Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Publisher: Ragnarok Publications
Writing young adult fiction is a balancing act. It is treading a fine line between what is appropriate and what is not. Since the age span is quite large, and that the definition of young adult is quite fickle it must be daunting for an author to decide what to add in a story. Writers like John Green have been able to find the balance, but with the help of the subject material as a guide to readers what may fit them. That is all well and good for literary fiction, genres like fantasy have a more difficult time, almost always being a beacon for younger readers. Garth Upshaw is one author who manages to write young adult grimdark.
Grimdark, or dystopian fantasy as one might categorize it, is a subgenre that is growing. Authors like Martin and Abercrombie have made the call for a more realistic variant of fantasy. A style where the future of the protagonists are uncertain and the secondary world is a dark place, and might even stay so, no matter how many farm boys find magic swords and magical aides. It is not surprising that genre literature aimed at younger readers would also follow that trend.
The world that Garth Upshaw paints for the reader has a somber color pallet. It is a world that starts out being familiar to an avid fantasy reader. A world united under an oppressive Queen, Maeve, who uses her magic to not only stay young, but also terrorize the citizens. She rules them all with an iron fist through the violent Lord Zorahn, in a style reminiscent of the dictatorships of Chile or Argentina. Queen Maeve has a deep dark secret. The source of her magic comes from certain stones. Stones that most people believe come from her mines. Mines where goblins work themselves to death. The truth is something far more sinister.
Nail is a goblin on the lam. He is trying to escape the clutches of the Queen’s men and when his sister is mortally wounded, he seeks the help of a human. Alas it is too late. They recover her body in order for Nail to recover the stones from within her body, traditionally in goblin society the family members eat the stones. The human reveals that the stones have magical powers and they are worth quite a lot. Not only does Nail learn the secrets of how the stones work, but also that there are no mines. Maeve has been using the goblins like cattle, making them eat the plant veya that their bodies have then converted to stones. Then slaughtering the goblins to harvest the precious commodity. With the power of magic Nail decides that it is time for a change.
At the same time a fairy named Lianne and her rat like friend Feldsken are pulled into a revolutionary group trying to overthrow the Queen, by accident.Gizzard Stones is a tangled web of various story lines that quickly intertwine. Upshaw keeps the reader on their toes all throughout the book without there ever being a dull moment. It is helped by each character walking a fine line between being bad and good, like all good characters should. Even Maeve has a positive agenda, believing she is what is best for the world. Saving them from warring city-states and bringing in expensive goods. So what if the citizens are oppressed and the goblins are used as cattle.
The world that Upshaw has created might just as well have been made by Jim Henson. It is one part Dark Crystal and one part Labyrinth. A place filled with mutated humans, fairies, goblins and other mystical things. It is a place that is so familiar that one can easily escape to it, but dark and horrific enough to make one feel for the creatures who dwell there.In the end Gizzard Stones is able to blend the familiar in fantasy and that which is new and disturbing, our reality.
It is always interesting to discuss literature that pushes the envelope when it comes to what can be done. The very essence of the novel as an art form is that it is an amalgam of various genres. On this site, we often praise the books that do just that. A friend of The Guild, Jonathan Fesmire, sets out to meld worlds and genres in his latest release; Bodacious Creed.
It takes place in Santa Cruz, in the days of the Wild West, American Frontier days. Complete with cowboys, marshals, prostitutes, gunfire, and outlaws, it is all there, but with a twist. Steampunk, maybe the ultimate blending of genres, is at its very core an alternative to our world. Anything can and undoubtedly will happen to the characters who inhabit the pages. In this case, we are talking about the walking dead and automatons mixed in with a world we are all some way familiar with.
Anna is an entrepreneur and inventor, but only one of those professions is common knowledge. As the proprietor of the House of Amber Doves, a classy house of ill repute, she is well known in Santa Cruz. As the creator of several inventions within the field of automatic machines, she is less known. Her unmatched skills at machine technology have made her wealthy, and allowed her to purchase the brothel she once worked in herself. It has even helped her restore her once doomed assistant, and sometimes lover Jonny. What it hasn’t accomplished is bring her and her estranged father, the infamous James Creed together. That is about to change though, as “Bodacious” Creed, U.S. Marshal comes riding into town one day.
He has arrived to bring in the outlaw Corwin Blake, a vicious criminal without scruples. Anna manages to convince Creed to meet with her in order to reveal the secret of their kinship, but fate intervenes. In a shootout with Blake Creed is mortally wounded and dies. Beside herself, with grief, Anna decides that death most certainly is not the end and sets about digging up the body and then altering it with her technological skills. Creed’s body, already in a state of decay, needs several repairs and the success is in question until the lawman finally rises from the slab. With great confusion, but with supernatural strength and ability Creed becomes a sort of vigilante on the streets of Santa Cruz and the news of his rising from the dead soon spreads all over the city. This, though, is only the beginning.
Fesmire’s opus, Bodacious Creed, is quite the undertaking of genre fiction. It borrows heavily from several styles and stories to bring together a tale that is filled with humanity, as well as action. The parallels with Shelly’s Frankenstein are obvious, not only because Jonny reads it constantly, but because of the subject matter. Anna creates something that she does not completely take responsibility for. This can, of course, be said of several storylines in the book, not only in the way Creed abandons his daughter. There is a clear Victorian age science fiction feel to this story, but set in the Wild West, which is a novel idea in itself. Bodacious Creed is billed as a Zombie Steampunk Western, but two out of three categories are more peripheral than the third one. The steampunk aspect really only serves as a literary tool to bring the essence of the story forward, zombie aspect hints at a deeper meaning, just like Shelly managed to do in her tale of resurrection. It is the story that takes president here, which can be difficult to do in this type of fiction. It is clear that Fesmire’s story is an important project and that he has chosen to delve deeper than maybe he intended.
One would definitely pick up Bodacious Creed for its odd combination of genre styles, but one stays for the well-told story of human interest. Lonely souls in a world that is harsh and unforgiving.
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The first book in the series The Knights Eternal we are introduced to a world of monsters, magic and religious fervor, how do they all blend in Robert J. Duperre’s Soultaker?
The main figures in Soultaker are Abe, Meesh and Shade, three of the Knights Eternal, so named because they are immortal. In truth, the vessels of the three nights are immortal, whenever one of them dies a new soul occupies the body. Abe is the oldest of the three, tries to decode the riddles of his religion, while Shade is haunted by visions of his dead wife Vera. The knights are tasked with keeping order in the land, a mission that seems to be getting more and more difficult lately. From the fact that the scourgers come down from their homes in the mountains, to open portals and rumors of walking dead. On their way to exact vengeance on the religious figure gone bad Ronan Cooper, and the chase for crystals, they come to the deserted city of Breighton. A single survivor relates a tale of the dead rising and attacking the city. A tangled web of mystery, horror and violence begins to unfold before the three Knights Eternal.
Soultaker is a perfect blend of a variety of genre fiction or at least sub genres of Science Fiction. The setting is overtly post apocalyptic, complete with religious fundamentalists and desert landscapes, it has a techno fantasy aspect with the ostentatious guns and magical weaponry, but also the adventurous nature of a fantasy book. That coupled with a good portion of horror. The tale keeps the readers on their toes at all time and would clearly be categorized as a page turner. Duperre manages to perfectly blend the wild west style of storytelling with the science fiction backdrop. The Knights Eternal believe in a religion called Pentmatarianism, an apparent off shoot of older religions in the world. They also encounter the scourgers’ faith in Yehoshua, which causes them some confusion. There is a lot of depth in Soultaker and it takes some unexpected turns. It is a great example of what genre fiction can do.
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Cassius Mass was known as the Fire Count, the Butcher of Kolthas a true heel in the eyes of his enemies. That was when he was a noble of Crius, part of the Archduchy, a big deal. That was also before the war with the Commonwealth that the arrogance of his class forced the nation into, before they lost it all and the Archduchy was no more. He managed to come out of it in one piece and for years he has been hiding on a freighter, under an assumed name, happy enough to while away his existence as a functioning member of his one time enemy; The Commonwealth.
When his identity becomes revealed to all aboard the ship he decides to leave, to save his own neck from those around him, as well as those who care for him. A small revolutionary group calling themselves the Freedom Army makes this difficult for him. Especially when he realizes that there is a clone among them, posing as him. That is not the only problem; his dead wife is there as well. With a newfound calling in life Cassius is soon enlisted to bring down the Freedom Army, or at least fight against his doppelganger. Things only become more complicated when a version of his sister shows up.
Lucifer’s Star is easy to dispel as your run of the mill space opera. A pompous and flamboyant story in the same vein as G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, but told in space. The kind of science fiction that was abundant during the eighties and was almost always written by Kevin J. Anderson et al. This is not that kind of story. It may appear so at first glance. We are propelled into the tale by virtue of a space battle and then most of it is told at quite an elevated speed. Lucifer’s Star does not suffer from the overabundance of pages that similar works do, and where other authors would struggle to keep things short and sweet, Phipps & Suttkus manage to say much with just a few words. It appears as if a lot of work has been put into the backdrop, a tapestry of intrigue and personal conflict. The conflict between the Archduchy and the Commonwealth is one that takes some more information, for there is an interesting to be told. Cassius May is the epitome of an antihero. A villain of gigantic proportions in the past he tries to redeem himself by doing what he thinks is right, in this case, what others want him to do. He is loyal to his family and the image he has carved out for himself under the guise of a new persona. This makes him one of the most dimensional characters within science fiction. Lucifer’s Star has something for everyone to enjoy. Political and relationship intrigue, great world building, clones and robots. It sets things up perfectly for sequels and rivals the work of James S.A. Corey.
Lucifer’s Star is a healthy mixture of genre fiction. On the the surface a science fiction tale, but at its heart it has all the properties of noir. It is gritty and dark, that does not wholly rely on action, but a great narrative to ensnare the reader. It would make Philip K. Dick very proud.
For the avid reader of fantasy Peter Beagle has a special place in the pantheon. His book, The Last Unicorn, is canon in the genre and one could even claim that it is held in high regard among those who are only casual fantasy fans as well. The story was made into a feature film, touring American movie theatres, as well as a recent comic book. Unfortunately Beagle is often remembered by this one book. He has continued to release books since then, mostly without making too many ripples. That does not mean that his later production is not worth reading, on the contrary, his most recent release, In Calabria, proves the opposite.
Claudio Bianchi is a cantankerous Italian who lives in Calabria. Alone on a small farm with his goat Cherubino, the cat Mezzanotte and pigs. He lives a quiet life and has minor interaction with the postman Romano. One night he spies a unicorn on his property and it changes his life completely. It returns several times and begins to nest, and that is when Bianchi realizes that it is pregnant and that he might have to aid it in giving birth. The arrival of the mystical creature softens the old man and he spends his days writing poetry and even starts up a relationship with Romano’s sister Giovanna. The existence of the unicorn and, later, the black colt that she gives birth too, becomes common knowledge in the area and once again Bianchi’s world changes again. Reporters and scientists flood his farm, and soon a local criminal organization comes calling, looking to annex the farm for their own purposes.
In Calabria is a short work of fiction, a contrast to the tomes of fantasy that readers become used to. That being said, Beagle is able to pack quite a bit of human emotion into the pages. The unicorn, not at all the main character in the story, becomes more a symbol of what could be. Initially its presence is a sort of blessing that enriches Bianchi’s life. When the creatures becomes known to the rest of the world he is challenged. Does he want to protect his new found world or does he take the easy way out so that he can go back to his earlier life of loneliness.
Beagle has an impressive ability to create intriguing characters and through them the world in which they dwell. He avoids long descriptions of nature and the calabrese surroundings, instead Bianchi and his friends are the canvas on which he paints. Through them we understand the beauty of their world and it is more than enough. The plot is simple and to the point. There are no answers to why the unicorn shows up, why no one is surprised at its existence and that is fine. It creates the magic of a fantasy story without being fantasy, and that has always been Beagle’s strength.
-C. Marry Hultman
Publisher: Aurea Blue Press
As previously mentioned in the first installment of Rear view, it is easy to misconstrue the style or genre of a story when one allows first impressions rule. It is the age old adage; don’t judge a book by its cover. Kourtney Heintz book The Six Train to Wisconsin might be a book that suffers from just that, but there is much more to it.
Oliver is a man with a problem and possibly a solution, or one that he is fairly certain will work. That is if he can pull everything off without a hitch. The problem is his wife, Kai, a social worker with a fragile psyche. When one of her cases, a twelve year old girl, is killed by her own father, Oliver fears for her safety, as well as sanity. He then decides to execute his plan; to kidnap his own wife and move her to his old family home in Butternut, Wisconsin. There is only one issue; Kai is a psychic. It complicates things in their relationship, as well as some very interesting ones, and he has taught himself to create a shield from her penetration. Kai has a history of self destructive behavior due to her ability to connect with the various cases. The downside to this is that whenever one of her charges get her she spirals into a depression.
After the successful abduction Kai is first furious, but after a while takes it in stride and they begin to settle in. It soon becomes quite clear to Kai that Butternut houses deep dark secrets pertaining to Oliver’s past. Firstly it is the emergence of his first love Mickey and their passion is quickly rekindled. Secondly it is the relation between him and his deceased father, the town sheriff, in particularly some peculiar business regarding his best friend’s death. When Mickey’s son suddenly vanishes it threatens to bring all the old feelings back and Kai ends up in the center of it all, even being attacked by threatening thoughts from a mysterious person.
Originally released in 2013 this review might as well have been classified as a Rear view, but as it was re-released in 2016 it will be treated as a newer book.
It would be easy to cast off Heintz first installment of her Wisconsin series as romance novels aimed at women, a genre that several literary critics turn their nose at. The reason for this is several fold; the cover, that is reminiscent of something from the late 1970’s, as well as the description, that seems to be lifted from a lifetime movie. That is quite the mistake to make though. From the first sentences the reader is plunged into the darker side of what being telepathic might entail. It is a downside that is rarely explored in fiction, if at all. Mostly the issues presented are those of how the main character is barraged by images of murder and violence, not the emotionally charged reality that Kai experiences. The kidnapping by Oliver that follows the complications at home quickly escalates the story, until it reaches a kind of quiet solemnity once they settle in Butternut reminiscent of TV shows like Ed or Providence.
It is all capped off with the mystery of Oliver’s past and the disappearance of Mickey’s son, a way to ease it into a more dramatic Midwestern noir tale. The story is expertly told by Heintz and is, perhaps surprisingly to some, a page turner, leaping from Oliver to Kai’s perspective. It moves on easily and the language is well adapted to suit most types of readers, as does the mix of genres; from the romantic to the mysterious. This story has it all. The good news does not stop there as this is only the first installment of a series and if one enjoys The Six Train to Wisconsin, one would imagine that the books that follow are equally as enjoyable.
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Kokoro is the sequel to Keith Yatsuhashi’s book Kojiki and continues where it ended with its masterful blend of Japanese folklore and science fiction. In many ways it is a manga or anime in purely written form and those familiar with that form of storytelling and the tropes that guide that very genre will enjoy it immensely. The difference between the sequel and its predecessor is that Kojiki more felt like an adventure novel, related to tales like Spirited Away, while Kokoro is more reminiscent of Robotech or Knights of Sidonia.
In this fashion Kokoro becomes a high octane story that moves quite fast, sometimes even a bit too fast for its own good. There is a lot going on and at times it can be difficult for the reader to keep up wit everything. The main story line takes place on a planet called Higo where a civil war is raging while Baiyren Tallaenaq, the prince of the planet is exiled away. He gets his hands on one of two giant mechs, here called mah-zin and travels to a different world. THere is naturally other parallel narratives, some involving the female cast, but they all move around the war and political intrigue at court.
As previously mentioned, this story has a lot going on. The reader is quickly thrown into the conflict, with the occasional flashback, and the exposition is quickly executed. As the story progresses it moves to a more leisurely pace, but the damage is already done. This does not mean that Kokoro isn’t an interesting story with the appropriate amount of twists and turns or inferior storytelling, the issue is that it for most readers may become too much, too confusing and too twisty and turny. This book is more geared to those who have a greater understanding of the world of manga or anime and all that comes with it.
At heart there is really just the basic story of a land ravaged by conflict and a family torn apart due to conflicts hidden in more modern tropes that some might just be too unfamiliar with. The language is still good and well adapted to the narrative and the world and relationship development is interesting as well as well executed.
In the end it is the amount of new things that is what would cause a reader to shy away, while those who are familiar with mechs, Asian mysticism and Japanese storytelling might gravitate towards it. There might even be the adventurous type who picks up this book and is introduced to a world well beyond the populist and westernized form of Pokémon, Digimon and Yo-kai Watch and then again the children who are intimately acquainted to those shows would most likely graduate to Kokoro. Whatever the case might be, there is enough proof among the pages to hint that the status of Yatsuhashi’s will grow in esteem as culture and taste catches up to it.
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
It is a widely held belief that no one is interested in reading reviews of older books. That for some reason readers are only interested in what is coming on the horizon and not that which has been. Not so here at the Guild. We do get our fair share of new books to review, but we also come in contact with less recent releases through services like Riffle, Bookperks and Bookbud. There is a bigger need for authors to have their work reviewed at Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble, to get their names out there. Therefore we at The Guild have instituted Rear View, a forum where we review older titles. Out first is the first installment of the Malediction series: Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen.
In an alternative France Cécile de Troyes leaves her family to further her singing career when she finds herself kidnapped and sold off to the trolls that live deep under ground. She is forced to marry the heir to the troll throne Tristan in hopes that it will break the curse that keeps them trapped under the rocks. Once bound she finds that there is a juxtaposition between the human hating conservative trolls, represented by the King and the more liberal views of the opposition, represented by her new husband. He, being afraid of what his people might due once freed, is not as eager to break the spell cast by the witch Anushka.
At first her relationship with her young husband is one of hate and dissatisfaction from both sides, but as time goes by and Cécile comes to terms with her new living arrangements and she understands Tristan’s true motives, among them protecting the half human, half troll breeds she begins to investigate what really happened with Anushka and the magic that lives within herself.
Stolen Songbird might appear, at first glance, to be just another young adult romance story and initially it might be true, but there is more to it. Of course the frame of it is deeply steeped in the romance with all of its tropes, such as the dark brooding handsome man who turns out to be a decent guy, the innocent young heroine who finds her inner strength so that she can change her destiny. It is a tale that is as old as genre fiction itself and in order for it to not fall into the trap harlequin swamp such a tale needs to be different. Jensen’s story is as different as it needs to be in order to be quite enjoyable and even though it may seem to be aimed at a certain type of reader it can in reality be enjoyed by all.
The story is driven through a shared narrative where the readers get to follow both Cécile and Tristan’s thoughts as they have their own separate chapters, but it is mostly the former’s voice that is heard. It is through her that the reader is privy to the world of the trolls and little by little their history and backstory is unraveled. Cécile herself has a story that is simultaneously reveled in steps and in many ways it is as the history of the protagonist is a tragic as the world she finds herself in. Romantic entanglement in all its various forms intermingle with political intrigue as well as class warfare and racism making Stolen Songbird a clear reflection of its time and the turmoil and nationalistic tensions that have plagued the early 2000s.
It is easy to brush off the first Malediction book as romantic fiction for young adults, but there is more of Diana Galbadon here than Jackie Collins. It might start out as such, but as opposed to Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton the story matures and shies away from this oft, unfairly, tainted genre to take a place along side Outlander as an attempt to revamp it, instead of falling into its trap.
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Del Rey
Neuvel’s first installment of the Themis Files, Walking Gods, made quite stir with its intricate plot, case file structure and mysterious protagonist. Now he has returned with the second book about the giant robot and those who are affected by it.
Many years after the discovery of several giant robotic body parts strewn across and the subsequent construction of these into the giant robot Themis another one shows up in London. Larger and with more functions it at first appears to be non threatening, but when Themis confronts it a battle ensues. With the latter victorious a new phase in the situation with the robots is entered. Especially when there are human like aliens found inside. At the same time the mysterious return of the dead Rose Franklin yields even more information, illegal egg harvesting and secret offspring. That ends upp being the least of humanity’s problem when thirteen new robots appear out of the blue and Themis vanishes in the process. The robots kill the population of several major cities and it looks as if man might just become a footnote in the history books.
Neuval continues with the case file form he began in Sleeping Giants and it is a structure that works well. He takes a story that to many may have some familiarity; the alien threat coupled with political and scientific secrecy and relates it in a very innovative style. The narrative consists of a variety of interviews conducted by the mysterious friend, news reports and other various recordings. Very much like the previous books it keeps the reader interested and it keeps a very nice and quick pace to a story that might otherwise be quite heavy on words and difficult to get through. Neuval is brilliant in that he has the ability to capture ones interest with quite meager means. We are not informed of the appearances of any of the characters or their outer goals other than what they might reveal in discussions with each other and this is fine. It creates a tension and interest in the story itself and the events that may come to pass, as well as what the consequences humanity might have to deal with once we come in contact with alien worlds. The question poised at the center of the Themis Files is still where the robots come from and whether they have left more than hardware behind. The plot truly thickens throughout this book and the story becomes more tragic than before.
It is easy to become enamored by Neuvel’s writing and his story of humanity playing with new toys that they do not quite understand, but this second book might answer some of the questions from the first one and leaves you with so many more that it is almost impossible to wait for the next installment.
Series: Book 1 in Dark Gifts series
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Gilded Cage is the first book in Vic James’ series that goes by the name of Dark Gifts. A story that blends human tragedy, oppressive legislature and love in an alternative world.
Luke Hadley’s world changes only days before a big test when his parents and older sister Abi announce they will all be going to Kyneston. That would not be so bad for it is one of the most opulent and grand houses in all of Britain if it was not for the fact that this meant that he was starting his slavedays. In this alternative world the nobles, here known as equals possess a magic they call Skill. As a measure to create free labor as well as to keep the citizens under control people are forced to serve ten years as slaves, working menial jobs at various facilities, in return they are afforded certain rights. Abi, the med student, has arranged for her family; mother, father, Luke, young Daisy and herself, to work at the home of the most important of the equal families: The Jardines. This would entail a cushy ten years without the hard labor others might have to endure, but once everything has been sold or packed away and goodbyes been said the harsh reality sets in. When the bus comes to collect them it is revealed that Luke will not be joining his family at Kyneston, but is instead on his way to the slavetown of Millmoor.
As the Hadleys arrive at their new home the Jardines have their own issues. There are three son; the Heir Gavar who has spawned a child with a slave, Jenner who is without skill and Silyen who is looking to end the slavedays. The two families become unavoidably intertwines when Daisy is charged with caring for the bastard Libby and Abi becomes Jenner’s secretary. The world of the equals is filled with intrigue and clandestine affairs as the chancellor is preparing to make his yearly proposal, and Gavar Jardine his impending wedding. The proposal is to end the slavedays, forced by Silyen who is the only one who can wake the man’s fiancé from her coma. Meanwhile Luke is being drafted into a secret organization at the slavetown called the club that stages random incidents.
There are many stories being told here, a full cast of characters each having their own intrigue and plot and in the end, even if there is a resolution it gets to be a bit much. Several of the plotlines are told so briefly or are only hinted at that they do not have time to marinate and they could have been better off in a sequel. For it is quite obvious that Gilded Cage is but the first in a series of books. It’s not like the story isn’t interesting, quite the contrary it is more as if some plot elements would have benefited from being prolonged and moved, while others needed more time in this first installment. The character of Luke, who spends the first part of the book in Millmoor, is moved to Kyneston for reasons best left spoiler free, but his time in the slavetown is so short when it comes to page count that the reader never gets the feeling of the horror of spending ones slavedays there. In truth the plot revolving around the equals is more interesting and more in depth than that of the Hadleys and that is really too bad since they are supposed to have an equal amount of the story.
There is much to be had from Gilded Cage and what James wants to say about the times in which we live. The divide between the wealthier classes, call them one per centers if you will, have everything and others have to slave away to even become part of our society. At times the book is a perfect blend of the romance novels that Abi reads and sometimes it is a political fantasy story that may rival the intrigue of the Tudors or G.R.R. Martin. In the end Gilded Cage is a good launching point for the world James wants to create and it will be interesting to see where it takes us.