Category: fantasy


It occurred to me today that I hadn’t posted this yet. I admit, I’m a little sad that this is the last one for now. Maybe there will be another arc or the start of an ongoing after the Crossing Over event in the classic Ghostbusters comic. What Dreams May Come was a pretty awesome story though, so I can hope. Here’s the last one for now, enjoy!

Issue 5 What Dreams May Come cover

After being consumed by their fears and fighting them back, solutions failing and answers being found, this is the final confrontation. The Ghostbusters have their shared memory and a plan in place to stop the Schreckgespenst. Will it be enough or will Dr. Kruger trap the world in his nightmare dimension?

This is where we’ve hit the final confrontation, the boss fight, the last effort before the world is doomed where our heroines triumph. It’s also the big test for the neural connections that should, in addition to the shared memory, allow them to find each other in the nightmare world. Let’s dig in.

We jump right into the fight with the Ghostbusters fighting Dr. Kruger and then activating the neural connection. Things go wrong almost immediately with the team not being able to keep together. I feel like that does a really good thing with one of the issues I had had in the last issue. We start with Erin left alone with her nightmares, but then she’s able to focus on Abby and reach her and together they get to the shared memory. Patty on the other hand finds the shared memory no problem, it’s set in a historic site that’s Patty’s thing, but she’s alone. She couldn’t hold on to the others well enough to get to both. That, for me, is brilliant. Erin and Abby had known each other for years before Erin ran off, so it makes sense that it would be easier for them to lock on to each other. Patty only met anyone in the team during the Rowan incident, so she doesn’t have as long a connection or maybe not as many points of connection with them.

The art here is great, as it has been for the entire arc. I want to see more of Corin Howell’s work because of this comic. Her expressions in particular are awesome and the Schrekgespenst couldn’t have been much more awesome. The same goes for Valentina Pinto’s work on the colors. The art is awesome, but it wouldn’t be nearly as dynamic without the color work to punch up the mood.

Admittedly, what I really want is more of this team on this comic. This was a fantastic way to tie up the arc and the way Dr. Kruger was defeated was a great example of the character work that I’ve enjoyed throughout the run. So, yeah, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call: What Dreams May Come issue five gets a five out of five. And I really hope that question mark at the end means more is on its way.

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I’ve gotten the chance to review a number of Seanan McGuire’s book now and I’ve enjoyed them all. So, of course I was excited to see Sparrow Hill Road on netGalley, even more so when I was OKed to review it. This is one of those books that I had been meaning to read and meaning to read. Bonus in that the second book is coming out soon. Enjoy!

Sparrow Hill Road cover

Rose Marshall is sixteen and running from the man who ran her off the road. She’s been sixteen and on the run since prom night. Since she’d made a rash decision while angry. Since 1952 when she took the keys to her brother’s car and the short cut on Sparrow Hill Road to look for her boyfriend.  Bobby Cross is still hunting her, trying to catch the one that got away and feed his immortality a little longer.  He won’t stop until he catches up to her. But at least he can’t kill someone who’s already dead.

Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road is interesting to me in a lot of ways. It started out as a set of twelve short stories published across a year. Those stories were well received enough to be reworked a little and republished as a novel. That, to me, is all kinds of awesome. Then you jump into Sparrow Hill Road being a ghost’s story rather than a ghost story. It’s Rose’s story to tell and she’s well aware of a lot of the folk lore surrounding her and those like her. I actually have a little trouble talking about this one because of how much I enjoyed it.

This isn’t a settled book by any means. It roams from decade to decade and coast to coast, from living to dead and back again. The characters likewise never seem to settle. Weather that means the phantom driver who spends his afterlife racing the road he died on or the route witches whose magic is called from driving and the road itself. Pauses are brief and stopping or being stopped always seems to carry a risk. That doesn’t mean that the book moves at a breakneck pace throughout its run, Ms. McGuire does a fantastic job with her pacing here. It never felt like I needed to pause and reread something to understand what was going on. It also never felt like the book was dragged down by over explaining things.

Rose’s ability to borrow life from a willingly offered piece of outer ware is fascinating to me, likewise the rule that she can enjoy food and drink only if it’s willingly offered by a living being. Both serve to allow her to, temporarily at least, experience the parts of living that she’d enjoyed and interact with normal people as though she were one of them. It also serves to limit Rose. She can only borrow life until the sun comes up so she’s a ghost, cold and insubstantial, during the day and any food she eats that isn’t willingly offered tastes of ash. The aspect of Rose having chosen to guide the dead is also an interesting one. It isn’t something she’s bound to, at least not beyond feeling a sort of responsibility for the newly dead. It’s something she doesn’t always want to do and, in fact, something of a mirror to her habit of trying to help drivers avoid their deaths. Of course, both of those choices lead to her being seen around horrific traffic accidents and being blamed as a result.

That feels like sort of a running thing through the book, people act without knowing the full story. It happens with Rose, with the story of the pretty dead girl up on Sparrow Hill Road and all the people she’s supposedly killed. It happens with a number of the characters introduced within each section of the book, they react to the bits they know but act before digging further. They jump to conclusions while angry or confused and go based on their impressions. It’s a sort of humanizing thing that allows for a lot of the conflict in the book without it feeling like it was just thrown in.

Speaking of conflict, if there’s a bit that didn’t entirely work for me it winds up being Bobby Cross himself. This goes back to Sparrow Hill Road having originally been a set of short stories. Bobby Cross feels like a week antagonist, largely because he doesn’t have much to do early on. He’s the one who killed Rose. He wants to finish the job. Not has to, wants to. But for a lot of the book’s run it doesn’t feel like he’s a threat. The antagonists from other sections tend to be more present, likely because that’s their moment while Bobby is running a long game. When he’s effective, he’s great but when he’s not he just sort of feels like a disposable villain of the week.

I started writing this review knowing that I was going to give it a five out of five. I enjoyed it enough to not really know how to write about it without just throwing words for pages on end. Even now there are bits that I want to go back and add more thoughts on. I think I’ve come to a decent place to end this though. Sparrow Hill Road is well worth the read and I’m super excited for the next one.

I’m running late posting this, but I’ve been really excited to dig into this and talk about it.

 

April Box 1So, the theme for April’s Unicorn Crate was Northern Myths. That means lots of Viking and Celtic based stuff. I’m going to go down through the layers of the box and talk about things as they were packed, so the actual book itself is going to be the last item I reach. Let’s dig in then.

May Box 2

First thing, I really like the cover art/ list of contents. It’s a nifty print with the art from the website thumbnail and about the size of a post card. The big thing I like with this is that it sources where the items are from, which means that if you enjoy them you’ll be able to find the shop that made them. I adore that completely and will be making use of it.

Moving clockwise from that, we hit the Thor’s Hammer key chain. This is the only thing that I’m not big on. A big part of this is that it’s Marvel’s Thor’s hammer rather than a Mjölnir of some stripe. Well, it is, but it feels aesthetically out of place with the rest of the box. It’s also really big for a key chain and, while not as heavy as one that I use, the size isn’t great for my bag. Plus, with everything else having been hand made or small company sourced, it feels like a bit of an odd inclusion.

The unicorn book plates are nice. The art is really pretty and they’re big enough to look good but not so big as to affect the look of the page it’s placed in too badly. Plus, it’s cool to see how they tied in the unicorn theme with the rest of the box.

I need to find some place to put the Celtic shield pin. The lines are crisp and well defined and the colors complement each other well. The combination of Celtic knots and runes is a little odd, but it isn’t distractingly so. I like it quite a bit.

On to one of my favorite things here. The Book Balm’s Mead of Valhalla lip balm, from Cedar Chest Press, is awesome. It feels fantastic and it does a really good job moisturizing. It also doesn’t need to be reapplied constantly and lasts through drinking stuff. There isn’t a ton of flavor to it, I think that could be because it’s a honey/vanilla/raspberry flavored balm and two of those don’t tend to be heavily flavored in my experience. The raspberry adds a fantastic scent to it, which was nice. This is something I’m definitely going to look for once I’ve used the stick included..

The last thing in this layer is the Shield-Maiden of Rohan candle from Half Oak Candles. I’d been looking forward to this since I ordered the box and before I knew anything about the scent or where it was from. I have a hard time placing quite what the scent of this candle is. It mostly just smells clean, there might be an undercurrent of something floral, but it is subtle. It burns really well and melts evenly, which is great. I do wish that the candle was a bit bigger, the two ounce size leaves me wanting to stash it back for later rather than use it. That said, I’m definitely going to be checking out Half Oak Candles etsy shop. If this is a fair example of their quality, then their other stuff is going to be awesome too.

May Box 3

Layer two includes the item that hands down excited me most to see was in the box. I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology since before it was released. It being a bonus book for this box was a fantastic surprise.

The art print is really cool featuring Yggdrasil, the world tree, and the nine realms. The color works really well and it sort of strikes a balance between just being a nifty print and kind of reminding me of a map. The runic styling on the writing on it can make it difficult to read the names of the realms. This isn’t a downside, they can be read, it just takes a little effort. As a nifty side thing, it includes a version of Jörmungandr, the world serpent, approaching Midgard.

May Box 4

The last layer held the book of the month itself, Jessica Leake’s Beyond a Darkened Shore, the signed book plate, and a note from the author. All of this came in a Unicorn Crate drawstring bag. The bird drawn on the bookplate is a fantastic detail, especially with the bird on the dust jacket. I appreciate the note from the author, it’s a really cool inclusion and Unicorn Crate including something like that is just super awesome.

Overall, I like what’s included here. It feels worth the admission price and, as mentioned before, I’m really glad that they included where the various items came from on the list. It’s also introduced me to a new author and a book I would not have heard of otherwise. My only real issue with the Unicorn Crate itself is the shipping. The cost isn’t terrible by any means, but the method of shipping they used was a fusion between FedEx and USPS that took close to a week to arrive and that I couldn’t track for the last couple of days before it arrived because FedEx didn’t have the USPS tracking number. I’m pretty distinctly not a fan of that. That said, I would order another one of these. It feels worth it and I just enjoy getting things like this in the mail.

I’m really going to need to learn not to announce things before they’re ready to roll. My computer messed up and wouldn’t work, I think I’ve got it working mostly right again but it took a while to get it going again. In any case, this one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quill Press. Here’s Anne Stinnett’s Creature of the Night. Enjoy!

Creature of the Night cover

It’s TV’s most scandelous phenomenon. Fantastic vampire judges. Roaring crowds jumping at the bit to see contestants fail. Blood and glamour in equal measure.  It’s a chance at eternity for one lucky contestant, and the risk of death for the other eleven, the new season of Creature of the Night promises to be a bloody good time for the viewing public.

Anne Stinnett’s Creature of the Night is a book that I really wanted to like just based on its concept. The whole vampire game show thing where the winner becomes a vampire is kind of awesome and something I’m a little surprised I haven’t found in other urban fantasy novels. Supernatural beings using their being supernatural to grab a wide and adoring audience, or being used to do that, seems like it would be more of a thing. The idea that people not only go wild over this but blood thirsty, mocking failed competitors and camping out wild is interesting and feels like it could say a lot about the culture surrounding celebrity culture. The problem comes when it didn’t seem interested enough in the characters or world to really pull that off.

Let’s talk about that potential though, because I really do think that something like Creature of the Night could do a lot of interesting things with urban fantasy. The ingredients are all there.  The masquerade was broken, so people know that vampires are real. More than that, the television viewing public not only loves them but loves seeing people risk their lives to become vampires. It almost seems like they have the world enthralled. But there’s a limit to how many people can be turned legally, which leads to the show being billed as a sort of way to find “worthy” people to be turned. This makes me wish that we could have seen more of the world beyond the show, possibly through more time in the mansion or more time with the viewers at home. Just something more away from the show challenges themselves so that we get more of the back ground.

That’s sort of a running thing in Creature of the Night, that sort of need for more details outside of the competition itself. The back story for the world is mentioned and teased, but in a way that becomes distracting rather than informative. It’s the same with the protests over certain aspects of vampires interacting with humans, they’re mentioned and it is part of a couple of characters back stories, but they don’t really do anything for the story. It would almost be better, if we were looking to keep the length of the book about the same, to drop the world building hints entirely and allow the reader to make their own assumptions about how this all came about, then use the space from dropping that to develop the characters more.

It’s sort of a thing I think I can see what Stinnett was doing with the characters, this being a horror comedy and all, but she left her characters really flat. They were sort of horror movie cliché sketches of characters rather than being full on developed, which made it really difficult to care what happened to any of them. This ties heavily into my thing about wanting more page time away from the show challenges. While the challenges are largely interesting they also feel big and sensationalistic. They show the characters as competitors but not as people. The between challenge chapters do some character interactions, but they’re also taken up with the in book show’s confessional sequences where the characters talk about the challenges and other competitors and whatnot. What makes this a little strange, is that it’s clear that changes are happening with some of the characters but we don’t see much of them as they change, possibly because the show lasts at most a week. Plus the confessional bits often have characters returning to type, rather than reflecting any sort of development.

At the end of it, Creature of the Night feels very like the novelization of a B movie that doesn’t exist. The characters have little to no presence. It’s often violent or gross for the sake of shock factor for a fictional audience. Cutaways to the audience at home or the judges can be interesting, but usually feel like padding. All in all, it would work a lot better on film than page. I wasn’t a fan of this book and I think I would wait to check out the reviews on any other books Anne Stinnett writes, but I would be willing to read her again. It’s mostly because of that that Creature of the Night gets a three out of five.

Ah, this is finally going up. I feel like I’ve been sitting on this for years and it’s a little ridiculous. I’m going to see if I can get the Crossing Over issue one review posted today or tomorrow as well. We’ll see how that goes, either way, enjoy!

Issue 4 What Dreams May Come cover

So, we’re into the fourth issue of What Dreams May Come and it’s leading into how exactly the Ghostbusters are going to stop whatever Schrecky’s up to. They need a big shared memory, something kind of traumatizing, and a little bit buried. So it can’t be Rowan’s apocalypse, that’s too new. Something shared and buried though, Erin and Abby might have that, Abby and Holtz might, but not all four of them. Right?

This is the first one that I have something of an issue with. The shared memory that the issue centers around is entertaining but it is kind of too easy feeling.  It feels too convenient, which sort of make sense this is the second to last issue in the arc so they do need to tie things up. But it seems to contradict Erin and Abby having grown up in Michigan. Plus, I find myself way more interested in Holtzmann’s nightmare/breakfast machine and just how inserting memories into Abby’s head made her love soup so much. I do hope we see more of that in the future.

I like the idea that the buried connection that the memory makes could allow the Ghostbusters to find each other in Kreuger’s nightmare space and avoid him enough to fight back. That said, I wish there was time left for the buried connections to be separated between the characters rather than one big inciting incident. Without that I find myself wondering just what kind of memory Holtzmann would have used and how implanting a memory would even work.

That said, I’m still excited to see how this ends, the final confrontation with Dr. Kreuger is bound to be awesome and I’m all for it. The art remains awesome, the designs for the younger versions of the Ghostbusters were solid and I continue to be super impressed by how expressive the art is.

It feels like I got really repetitive on this one, and I know I was a little hard on the thing I wasn’t a fan of. I know that’s in large part because I want to see this keep going and I’m kind of worry nitpicking and being picky about background stuff.  That said, I did still have a ton of fun reading this one, so I’m giving Ghostbusters: Answer the Call: What Dreams May Come issue 4 a four out of five.

I’m going to get back to schedule at some point. It might be the point where I’ve caught up with my to read list, but someday it’s going to happen. This one was a wish granted by netGalley. Here’s Jeff Noon’s The Body Library. Enjoy!

The Body Library cover

In a city where everything is stories and stories are everything, what happens when the plot shifts a little? When an infection of ideas has the potential to overturn the balance of fictional how strange can a murder case be? How strange can anything be when words flow just under the skin? It a city where stories are everything and everything is stories, what do a dead man’s whispers mean? Once upon a time a man called Nyquist followed a job right into trouble.

The Body Library is, in more ways than anything else, a story about stories. Yes, it’s still a detective story and there is still a case to be solved, but neither of those feel like the core of the book. I’m not sure that Jeff Noon meant for the mystery bits  to be as overshadowed by the story about a story bits, I haven’t read the previous Nyquist novel so this may just be part of his writing style. The nature of the book also makes it somewhat hard to dig into without spoiling it, so this one might be a little thin on details.

A big part of the story here is focused in on Melville 5, an abandoned apartment building and home to all manner of strange folk. More importantly, it’s something of a flux zone where the strangeness of Storyville is eclipsed by something more, by pages with shifting words and trees with ink flowing through their leaves. This is fascinating to me, this sort of space where reality is kind of separated from itself, just slightly tilted.

There’s a lot of slightly tilted reality to go around here. Storyville itself is a town built on tales where each person’s individual story is quite important and monitored to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s story. There’s a great feel to it when Nyquist is going through the city chasing a lead, just being shown the various areas of this sprawling city of words. Different parts of the city are known for different kinds of stories which feels interesting and I would like to see more of it. The city is probably my favorite part of The Body Library.

The flipside to my enjoyment of the city is the characters. There’s a flatness to the characters, I’m not sure if it’s something of the writing style or if it’s something of Nyquist as a focus character but it felt off.  Tied up in all the story elements of the book, the characters can feel less like characters and more like character sketches. Things don’t ring right emotionally. This is especially noticeably when it comes to Zelda. Nyquist has this whole thing towards her, this significance for her that doesn’t really get built up in any satisfying way but that is a driving force throughout the run of the book. The thing is, of course, that it’s a driving force I have a hard time buying into and so it feels forced.

There were some definite issues with the flow of the story. It’s worse towards the end than early on, but I think that sort of ties into the characters issue. Things feel like they could have been set up more solidly. Ideas crop up here and there, but the frame work can feel like it’s missing in places. The connections aren’t there.

Ultimately, I think I like the background elements and workings of The Body Library more than I like the actual story. There is a lot there that’s already solid, that would have been really well done, if it had been better set up. Would I read Jeff Noon again? Probably. While I had issues with some parts of the book I quite enjoyed others and would like to see what the background work in his previous Nyquist book is like. Because of that, I’m giving the body library a three out of five with the note that it only loses out on a four because of the flow issues towards the end.

So, this is a little late going out, but my review for The Night Dahlia was meant to be part of a blog tour. Until now, I haven’t had the chance to post up where the other stops on the tour can be found, so I wanted to fix that. Check these out and enjoy!

The Night Dahlia cover

Mon. March 26  Books, Bones, & Buffy

Tues. March 27 From the Shadows

Wed. March 28  Just a World Away

Thurs. March 29 The Qwillery

Fri. March 30 Through Raspberry Colored Glasses

Mon. April 2 The BiblioSanctum

Tues. April 3 The Speculative Herald

Wed. April 4 Tympest Books

Thurs. April 5 Fantasy Book Critic

Fri. April 6 Horror Talk

I’ve got a review written this week, and it’s even on time! This one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here is R. S. Belcher’s The Night Dahlia. Enjoy!

The Night Dahlia cover

Caern Ankou has been missing for several years. All the trails are cold and have been for quite some time. In desperation, her father brings in Laytham Ballard the only former Nightwise in the organization’s history. It’s simple, find the girl, save the soul of his lost love. Thing is, if Ballard wants to find Caern, he’s going to have to chase her across the world to do so. He’ll have to face former friends, old enemies, even the case that’s left him haunted ever since. Nothing to it.

The Night Dahlia is an interesting book in that it earned its way up from a one star read to a three star read and then back down to a two. There were cool ideas, yes, some of the ideas here were really cool. Some of the scenes were cool, but for every cool or impactful scene there are three that nullify anything that could have worked with them.

In a lot of ways, The Night Dahlia doesn’t feel confident. There’s this feeling like Belcher wasn’t comfortable with the emotive weight of key scenes and felt the need to hammer them home shortly after to make sure that the reader gets it. That lack of confidence killed a lot of moments for me, especially towards the end where the story hit a lot of what should have been big character moments only to fritter them away. It all winds up being a bit too neat considering how much of a mess the protagonist is supposed to be.

Laytham Ballard himself is also a big part of why a lot of scenes didn’t work. His whole deal is that he’s a bad man, a fallen hero driven rogue by one bad case. But then he spends enough of his time drunk or high or generally running away from himself and the plot that I could believe that he’s washed up, as so many minor characters tell him, but I have a hard time seeing him as more than that. He can come across as the creepy guy at the occult shop, insisting that he just knows a girl is a sensual creature just by looking and describing nearly every woman he runs into’s breasts. He can come across as slimy for the same reasons, plus his constant dodging of the rules of his contract. But Ballard doesn’t come across as the wicked fallen hero that he seems to want to be. There’s a scene that shows what could have been, where he’s legitimately kind of frightening and inflicts a pretty awful curse on a number of people because one of them annoyed him, but that’s once.

That actually feeds into a lot of my issues with The Night Dahlia and Laytham Ballard in particular.  It might be due to missing some of the set up in Nightwise, but a lot of the book just doesn’t land for me. Ballard makes a big point of talking about how his magic style is a mutt thrown together with stuff that works best for him, that could be really cool. But then, when he uses magic, his big thing is using his chakras and pushing energy through them. He uses the specific names of the chakras he’s using but then doesn’t generally explain what that means and the magic isn’t given sensory detail often beyond boiling or bubbling up through whichever chakra he’s using, so it winds up feeling lazy and a little disorienting.  Things just sort of pop up that could have been interesting concepts but either aren’t gone into or just feel too out there. Like Ballard having a random musical interlude at a bar while out looking for clues, he just sort of gets pulled into playing a set with some local band. Everyone there knows his old band and is just super pumped for this random guy to jump on with the band they actually came to see. A lot of it feels like is exists in service to Laytham Ballard rather than the plot.

There’s this really great bit about half way through that shows us a younger Ballard on the big life ruining case. It contextualizes him, gives a foundation to a lot of the things he does in the present day of the story. There’s still messy bits to the writing itself, but it does a lot to make me care about that version of Ballard. But then we jump back to the present and a Ballard who is still in the middle of his bad decisions and is still more about doing things his way than getting to the bottom of things. There’s a character arc here, but it’s done in a way that feels sort of fractured. Like I mentioned about, scenes that should have emotional impact happen but either only sort of land or don’t feel like they have any consequences.  Of course things not landing makes everything feel less impactful.

That’s where I’m left with The Night Dahlia. It had some nifty ideas, some moments that could have been super solid, and some just odd stuff. But it never landed right. It’s a book that felt like it had earned a single star up to around the half way mark and then nearly earned its way back down. It sort of always felt like I was just a touch out of the loop or hadn’t done my homework. The Night Dahlia gets a two out of five.

I’m late again. I dozed off after work and slept longer than I should have. But I’m fairly happy with how this turned out all the same. This book makes me think quite a bit of some of the old horror comics I grew up reading but more overtly funny. This one’s from netGalley, here’s Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device. Enjoy!

Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device cover

Dead Jack is the best zombie detective in ShadowShade, possibly all of Pandemonium. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the only one around. It also doesn’t hurt that he’ll do anything for fairy dust. No job is too big as long as the price is right, possibly right up to saving all of Pandemonium. That is, if he can survive leprechauns with a grudge, a mad bat-god, and his own ideas.

So, James Aquilone’s Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device is kind of an odd critter of a book. I’m left feeling simultaneously like I have very little to say about it and just wanting to throw all the words possible at it. It’s a detective story with very little detective work. The protagonist is terrible but still likeable. The side characters don’t show up much but they work so well when they do. It’s pretty great.

Our protagonist, Dead Jack, is the embodiment of everything I tend to dislike about noir detective style protagonists. He’s a jerk, he can’t function without his addiction of choice, he stubbornly refuses to believe that his companions could accomplish anything without him around, he should be the worst. But it’s all played in this sort of humorous subversion of tropes way. He’s addicted to fairy dust, both for the high and as a means of suppressing his zombie hunger, and thinks about it pretty regularly. It is in fact the entire reason he takes the case, but it doesn’t become something he waxes on about for pages at a time. We’re given mentions of him wanting fairy dust or of noticing the effects of it on other characters, but it’s for the purpose of telling us about the scene or the world. Jack is terrible to his homunculus partner, Oswald, but Oswald gives as good as he gets and the story never tries to convince the reader that Jack is in the right when he’s being a jerk. That wins both the character and the writing a lot of points from me.

Tied into that, Jack seems to be the least competent character in the book. But we are seeing things from his ridiculous self-aggrandizing point of view in such a way that it’s funny rather than annoying. This is a character who actually thinks that he’s an amazing detective, but the story itself doesn’t agree so there’s a nice balance there.

There’s a lot of that actually. Dead Jack has a tragic back story somewhere along the lines, but he doesn’t seem to remember most of it. We get some bits of it that serve to rattle Jack and tease more, but nothing that takes pages at a time. The reader is sort of dropped into the middle of Pandemonium and expected to keep up. It’s a world very different from our own, but its Jack’s home so he doesn’t go much into the specific differences. That allows the reader to build their own conclusions on specifics while keeping the pace fairly quick.

Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device is a very quick read but very tightly plotted for how short it is. There isn’t a ton of time taken to flesh out the world that isn’t also being used to move the story forward or introduce a near immediately important concept. It takes good advantage of slower scenes to set up ideas for later without grinding to a halt.

This was a really enjoyable read and I am definitely going to be looking for the next one when it comes out. Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device gets a five out of five from me. If you enjoy off beat detective stories or just need a way to spend a couple days, it’s worth giving a shot.

Thank you all for being patient with me this week. It’s been kind of a rough one, but I think I’ve got a hold on it again. This week’s book is from the folks at Tor.com. This is Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint. Enjoy!

The Armored Saint cover

The Writ teaches that wizardry is foul in the eyes of the Emperor, that it reaches to hell itself to give its user profane powers not meant for mortal man. The Writ teaches that a wizard must be stoned to prevent them tearing a portal open and allowing devils into the world once more. The Order is to be called if wizardry is suspected, to protect the people and knit the damage before it can be worsened. This, Heloise knows by heart. The Order demands obedience, subservience, a bended knee from the villagers who serve it more than it serves them. Heloise had never realized this until a brother of the Order abused her father’s tools and materials, wasting valuable paper just because he could. She had never had reason to question until the Order rounded up her village to help knit the neighboring town, a slaughter worse than any brigands could have visited. The Writ says that the Order is to be trusted and relied upon, they have proven that they cannot be.

Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is a dark fantasy novella that, in a number of ways, I really wish had been expanded on more.  The world building is fairly solid, though I feel like it could have been worked in more. I largely enjoyed the characters and would have wanted to see more of them outside of the main story conflict.

So, let’s start with the world building. We get a fair amount about the religion of the setting and about the Order and how much of a threat they are, particularly to small out of the way villages like the one Heloise lives in. The Order as a threat and as corrupt is shown fantastically well right from the beginning. There’s enough on the day to day workings of the village and the expectations people live with under the Writ that the society feels functional if also very much like the fantasy novel version of things. Wizardry though, wizardry doesn’t get dug into much given that it is a dangerous forbidden thing and, at least theoretically, the entire reason the Order is hanging around. There are a number of reasons I’d have like to see more with it. It feels like wizardry should play a fairly large role in the rest of the trilogy and setting it up here would make sense. Wizardry also serves more as a thing that we are told more about than shown though, so I’m a little frustrated there. As a side note, more time could have been given to how Heloise’s actions affect other characters or other characters reactions to her going against the Order.

I have similar feelings with the characters. There’s this really well worked out little knot of people who get a fair amount of work and Heloise gets a good amount of development. But then we have the antagonist who exists to be antagonistic and does nothing to suggest he is anything but a flat villain. Since the antagonist is also our face character for the Order that means that the entire group is cast in a flat light of villainy. It wouldn’t be an easy fix, but having an eye towards what people outside of our little knot of characters thinks could have been great. The ranger could have been great for filling in more of the world and allowed the reader to see more of what people think regarding outsiders.

There is a really interesting thing in The Armored Saint, world building wise. While the Order is show as flatly antagonistic and more out to pursue their own wants than actually protecting the people the Writ itself is shown repeatedly as a source of comfort for a number of characters. It sort of keeps the whole thing from sliding into “religion is evil” territory by allowing the common folk to keep their faith in the face of an obviously corrupt and morally bankrupt church militia. It makes for an interesting sort of situational foil.

Related to a lot of this, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. It felt poorly supported and sort of out of nowhere. More page space as a generality would have been helpful leading up to it, particularly given that a lot of it could easily have been more lead into early on. This feels more than anything like a set up book with the ending tacked on because it needed one and the stakes needed to be higher for the next book. The set up itself is good, the world building generally works really well. I’m invested in finding out more about the setting and I want to see where this goes from here. But the end feels like it should have been done sometime during the next book and given time to percolate and build.

At the end of the day it does come down to the fact that I do really look forward to reading the second book. The Armored Saint was solid but ultimately affected by its nature as a novella instead of a full on novel. So, I feel like it earned a four out of five.