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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.
Henry Kyllo is a member of a secret society called the Inferne Cutis. A Runner whose goal is to achieve full-body lead content. He is chased through the city every day by Hunters whose goal is to shoot the Runners — with the threat to both sides that if they do not participate, through a mysterious force no one understands, one of their loved ones will simply vanish from the face of the earth.
Rumours abound about what happens when a Runner achieves “ascension”, but it has supposedly never happened before, so no one knows for sure.
Except that it has happened before. And it is happening again. This time, to Henry Kyllo.
Brett Savory recently stepped down as the Co-Publisher of the World Fantasy and British Fantasy Award-winning ChiZine Publications so he could dedicate more time to writing. His title is now Editor/eBook Czar/Webmaster, so he apparently thinks he can hang on in the company simply by increasing the titles he holds. He’s had over 50 short stories published – some of those collected in No Further Messages – as well as two other novels, In and Down and The Distance Travelled. He’s halfway through his fourth novel, Lake of Spaces, Wood of Nothing, is the drummer for the metal band Ol’ Time Moonshine – who just released their first full-length album, The Apocalypse Trilogies: Space Wolf and Other Dark Tales on Salt of the Earth Records – and lives in Peterborough, ON, Canada with his wife, writer/editor/publisher Sandra Kasturi.
Genre: Science-Fiction/Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot
REVIEW Sometimes it is difficult to classify a work of fiction. One my enter into it with a genre in mind, but once the reading begins it becomes confusing because it does not follow the rules. Through the years there have always been those who claim that breaking the norms of classification is bad and that has always been the battle between the old guard and the young lions when it comes to culture. Brett Savory’s new book is a perfect example of how one might break the norm.
A Perfect Machine opens up in an unknown city in an unknown era, in an unknown universe. To be perfectly honest there are quite a few details in this tale that are unknown and that is one of the strengths. Henry Kyllo is a runner, part of a ritual that has been played for a long time in the city. A sort of hunt that usually leaves him laid out riddled with bullets, but that doesn’t really matter since he always bounces back. That is just one of the strange abilities afforded runners, that and the fact that they cloak the entire affair to those who happen to experience it, very much like a memory that fades away. The healing comes with a price and every time new bullets penetrate him Kyllo’s body is altered. One night Kyllo goes overboard and gets his final dose of lead, while his best friend Milo is decapitated, the only way to kill runners apparently.
Kyllo, thought to be dead by his nurse girlfriend Faye, begins to change instead and turn into a monstrous machine and Milo turns into a ghost, following his pal around.
At the same time the head of the runners, a man by the name of Palermo, has his own issues. A young man named Krebosche is looking to expose the gang and traditions of the run and exact revenge on those involved in the death of his sister and girlfriend. A girlfriend who happened to be Palermo’s daughter. The stories cross as everyone ends up at Faye’s apartment where Kyllo is turning into something completely new.
There is a lot going on in Savory’s tale and yet the reader is often times left feeling that they do not know what is happening. The plot is easy enough to follow, as are the various characters that come in and out, but it is all those things that surround the story, the setting and background that may leave you wanting more. A Perfect Machine is billed as a science-fiction, but lacks several of the qualities that belong to the genre, or at least it would appear so. We are never, initially at least, informed of what the runners and their counter parts the hunters are; the next step in human evolution, robots or aliens, there is no mention of year or parallel universe and the setting seems to be quite similar to our own. Question is if this is necessary or if it would remove focus from what is important or if it is a conscious measure to make the book lighter on technical jargon and speculative motifs that might alienate most readers.
There is something slightly absurd about A Perfect Machine, despite the language being strong in its simplicity, and the suspension of disbelief is difficult to set aside. There are so many things that happen; men turning into machine, ghosts in the vein Patrick Swayze, vengeance as found in the works of Mickey Spillane and humans hunting each other like Surviving the Game, at times it feels like you’re reading a Golden Age comic with better writing. Savory does make it work on some level, but one might ask if sticking to just a couple of speculative aspects wouldn’t have been better.
Our interview with Sebastian A Jones of Stranger Comics from almost two years ago
In the competitive world of comics it is important to stand out and get noticed and that is what happened when The Untamed was released at the end of the 00’s. It received accolades from the likes of Clive Barker and early on talks of a live action version were rumored. Now a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to support a printed copy of the graphic novel and we spoke to the brains behind it; Sebastian A. Jones.
Jones launched Stranger Comics in 2008 together with some friends.
‘We felt there was a lack of dark fantasy epics in the comic genre, and we felt we had a fully baked world we could tell character driven stories in’ Jones explains. ‘We wanted to protect our creative visions we had worked very hard on’
Jones, who moved to the States twenty years ago from England, had run a record…
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One of the worst things, probably worse than being alone at Christmas, is when the holidays just don’t turn out the way we though they would. That building anticipation that ones goes through for weeks, just to be let down when it finally arrives. The turkey is dry, the family gets too drunk, you just didn’t get that present you were hoping for or you don’t arrive at your destination. That is what Nick Lowe contemplates in his tune Christmas at the airport.
When Nick Lowe, born in 1949 in England, wasn’t thrilled when his record company approached him to release a Christmas album, but according to himself he didn’t have to consider it for long and gave in to ‘tawdry and vulgar commercialism’. The result was Quality Street – A Seasonal Selection For All The Family, complete with covers of various seasonal tunes, but also two new songs, all done with Lowe’s special brand of irony and humor.
Christmas at the Airport is one of those new songs, relating how Lowe is stuck during Christmas Day and how he decides to spend his time, all alone. It is a interesting ditty, maybe not an instant Christmas classic, but it is reminiscent of Tom Hanks in The Terminal and it tells us to make the best out of every situation, no matter how bleak.
For its message of hope Christmas at the Airport by Nick Lowe is song number 23 on The Christmas List of Songs.
Christmas songs are of many styles and origins; there are the classic carols, the American form sung by crooners of the 50s and 60s and the ones hailing from the 80s. These are all part of our joint cultural heritage and we pick them up through osmosis. The past years I have become more interested in the older, folkish, Christmas tunes of the United Kingdom and one such song, albeit released just recently, is Christmas Bells.
Released in 2013 by the folk ensemble Bellowhead it follows the pattern of the St. George Christmas plays an ancient Cornwall tradition with religious subtext. The actors, dressed in traditional Morris dancer style in shirt sleeves and white trousers, illustrate several characters like The Doctor, Father Christmas, The Dragon and St. George. They then re-enact the battle of St. George and The Dragon to dance, music and much merriment.
Bellowhead was an eleven piece folk orchestra that blended traditional folk songs with a more contemporary, almost burlesque style. To see them live was truly to see a spectacle and they had very popular Christmas shows. One could claim that Christmas Bells perfectly illustrates the type of music they produced.
Christmas Bells is fun, energetic and filled with classic allusions to the folk heritage of the UK. That is why it is song number 17 on The Christmas List of Songs.
There are classic seasonal songs and then there are classical seasonal songs. Some are classics because we connect them to a movie or holiday special. Others because they remind us of family or friends and some take on a more sacred air. Yet again others, not necessarily about Christmas, just seem to tap into the season by describing those things that we link to that holiday. Winter Wonderland is one of those songs.
Originally written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and Dick Smith and first recorded that same year it has been through the treated some 200 times. Over the years the song has been sung by legends like Johnny Mercer, Perry Como and new artists like Micheal Bublé. As mentioned the tune is not an overtly Christmas one, as the only reference to the season would be sleigh bells but it is widely regarded as one. The lyrics, written by Smith during his time in a sanitarium, describe a snowy landscape and express a yearning for the fun things one can do in that very scenery. Part whimsy, because of the strange references to a Parson Brown and circus clown, and part a still observation of the same.
In the version of Canadian jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall, born 1964, the song goes back to the jazzy roots that spawned it, albeit with a more modern take. Krall has been a staple of the jazz scene since she stepped onto it in the 90s and has seven been awarded the Order of British Columbia, as well as a slew of other awards. Her interpretation is a musical embodiment of the words Smith wrote while he gazed out over the snow from his sanitarium window. One can feel the sound of snow under ones feet, the sun caress ones face and the sound of children playing along the sidewalk. The enticement of joining them to build a snowman and dress it up and then just move on.
The fact that the song might actually make a person look forward to the cold of winter is the reason why Winter Wonderland is number seven on the Christmas List.
Almost as synonymous with the holiday season as Christmas songs is the subgenre of Winter songs, an almost secular alternative to the sometimes overt religious theme of the former. That’s not to say that songs like Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire or Walking in a Winter Wonderland promote christian values, but they are Christmas tunes. Songs about the winter definitely have another vibe and theme which will be evident in later installments on this list and Fountains of Wayne’s Valley Winter Song is no different.
To some the song has become very familiar due to its appearance in seasonal commercials and just recently in the first episode of the new Gilmore Girls Netflix show. This is also how most people know of the band, as one that constantly is played in TV shows and advertising, their brand of inoffensive rock seem to please the ear of most producers. The band, formed in 1995, was always viewed as a less cerebral version of Weezer, a comparison that may be difficult to deny at first listen, but this humble music reporter has always begged to differ. True that the songs of Fountains of Wayne have been more accessible than their more famous counterpart, but the tunes that Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood have turned out have all been little gems being observations of every day life.
Valley Winter Song is no different than the bands other tracks on that score. It soberly looks at how the winter months can drag a person down because of the darkness, the falling snow and the salt and dirt everywhere. It’s an homage to desire, the desire for summer and heat, but also to love between people. A love, that is symbolized through the writing of verse and reminds those who are depressed in winter that a warm body or relationships of any kind might ease us through the darkness.
At first listen Valley Winter Song may appear to be a harmless ditty about winter, perfect for a L.L. Bean commercial, but by reading the lyrics and truly listening to the emotion conveyed it is so much more; that is why it is number three on the Christmas List of Songs.
I first came in contact with Jay McAllister, the given name of the artist Beans on Toast, when he acted as the opening act for Frank Turner and I instantly fell in love with his brand of folkish music. Beans on Toast came on the folk scene in 2005 and has become quite the prolific song writer and has released an album every year on his birthday; December 1st. He mixes satirical, political and funny material on his albums, filled with social commentary in the vein of a true protest singer. In 2015 he and his label mates, the folk sextet, Skinny Lister released the charity single This Christmas and it is the first entrant on this Christmas List of Songs.
This Christmas is a folky romp of a song highlighting the joys of spending time with ones family on Christmas and forgetting troubles that may plague ones life, or relationships as it is in this tune. It sounds as if it was recorded on Christmas day, after the presents have been opened and the yuletide drinks have been well and truly consumed. There are sounds of joy in the company of family and friends amidst the harsh atmosphere outside, be it literal as in a winter evening or symbolic as in the state of the world.
Although it may not bring about the warm fuzzy feeling and picturesque images of a Bing Crosby special it conjures visions of a truer Christmas and it allows for something nostalgic. For some it may be the perfect description of celebrating the season with kith and kin.