inch. It starts with a protagonist, Tayna, who is an orphaned girl in a terrible orphanage run by terrible nuns. They call it the Old Shoe and that, really, is your first tipoff that this is a fairly tale. Things get worse before they get better and the next thing you know, Tanya is in a whole new world, advised that there is danger, but also that she may have parents somewhere that she hasn't known before.
Tayna is an enchanting heroine. She's enough a part of our world that she doesn't entirely trust everything that's going on around her, and enough of a little girl that she really really wants all this magic stuff to be magic.
And the magic...it's what I like best about this series so far. We're introduced to the magic in a forest where the ability to do magic is based on the awe one can see in the world around you. This is referred to as life magic, and we later see death magic which is kinda dark, creepy, and gross, but that's how you know it's a fairly tale.
The plot is more of a "Let's put this person in a new world and let them explore it" than it is a "Let's get things done" kind of plot and perhaps that's to be expected from something called Strange Places.
All in all, I would call this an enjoyable read for adults while being safe for children, although, if you're considering reading it to a child, I would warn you that the chapters tend to be rather long.(less)