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Posts tagged “book review

Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

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Series: Book 1 in Dark Gifts series

Genre: Fantasy

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.

C.M. Marry Hultman


Review: A Perfect Machine by Brett Savory

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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.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C. Marry Hultman

 

 


Review: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl

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Genre: Fantasy/Gothic Fantasy

Publisher: Angry Robot Books

 

Familiarity in a story can be a double edged sword. It may be comforting to the reader like in romance novels purchased at the grocery store, to others it may be annoying and trite; to always know what is coming next, to not be surprised and maybe even at length be talked down to or taken for a simpleton. Naturally this might be dictated by what you read. An experienced fantasy reader with books by Stephen Donaldson, Ursula K. Leguin or Peter Beagle on their shelf might find Rowling’s Harry Potter books repetitive and borderline plagiarism. That isn’t to say that the end goal for most writers is to not turn out something new, it may be more about if the end result matches that very goal.

Eric Scott Fishcl’s Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show begins in a familiar setting, that of a traveling carnival at the end of the 19th century. To most readers a setting we know well, or at least have an idea of. It comes complete with a barker selling snake oil, a strong man, a singer and freaks. That is where the normalcy, if that can be an accurate description for a carnival, ends. The barker is Dr. Potter himself and the medicine he is trying to push is the Chock-a-saw Sagwa, a tonic that supposedly cures most ailments. He has not concocted it himself, instead there is another doctor, a Dr. Morrison Hedwith of Portland, behind the miracle drink. The Sagwa is the centerpiece of this tale of personal misery and broken figures trying to fight their obvious obstacles. As with most tonics of the age the Sagwa that Dr. Potter sells is useless, but there is a formulae that has other, more sinister effects, ones that he, the strongman Oliver, the Chinaman Fan and the proprietor of the show Lyman Rhoades desperately need. All of them are beholden to Dr. Hedwith due to dark events in their pasts and are therefore forced to help him in his twisted experiments rooted in alchemy. The very fragile balance in the medicine show is constantly threatened as the members regret their decisions, but Lyman exacts vengeance upon them regardless of their usefulness to the mission.

Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show is an excellent example of how to use tropes that have worked well in the past, and by disregarding those that have not successfully creating something fresh. The setting is reminiscent of TV shows like Deadwood or Ripper Street, a general melancholy  with a sense of not being able to get out of ones current situation. The descriptions and language are used in a masterful way. The reader becomes instantly immersed in the sadness and sorrow of the characters and the world they inhabit, but there is a beauty and serenity in it, very much like the poems by Baudelaire who is oft quoted by singer turned prostitute in the book. The tempo is fast paced without ever feeling rushed, composed like a thriller the story moves along with ease without ever simplifying words or uncomplicating the plot. It speaks to Fischl’s ability to trust the reader and speaking to the reader’s intelligence. He makes no excuses and the characters suffer and go through hell without mercy and it is refreshing.

Fischl is great at using a variety of tropes belonging to just as varied a genre of literature; The western, the Gothic romance, the urban fantasy, the thriller and classic horror and he uses their various strengths like a master craftsman carrying a toolbox filled with the best tools for a job. The characters are easily recognizable as being plucked from Gothic Horror of Victorian style. The crazed and unethical aristocrat, the young innocent damsel, the idealistic young hero, a horrible assistant and a slew of other figures that make up a rich gallery.

There is a lot that Fischl does right with this book. It is a story about broken people, seemingly feeling like they have no hope and a man preying on them for his own sick and twisted reasons. One could easily see the story being picked up by FX or HBO, it’s that kind of story. That is one of the truly interesting aspects, it has a contemporary feel, the way the tale is told. Fischl has his finger on the pulse of what is going culturally be it TV or genre fiction, but in a late 19th century setting. It melds the credibility of human interest with a fantastical element written well enough to suspend ones disbelief. In the end it makes for a great and wonderful read that won’t disappoint those used to fantasy, horror or suspense.

Familiarity is a double edged sword, a trap that an author might fall into if they are not careful. The waters are tricky to navigate when using tropes from genre fiction, but the ship that Fischl commandeers keeps the reader dry and he does not wreck on the reefs of repetitiveness and triteness. Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show takes what is familiar and makes it original and engaging.

C.M. Marry Hultman

 

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Review: The Last Sacrifice by James A. Moore

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Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Angry Robot

Release Date: 3 January 2017

 

The most common trope in the realm of fantasy literature has to be the battle between god and evil. It is as prevalent as the heart’s desire or the yearning to be more than one is, it is also what gives the protagonist the vehicle to make that change. In The Wood Beyond the World, regarded as the first fantasy novel, the hero Golden Walter battles an evil witch to save a princess and Frodo and his friends need to defeat the vile Sauron by destroying his proxy the one ring in Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings. These two books may be the two most important works in the genre and cement the idea of good vs evil. Once the genre moved into the modern era and the rise of a darker version of it began to appear with books like Grunts, where the orcs are heroes and Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy where those who appear to be the heroes are not quite that. To turn tropes on their ear, flipping the script as it were, is what keeps genre fiction interesting and relevant.

The Last Sacrifice does this as well, and that might just be its core strength, the uncertainty of who to route for. To some readers, those who only read books for the familiarity of themes and tropes, this might break the trust between sender and receiver, but in this case that audience may just find that need satisfied as well.

When Brogan McTyre returns home he finds that his family, wife and three kids, are gone. In their place are four gold coins, the calling card of the Grakhul a tribe of people living on the outskirts of civilization. Hidden away in an are known as the Gateway the Grakhul, protected by the Five Kingdoms, sacrifices people to appease the Gods, leaving behind their calling card; one gold coin per person abducted.

Enraged Brogan and his friends raid the Gateway and the keep hidden inside it, but all in vain, his family has already been thrown into the bit. In a fury of revenge he kills all the Grakhul men and takes the women and children to sell them into slavery. The problem is that the dead and captured are not the real threat, they are mere worshipers of the Undying, the He-Kisshi, seemingly inhuman immortals who demand the sacrifices to live, but also to keep balance in the universe. A chase ensues as Brogan and his men hit the road, all the while chased by the Undying who want their followers back.

Moore’s story is an interesting experiment in the fantasy genre. He tells several parallel stories from several different vantage points, each with its own protagonist. There is little judgement from the narrator when it comes to deciding who is in the right here and it makes the reader sit on edge when trying to figure out who to root for. Each character is driven by desire; Brogan to find his family initially and then to escape the He-Kisshi, the He-Kisshi to find their followers and exact revenge, but also to restore balance, Myridia, a Grakhul woman wants to find a new place of sacrifice to continue her work and so on. There are very many different paths to follow and story lines that all intersect in the end. Brogan’s action set in motion such a slew of events that all threaten to culminate in one great climax. In the end it might be so that his need for revenge may destroy the entire world.

Moore plays his cards close to the vest and the information about how the different stories connect literally trickle through the pages creating suspense and thrills. As a reader this isn’t the only thing that immerses the tale in mystery. The fact that there are no real descriptions of the characters’ appearances or clothing and the sparse portrayal of the surroundings. Moore paints a vivid picture of what the characters do, feel or sense and the same is true for the milieu, but not how it appears and it allows the reader to delve deep into the self to conjure up images. It also allows relatively inexperienced readers of the genre to venture into the story without the preconceived ideas about what the genre is.

As stated earlier in this review the battle between good and evil often stand at the center of many a fantasy story, but in The Last Sacrifice it is difficult to pin down who belongs to what side. They all seem to have their own interpretation of who is right and who is wrong, and in the end that is the strength of this book.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

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Review: Cthulhu Armageddon by C.T. Phipps

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Genre: Horror/Western/Dystopian Sci-Fi

Publisher: Crossroad Press

 

There are few authors who live on in the cultural sphere the way H.P. Lovecraft does, at least within genre fiction. His influence transcends various cultural forms not only literature, but we see his fingerprints on TV, movies, video games, comics, music and even science (just ask Erich von Däniken). One of the reasons for Lovecraft’s longevity is most likely not his use of adjectives, his inability to describe the horrors he envisioned or his overt racism. It is the world and characters he imagined, the great old ones and the figures who interacted with them. The fascination with these nightmarish creatures has spawned a slew of copycat writers both pastiches and parodies. Even during his lifetime authors like August Derleth and Robert Bloch expanded his vast universe with their own creations and stories to such a degree that they today appear canonical, they become a integral part of that shared universe.

C.T. Phipps’ book Cthulhu Armageddon, while not doing exactly that, borrows heavily from the Cthulhu Mythos and everything surrounded it. To an expert in the field like S.T. Joshi or Robert M. Price it is a cornucopia of references and nods to everything Lovecraft and that should be enough to make a fan want to read it.

Billed as a dystopian sci-fi western Cthulhu Armageddon is set one hundred years after the return of the old ones. They have destroyed much of civilization and created a desert landscape with pockets of humanity, living in frontier like towns. There is a Richard Brautigan type quality with a Gothic flavor reminiscent of The Hawkline Monster, but more violent and less noir.

John Henry Booth is a ranger out of New Arkham, one of the new city-states and on a mission to The Black Cathedral to retrieve some kidnapped children when his crew get more than they bargained for. Cultists who become reanimated eradicate his squadron and Booth himself is cursed by the necromancer Ward. Ostracized by his community and seen as the one to blame for the failed mission Booth ventures into the wasteland to avenge his men, find the children and locate one of his missing rangers. His adventures take him through the dreaded Dreamlands and confronts Nyarlathotep and fights night gaunts, with the aid of a doctor and young girl.

The difference between Phipps’ book and those of Derleth, Bosch or Lumley is that while inspiration is a key element the constant threat of destruction brought on by Cthulhu and his ilk has happened and man must live with those consequences. Cthulhu Armageddon is a fast paced tale that blends science-fiction, horror with western tropes. Phipps’ protagonist Booth narrates the tale in a hard boiled style reminiscent of Spillane or Ennis and gives the darkness and melancholy it needs. There are several nods, as previously stated, to classic Lovecraft tales, as well as some of the man’s friends; Clark Ashton Smith makes an appearance and Chambers’ book The King in Yellow.

The book may not further the Cthulhu Mythos as such, but it is a fun read for fans and is an interesting take on what the future may hold for us all.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman


Review: The Burning Isle by Will Panzo

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Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Ace

 

Fantasy is one of the genres that a lot of people have issues with. The reasons for this may be the fantastical elements, the shattering of the suspension of disbelief that may occur when a farm boy can slay dragons or the mere fact that the desire of the heart displayed in the tale is difficult to relate to. The best, of any genre fiction, are the stories that create something new, something different. In some fantasy novels it can be a strong sense of reality like the books by Joe Abercrombie, a female hero who puts a common myths on its ear like Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon or it may, while still using the genre specific tropes and themes, place the setting in an inventive area like Beaulieu’s Twelve Kings or Lays of Anuskaya, and that is what Will Panzo does in the Burning Isle.

The spellcaster Cassius shows up on the island of Scipio, a hotbed, described as a slum, of criminal activity mostly due to the fact that the inhabitants are unable to live in other parts of the Republic. The council that is supposed to run the island are more or less for show as the power is divided by the gang leaders Piso and Cinna. They, themselves are at war for the ultimate power of the island. Cassius is unknown when he comes to Scipio, having spent years in training at another island. He displays great power of the runes, that spellcasters control through gauntlets, the magical source in this world when he manages to kill a man during a prizefight. This catches the eye of Piso and they form a relationship wherein Cassius begins doing jobs for the mobster. It becomes more and more clear that Cassius has more plans than just running errands and he begins to stir the pot by doing jobs for Cinna as well. The violence begins to escalate until it surely must boil over.

There are a lot of things to enjoy in Panzo’s tale of treason and conflict in the underworld. Firstly he places the story in the new setting of a sort of Roman world, complete with words and classifications used during that era and when one initially reads the book it easy to believe that it’s a historic fiction. It creates a link between the reader and the author as a lot of the terms and concepts are easily recognizable and most everyone has an image of Rome and the people therein. Panzo’s language is also sharp and would appeal to a great spectrum of readers and not much is lost between sender and receiver among the pages. The plot in itself is simple enough, yet the actual goal of the protagonist is not revealed until half way through the story and this is good, although the first half reads like a sandbox type of game in the vein of Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. This does get tiresome at times as it feels like Cassius only moves from place to place aimlessly, but as it advances his agenda and reasons become clear, and this is done in a very clever way. Though the Republic as such is never really revealed the history of Scipio is dealt with and the reader is privy to the background of the gangs on the island. Scipio, home to those rejected by society on other islands, becomes a representation of nations today where the government is no more than a faceless puppet and those who actually rule threaten to tear it apart due to their own petty personalities and egos. Cassius becomes a kind of vigilante in the den of corruption and violence, a representative of the people, the anti hero reminiscent of the old hard boiled detective of yore. As such he isn’t all powerful, he may be a great spellcaster, but he is often injured or hurt and this way he retains his humanity and Panzo manages to keep the suspension of disbelief intact.

There is so much that is good in The Burning Isle, from its language, to its setting and to the character development. We recognize the tropes, the people, the intrigue and the setting, but from different places. It’s all so familiar, yet we have seldom witnessed it in this constellation and that is what makes it unique and a great read.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

 

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Review: Plushinomicon- The Legends of Teddy Bear Island

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Genre: Fantasy/Horror

Publisher: Dreaming Big Publications

 

 

Books based on role playing games are not unheard of, they might be less common today, or less of an intricate part of the fantasy genre as they were in the heyday of Forgotten Realms or DragonLance, but one does come across the odd Warhammer 40k books and for what its worth they are fairly decent. Plushinomicon is one such book, a collection of short tales set in the fantastical world of Teddy Bear Island. Teddy Bear Island is an RPG created by Orcs Unlimited and was created through a Kickstarter campaign. The world of Teddy Bear Island is very much like any old fantasy world, filled with the same old creatures one might encounter in Dungeons and Dragons like elfs, dwarfs or orcs. It is also filled with something different, something very different; stuffed animal zombies and they all live on the island, once created by a Fluffomancer. As a role playing game this concept does open up to several interesting possibilities and certainly hilarious problem solving scenarios.

Plushinomicon is in short a collection of ten short stories by a variety of authors and among them even the editor herself. The stories all center around Teddy Bear Island, it might be about getting there for one reason or another and adventures on the very isle itself. There is a wide variety of characters all typical heroes that are easily recognizable to those familiar with the fantasy genre.

It is futile to try to recap the short stories within the pages of Plushinomicon and they might just be directed to those who have played the game or who may be interested in doing so. Most of the stories are structured the same way and with a minimal amount of intrigue, in short, they are very quick reads that don’t challenge the reader at all and it comes across more like a collection of adventures that the authors have played through themselves and found funny enough to share. Unfortunately the authors aren’t given enough space to create compelling tales to excite and scare the reader and that is one of the big downfalls of this collection. Of course there is some understanding that this is all based in a strange world that maybe isn’t supposed to be taken so seriously, but there is still an overwhelming feeling that more could have been done.

Though the prospect of villainous zombie plushies sound like an entertaining way to spend some time these stories are not close to other RPG based counter parts and one would most likely be served better to pick up a DragonLance or Forgotten Realms.

 

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman


Review: Deadbringer by E.M. Markoff

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Genre: Fantasy

Series: Part one in The Ellderet Series

Publisher: Tomes & Coffee Press

Kira Vidal is a Deadbringer, one of the last of his kind. As such he has been gifted with certain necronomic abilities like unwillingly making objects rot or decay, raising and speaking to the dead. The Deadbringers in this world have all been eradicated due to these abilities by the so called Sanctifiers and it is prudent for Kira to mask his true form. Therefore he works as a mortician, the perfect occupation for someone with his skills, in the city of Opulancae with his uncle Eutau. Eutau is the one who keeps Kira’s secret safe through his own contacts with a place called the Bastion, but he is the keeper of a secret of his own.

Kira and his uncle are lured into a trap when trying to resurrect and question a dead woman and as this is happening he reveals what he is. Forced to leave the city Kira and Eutau become hunted by Sanctifiers across the country, the future uncertain.

Markoff has with The Deadbringer managed to build a world with great depth and background. The history the Deadbringers, the Sanctifiers and creatures like Kataru is intriguing and sparks the imagination as does the city of Opulancae and the universe that houses it all. Unfortunately that is where it ends; as a spark. Markoff tries to cram to much into this first book without delving into any of it. The story of Kira Vidal, a person whose name indicates it to be a woman at first read, is lost in a treacle of story making progress like dragging oneself through mud. The story is promising enough initially and sets a pace early on that captures the reader, but this is halted ones the chase begins. Hints at certain events or significant facts are dropped at regular intervals and that is all well and good, but there is never anything to hook the reader to these things. It peaks ones interest, but not is given to satiate the hunger and making the reader want to proceed.

The writing style is also on the wordy side and it is easy to get lost in odd sentences and overambitious use of words. One rarely becomes invested in the characters and when tragedy befalls them one does not care, this coupled with the fact that focus is switched from Kira and Eutau to the Sanctifiers who hunt them is quite confusing. More is said about the apparent antagonists than the hero. This also adds to the sensation of becoming tired while reading the tale and in the end it hurts what could have been quite a good book.

-C. Marry Hultman


Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

 

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Genre: Sciene-Fiction

Publisher: Ace

 

In the year 2054 the E-sport or gaming insdustry is very different. First and foremost it is unbelievably popular and secondly it is no longer played by pimply faced nerds holed up in their parents’ basements to only appear a few times a year to face each other in mock battle. Instead the gamers of the future are highly trained, professional athletes who climb into pods in order to enter the virtual world and compete in different games and everything experience in it feels real. Among these games the Rage tournament is the most popular, and the gamers who fight one another in it are heald in the highest of regard. One of the most popular teams is Defience comprised of two men and three women where one of them is Kali Ling.

An avid gamer from childhood Kali follows the instructions from the owner of the team, that consist of playing hard and partying harder; every night. Kali’s life comes crashing down around her when Defience loses their first game and is forced into the losers bracket in the tournament and when her lover and team member Nathan dies of an overdose. She is named the captain of her team and tries to keep the team from being eliminated while juggling personal demons, insomnia, drug addiction and a strange relationship with the man replacing Nathan. The preassure from the game, her boss and society as it is presented is about to break her before she realizes that she has to break with conventions and demands.

Arena, at first gives the illusion of quite the interesting future. Where technology has caught up with every gamer’s dream of being able to immerse themselves in a world they have only glanced at, longingly, through a screen. This is but the surface; What Jennings does is take the reader to the flipside of gaming on this kind of level. She intelligently adds the human factor to it, most likely taking a hint from what popular sports are like  today and professional wrestling in particular. The roar of the crowds, the demand to always be in the media, the clubbing and rampant drug abuse. There is quite the interesting discussion as it pertains to being able to separate oneself from the virtual world; what happens when it bleeds into our reality? Very much like the movie Running Man there is an important topic here that needs to be broached; entertainment at what cost, and to what end?

Even if Jennings’ has written a very interesting book in Arena with a female protagonist she does not take it far enough. There are too many questions left unanswered when it comes to the future in which the book is set and how come it has all the settings of a totalitarian state. More could be said about the present reflected in 2054. The book also suffers from not really knowing what it wants to be. At first glance it would appear to be a Young Adult book, but there are some subjects that might be a bit too stretched for a young reader to grasp, old gaming consoles or games for one, and the romantic aspect.

If there is to be a follow up to this tale, and there should be, it needs to dig deeper and be brave enough to challenge the reader, as well as society.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman

 


Review: Breaker by Richard Thomas

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Genre: Neo Noir, mystery, thriller

Publisher: Alibi

 

Broken souls, that is what Richard Thomas quickly is becoming an expert on. It is evident in his short stories, for instance the eerie Asking for Forgiveness or  the somber Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave, that both have damaged people at the center. It was also a main theme in his previous release Disintegration, where the main character had witnessed tragedy and because of it had become an easy target for the lowlife of Chicago.

This follow up, another Windy City Dark Mystery, is similar; a journey into the dark recesses of shattered souls while at the same time showing the reader the bleak underbelly of The Second City: Chicago. Although this time Thomas treats the reader to the lives of two individuals instead of one.

First is Ray; a white beast of a man who spends his time as a fighter at an underground club. His pale skin and large frame makes people instantly suspicious of him as he walks the streets. One of his many gifts, as he himself puts it, is his temper, honed by a lifetime of abuse and he wished to pass that abuse on to other people. His scars run deep; a mysterious father, who vanishes after a while, a sexually abused sister and a murderous mother. As the story unfolds he realizes that his childhood, sinister as it was, may have been a lot worse than he imagined.

The second person is Natalie. She lives next door to Ray and sees him come home with fresh bruises and cuts. She is the target of neighborhood boys, has parents who constantly fight and has developed the ability to blend into the woodwork; a useful skill to have in the area in which she lives. Ray takes her under his wing to protect her from bullies and the mysterious white van that drives around the city causing children to disappear. They form a relationship reminiscent of the one between Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in Léon (The Professional), although much sadder. Things take a turn once Ray comes to the conclusion that someone is after him and will do anything in their power to hurt him.

Breaker takes the Windy City Dark Mystery series to another level. The bleak outlook on life and humanity that was ever present in Disintegration is still present, but this time hope is sprinkled between the sentences. Ray is more sympathetic a character from the get go, a sensation that is only enhanced as more and more hints at his horrible past is revealed to him, as well as the reader. He is constantly at a disadvantage due to his size, pale skin and background, but instead of lashing out at a world where he doesn’t belong he channels it through fighting and helping the neighbor girl.

Richard Thomas shows that he is a master of neo noir fiction and that he understands the psyche of broken and damaged people. Breaker is proof of this; it is well written, well thought out, bleak yet hopeful and convincing in its innovative story.

C.M. Marry Hultman

C.M. Marry Hultman