I read Alive by Scott Sigler while on my honeymoon in April. I’ve enjoyed his previous work, especially the Infected series, so I’m always willing toI read Alive by Scott Sigler while on my honeymoon in April. I’ve enjoyed his previous work, especially the Infected series, so I’m always willing to read whatever he has written. The premise of the novel is fascinating:
"A young woman awakes trapped in an enclosed space. She has no idea who she is or how she got there. With only her instincts to guide her, she escapes her own confinement—and finds she’s not alone. She frees the others in the room and leads them into a corridor filled with the remains of a war long past. The farther these survivors travel, the worse are the horrors they confront. And as they slowly come to understand what this prison is, they realize that the worst and strangest possibilities they could have imagined don’t even come close to the truth."
I started Alive and didn’t stop reading until I finished. Exciting, thrilling, and eminently readable Alive is not a novel without its issues. In previous works Sigler doesn’t shy away from violence and while that is still true here it is certainly less graphic than in previous works (but can anything really top Perry’s sections in Infected?). Alive is a novel that is targeted a bit towards the teen crowd and I can’t help but think the audience limited the places that Sigler could go with his story.
Alive is a difficult novel to talk about since it relies so heavily on the surprise of its story. I love a good mystery and the ominous tone of the novel works extraordinarily well. Sigler has set up a fascinating environment and as more and more of the environment the characters have found themselves in is revealed the mystery only seems to deepen. When the big reveal does finally happen there was definitely a bit of forehead slapping on my part. While I did enjoy the exploration portion of the novel there was a point where I felt things began to drag. The balance between frenetic action scenes and confused wandering is weighted strongly towards the latter. While this makes the action, and often horror that surrounds it, feel all the more thrilling when Alive drags, particularly during its first third, it really does drag.
Having read Alive in roughly a day I will say that its nearly four hundred pages still feels all too short. I would have loved a bit more of a denouement as the novel’s cliffhanger ending left me far too unsatisfied. While towards the end of the novel the characters’ individual natures begin to feel a bit more realized the novel’s tendency to lean on the mystery of the characters’ surroundings and identities it means that the characters themselves feel sort of like blank slates. As a result the burden of deeper characterization rests on any future novels. Alive isn’t my favorite of Sigler’s novels (I think it’s still eclipsed by any of the first three Infected novels) but it is still a damned fine read the borders on summer-blockbuster levels of entertainment....more
Lauren Beukes follows her excellent The Shining Girls with another cross-genre blend of the real and the other-worldly in Broken Monsters. When boiledLauren Beukes follows her excellent The Shining Girls with another cross-genre blend of the real and the other-worldly in Broken Monsters. When boiled down to its most basic elements Broken Monsters lays somewhere near the intersection of mystery and thriller with the majority of the focus on the murder investigation involving a young boy whose remains were sowed to those of a fawn. It’s a horrific premise but one that despite forming the bedrock of the narrative isn’t really what the novel is about. The novel features a variety of perspectives including that of the divorced Detective Gabriella Versado and her daughter Layla, the journalist Jonno, Thomas Keen (TK) a homeless Detroit native, and Clayton who the less I say about the better. Each different perspective offers a different thematic thread that weaves into a novel of surprising breadth that still offers a taught, cohesive story.
At its heart it might be just to call Broken Monsters a haunted house story, or at least a nascent one. The house, in the case of this story, being Detroit itself. The Dream, a strange entity whose goals outside of existence seem unclear, is what is pushing Clayton into his violent acts and Detroit, an icon of American Industry despite its current state, seems an appropriate place to be haunted by something called The Dream. Indeed, each of the different characters in the novel can in some sense be seen as avatars or reflections of the city itself. TK, the struggling homeless man once employed by Detroit’s factories; Gabriella, the city’s stalwart defender; Jonno, the naïve and opportunistic journalist trying to capitalize on the burgeoning arts scene; and Layla, a child moving at the Information Age’s lightning pace towards adulthood as a stand-in for Detroit’s future. It is interesting to note that TK and Clayton have somewhat similar backgrounds. Both are products of Detroit but where Clayton seems to have given in to hopelessness and rage, TK has maintained a certain degree of hope and industriousness. In many ways Clayton and TK are two sides of the same coin.
Much like The Shining Girls, Beukes isn’t interested in explaining away the otherworldly elements of her novel. Like the crime elements of the story, and the slice of life sections of the story, Beukes streets the supernatural in a very matter-of-fact fashion. She doesn’t ease audiences into things so much as toss it in their faces and it’s a technique that work welled in The Shining Girls, where it was baked into the nature of the narrative, but works less well here where that most otherworldly bits come at the novel’s climax. For me, it was easy to take in stride but I could definitely see how readers lulled into a false sense of security by the more conventional nature of the early narrative could be throne the for the novel’s supernatural heavy finale.
Broken Monsters really shines when it comes to it characters. Beukes makes each character wonderfully flawed in their own way. At the very least Clayton is pushed by his own psychosis and supernatural forces and it could be argued that his cations are not his own. However Jonno is a product of his own selfishness. There doesn’t seem to be anyone he isn’t willing to use and his increasing drive for fame is almost as damaging as anything Clayton does. Layla and her friend Cassandra are children born of our information saturated age and are rife with the selfishness and carelessness of youth. Gabriella obviously loves her daughter but is almost addicted to her work. TK is perhaps the least obviously flawed character of the bunch but his tragic (if honorable) past, selfless acts, and perhaps too trusting nature make him a compelling addition to the narrative. However, if TK can be seen as a foil to Clayton than his underdevelopment when compared to the rest of the narratives (outside Clayton) is perfectly understandable.
Beukes is an author to watch. Though I haven’t read Zoo City, both The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters are excellent novels. I can think of few, if any, other authors who manage to blend genres as seamlessly as Beukes. This is a bit of a double edged sword as it could easily alienate some readers. However, I find her seamless blend of the mundane and the unnatural elevates her fiction in fascinating ways allowing her freedom to experiment with narratives in new an interesting ways. Broken Monsters isn’t exactly an uplifting read but there is a kernel of hope at the heart of the story that will keep you through even the novel’s darkest moments....more
Before I started Graduate school way back in the late ‘aughts I read a little book called Writ in Blood by James A. Moore. Set in the small town of SeBefore I started Graduate school way back in the late ‘aughts I read a little book called Writ in Blood by James A. Moore. Set in the small town of Serenity Falls, Writ in Blood was a fantastic little book that marked the beginning of a trilogy detailing the horrific past and present of a small town long past its heyday. Sadly by the time I was done with graduate school the Serenity Falls series was out of print. Moore recently entered the fantasy scene with Seven Forges published by the fine folks over at Angry Robot. The novel opens with the mercenary caption Merros Dulver on an expedition into the dangerous Blasted Lands there to investigate the enigmatic Seven Forges; a range of strange mountains. Sent by the Emperor’s Sorcerous advisor, Desh Krohan, Merros is startled to discover that the Blasted Lands and the Seven Forges themselves are not as uninhabited as previously thought.
Billed by some as epic fantasy there is something very old school swords and sorcery about Seven Forges. Moore seems to be working with a milieu less reminiscent of J R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan but rather feels like something closer to the works of Robert Howard, C. L. Moore, Michael Moorcock and Frtiz Lieber. Maybe it’s for this reason, and I might be completely off base here, that I suspect that Seven Forges is in truth a novel of science fantasy. The Blasted Lands, created by some great cataclysm; a ruined city full of strange beasts; the Seven Forges themselves and some details about the S’aba Taalor learned over the course of the novel lead me to believe that we are dealing with a setting that is taking place somewhere in the far future.
The early parts of Seven Forges deal with Merros’ expedition and the discovery of the S’aba Taalor. From there, as the expedition is introduced to the people who live in and beyond the Blasted Lands, the novel deals with the repercussions of that discovery. The empire of Fellein begins to treat with this strange new people whose odd culture seems primarily founded a zealous dedication to survival and the martial arts filtered through a religion lead by the gods represented by the Seven Forges themselves. There is a constant sense that the people of the Fellein Empire are off balance and that hidden currents and knowledge held by the S’aba Taalor are driving events forward. This sets up a nice undercurrent of tension leaving readers constantly wondering about the motivations of this strange people.
Seven Forges struggles somewhat with characterization. The novel sets up an immediate connection with Merros Dulver and Moore does a wonderful job in creating a complicated character whose sense of personal honor and duty contrasts with his desire for wealth and notoriety. Other characterizations are less assured. Andover, a blacksmith’s apprentice who is drawn into events due to his crush on Desh Krohan’s apprentice, fills a more traditional fantasy role reminiscent of the farm boy hero and doesn’t move to far past that trope. Desh Krohan is another interesting case; an ancient sorcerer who has shepherded the Fellein Empire across generations is at times slightly comical as he plays upon his reputation for effect. However, Desh’s motivations are never quite clear. There a handful of the S’abor Taalor whose perspective readers are treated to however, Moore has to walk a fine line between illustrating their culture and keeping their motivations somewhat hidden. The result being that I never felt I understood what exactly the S’abor Taalor were trying to accomplish.
Seven Forges is a fast, entertaining read with a rich setting. Moore adeptly handles scenic descriptions, particular during the novel’s opening chapters, and shows a real knack for describing frenetic scenes of battle and violence. Moore is adept at conveying tone both through description and action; a skill that I’d like to attribute to his experience as a horror writer. The closing chapters of Seven Forges really ramp up the action but offer surprisingly little resolution of the many mysteries introduced over the course of the novel. While the ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger it does leave me eager to start the next book in the series The Blasted Lands....more
Impulse by Dave Bara is very much an old-school space opera. The novel’s hero Lieutenant Cochrane is also a member of a landed gentry class and in linImpulse by Dave Bara is very much an old-school space opera. The novel’s hero Lieutenant Cochrane is also a member of a landed gentry class and in line for the throne; competent and capable Cochrane is thrust into the unexpected when an attack on a lightship kills his girlfriend along with many of his friends. Taken from his expected duty and assigned to the titular Impulse, the very same ship that was attacked, Cochrane sets off to investigate who that mysterious attacker might have been. Bara tosses a bit of romance into the mix as Cochrane meets the Impulse’s stern and attractive Executive Officer and complicates things further when he later meets an insanely competent and attractive “alien” (isolated human) Princess. There are shades of Asimov’s Foundation as the technology employed by the Unified Space Navy is doled out (on an as needed basis) by enigmatic Historians from Earth. The world building is light and the novel manages to engender both the feel of old-school nautical adventure and old-school science fiction adventure at the same time. This isn’t by any means a perfect read, I often found some of the history hinted at in the novel more interesting than the main thrust of the narrative and the novel leans heavy on the opera in space opera but it is at the least a highly entertaining read. If you’re looking for a novel of high adventure and high emotion than Impulse by Dave Bara might be worth a shot....more
When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner is the author’s debut novel. This is a big swords and sorcery epic that seems to channel a touch of Steven EriksonWhen the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner is the author’s debut novel. This is a big swords and sorcery epic that seems to channel a touch of Steven Erikson. The story is catapulted into action by the theft of a magical book that is filled to the brim with magic; the Book of Lost Souls. As the mage who stole the book begins to explore its power over the dead it begins to drawn the attention of gods and men into an epic convergence of power. The story follows several characters from different corners of the world as each is drawn ever towards the book’s power; each for a different reason. Luker, a magic wield swordsman called a Guardian, seeks to find his master who was also on the trail of the book; Romany, a priestess of the Spider is an agent of her Goddess’ machinations; Ebon, a Prince whose home lies close to the site of the convergence seeks to end the book’s effects on his people (mainly in the form of an army of undead); and Parolla a mysterious necromancer whose motivation I don’t want to spoil.
Turner manages to split the novel’s leads equally between genders and surrounds each character with a strong supporting cast. Turner’s female characters are all strong, competent women who stand on their own. Jenna, an assassin and acquaintance of Luker’s is easily pegged as the character’s love interest however Turner does a fantastic job at creating a rich history between the two characters such that their obvious attraction to one another doesn’t feel forced. Further, Luker’s attraction to Jenna is strongly predicated on her competence in her work. Parolla, struggles against hidden currents within herself both with regards to her power and due to the struggles she has faced in her past. Romany is the character who grated the most; at least a first. Vain, and self-centered Romany just rubbed me the wrong way. Romany acts as an agent of the Spider carefully manipulating the various players who converge upon the Book of Lost Souls. However, Turner has a keen hand when it comes to character development and Romany’s growth as the novel progresses is fascinating watch. Ebon and Luker actually felt the most traditional. Luker’s motivation, primarily out of loyalty to the man who trained, cast him as honest and driven. He chooses personal loyalty out any sense of obligation to a government or organization. He is a likeable character who in early chapters feels a bit adrift but who feels like a more complete individual once he has a concrete goal ahead of him. Ebon is that character who could have easily been the most boring of the bunch. However, Turner does an admirable job making Ebon a character who is drawn in a variety of different directions by his sense of loyalty, honor, and responsibility. At one time haunted by the spirits of the dead Ebon is partly motivated by a sense of redemption as he not only seeks to prove himself free of the spirits” influence but also make up for the terrible loss of life that resulted from his rash actions. He is further saddled by his love for a woman below his station. This plot point is one that gets loss in the shuffle and Ebon’s quest in the latter part of the novel doesn’t really draw on this in any meaningful way. Furthermore, as the novel comes to a conclusion and various plot threads are wrapped up Turner never returns to Ebon’s lady love. Ebon’s chapters do introduce my favorite secondary character in the air mage Mottle. The “crazy” wizard character isn’t anything new but Mottle, despite the cliché, manages to walk that fine line between hyper-competence and wackiness with aplomb.
Turner has a rich and interesting world in When the Heavens Fall but provides very little by way of exposition as readers journey through it. He establishes a keen sense of history both recent and ancient over the course of the novel and uses both primarily as a means to drive the action forward. Turner lays out the current status of the Guardians as a once independent organization now under the thumb of an Emperor and now a shadow of their former selves. It is this fact that serves as a driving force of tension in Luker. However, at the same time I never felt particularly confident I knew what the Guardians were precisely. Over the course of the novel readers are introduced to a handful of gods. Shroud, lord of the dead plays a significant role in the novel as does the Spider but both deific figures remain largely inscrutable. It is in this world building that Turner’s Steven Erikson really comes to the fore. Shroud, in name and power, called to mind Erikson’s lord of the dead, Hood. The Spider, while less capricious, reminded me of Erikson’s Shadowthrone. Similarly the complex history of Turner’s world particularly the mysterious ancient empires, and beings with ancient enmity called to mind elements of the Malazan Book of the Fallen I was particularly reminded of the rivalry between the T’lan Imass and Jaghut.
When the Heavens Fall is an excellent start to a new series. While the novel wears its inspirations quite visibly on its shoulder it is never enough to take away from Turner’s strong characterization and masterful juggling of plot and action. Turner has a tendency to stick with show over tell and When the Heavens Fall is one of those novels where I actually wish there was a touch more tell. I am hoping that in further novels Turner works towards further originality and find a voice that is more clearly his own. Regardless, fans of swords and sorcery and epic fantasy will definitely find a lot to life here....more