The best way to start off this review of Graeme Reynolds’s High Moor 2: Moonstruck is with a glance back at what I had to say about the original High...more The best way to start off this review of Graeme Reynolds’s High Moor 2: Moonstruck is with a glance back at what I had to say about the original High Moor:
I truly loved this book. Once I started to really read it, I finished the novel in a day and a half. Whenever I put it down, I found myself coming back to it almost impulsively. I haven’t been this addicted to something since I downloaded Angry Birds. Recommended without reservation to anyone who is a fan of horror or anyone that wants to be. High Moor is the kind of book that will make converts of us all.
It goes without saying that I was anticipating High Moor 2 immensely, but also with some trepidation. After such a great debut, could Reynolds keep it up? Was there any way that he could match the intensity of the original, the page-turning ferocity of its werewolves? Would we end up with a mindless retread? More werewolves, more killing, more boring? I was afraid, my friends. Well, now I’ve read the book and I have my verdict.
Not only is High Moor 2 an incredible ride worthy of my expectations, indeed, it accomplishes something truly rare—it surpasses the original.
High Moor 2 begins precisely where High Moor left off. John Simpson is in police custody, accused of brutally murdering (and eating) several people. The love of his life, Maria, is in the morgue, the authorities under the impression she is dead. Meanwhile, werewolf hunter Steven is in a coma, with the first stirrings of the beasts he has spent his life hunting surging through his blood. Meanwhile, teams of werewolves are on their way to High Moor, intent on destroying the evidence and keeping the existence of the pack a secret. And that means killing John Simpson.
One thing that is certainly the case—if you liked High Moor, you will like this book. Reynolds writes as if the last book never stopped. The style is crisp, the story doesn’t seem forced, and the action doesn’t let up. New characters are introduced with ease, and Reynolds makes us care for them almost immediately. Which just makes it all the better when werewolves start eating them. I’m going to repeat from my original review, because it is appropriate here.
The werewolves in Reynolds’s novel are of two varieties. Most can change at will, controlling the beast within while also harnessing its power. Others are “moonstruck,” able to change only upon the full moon. They are wild and vicious, and the pack werewolves hunt them down, lest they reveal their secret to the world. And let me tell you, there is a lot of hunting, a lot of fighting, and a lot of killing. No character is safe in Reynolds’s world, and that he establishes this fact early on heightens the tension in every werewolf encounter. His descriptions of the attacks are so rich and vivid that you will see them in your mind’s eye with a clarity normally reserved for movies. And it is that talent with description that may be Reynolds’s strongest suit. The man isn’t just writing a scene. He is creating a world for his characters to inhabit.
This book is amazing. It has some of the most gut wrenching scenes of horror I have ever read, and Reynolds is an absolute master of an action scene. If you haven’t read the High Moor series, don’t worry. These books are so good that I fully expect they will have a Hollywood treatment at some point in the future.
Verdict: Reynolds has knocked it out of the park. High Moor was shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award. I wouldn’t be surprised to see High Moor 2: Moonstruck win the whole shebang.
In this fine novella, Philip Hemplow takes us back to Innsmouth and speculates on what might have transpired in the 80 years since the shadow fell ove...moreIn this fine novella, Philip Hemplow takes us back to Innsmouth and speculates on what might have transpired in the 80 years since the shadow fell over the eponymous town. Dr. Carla Edwards comes to Innsmouth to investigate the genetic mutations for which it is famous. Upon arriving there, the skeptical doctor learns that the illness has nothing to do with radiation or disease. Vividly described and dripping with atmosphere, Hemplow gives a loving tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, and fans of the mythos would be well advised to pick up this volume.(less)
With the notable exception of 30 Days of Night, the vampire sub-genre has been stuck in a “sexy-vampire” groove for the last three decades. Of course,...moreWith the notable exception of 30 Days of Night, the vampire sub-genre has been stuck in a “sexy-vampire” groove for the last three decades. Of course, what verged on revolutionary when Anne Rice did it has now become cliché, with Twilight threatening to slay the vampire as a serious horror figure for all time. Unfortunately, Verland: The Transformation will do little to change that. But while that may disappoint some of us who crave a return to the demonic death dealers of old, Verland is nevertheless a fantastic novel and a marvelous debut by the author, B.E. Scully.
Verland: The Transformation successfully pulls off one of the more difficult literary feats—the story within a story. The present day story revolves around Elle Bramasol, a true-crime writer hired to write a book about Eliot Kingman. Kingman is in prison for a murder that he claims he did not commit. Prior to his incarceration, Kingman was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, a director who just happened to have recently filmed a movie about vampires. Elle suspects that Kingman has more on his mind than simply telling the story of the murder, a suspicion that is confirmed when Kingman reveals that he possesses a book of inestimable value—the diary (h/t to Bram Stoker) of a man who claims to be a real, undead, vampire. But as Elle learns more about Kingman and the mysterious Verland, a once in a lifetime opportunity threatens to become her undoing.
Verland: The Transformation is, in many ways, an excellent book. It’s a remarkably quick read (I finished it in a single day of travel), and Scully’s talent for immediately hooking the reader well no doubt serve her well in her future books. Scully has an eye for detail, perfectly describing her settings without drowning the reader in the sort of overindulgent excess that plagues so many books. Scully’s characters are as deeply fleshed out as her scenery. These are people with flaws and strengths that the reader will believe in. There’s also little of the convenient stupidity that is a staple of horror—no one runs up the stairs when they should run out the front door.
The only thing that keeps me from loving Verland is the plot itself. The title is accurate; this is really the story of Verland’s change from human to vampire. And while that is enjoyable in of itself, it leaves the reader wanting. Verland suffers from the same problem as most origin stories. It focuses so heavily on how the “hero” came to be that it forgets to invest the present day story with the same level of drama. Nothing much that happens to Elle is that surprising or that exciting. The diary story starts and ends strong, but the middle bit meanders. In the end, a surprising number of questions go unanswered, from the identity of Verland’s creator to the fate of the chief villain. I suppose that this might be the first part in a series of sorts, but it doesn’t really seem that way.
Moreover, we never really fear for Elle’s life. And we don’t fear for Verland’s either. There’s simply too little in the way of conflict. Verland is never in danger. All the vampires we learn of—even the one that is the most blood-thirsty—come off as noble figures. In fact, we completely lose track of the fact that these vampires are murderers. The world Scully creates does not allow for subsistence from animals or blood banks. In order to live, the vampires must kill. I was simply unable to reconcile that fact with the way in which Verland and his comrades were portrayed.
In the end, Verland: The Transformation is a fine debut effort from a writer to watch. If you are a fan of vampires and don’t mind if they are more enigmatic than terrifying, you should check this book out. By the end, you will believe.
One of the advantages of writing a book is that other people send you their novels for free. And since you want to send your books to other authors to...moreOne of the advantages of writing a book is that other people send you their novels for free. And since you want to send your books to other authors too, it behooves you to pay it forward. The only problem is, when you read the book you are expected to write a review. And let me tell you, nothing is worse than telling somebody their book’s not very good. Writing is a very personal thing, and a book is, in many ways, a part of the author. Telling somebody their book isn’t any good is like telling them they’re ugly. It’s unpleasant. Fortunately, that’s a problem I won’t have with J.G. Faherty’s Cemetery Club.
Cemetery Club is the first book of Faherty’s I have read. I know of him by reputation due to his highly acclaimed young adult novel, Ghosts of Coronado Bay. That effort was rewarded with a Bram Stoker Award Nomination. (He lost to Jonathan Maberry, an honor unto itself). So when I opened Cemetery Club, I expected a YA horror romp. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Cemetery Club is a fun but visceral supernatural zombie novel. It’s got plenty of blood and guts for the gore hounds, while keeping that air of mystery and otherworldly dread that those with more refined tastes prefer. Set in the town of Rocky Point, Cemetery Club tells the story of four friends who years before awakened a sleeping evil that seeks to possess and devour everything in its path. Now it is awake again, and only they can stop it.
Cemetery Club reminded me of some of Stephen King’s early works. It has everything a horror novel needs—insane asylums, tombs, crypts, disbelieving police, heroes in need of redemption. And it offers a new spin on the zombie genre.
I recommend Cemetery Club wholeheartedly to fans of a good, fun horror yarn. Faherty knows how to frighten and he knows how to entertain. You can’t ask for much more than that. (less)
It’s rare that I read a book and think to myself, I could never have written this. Call it hubris, pride...moreNote: I received an ARC copy of The Croning.
It’s rare that I read a book and think to myself, I could never have written this. Call it hubris, pride if you will. It just doesn’t happen.
I could never have written Laird Barron’s The Croning, and I consider that the ultimate compliment.
I’m a naturally optimistic guy, and it shows in my writing. I like keeping hope alive, and so even when I write horror, it tends to have a hopeful tone. The Croning is not hopeful. It is not sunny. It’s dark man, way dark.
Don and Michelle are what I suppose might be the typical academic couple. He’s a geologist who spends most of his time doing boring things with rocks, while Michelle is a globe-trotting anthropologist, searching to the ends of the earth for lost civilizations and ancient, hidden knowledge of world’s beyond our knowing. Michelle’s curiosity threatens to kill the cat, however, as she and Don find themselves in a world of nameless cults that worship the god known by many names, though his friends call him Old Leach.
So that’s the prosaic description. It’s inaccurate. Don’t believe it. In fact, ignore it all together. The book descends into beautifully written insanity from the first page, and it never lets up. Barron writes like Hemmingway might have if he weren’t so boring. (Though I did like For Whom The Bell Tolls, but I digress). The Croning isn’t a novel; it’s an amusement park ride. You read the first sentence and the bottom falls out. Good luck holding on to the end.
But if you survive, you will have experienced something special. A twisting and spiraling descent into madness, The Croning is the kind of book that burrows into your brain and has you jumping at shadows. Laird Barron has managed to create a universe as black and uncaring as any since H.P. Lovecraft. Not for the faint of heart, but if you can bear to step out of the light, The Croning will teach you why all men fear the darkness. (less)
I don’t read all that many anthologies. I prefer reading novels, just as I prefer writing them. So when I do read anthologies, I don’t finish them unl...moreI don’t read all that many anthologies. I prefer reading novels, just as I prefer writing them. So when I do read anthologies, I don’t finish them unless they are good. You Shall Never Know Security by J.R. Hamantaschen is good. In fact, it is very good indeed.
I think there is something wrong with J.R., and I mean that in the kindest way possible. His stories display a sickly twisted diabolical nature that is difficult to achieve. Whether it’s the tragically beautiful “A Parasite Inside Your Brain,” the devilishly delightful “Truth is Stranger Than Fiction,” (so ripping this one off at some point), or the hilariously introspective “Nothing,” every single one of J.R.’s stories is both unique and horrifying in its own way. If you enjoy short fiction with a dark twist—particularly that kind of darkness you only see from Lovecraftians—then check out You Shall Never Know Security.
The most frustrating books are those you read and don’t like but can’t figure out exactly why. Ghouls of the Miskatonic by Graham McNeil is one of tho...moreThe most frustrating books are those you read and don’t like but can’t figure out exactly why. Ghouls of the Miskatonic by Graham McNeil is one of those books. There’s every reason it should be right down my alley. It’s unapologetically Lovecraftian, set in the mid-1920s in Arkham, Massachusetts at Miskatonic University. There are lots of ghouls, ancient gods, and cultists creeping around. And I love the cover (In all honesty, that’s why I bought the book. Happens a lot.) But while all the elements were there, somehow the magic was missing.
Ghouls of the Miskatonic tells the story of a whole host of characters. There’s Amanda and Rita, students at Miskatonic University. Oliver Grayson and Alexander (I forget his last name because he only shows up when certain plot points need to be revealed) are professors at Miskatonic whose mutual friend, Professor Henry Cartright, is in an insane asylum. Rex and Minnie work for the Newspaper, and Gabrial Stone is a hard-bitten Pinkerton detective whose daughter has been murdered. Finally there’s Charles Warren, an apparent bad guy, and Finn Edwards, a man with a criminal past and a heart of gold. Apparently these characters are originally from the role playing game, Call of Cthulhu. The plot involves efforts to resurrect that greatest of Great Old Ones, Cthulhu, from the depths of the South Pacific. There are some kidnappings, strange technological devices, and an appearance by a Great Old One who has an affinity for fire.
So what’s the problem? I’ll start with the general and work my way down to specifics. Something about the writing doesn’t pop. I’m not sure what it is, and I don’t know how I would fix it. The book is technically proficient, but somehow, the heart is missing. It reminds me (and this is probably a weird allusion) of that scene in Black Swan when Padme is auditioning for the title role. Her dancing is perfect, but it lacks the fire, the passion that is necessary for the part. I felt the same way about this book. The fire is missing.
But it’s more than that. There are some more specific problems as well. The book has a few parts that are woefully anachronistic. First, the presence of women at Miskatonic University. I’m as forward thinking as the next guy, but facts are facts, and there is no way that an Ivy League university (which Miskatonic more or less is) would admit women in the 1920s. Wouldn’t happen. Sorry. Harvard University did not become co-educational until 1973(!). Yale was way ahead of its time, admitting female undergraduates all the way back in 1969. And yet, not only does Miskatonic admit women, but one of them, Kate Winthrop, has her own laboratory. But it gets better. One of our main characters, Rita, is an African American student from New Orleans . . . who is on the track team. Oh yeah, the white captain of the football team asks her out on a date. And I repeat, this is the 1920s. That’s the sort of thing that pulls you right out of the narrative.
It wouldn’t have been hard to fix the problem. Just mention that Miskatonic, being a strange place, was EXTREMELY ahead of its time on race and gender relations. Shoot, it might even serve to make the place seem all the more unusual than it already is. Just give me something so that every time Rita is mentioned I’m not questioning the fact that schools didn’t have women’s sports until Title IX. (And at one point the author mentions “the girls at Princeton.” Once again, 1969.) But there’s more. People say funny things that they shouldn’t be saying. One cop says to one of the doctors, “You might have come up from Boston with your fancy Yale degree, but this is my town.” Now, maybe the guy was in Boston and happened to go to Yale, but it seems more like the author wants us to chuckle at the cop’s stupidity. Harvard is in Boston (or just across the river at least), and here this silly cop thinks Yale is there. But no New Englander, much less someone from Massachusetts, would make such a mistake. So it just comes off as wrong. Later, the book mentions a “faded photograph from 1917.” Now, I know photographic technology has improved, but were things so bad back then that pictures faded in less than a decade?
Then there are the plot points that are never answered (spoilers ahead!). Why are all the young girls disappearing? Who exactly is Charles Warren? Why was Stone’s daughter killed? Surely it’s not just to feed beasts. Were there not less conspicuous people to kill? Drifters, hobos. Who is the man in red? Why are all the apparently bad guys killed by the fire demon at the end, and why would the man in red, whoever he is, do that? What was the purpose of the sphere? Where is it going? Now, I understand this is the first book in a trilogy, but leaving so many questions—many of them basic—unanswered is extremely dissatisfying. A book in a trilogy should work as one book. (Imagine if Hunger Games ended right before the games started). I fear this book does not.
Unfortunately I cannot recommend Ghouls of the Miskatonic to anyone other than the most devoted fan of Lovecraft or the gaming series on which it was based. There is much that is good about the book, but it simply feel incomplete. A shame, too. The cover is awesome. (less)
In the interest of full-disclosure, High Moor made this year's preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award in the First...moreIn the interest of full-disclosure, High Moor made this year's preliminary ballot for the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award in the First Novel Category. My book, That Which Should Not Be, also made the ballot. That we are competitors of sorts should prove that my esteem for High Moor is in no way exaggerated.
I've never been a fan of werewolves. Not really sure why, but I've always been a vampire guy (Twilight notwithstanding). When werewolves and vampires became inextricably linked in pop culture, perhaps as a result of Underworld though maybe the linkage goes back further than that, I sided with the vampires. So when I heard about Graeme Reynolds and High Moor, I didn't really expect to read it. I mean, it was about werewolves. Graeme is from golly old England, which meant that it was going to be written with all those bizarre spellings the English still insist upon, wasted ou's in the place of o's and oe's stuck in words where an e would do just fine. But then I started to hear people who I trusted talk about the book, and I was intrigued. My verdict? I was never a fan of werewolves before, but I am now, at least if Graeme Reynolds is the one raising the full moon.
High Moor is a taunt horror-thriller filled with chills and action, a non-stop adrenaline rush that will have you turning pages at the speed a werewolf snaps its jaws or rips someone's heart out. High Moor is a bifurcated narrative. Set in Northern England, the first half, minus a very short prologue and first chapter, takes place in 1986 and introduces us to John, Michael, and Marie. These three friends live relatively normal lives. That is, until Michael and Marie's drunken father sends their brother into the woods to recover some forgotten tools. When he ends up dead, his body torn to pieces, a local police officer named Steven calls in an American to help hunt down what they assume is a wild beast. And beast it is, though not one they could ever imagine. The consequences of the events that follow will reverberate throughout the rest of all of their lives, leading us to the second half of the book, set in the present day.
There is so much to recommend Reynolds's novel that I hardly know where to begin. I think the key choice he makes is to stick to the fundamental aspects of the werewolf mythos. So many authors who write on traditional topics—werewolves, vampires, zombies—think that they have to not only do something different, but radically so. Thus we end up with wise-cracking zombies and sparkling vampires. I was relieved that Reynolds resisted this temptation. At the same time, Reynolds builds a fantastic world of his own where werewolves live in the shadows, protecting their secrets through Pack Law enforced without mercy by the pack. The werewolves in Reynolds's novel are of two varieties. Most can change at will, both controlling the beast within while harnessing its power. Others are “moonstruck,” able to change only upon the full moon. They are wild and vicious, and the pack werewolves hunt them down, lest they reveal their secret to the world. And let me tell you, there is a lot of hunting, a lot of fighting, and a lot of killing. No character is safe in Reynolds's world, and that he establishes this fact early on heightens the tension in every werewolf encounter. His descriptions of the attacks are so rich and vivid that you will see them in your mind's eye with a clarity normally reserved for movies. And it is that talent with description that may be Reynolds's strongest suit. The man isn't just writing a scene. He is creating a world for his characters to inhabit, one that I was sad to leave, though something tells me a sequel might be in the works . . . .
I truly loved this book. Once I started to really read it, I finished the novel in a day and a half. Whenever I put it down, I found myself coming back to it almost impulsively. I haven't been this addicted to something since I downloaded Angry Birds. Recommended without reservation to anyone who is a fan of horror or anyone that wants to be. High Moor is the kind of book that will make converts of us all. (less)
In an addendum to my original review, I initially gave this book three stars. Then I watched the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, and it struck...moreIn an addendum to my original review, I initially gave this book three stars. Then I watched the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, and it struck me that if a television show can display complex human emotion and interaction while simultaneously incorporating what is expected of the genre, this book should have been able to do the same thing. If you think that is ridiculous, so be it.
In the interest of full disclosure, Zone One is one of the books that beat out my novel, That Which Should Not Be, for the finals of the Goodreads Choice Award. I can assure you, that did not affect my opinion at all.
It’s hard to write good genre fiction, and it’s hard to write good literary fiction. But it’s really hard to write good literary genre fiction. That is the challenge Colson Whitehead faces in his novel Zone One. Whether you are capable of enjoying Zone One depends almost entirely on how you view it. If you are looking for a zombie novel, Zone One is probably not for you. If you want literary fiction with a more interesting plot than your typical lit fic novel while maintaining the same “benality of modern society” omphaloskepsis we’ve come to expect, then maybe you will like this book.
Zone One is a story of the end of the world, told through the eyes of the anachronistically named Mark Spitz. (It’s a nickname, the origin of which we don’t find out until the novel is almost finished. When we do, you’ll find yourself asking why they didn’t call him Michael Phelps. I challenge you to find people under thirty who know who Mark Spitz is other than in relation to Michael Phelps. But I digress.) The action takes place over the course of a single day or so, although the time-line of that day is impossible to piece together given the never-ending flashbacks and temporal gymnastics. The zombie apocalypse has decimated society, but reconstruction is underway, led by the new government in Buffalo. Spitz is a part of a sweeper team, clearing out the remaining zombies—called skels because zombie is so passé—from an area of New York City called Zone One. But Spitz suspects that things are not as secure as the government wants them to believe.
The main problem with Zone One is that, although at times it is well-written, it is neither a good zombie novel nor good literary fiction. And that’s a real shame. There is a good book here. In fact, if this was Colson Whitehead’s first novel, I think it would have ended up being fantastic. But it’s not Colson Whitehead’s first novel, and I have a feeling that his editors didn’t exercise their scalpels as liberally as they should have.
Zone One fails as a zombie novel because Whitehead doesn’t know when to stop with the literary fiction pontification and cut to the action. I get it; Whitehead is trying to make a point. And while that is all well and good, if you are making a point in a zombie novel, then you have to respect your readers. When the zombies show up, the action should start.
The best example of this deficiency has been well documented in the myriad angry reviews by zombie aficionados that have sprung up across the web. Early in the novel, Spitz is ambushed by a group of zombies. Whitehead spends ten pages describing this encounter, but not because he dedicates himself to documenting the terrifying struggle against scratching, diseased claws and snapping jaws. No, Whitehead sees the zombie attack as an opportunity to explore the emptiness of middle class life. As if anyone, pinned to the ground with a member of the undead on top of them, would wax poetic about Marge, lead character in the most popular show before the Fall, and how “the legions of young ladies who fled their stunted towns and municipalities to reinvent themselves in the Big City recognized something in her flailings . . . . They had been reeled in by the old lie of making a name for oneself in the city; now they had to figure out how to survive. Hunt-and-gather rent money, forage ramen. In this week’s written-up clubs and small-plate eateries, loose flocks of Marges were invariably underfoot, sipping cinnamon-rimmed novelty cocktails and laughing too eagerly.” (In case you missed the point, the great revelation of the book is that the poor befuddled members of the middle class are the real zombie hordes. Sorry to ruin it for you.)
Now, I don’t care if Whitehead wants to make this point. Maybe it’s a point that we, the walking dead of modern society, need to hear. But Whitehead’s timing is atrocious. He could have done this in the aftermath, with Spitz staring down at the dead skels, thinking about who they were before the virus took them. We could have had the best of both worlds—the action packed zombie attack and an important insight into the human condition. But that’s not what we get. This happens repeatedly throughout the novel. Every zombie assault is a time for meditation, every pair of plague bearing jaws an opportunity to reflect on the mediocrity of middle class life.
Unfortunately, Zone One doesn’t really work as as a literary endeavor either. Too much of Zone One is open to the criticism that it is merely the perfected cynicism of literary fiction, as pretentious as it is cliché. Everyone’s a stereotype of the group they represent—the perky middle class cheerleader, the lower class ruffian who sees the faces of the rich in every zombie he puts down, the intemperate upper class politician from Buffalo who is more concerned with appearances than people. Everyone more focused on securing the best apartments in the new society than putting down the roving bands of undead.
It doesn’t help that we have seen this all before. George Romero invented the modern zombie largely as a metaphor for mass consumerism. We get it; the shambling hordes are like the denizens of strip malls or partakers of chain American food restaurants, and the long winded discourses on the sad commercialism of the middle class grow tiresome because of it.
The strange thing about Zone One is that once I accepted its shortcomings and took it for what it was, I sorta liked it. Whitehead does a pretty good job of describing what life would be like after the rising, both in the wilderness and in the isolated human settlements that remain. That success only made the book that much more frustrating. I simply don’t know to what group of readers I would recommend this book. It’s a muddle, and like the protagonist of the story, Zone One is middling at best.
I would stop here, but I feel as though the New York Times review of Zone One, which spawned a minor controversy known as “zombie gate,” should be addressed. Never before has a positive review been so unfair to the author it praises. Glen Duncan—who refers to what Whitehead is doing as “genre slumming”—begins his review by saying, “A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?” The review continues as a screed against zombie aficionados and genre fans in general, implying that we are all degenerate fools. Duncan apparently suffered a failure with his single foray into the horror genre and is now intent on taking his frustrations out on Zone One‘s readers. I can’t say what Mr. Whitehead believes, but there is nothing in Zone One that indicates he would support Duncan’s prejudices, and I hope that those who would consider reading Zone One pay Duncan no mind.
The best stories don't burst from the author's mind fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Rather, they are in our DNA, nurtured over the ce...moreThe best stories don't burst from the author's mind fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Rather, they are in our DNA, nurtured over the centuries by successive generations, until the simple seed of an idea has grown into an archetype to which we can all relate. In her excellent book, Shaman's Blood, Anne Petty continues the time honored tradition of dipping into these foundational stories and crafting a modern story of her own. But what makes her book even more remarkable is that she chooses as her inspiration the legends of aboriginal Australia, something of which most of her readers are probably unfamiliar. It's a risky move, but Petty so easily and seamlessly integrates these legends into modern America that our lack of familiarity with them is not jarring. Rather, our ignorance only adds to the darkness and the mystery that surrounds the main characters, as we travel with them into the unknown.
Fundamentally, Shaman's Blood is the history—past, present, and future—of a family. Petty plays with time throughout the novel, traveling back and forth between periods as distinct as ancient Australia, turn of the century Florida, San Francisco in the 1960s, and the present. By doing so, as we learn about Alice and her daughter Margarette, we also come to understand Alice's father, Ned, and the horror that drives the hostility that Alice's mother, Suzanne, feels towards her. But it's not all domestic drama. An ancient evil stalks Alice's family, one driven by the crime of an ancestor she never even knew existed. And if Alice can't right this wrong, committed decades before she was born, that evil will not only destroy her, but her daughter as well.
I enjoyed so many of the things Petty does in Shaman's Blood that it's hard to know where to start. The horror itself is fantastic, drawing upon many of our darkest terrors, including that ancient and fairly universal fear of snakes. Her knowledge of Australian mythology is voluminous (Or else she does a very good job of faking it). Perhaps more importantly, she never overwhelms us or confuses us with that mythology. Rather, she slowly works it into the narrative in a way that feels natural and easy. The characters are complex and interesting, with personalities and flaws all their own. I found myself rooting for them because of those flaws more than I would if Petty had simply given us hero stereotypes. I was also interested to learn this is a sequel to Petty's earlier Thin Line Between. I am happy to report that no prior knowledge is required to enjoy Shaman's Blood, though if you are like me, you'll probably want to check out Thin Line Between when you finish.
All in all, Shaman's Blood is a fascinating and entertaining journey into ancient legends and cultures. I recommend it highly. Just watch out for snakes.
--Brett Talley, author of the award-winning novel, That Which Should Not Be.(less)
A man who chose to defend his country as a Navy SEAL discovers that fate has in store for him an even higher calling. In the Traiteur’s Ring, Jeffrey...moreA man who chose to defend his country as a Navy SEAL discovers that fate has in store for him an even higher calling. In the Traiteur’s Ring, Jeffrey Wilson weaves a masterful tale of Ben Morvant, a Special Forces operator from Louisiana whose Cajun ancestry carries with it both a mysterious gift and a dark secret from his past. It is only on a covert mission in the art of al Qaeda controlled Africa that Ben comes to learn the true power that resides within him and the higher calling that he must answer.
The Traiteur’s Ring is a unique blend of several different genres. It manages to meld elements of action-adventures, military thrillers, and mystic horror into one coherent and entertaining plot that envelops the reader. We care not only about Ben, but also his wife back home, the team of SEALS that are his brothers, and the innocent people they seek to protect. And Wilson’s background in the military shines through on every page; we believe in Ben’s gift because we believe in Ben.
The Traiteur’s Ring is a truly unique story in a genre that so seldom produces uniqueness. I recommend it highly, my only caveat being that there are some genre fans who may find the depth of character development to be simply too detailed. But if you are the type of reader who wants characters that are complex and developed, with back stories and real lives beyond the glimpses we see in the pages, then Wilson has crafted the perfect book for you.
-- Brett J. Talley, author of the award winning novel, That Which Should Not Be. (less)
Eh. *shrugs shoulders* Shock jock philosophy that fails to be all that shocking. Like a trip to the latest exploitation flick where we find out that w...moreEh. *shrugs shoulders* Shock jock philosophy that fails to be all that shocking. Like a trip to the latest exploitation flick where we find out that we've seen it all before. Did I read every word? No need. As is typical with this type of "philosophy," Mr. Benatar lays out his premise and then spends the rest of the book repeating it, over and over and over. Does he really believe what he writes? Who knows?
It is sad that modern philosophy has fallen so deeply into the nihilism abyss that we literally have a philosopher arguing we should all be dead. Perhaps this is the natural conclusion of Godless utilitarianism. I will take my own nihilistic view, assume that Mr. Benatar is engaged in a brilliant assault on the previously unassailable commanding heights of the predominating utilitarian view, and raise a glass to him for permanently disabusing me of the notion that his brand of quantifiable ethics has any merit whatsoever. (less)
House of Leaves had a profound impact on me, and if in the end I make something out of myself as a writer, I will have it to thank (or blame, dependin...moreHouse of Leaves had a profound impact on me, and if in the end I make something out of myself as a writer, I will have it to thank (or blame, depending on your perspective). Maybe that sounds like an overstatement to you. Hyperbole, perhaps. And in truth, it is. Because that is all you can get from a review of House of Leaves. No one reads Mark Z. Danielewski’s book and comes away lukewarm. They either love it or hate it. Or to be more precise, they do both.
When my best friend showed up at my house with a copy of House of Leaves, she presented the good-sized tome as a gift. “It’s a book about a house that’s bigger on the inside than the outside,” she said with a smile. Such a simple description. A pretty accurate one too, if you want a plot summary. But House of Leaves is so much more. It is a mystery and a psychological study and a horror novel and a puzzle box, all wrapped into one. It is the Lemarchand Box from The Hellbound Heart and H.P. Lovecrafts’s Necronomicon. It is a gift, and it is a curse, for rest assured—there will be times when you will want to quit this book. When you will want to throw it across the room and never pick it up again. But you will. You will because you want to know. Because you are just as curious as Johnny Truant and Will Navidson, and because you know that until you finish, the strange dreams that the book brings will not end…
Now, I don’t expect that this review has made much sense to you. Don’t worry, House of Leaves won’t either. Which brings me to how the book affected me. I hated House of Leaves, in a way at least. I hated it so much that I decided to write a book that was as completely different from House of Leaves as I could make it. One that reflected the older traditions of horror writing, free from the post-modern insanity contained within the pages of Danielewski’s dark masterpiece. In its opening pages, my book, That Which Should Not Be, is dedicated to those who made it possible. In a strange way, Mark Z. Danielewski is at the top of that list.
Why then, you ask, do I find myself recommending House of Leaves to every friend who asks for a good book to read? Because I love it too, and in its twisted and unexplainable pages I find something truly magical. House of Leaves cannot be explained. It cannot be synopsized. It can only be experienced. (less)
It approaches impossibility to review Gravity's Rainbow in any coherent way, much as it is impossible to read the book in any coherent way. Gravity's...moreIt approaches impossibility to review Gravity's Rainbow in any coherent way, much as it is impossible to read the book in any coherent way. Gravity's Rainbow is without question an accomplishment. It displays a supreme knowledge of history, culture, sexual dysfunction, humor, rhyme scheme, and just about every other discipline, literary and otherwise. Bringing all that together in one book is something to applaud, without doubt.
And yet, like so many great works of post-modern art, it's hard to say that Gravity's Rainbow is a pleasure to experience. Most readers are likely to discard it in frustration, and few can be said to actually enjoy it. Which is not to say I ever grew bored with it--an accomplishment in of itself given the length and complexity. But a book that can barely be understood--and the point of which utterly escapes me--is not, in my view, worthy of the title "great."
Read it for the cultural experience and sense of accomplishment, but don't expect to like it. (less)
The King in Yellow is one of the most brilliant--and one of the most disappointing--collections of short stories I have ever read. The first five stor...moreThe King in Yellow is one of the most brilliant--and one of the most disappointing--collections of short stories I have ever read. The first five stories were tremendous, transcendent, stunning. I could not look away. The last few stories were woefully disappointing. It is clear to me that they were added solely to fill out a word count. It's disappointing, but it does not diminish the power of those five stories. Pick the book up and read those stories. You will not be disappointed. (less)