The Writer's, artist's & reader's Guild

Posts tagged “book review

Review: Lucifer’s Star by C.T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Advertisements

Review: In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Tachyon

 

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


Review: The Six Train to Wisconsin by Kourtney Heintz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Fiction

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.

 


Review: Kokoro by Keith Yatsuhashi

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.


Rear view: Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Released: 2014

Publisher: Strange Chemistry

Genre: Fantasy/Romance

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.

 


Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 


Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

gilded

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

potter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Save

Save


Review: The Last Sacrifice by James A. Moore

last-sacrifice

 

 

 

 

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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save