Friday, July 31, 2009

The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa

While we all get tons of science fiction and fantasy from the western world, with works from America and Britain taking the dominant focus, tales from the eastern cultures are far less common. Much of the very well written works in the speculative fiction genre that are from these areas never see the light of day over here, with the small exception of manga, which has never been my thing. So, when the new imprint Haikasoru started releasing Japanese science fiction and fantasy in the United States, I jumped at this opportunity, picking up the first of their books I could find: The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa. My first step into the world of Japanese science fiction was far from disappointing.

Roughly 1800 years ago, Queen Himiko, or Miyo to her friends, rules a Japan that seems a little out of whack with the real Japan in 248. Monsters are real, and as Miyo is out walking one day with her protector Kan, she runs into a large creature that Kan cannot stop. As their deaths seem imminent, out of the sky drops the mysterious Messenger O, a member of the race of Messengers who brought the Law to Miyo’s people long ago. He dispatches the creature with no problems, and the mystery of who he is and why he has traveled back in time begins to unfold.

In alternating flashback chapters, we learn about Messenger O’s past, from being “born” as the cyborg Orville, to learning all about the humanity he is sworn to protect. Orville falls in love, and faces what all soldiers must: the trauma of leaving a loved one behind. He then sets out on an odyssey through the past to stop the alien ET from destroying humanity in the past, where they are weaker than in Orville’s 26th century.

Ogawa creates strong bonds between characters that are quickly ripped apart, and uses the smallest of incidents to ratchet up the emotional tug. The quick changes of setting sometimes give the time periods they are in a bit of a short stick, but overall the settings are well fleshed out, and Ogawa picks interesting times to jump back to, from the dawn of mankind to World War II. Orville and Miyo become very human characters that are easy to relate to, and when they are in danger’s way, suspense fills you over their well-being.

The sense of familiarity is present throughout this novel, as it doesn’t feel too far from the western novels I’m used to, yet it had a sort of lighter flavor that felt distinct in its own right. The translator did a wonderful job of bring the words into English, while retaining the appropriate moods and getting the meanings across. It was done with great skill. This translation of Ogawa’s novel is well worth a look.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Killer Summer by Ridley Pearson

While the focus of this site is simply books that are fun to read, that you can escape into for a few hours before having to return to the real world, it seems as though all of the books are gravitating towards science fiction, fantasy, and horror. So, when I heard about Ridley Pearson’s newest novel, Killer Summer, I jumped at the change to add another thriller to the few that are already on here. I first ventured into Pearson’s fiction with The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red (see review), but this was my first opportunity to venture into his non-tie-in fiction, diving into his series of novels following Sherriff Walt Fleming.

Walt Fleming seems perpetually busy, exemplified as his fishing trip with his nephew Kevin is interrupted by a grand theft auto in progress. As they chase down the criminals, Walt falls into something far larger than he thought, and as one man dies, the complex web expands into a heist of epic proportions. Famed crook Christopher Cantell is at the head of a plot to steal a case of Thomas Jefferson’s wine, worth millions, and no one can stop him except Walt.

However, things fly away from Walt’s plans, and his nephew and the daughter of a rich wannabe film producer are kidnapped, upping the stakes substantially. Walt has to deal with his brother’s suicide, his wife’s desertion, and raising his two daughters, all while hoping to catch a mastermind thief.

Pearson creates a small kernel of a story that explodes in all directions, with characters’ stories moving as far apart as they possibly can, before, in one deft stroke, he wraps it all back together, creating a conclusion that is both satisfying and believable. His characters are spot on, accurate beyond most authors’ abilities, and the story is tight, with no baggage.

There is little not to like in this novel. Pearson delivers a thriller that left me with the unshakable feeling of returning to home, as he fills his book with a sense of warmth and comfort that would seem completely counter to his goal of a deadly, rough crime world, yet he does so with aplomb. It is rare to connect so fully to a story that you don’t want to leave it, yet as the pages fly by you can’t stop turning. Pearson achieves this, leaving you with lasting thoughts, and begging for a sequel to follow up soon. One hopes that Walt’s life with settle down a bit, but at the same time you don’t, just so that you have an excuse to return to see him once again.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter has become a cultural phenomenon unrivaled in recent times. After bestselling novels, record-breaking movies, and a legion of miscellaneous products, Harry is everywhere. However, this reviewer at least has never finished the series. I read through the first four books, and the long lag between novels just made me lose the momentum.

After watching the sixth movie with my girlfriend, however, I got excited about it all over again, and want to finish the series before the final movie comes out. Since it has been a long time since I read the first four novels, now seemed like a good time to start from the beginning, and get the whole experience all over again.

Harry Potter is a wizard, but he doesn't know it yet. He lives a miserable life with the Dursleys, and hopes for a brighter future that just doesn't seem to be in his grasp. Then one day, he receives a very mysterious letter, and this sets off a chain of events that culminates in Harry's arrival at Hogwarts, a school of witchcraft and wizardry, where he, along with his friends Ron and Hermione, learn all about what being a witch or wizard means, and have adventure after adventure.

Rowling has attained vast celebrity with her novels of the boy wizard Harry Potter, but through all of this she has taken fire as not being a great writer. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she proves that, despite the claims (and I am certainly not the best authority on whether she is a good writer or not), she is an excellent storyteller. The novel soars along at a very fast pace, as Rowling mixes her wonderful plot with vast amounts of action, wrapping it all together with very personable characters that it is impossible not to care about.

While the Harry Potter fad may be on its way out, the magical joy of these novels is not. I cannot wait to jump into the second novel.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Hint of What's to Come

As Luke Reviews has moved a little past the half-century mark (cue the celebration!!), I thought you all might appreciate a look at some of what is ahead.  This is my tentative reading list, but I guarantee that it will change a bit.  So why am I sharing a list I know will change?  Because, sooner rather than later, all of these books will be appearing on Luke Reviews, and all that might change would be the order, as well as the inclusion of other books into the list.  So keep checking back, as more than just these will be arriving!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
Killer Summer by Ridley Pearson
The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa
The Dangerous Days of Daniel X by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan
Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear by Charles Ardai
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks
Passage at Arms by Glen Cook
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
The Colorado Kid by Stephen King
The Cellar by Richard Laymon
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

I know the above is a bit Harry Potter heavy, but I just saw the sixth movie (it was a lot of fun) and decided that now was the time for me to read the last three books, before the seventh movie comes out.  I hope to have a few more publishers jump on board and want me to review books for them, so this should flesh out more, I would imagine.  If anyone has any thoughts, or any publishers or authors have books they would like me to review, please leave a comment or email me at the email address above!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ravenor by Dan Abnett

I had always thought that Warhammer 40,000 was all about Space Marines and the Imperial Guard, but Henry Zou showed me differently, with his novel Emperor's Mercy (see my review). Zou introduced me to the world of the Inquisition, and I loved it. I couldn't wait to take another step into this territory, and Dan Abnett, Warhammer 40,000 author extraordinaire, was the place to go, especially with his new collection, Ravenor: The Omnibus just out from the Black Library. Sadly, I was more than let down.

Ravenor is an Inquisitor of the Imperium of Man, and he, along with his squad of crack operatives, arrives at a new planet to investigate a new psychic drug, flects. Ravenor has the feeling that it is more than just a drug, but a heretical substance that must be rooted out. His squad tracks down leads, while Ravenor pulls strings behind the scenes, while at the same time we are introduced to Zael, a flect addict, who is far more than meets the eye.

Abnett plays with genres, mixing the obvious science fiction setting of Warhammer 40,000, while throwing in a mystery that Ravenor must solve, and flinging things along with thriller-like pacing and style. Pulled off well, this would have been an incredible book. Sadly, Abnett bungled them to the point that I couldn't finish the novel.

The story begins with a vast number of characters, all chasing down people, with lots of violence and action characteristic of Warhammer 40,000. However, unlike all of the other Warhammer 40,000 novels I've read, the intelligent plot that weaves the action together is absent for at least the first third of the book, with pointless chase scene, meaningless deaths, and absolutely no motive, no rationale behind what the characters do.

The lush settings available in the Warhammer 40,000 environment also work against this novel. With each change of setting we are giving excessive amounts of setting description, along with long descriptions of festivals and activities that, is a good novel, we would be shown, not told about. I came to dread each new locale change, as it meant story-halting descriptions for pages. Any momentum the story could build, it killed.

Many of the characters felt very fake. Very little depth was given to them, and while some of that may have been addressed in Abnett's Eisenhorn, as a new reader to his Inquisitor novels, they felt flat, and left me not caring much about them. Ravenor's dues ex machina ability to "ware" his teammates also meant that they survived everything, making any tension disappear.

I could not finish this novel. It did very little for me. I tried over and over, and it failed on me every chance it had. I had high hopes for this one, as I liked both the previous Inquisition novel, and the previous Abnett novel, I had read, but after this flop, I don't look forward to either more Inquisition or more Abnett with the same zeal. One day I will give this omnibus another shot, but it will be awhile.

I read a full 3/4 of this novel, and based on that, I give Ravenor, part of Ravenor: The Omnibus, the following rating:


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wolverine: Tales of Weapon X by Fred Van Lente and Marc Sumerak

In honor of the new movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which I thought was a lot of fun) I picked up this compilation graphic novel from my shelves to peruse.  It seemed like a nice, easy prelude to diving into the very thick Ravenor: The Omnibus, which I am currently reading.  As it is more of a collection of a few stories, below are mini-reviews, a la a collection or anthology.

"Weapon X: First Class" by Marc Sumerak: In a retelling of the classic Barry Windsor-Smith Weapon X, but in an all ages variant, we are introduced to the entire gruesome history behind Wolverine, as Professor X helps Wolverine delve into his deep, forgotten past.  While the all ages factor limits some of the dark story's potential, it still was well done.  However, of exceptional note are the three very short back-up stories included with this main tale, "The Recruit," "No Class," and "The Job," all of which were very well done vignettes that really seemed to be the cream of the crop.

"The Buddy System" and "Surprise" by Fred Van Lente: Continuing the all ages focus of the book, we move to two stand alone stories from the new ongoing series Wolverine: First Class, which pair Wolverine with Kitty Pride, back when she had just joined the X-Men.  Both of the tales have a great focus on character interactions without hurting the story or taking away action, and they both really use the all ages format well, avoiding excess violence or adult situations without making it obvious.  Very well done.

"Kickin' It Old School" by Marc Sumerak: The second story in the series Wolverine and Power Pack, this one doesn't really fulfill the claim on the back of "tales from Wolverine's mysterious past," as this one is rather modern, but it was still a fun, light way to wrap up the collection, and certainly introduced me to a series I would have avoided like the plague before.  I still don't know if I will pick up any collections of Wolverine and Power Pack, but it was fun enough.

Overall, Sumerak and, especially, Van Lente do great jobs of playing with the all ages format, pulling out stories that have emotional depth while not ratcheting up the violence or excessive gore.  A good collection for X-Men fans of any age, this was a fun way to relax before a much larger venture.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Radio Magician & Other Stories by James Van Pelt

A few years back, I read James Van Pelt’s novel Summer of the Apocalypse, and found it to be an incredible reworking of the tropes of post-apocalyptic fiction. Since then, I have been meaning to pick up one of his collections of short stories, and just never had, until I received a copy of his newest collection, The Radio Magician & Other Stories. I had high expectations as I began the book, and read past Carrie Vaughn’s introduction.

“The Radio Magician”—This beautiful tale of one boy’s unquestioning belief in magic pulls at the heartstrings, and draws the reader in. Van Pelt has crafted a true gem.

“Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go?”—An interesting proposition, that is hard to explain without giving away the story. Two teenage girls encounter a tale of “What if?” that will change their lives forever.

“The Light of a Thousand Suns”—An intriguing take on the anti-nuclear weapon tale, with a touch of fantasy that is both unexpected and yet fit brilliantly.

“Of Late I’ve Dreamt of Venus”—A story of trying to terraform Venus, and one woman’s selfish struggle to witness perfection. A tight tale, with characters who felt perfect for their roles.

“Different Worlds”—This story took a little while to figure out just what was going on, but once you did, the entire beginning took on a new meaning that was even darker than you had originally thought. The ending scene is also highly ironic, in a wonderful way.

“The Small Astral Object Genius”—A very fun story of a kid searching the stars, from the comfort of his bedroom. While initially this story seemed fun, if not more, the emotional depth became apparent, and added immensely to the plot.

“Tiny Voices”—An odd, out-there sort of story, about one dying woman who lives through sense-receptive equipment throughout her room. I left this one with mixed feelings, but overall positive.

“Lashwanda at the End”—A sweet story of struggle and love on an alien planet, between a man in his prime and a woman who is on the edge of death. One of the best stories in the volume.

“Where and When”—A very neat story, even if the premise (you can’t effect the past) uses an example that I figured out a bit before I think the reader was supposed to. This time travel romp flashes back to some very neat points in history.

“One Day, in the Middle of the Night”—An odd tale about two brothers who hate one another passionately, and how they attempt to commit murder in space. While not badly written, this story was just a little to unaffecting for me.

“Echoing”—A story about parallels, and how people’s lives are interconnected, even if they have never met. The ending was predictable, but I can’t see as how that really hurt this well-written story.

“The Inn at Mount Either”—A great addition to this collection, this bit is about a man who loses his wife in a hotel of infinite proportions, and his quest to get back to her. The settings are well done, and the panicked searchings of a distraught husband were spot on.

“The Ice Cream Man”—Another top story, as The Radio Magician continues to impress. As people struggle against mutant creatures, one man works to supply people with what they want, and to remember joy, showing us in the process just who the bad guys really are.

“Sacrifice”—An interesting tale, with a premise similar to James Blish’s “Surface Tension,” about a culture that built up after a space ship crash lands on another planet. Good, yet the ending left me feeling like there could have been a more satisfactory way to have done it.

“The Boy Behind the Gate”—Two tales intertwine here, one of a modern day father searching for his son who was kidnapped, another of a man from 1879 who is trying to rid himself of his seemingly evil son. The ending of this one was spectacular. An excellent tale.

“The Last Age Should Show Your Heart”—A short bit on two robots who out survive the rest of the galaxy, and their love story. Short, sweet, but in the end not all I had hoped for.

“Origin of Species”—A wonderful love story, about one boy who happens to be a werewolf, and the girl of his dreams, who is falling for a troll.  Literally.  A fun piece that shows off Van Pelt's ability to work with teenage protagonists exceptionally.

“The Saturn Ring Blues”—A race around Saturn's inner ring, a lost love, and the blues create the impetus for this short but entertaining story.

“How Music Begins”—A true gem, to say the least.  The Radio Magician & Other Stories wraps up with this brilliant, if heartbreaking, story of a man and his junior high band, abducted and left with nothing to do but create great music.  This story flies along, and each moment is powerfully worked, all the way to the crushing ending.

James Van Pelt's newest collection is full of wonderful pieces of fiction.  Almost every one was packed with believable characters that you care for, ache for, and rejoice for, settings that feel impeccably real, and plots that are tight, fast, and worked down to the finest point.  There are no duds in this collection.  James Van Pelt is one to keep an eye on.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Courage and Honour by Graham McNeill

After my mixed review of the previous book in Graham McNeill's Ultramarines series, I was both hesitant and eager to see how his next journey into the saga would be. Would it be more of the action that dominated the last two-thirds of the book, or more of the slow, drawn out beginning? I am more than happy to report that it worked out wonderfully in this volume, mixing action with the plot better than The Killing Ground did.

After leaving the Eye of Terror, Uriel and Pasanius traveled to Salinas, where they fought the planets dark, twisted past. After a run-in with some higher powers in the Empire of Man, they returned, and finally headed back to the homeworld of the Ultramarines, heading for what they hoped would be a warm welcome.

That is where Courage and Honour picks up, with Uriel and Pasanius arriving home. After arriving there, the two space marines discover that they aren't as safe as they thought, with their chapter requiring them to undergo numerous tests to prove that they are without taint (even though this was also seemingly done last book as well). After these tests, Pasanius requires to do penance, and sits out the rest of the novel. Uriel leads the 4th Company back to a planet that had already conquered, in a desperate bid to protect the planet from invading Tau.

While I was disappointed about Pasanius' removal from the book, as I felt his interaction with Uriel was truly one of the best parts of the former novel, another sergeant, Learchus, does an okay job replacing him as a sidekick, flagging only in that the close history isn't there. The action in the novel never flags, and in this novel McNeill does a magnificent job of starting things off with lots of action, while using flashbacks to build the backstory, all done in clumps that are short and intriguing. The novel contains many secondary characters, including other space marines, imperial guard soldiers, as well as members of the Planetary Defence Force, that all feel very well fleshed out, that act believably, and can create emotional attachments.

I must say that, far from how I was after The Killing Ground, I absolutely cannot wait for the next Ultramarines novel. His books are getting better and better.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book of Secrets by Chris Roberson

When it comes to conspiracy thrillers, I can be hit or miss. I used to think that I loved them, finding books such Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, Domain by Steve Alten, a number of Atlantis books (especially Raising Atlantis by Thomas Greanias), and many other sorts of conspiracy theory/secret history novels lots of fun.

However, lately they have just been missing for me. Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons didn’t do much for me (although I didn’t get very far, and it might get better, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt) as well as Christopher Forrest’s The Genesis Code (see review) flopped. So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up my copy of Chris Roberson’s new novel, Book of Secrets. Roberson’s novel worked for me for the most part, but let me down a bit at the end.

Spencer Finch is a reporter, mucked down in a case about one J. Nathan Pierce. He receives an anonymous tip, and following up on it leads to the greatest adventure of his life. At the same time, Finch learns of the death of his grandfather, who helped raise him after the death of his parents, and his inheritance: a box of pulp magazines and seemingly random stacks of paper, along with a wooden chest without a key to its lock.

From here, Roberson mixes the elements of an action-thriller with pastiches of pulp-era crime and western stories, and succeeds incredibly. His short stories contained within this novel are fun and wonderful. The story of Finch moves along at a very nice pace as well, with plot elements popping up left and right. As the book flew along, leading to a bigger and bigger puzzle, I couldn’t be happier with how this book was going along. It was lots of fun.

Then I reached the end. I was significantly let down. Not necessarily by the ending itself, but by how it was done. In a very long monologue, we are explained how everything was connected, all this after a very sudden jump from the storyline to a new segment that felt entirely out of place. Not only is the novel wrapped up with a world-class info-dump, but the fate of certain characters is never discovered, leading you unsure if they even lived or died. The whole last section of the book felt rushed and incomplete, like it had a good plot that was forced into too small a space or too short a time. It was a vastly disappointing end to an otherwise wonderful book.

Roberson’s novel creates some fun, interesting ideas that use the conspiracy thriller in unique ways that I enjoyed, and the short stories threaded into the novel are nothing short of wonderful. However, the ending detracts from the book, and doesn’t leave the reader with much. Pick this one up for the pulp pastiches; they are great. So is the story of Finch, if you can get past an abrupt, awkward, hurried ending.


Friday, July 10, 2009

G.I. JOE: Above & Beyond by Max Allan Collins

I grew up with G.I. Joe. It was huge. When I saw that Transformers seemed to be making a come back, with a live-action movie, my first thought was, I really hope they do G.I. Joe. And they have! Waiting with extreme excitement for the new movie, G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra, I had to pick up the new prequel novel, G.I. JOE: Above & Beyond, written by Max Allan Collins, famous for his graphic novel Road to Perdition. I picked this one up, hoping for an action-packed thriller that was lots of fun. I can freely say that this novel was all that and more.

Conrad Hauser--know as Duke to his friends--is head of a top notch squad of American soldiers, who go in on missions that only the best can succeed at. Duke, along with his best friend Ripcord, go on mission after mission, saving the world in secret. However, on a mission to Uzekurkistan to rescue scientists held to work on weapons manufacturing, events are set in motion that lead to San Sebastiao, a small South American country in the midst of civil turmoil, as Duke and his Able Team try to stop a military coup from shattering the country.

Meanwhile, secreted away in the Pit, G.I. JOE, a multi-national group of soldiers, works to keep world peace viable, working undercover and invisible to save people from threats they don't even know exist. Hawk, head of G.I. JOE, sends out a crack team of soldiers to shadow Duke and his squad, to both protect them and to recover advanced weaponry that has fallen into the wrong hands.

The book moves fast, flipping between the American squad and the G.I. JOE unit, as both work to protect San Sebastiao from civil war. Collins quickly creates a group of very likeable characters, and builds some emotional attachment, all while playing to the desires of fan boys to see their favorite G.I. Joes in action (used to be G.I. Joe, all caps for the movie). The book is fun, light, and tightly written, with no dead space and no wasted dialogue.

Collins has built a novel that is fun, fast, and light to read, yet has a solid plot, intelligent action, and made me even more excited for the movie. Finding a copy of Collins' novelization of G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra, is high on my to do list.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Harbinger by Jack Skillingstead

While Jack Skillingstead has created quite a stir with his well-received short fiction, his novel writing talents have never been on display before (to this reviewer's knowledge, at least). Many authors well known for short stories don't make the transition to novel form well, either never putting out a solid novel, or taking a few before they hit their stride. With that in mind, I entered Skillingstead's new novel Harbinger, out in a month or two from Fairwood Press. To say that my initial fears were a waste of worry is a massive understatement.

Ellis Herrick is a young man, struggling with the difficult emotions of losing a mother and brother, and having a father who can't seem to keep things together. He falls in love with a girl named Nichole, and she nearly kills him in a car crash. After suffering grievous injuries, Ellis is hospitalized, yet he heals at an incredible rate, beyond what anyone should be capable of. Ellis goes on to become something of an icon, not aging and healing from every wound. He tries to come to terms with his seeming immortality, and is met with yet more grief that follows from outliving everyone you know.

Ellis is very often the tragic hero. As he struggles to live well, everyone he cares about dies, and he is perpetually seen as an object, not a person. He is used as an organ doner, and turned into a messiah, yet all he wants is some sanity.

Harbinger runs along at a solid pace, mixing action with hints of romance, philosophy, cultural movements, and much about life, family, and love. Skillingstead seems to effortlessly mix his action filled, quick moving plot with deep questions that leave a lot of thinking to be done after the book is set down. While this novel contains far more than its slight size indicates, it is first and foremost a story of living life and finding love, no matter the struggles and despite all of the mistakes you make. Ellis' tale is at times depressing, poignant, and beautiful.

Skillingstead has created an incredible novel, full of power, containing fully-fleshed settings, difficult questions, and characters that you care for. Harbinger is a wonderful book, and I hope that Skillingstead returns to the novel form soon.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Killing Ground by Graham McNeill

Things got really busy both at work and at home around the Fourth of July holiday, thus the delay (sorry!) but I am back, with a brand new novel of the Ultramarines from the Warhammer 40,000 universe!

As I stated in my previous review of a Warhammer 40,000 novel, I had read some of the books that really focus on the space marines in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. However, I had never gotten around to Graham McNeill's Ultramarines series before. It was one of many established series that I was going to one day start by picking up an omnibus, but just wasn't on my radar screen yet. However, when I received my copy of The Killing Ground, I gave it a try, even though it was the middle of the series, and overall I am quite pleased.

After the events depicted in McNeill's The Ultramarines Omnibus, Uriel Ventris and his companion Pasanius are on their way back home to their chapter, having completed their Death Oath and fulfilling their task required to return from exile. Flying without aim, they crash on Salinas, along with a group of the Unfleshed, nightmare creatures transformed by the forces of Chaos, but innocent at heart. However, Salinas itself is a world of turmoil, and the arrival of two space marines only adds fuel to the fire.

After a very intriguing prologue, this novel hits a wall, and slows down incredibly. The pace seems to move down more than just a few notches, with lots of imagery, and some backstory for those of us new to the series. While the backstory inserted in this novel was helpful, and made this novel a great jump on point for those interested in joining the series without reading the back catalogue, it just felt like there had to be a better way to address it, instead of slowing the story to a crawl.

That said, once the story picks up, it really does, and the novel becomes stellar. All of the great storytelling I had come to expect from the other McNeill work I read (review) appeared. The action is fast, the plot is tight, and things fly along. All of the many threads of story are deftly woven together, and I came to really have to struggle to put this novel down. Uriel and Pasanius are characters that are really easy to care about, and their struggles are perfectly written.

I struggled on what to rate this, and decided on the higher 8 and not the lower 7, because, after this book picks up pace, it is excellent, and it really leaves me excited for the next book, Courage and Honour, which will be reviewed here in the not too distant future. Get through the beginning, and the rest will leave you begging for the sequel.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Slights by Kaaron Warren

Horror takes many forms. Sometimes it is big and foreboding and gruesome. Other times, it is small and quiet and all the more deeply disturbing because of it. In Kaaron Warren's novel Slights, we are presented with one of these quiet, terrible horrors. This book is certainly not for those easily put off, as its dark attitude pervades the entirety of this gripping work.

Steve is a girl who lives through a dark life. The novel starts out with her wrecking her car, resulting in the death of her mother, and her father is already dead, shot while in the line of duty as a police officer. Steve's life focuses on death, an odd juxtaposition indeed. She follows death, and it seems to follow her. As the years progress, Steve learns more and more about the dark room she enters every time she nears death, but each time she manages to come back to life before leaving it for good. She digs in her backyard, finding trinkets, and she deals with her family and her sister-in-law's family, neither of which seems to take a great interest in her, with few exceptions.

The crux of the book is the room Steve enters when she dies, but that isn't the horrific part. Steve is the part that grips you, and she is the part that scares you, as you can't look away while her life seems to spiral out of her control to a point where she can't get it back. With each new year, Steve finds a new pain to experience, and her magnetism towards these events is far too painful to bear, yet bear it you do with the hopes that she will somehow correct her life, get it back on track, and find something to live for instead of living to die.

Warren creates a vivid, realistic character, one with a sad life that is falling apart more each day. The character grasps onto you, and doesn't let you go. For each pain she goes through (and there are many), you go through them with her, wanting things to end up okay, for Steve to have a happily ever after, even if you have the haunting feeling that you just don't think Steve can ever get there. The novel, far from being about the horrible life after that Steve experiences, is about Steve herself, and there are few character novels that do it better. This novel can be painful to read, but only because of how much you come to care and hope for the main character.

While not for the faint of heart by any means, and certainly not something your emotions could survive through is you read it back to back, over and over, after finishing this book (and feeling drained in that "it hurt so good" way) I can't not be reminded of it frequently. This book has a power to it, one that is not to be missed.