Category: urban fantasy


I am so late posting this. So late. Like, I was planning on having this up Wednesday and then work was so much more tiring than usual in the lead up to the store renovation.  This one is courtesy of the author, Michael Okon, this is Monsterland. Enjoy!

Monsterland cover

With zombies, werewolves, and vampires Monsterland promises to be the scariest place on Earth. It might also be the perfect place for Wyatt Baldwin and his friends to finally solve their debate about which is the best monster. Even better, they’ll get a chance to see it all on opening night, with full VIP invites after Wyatt shared a burger with the owner of the park, Vincent Konrad. A park full of monsters, what could possibly go wrong?

Monsterland by Michael Okon reads very much like a first book. There are a lot of good ideas and the frame work is solid but then there are bits that move too quickly. It has some interesting characters and others that don’t quite make it. So, some things work some don’t. That’s every book, and I should clarify, so let’s clarify.

The story for Monsterland is kind of ambitious. We’re started with the werewolves and shown that they didn’t join Monsterland on their own, then we get introduced to our protagonist and the world. It stars a pattern in the story, there’s a monster chapter and then a protagonist chapter. That works really well for me to a point. There’s a weird jump from the monsters as sort of victims of the part and planning to escape to the monsters as monster antagonists. That happens without a lot of build up and feels pretty disjointed. Something similar happens with Wyatt and his friends, they go from super excited about going to the park to thinking it was a bad idea and questioning if it was actually a good thing. Similarly again, we get Vincent jumping from being presented as a force for good to throwing out massive bad guy signals. I would have liked much more build up on all of these things. A slow burn and build and then reveal it. As it stands, while the end isn’t a twist or anything, it also isn’t super satisfying and could have benefited from just a touch more work.

The characters similarly could have benefited from more work. As it stands, they’re more or less sketches of characters rather than being fully realized. Wyatt is interested in zombies and Jade, the cute girl from school, he’s super about Victor Konrad’s plan to save the world with this theme park. His friend Melvin is super into werewolves and messes up his turns of phrase. The other friend is always addressed by his full name and is super smart, he’s afraid of the girl who’s into him. Then there’s background characters, I would have liked a fair deal more with them. It feels like Mr. Okom had a few ideas of what he wanted to work with characters wise, but wasn’t a hundred percent on how he wanted to implement them in the story proper.

I’ve said a fair amount about this needing a touch more work. Thing is, the book is average as it stands, but it has a lot of solid ideas. I liked the one friend’s love interest, Keisha, she had some really interesting moments and I would have really liked to see her do more. Vincent as the villain could have been really good if he was a little more subtle, he just gets a little too cartoony at the end for my taste. The monsters revolting could be built up a little more, show the vampires trying to get in contact with the werewolves. It would have been a fair number of little things, but it could have taken the book from average to good.

That’s pretty well where I’m left with Monsterland, it isn’t bad and it was enjoyable, but it is fairly average. I would read Michael Okon’s next book, and think he’s going to keep improving as a writer. That said, I’m giving Monsterland a three out of five.

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So, I’m behind on this whole Halloween thing. I’d blame work and all the other usual things, but it isn’t any of that. It’s this book, this one that I’m reviewing now. I nearly quit. But I kept going and I’m going to keep going.

The Essential World of Darkness cover

The truest enemy of the Garou is the Wyrm, corruption and pollution incarnate. Its spawn hunt the Garou and contaminate Gaia, bringing darkness and filth to the world. Once there were guardians to keep the Wyrm trapped on its side of the Gauntlet and away from the physical world. Once, but that was a long time ago. Now there’s little more than fragments left, the Great Wolf was shattered and one of its fangs lost, the other guarded by an orphaned werewolf who is little more than a child. If she can’t find the lost fang before the moon is full then the Wyrm and all its horrors will invade our world.

Owl Goingback’s Shaman Moon is the second book in The Essential World of Darkness. In a lot of ways I feel like there isn’t really a good way for me to review this one. This book and I started out on the wrong foot. The bulk of the first chapter covers the main character’s tragic back story in a California orphanage, and this section very nearly made me stop reading the book. We’re talking less than five pages in and I was considering quitting. Because of that, this is going to get kind of spoilery.

Let’s start with the bit that I nearly quit the book because of, because the beginning is always a good place to start. See, our character was found in a dumpster near her parents’ murdered bodies and never felt like she belonged in any of the foster homes she wound up in, so she ran away a lot. This wound her up in an orphanage of nightmares run by a woman the kids referred to as the “Iron Maiden”, a woman who only smiled when she was beating one of the girls under her care with a riding crop while calling them terrible names. This woman has a goon squad of older girls who beat the younger girls until they have broken bones and need hospitalization. They don’t get that though, because hospitals would ask questions, no the only medical treatment the girls at the orphanage get is from an elderly pedophile. It goes on and on. The main character makes one friend who, to avoid getting beaten by the goon squad for smoking stolen cigarettes, kisses her and flirts a tiny bit once. Because of this, best friend character is raped by the Iron Maiden and murdered.  Keep in mind, none of this echoes down into the plot itself, our heroine thinks back to the orphanage maybe twice and both times could have been replaced with almost anything.

In addition to the juvenile ideas of what constitutes dark, the writing in Shaman Moon is less than stellar. There are long bits of out of place exposition and clunky bits of environmental statistics. It leads me to wondering just who this was written for. A fan of the Werewolf: the Apocalypse game would already know a lot of the exposition while someone just looking for a werewolf story would get tired of it pretty quickly and look for another book. There’s big repeated bits that keep covering the same ideas, everything is the Wyrm, details about werewolves’ forms, non-werewolves are at best oblivious to the damage they’re doing the planet, this one type of werewolf is bad. It’s stuff that could have been worked in a lot better or glossed over and left to the reader to understand. Left as it is, it feels like Goingback needed to fill his hundred or so pages but only had forty pages of story.

The environmental stuff gets similarly tiresome, there’s only so much statistics I want to deal with in my fiction reading especially when it’s just shoved in there. Yes, pollution is an aspect of the Wyrm, the werewolves one true enemy, but that doesn’t mean that I need statistics about how it’s expected to affect nature in the coming years. It, again, feels like padding and breaks the flow of the story utterly.

I actually don’t have anything good to say about this one. There were ideas there that could have been solid, but they were covered up in padding and bad writing. At the end of the day and idea doesn’t mean much if nothing gets done with it. Shaman Moon gets a one out of five.

Ahhhhh, I got this thing read and reviewed in less than a day. I feel wired. So this is the first book in The Essential World of Darkness and seems to be one of the few to have received a print run prior to the omnibus. We’re starting Halloween off with vampires. Enjoy!

Vampire Diary The Embrace cover

Auston Jacobson is many things. A runaway, a pastor’s son, a bartender, but he’s no monster. Not even with the horrible dreams he’s been having lately. The hunting dreams that he remembers so clearly. The ones where he wakes up sweating and aching. He only started the diary because Danya, the cute girl who comes to the bar a lot, suggested it. It gives them something to talk about. But it’s scaring him more and more.

Vampire Diary: The Embrace was written by Robert Weinberg and Mark Rein-Hagen with art by Daniel Thron and Chris Elliott. This book was hard to read, literally difficult to make out what the words on the page said, hard to read. Vampire Diary: The Embrace is the story of a young man coming into his own and then losing it all to something far more dangerous than he could have imagined. The concept and story are both pretty simple and interesting in their own right. I like the idea of a diary style book from the view point of someone being stalked by a vampire, it’s interesting.

Interesting is really the only thing this book really has going for it. The story has a lot of potential, but the writing is really basic and can get super overblown. It gets so bad that it’s funny at points. The concept is solid and it is definitely the kind of thing I would keep in character for a Vampire game, but it doesn’t totally work here because of the protagonist. He’s too much, nothing is just a thing, everything is big and probably leads back to his dad and how bad his dad treated him. The parts with Danya were pretty solid though, mostly because those bits were love song overblown rather than teenage sad poetry overblown.

My big issue with this book is its presentation. The combination of art and text is reminiscent of the blurbs in the World of Darkness source books. It’s super messy though, with art overlaid with text and pages where the lay out breaks the flow and really should have been done better. More thought to how this would affect the reader’s ability to enjoy the story would have been fantastic. Though, part of the layout issues might be that I’m reading a later reprinting rather than the original printing of the book. There are pages here that hurt my eyes to try and decipher with the art and text laid over each other.

I feel like this book would have been a lot better if the art had been more separated from the text. The pages where art covered the text itself hurt my eyes to try and read, thought those pages were also some of the most overblown bits so they may have been meant to be skipped. I’m not entirely sure. I’ve said it a lot but, while there’s a lot of potential to this, the book isn’t good. I’m giving it a two out of five.

I’ve been having the hardest time getting this done. Seriously, I spent more time staring at a blank page on this than I spent on some of my papers back in college. I keep going off on Holtzmann related tangents, which is fun but not what I’m here for. A lot of my stuff also winds up being pretty cyclical, so there’s that too. Plus writing this up makes me want to do another thing about the characters specifically later on and I kept getting side tracked by that. Quick note, the version of the movie I have is the theatrical release, not the extended cut, so I may make reference to the movie not having certain scenes that were restored for that. It’s a lot later than I meant for it to be, but hopefully still fun. Enjoy!

General Feelings:

The Book: So, one of the big things with this Book vs. Movie is that both tell, essentially anyway, the same story. I went into a lot of my stuff with the book in my review, but I feel like I need to repeat that my main issue with it stemmed from its having a set protagonist in Erin. That the book is based on the script for the movie also means that a lot of moments I really enjoyed in the movie are absent because they were improvised by the actors. That said though, there are a number of flashbacks early on that fill in both Erin’s tragic back story and what happened between her and Abby. The movie doesn’t suffer hugely from not having them, but they did make me appreciate Abby a lot more.

The Movie: This is one where I saw the movie several times before I read the book. I am distinctly hoping that a sequel happens, maybe set after the upcoming comic or something. The movie is a horror comedy, much heavier on the comedy than the horror. It could have used some of the flash back stuff the book had to beef up the initial dynamic between Erin and Abby and, not going to lie, I would have had less Kevin but it’s solid and funny. It also has a lot more Holtzmann and Patty, due to the actresses physically being there, which is something I’m never going to complain about.

Erin vs The Ghostbusters:

Dr. Erin Gilbert: I’m not a huge fan of the book’s version of Erin.  It isn’t that she’s a bad character so much as that the way she’s written tends to make her feel stiff and unconnected to other characters. Part of this is that a number of shared scenes in the movie are Erin’s thoughts in the book or cut down to being between her and Abby. Book Erin is a protagonist who lends herself to over thinking things and worrying more about her/their credibility being acknowledged than actual accomplishments. Now, the flipside to this is that the book being so Erin focused pulls her issues to the front. She’s noted the day of her tenure review on her calendar as V day, validation day. That no one believed her as a child when she talked about the ghost is something that gets touched on a lot and built on. Eventually other people’s disbelief lead her to taking an authority figure’s advice and abandoning the paranormal, her research, and Abby. It’s something she struggles with throughout the book.

The Ghostbusters: While the movie does still tend to focus more on Erin and it could be argued pretty easily that she’s still the main character, I very much prefer how present the other characters are in the movie. Admittedly a big part of the other characters being more present is that their actresses are physically there, even if only in the background, so even if a character isn’t doing anything that effects a scene they’re still there doing something. Because there was a lot of improvisation on a lot of lines there was more interaction between the Ghostbusters and that did a lot to sell them as a team. There’s more cohesiveness as a result and that means I care more about what happens. That I’d watched the movie first and Holtzmann and Patty are my favorites affects this greatly. They’d probably still be my favorite characters if I’d read the book first, but that’s a lot to do with seeing more of them in the movie.

Rowan North:

Book: Rowan is much more a foil to Erin in the book. They both had rough childhoods due to their parents not understanding them and kids at school being aweful. They both have an interest in the paranormal, Erin to prove it’s real with science and Rowan to end the world and rule over the ghosts. They’re both smart, having attended and graduated MIT. But then Erin is a partical physicist, because she gave up on the paranormal and ran away from her research to try and be normal, while Rowan is a janitor who hates his job and everyone he interacts with. Erin is self destructive in a way that leads to no validation being enough, she needs everyone to know that this thing was real all along. Rowan doesn’t seem to care what anyone else thinks of him, he’s put himself above it all, if people don’t accept him then that’s fine they were worms anyway. His back story is more than a little cartoonish, but so is he. Rowan is one of the only characters that I feel benefitted totally from the book. He gets point of view scenes and seeing that makes him familiar. The book grounds how fantastical Rowans plans are in a character who is at once both the ineffectual loser who doesn’t people well and also the guy driven enough by his anger to build bombs in his basement.

Movie: In the movie Rowan loses out on almost all of the point of view bits he has in the book. This loses a lot of what made him work there and makes him a limp villain with not a lot of drive. We get a scene where he monologues to himself about going from having been bullied to being the bully, but that doesn’t work for me, it’s too neat. We don’t get anything on his background beyond that. We don’t get as much of the utter distain for humanity. He feels more like he’s there because they needed a bad guy and less like he’s be hording ammo if the Fourth Cataclysm didn’t work out.

Character Moments:

Book: As I’ve mentioned before, the book doesn’t have a ton of little character moments. That does make the moments that it does have stand out more. My biggest example is towards the end of the book, Erin’s punched a blogger and left the headquarters to be alone and we get Patty and Holtzmann going out to get sandwiches. This bit has next to nothing to do with the plot, but it lets us get to know both of them better and shows them interacting and being friendly. There’s also the bit right before it with Holtzmann trying to cheer Erin up after the fallout from her decking the blogger.

Movie: The movie is made of character moments largely, again, because the actresses are physically present and it featured a lot of improvisation. It bounces in importance from Holtzmann flirt dancing to “The Rhythm of The Night” which is awesome but minor, to the Swiss army knife/side arms scene which is both a character moment and also important to the big fight at the end of the movie. While he’s not my favorite, most of Kevin’s non-plot scenes are from the movie. Plus, again, with the movie we’re out of Erin’s head and so see more of how the other characters react to things.

Conclusion:

This is a case where I like the movie better, hands down. While the book clarifies things that the movie could only hint at, it only does so for one character. The ghosts of the book, Slimer excluded, were also less cartoony because I was imagining them rather than seeing them and the book goes a little more into the descriptions for it’s mooks. Meanwhile the movie benefits massively from its actresses which the book, by virtue of being a book, doesn’t have. That’s pretty well what a lot of my feelings on the book boil down too, it was entertaining and fun but it didn’t have the characters as I knew them while also being similar enough that it felt weird. If you can find the book, give it a shot. If not, grab some friends and watch the movie.

Confession time. I know this is the full name for the movie, so I’m only assuming that it’s also the novelization’s proper title. If anyone knows, give me a heads up. Anyway. There’s a review to kick off my throwing so, so many words at the new Ghostbusters. Enjoy!

Ghostbusters Answer the Call cover

Dr. Erin Gilbert has moved past the strangeness of her childhood. She’s respected in her field, up for tenure at Columbia University, and then some guy shows up with a copy of the book she thought she’d buried. To protect her safe, normal life Erin’s going to have to confront her former friend Abby and her new co-worker Holtzmann. Confront them and then wind up working with them once she’s booted from Columbia and determined once again to prove the existence of ghosts to prove she isn’t lying or insane. Strange things are happening in New York and it’s going to be up to the Ghostbusters to get to the bottom of it.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the 2016 movie, was one of my favorite recent movies. It isn’t a perfect movie by any means but it’s solidly entertaining and a lot of fun. This isn’t a review of the movie though, this is about the novelization by Nancy Holder. This bit is mostly here to point out that I’m not really reviewing the story here, I like the story it gets a four out of five from me. This is mostly going to be me talking about the writing itself.

One of the big differences here is that the novelization has a set main narrator where the movie is more of a group thing. Erin Gilbert is the decided lead of the novelization, she’s the one we’re following and it’s her head we’re stuck in for the bulk of the story. That’s both a positive and a negative. Being in Erin’s head lets us dig a lot more into her character stuff it makes it very clear that she’s got anxiety and serious issues with needing validation from the most conventionally normal people possible. That’s fantastic and is both heavily supported by her back story as well as doing a fantastic job informing her actions in the story proper. The flip side to being in Erin’s head is that she’s not an incredibly likeable character here, she’s judgy and picky and can be just generally unpleasant. I do feel like a lot of that comes from the  writing itself. Erin’s thoughts have this weird stilted diction to them that would have been great if she was one of several leads, it is really notable and feels fairly technical in a lot of places. Unfortunately it can put me in mind of “not like other girls” YA protagonists.

That’s actually kind of a thing with the writing throughout the book, it can feel very like a bad young adult novel when it’s at its worst. There’s a couple scenes that do nothing for the book where Erin talks to other, basically one off, female characters and they feel very like something that would pop up in bad YA. These one off characters exist to mock Erin, and to a lesser degree the other Ghostbusters, which serves to reinforce her not fitting in but the scene doesn’t really work because they have no bearing on anything. Another bad YA moment is when Kevin is introduced and Erin’s brain literally stops working for a paragraph or so. Points for her losing interest as she realizes how incredibly dumb Kevin is.

I feel like I’m being unfair to the main character here. I sort of am. These moments are pretty spaced out and the unlikablilty would probably not be nearly as much a thing for me if I hadn’t seen the movie first. What’s it like when other characters get the spot light? There were some bits before Patty joins the party and towards the end with the other Ghostbusters as the point of view characters. I would have loved to see more of that. We also have several short bits throughout with Rowan, the antagonist. Those have a lot of the same bad YA feel, but they work a lot better for me because Rowan is a character that I’ve known people who were like that. He thinks he’s much better than anyone else, that his station in life is an unfairness inflicted upon him by the innumerable fools he must constantly suffer. That whole feel ties in really well to his driving thing being, essentially, revenge against the world as a whole. Rowan is stilted and full of himself in ways that can often throw a fantastic dark mirror to Erin. I adore that. The idea that, in another iteration of the story, their places could have been swapped interests me. Though, I do feel like more could have been done with him to solidify that and make him a bit less cartoony.

What this all boils down to is that, while Holder does some fantastic character work that I would have absolutely loved to have seen more of on more characters, the same character work can come across as more than a little juvenile. And that can be jarring. There’s a section that I actually read like five times featuring Holtzmann and Patty that was really good, it made me wish there was more of them in the book. It felt like a genuine moment for both of them and, after so much Erin angsting over her past mistakes, it felt really good to just have them getting to know each other. As with many things I’ve mentioned here, I would have really enjoyed more of that kind of moment during the quiet points of the plot.

So, I’ve already said at the beginning that I enjoyed the story. I’ve talked a lot about the writing itself being solid but cartoony or overly exaggerated, about it needing a little more. That’s kind of what decides it for me. Ultimately I would read Nancy Holder’s writing again whether another movie novelization or original fiction, but the need for just a little more in a lot of the character work leaves Ghostbusters: Answer the Call with a three out of five all told.

I’m late again. Not going to lie, this one was hard to write. LArgely because a lot of my issues with the book stemmed from spoilery things that were hard to write around and I didn’t want to do a spoiler filled review. This one’s from NetGalley. Enjoy!

Moonbreaker cover

Eddie Drood, former head of the Drood family and very secret agent, is a dead man. He was attacked and poisoned by Dr. DOA and cannot last much longer. To prevent anyone else getting hurt Eddie and Molly Metcalf, former magical terrorist turned ally and love interest, are going to do whatever it takes to stop Dr. DOA. If that means dealing with the Unforgiven God, fighting the Drood family’s past mistakes, or even going to the moon to prevent a world ending weapon from being used, well that’s just business as usual.

Moonbreaker is another book that is far into its series, leading to me having a number of issues with both the characters and story. That makes me worry a little about being fair to the story, especially given that I can’t help comparing it to books from Simon R. Green’s Nightside series which is set in the same world.

The characters, particularly Eddie himself, were a fair part of my issue here. Imagine that James Bond knew that he was kind of awful and was perfectly happy to explain that to his companion and, by extension, the reader. Also MI6 has not only hunted Bond in the past, but also has a habit of hording all the dangerous things and people they’ve managed to capture. Just in case. That’s the Eddie and the rest of the Drood family. For a first time series reader this makes Molly the reader’s view into the Drood family’s whole deal, and her horror with some of the things the family does just sort of gets brushed aside. It’s what and how they do things and it’s always been that way. That annoys me. I’m good with protagonists that aren’t golden heroes who do no wrong and help everyone, those guys get boring, this isn’t that. The Droods feel so married to the grey area that I just couldn’t get invested in them or Eddie.

My other problems is that the plot feels almost fractured. There are several conflicts that crop up that have little to do with stopping Dr. DOA or could have done better as the main conflict of another story. There are enough of those that by the time we get to the climax of the story there just isn’t any tension. Eddie’s presented as pretty boringly unstoppable for most of the book’s run due to his Drood armor, only being weakened by the poison in any meaningful way in the last quarter or so of the book, which doesn’t help with all the little conflicts feeling unimportant. Then the book was over and I could only be disappointed.

Molly was pretty awesome though. I kind of want to read a series about her. What didn’t work with Eddie being so, so over powered because of his armor, sort of worked in Molly’s favor. She’s also supposed to be super powerful but, because all the Droods have this ridiculous armor, she stands out more for holding her own despite being so much weaker by comparison. She’s also the one who wants to look for an antidote or something instead of just letting Eddie have his death. Trying to find a cure would have actually worked better for me as the B conflict that a lot of the other stuff and it could have hit a lot of the same beats the book did anyway.

Where does that leave Moonbreaker? Despite my best efforts, I know that my enjoyment of the older Nightside books leaves me more disappointed in this one than I would otherwise be. That’s not really fair to this book as a standalone and, again, it being later in the series doesn’t help things. I feel like there were a lot of good ideas here that wound up being used as padding instead of explored as well as they could have been. But it is rushed and disjointed, so it gets a two out of five. I would read Simon R. Green again, just not this series.

Early this week is kind of like late last week, right? I think that’s how that works anyway. I’ve got a review for you all thanks to the nice folks at First Second for sending me a review copy, it’s Spill Zone.

Spill Zone cover

Three years ago something happened in upstate New York. No one’s sure what it was or why it happened. It destroyed Addison’s hometown, leaving her alone to take care of her little sister. Armed only with a camera and her rules Addison dodges both the physics bending horrors within the Zone and the military blockade outside it. All for pictures. All to take care of her little sister.

Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland’s Spill Zone fits pretty squarely in my wheelhouse as far as story concepts go. It isn’t quite fantasy or horror, more something between the two. The format is a bit iffy for me, this is the first volume of a graphic novel so it winds up being largely introduction to the world and characters. In a straight up novel that would be a massive deal breaker for me, it’s a little more forgivable here but does still hurt the story as it stands.

Let’s actually start with that. This is the first volume of Spill Zone rather than the full story all at once and I feel like there are two views that I could take on that. One is to look at it like one of the trade paperbacks of monthly comics, where I know I’m getting an arc and some connective tissue for the main story. That’s the more generous option. The second option is to look at it more like a book that builds to a sequel but has little substance on its own. In a lot of ways I lean towards the second one more. There’s a lot of interesting stuff introduced in Spill Zone volume one, and I do want to know more about what’s going on, but enough is introduced that nothing gets a real in depth going over. That’s where I run into problems with Spill Zone.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff that looks like it’s going to be expanded on in later volumes, but it isn’t expanded on enough in this volume for me to be super into it. Things like Addison’s little sister and her doll. Little sister doesn’t talk, except when she does, but she and the doll have what are apparently mental conversations. Sometimes Addison seems to hear them, sometimes she doesn’t. The doll, Vespertine, gains power from the Spill Zone and seems to rely on regular charges to maintain herself. I would love to see more of that and maybe the mysterious buyer for Addison’s art, Ms. Vandersloot, and have the other Spill Zone in North Korea and all the stuff related to that be introduced in a later volume. Because, as it stands, I feel like that was all just left hanging and could have been done better later.

So, that’s the story as it stands, what about the art? I like it. There’s this slightly sketchy quality to it that lends itself to the comic, especially its more surreal moments. I feel like the art did a lot of lifting to make up for the writing not being super. It’s emotive and atmospheric and, I feel, one of the best things about the book.

Which of course leaves the wrap up. I want to read more of Spill Zone but I’m also really disappointed at how little content it feels like this first volume has. So this is one that gets scored more on where I’m hoping it goes, and what looks like a lot of potential, than its own merits. I’m giving Spill Zone a three out of five.

So, house keeping post is coming up later in the week. I’ve been falling behind lately and want to address that. Switching over from that, I do have a review for you all today. Thanks to the folks at Tor, who provided me a review copy, here’s The Empty Ones. Enjoy!

The Empty Ones cover

You’ve seen them before. You’ve even seem the charming strangers with nothing behind their eyes. Carey’s been fighting them since the seventies. Kaitlyn just found out about them a couple weeks ago. To being hunted endlessly by the empty one that nearly killed them, they’ll have to track him down first. Meanwhile a blast from Carey’s past turns up and she doesn’t seem interested in helping save the day.

Robert Brockway’s The Empty Ones is a decent follow up to The Unnoticeables and a solid book in its own right. It’s definitely a middle book, though one that has the courtesy of tying up its own story before jumping for the next book.

It being a middle book is sort of where my big complaint comes from. With The Unnoticeables there was an awareness that there had to be more creepies than just what the protagonists were dealing with, but it was pretty well all small scale stuff. It was local, almost personal, to the protagonists so it felt huge and each thing they stumbled into built it up more and reinforced how out of their depths they were. This book doesn’t have that. It physically takes the protagonists out of their usual haunts and has them chasing the monsters. Having that makes the whole plot feel smaller, or less, even as the stakes are higher this time around.

Part of what makes this an issue is the difference between what the reader knows from the 2013 sections and what the reader learns from the 1978 sections of the book. In the first book, the split timelines worked really well because it allowed the reader to see something in action and then learn about it or vice versa. The parallels aren’t nearly as clean in The Empty Ones, so we get a lot of new information in the past that doesn’t really seem to inform the present or the previous book. It can feel  awkward even when it does land right, making scenes feel off kilter and characters feel not like themselves.

That’s a big part of what I meant when I said it’s solid in its own right but only a decent follow up. On its own, The Empty Ones has a lot of the same energy and punch as The Unnoticeables. The characters are still easy to care about. The monsters are still that extra spark of creepy. Even the new things that don’t totally work in context of the previous book are really cool if taken as part of a standalone novel. Reading it as a sequel though leads to comparisons and little rough spots throughout. The wonderful bittersweet ending to The Unnoticeables is suddenly fractured because we don’t have to wonder how Carey got from there to being nearly alone. Sammy Six’s story matters a whole lot less now because of new details. What’s lost is a lot of character stuff, and not necessarily little stuff at that.

On its own this is a really fun book. The antagonists are far stronger than the heroes, so the heroes have to be clever or just runaway. The characters feel very human or that perfect degree of just slightly wrong. The tone is by and large spot on. Emotive scenes hit the right chords, generally at the right times. And ultimately, while I like it better on its own than as a sequel, it makes me want to keep reading. I want to see where everything goes.

So, where does this leave The Empty Ones? As a standalone book it would be nearly a five out of five. The issue is that it follows a book that I would more than happily give a five to and, while it does well on its own, it doesn’t stack up to the book it follows. So that earns The Empty Ones a four out of five.

I’m something approaching  early this week. I wanted to get this posted the day it came out instead of  waiting until tomorrow. I also wanted to do something to apologize for being so late last week, so I’m posting a review tomorrow as well. Bringing this to you thanks to NetGalley, here’s a review of DC Universe Rebirth: Batgirl volume 1: Beyond Burnside. Enjoy!

Batgirl vol 1 Beyond Burnside cover

Batgirl is on vacation, and Barbara Gordon is headed to Okinawa in hopes of interviewing Chiyo Yamashiro, the Fruit Bat, a vigilante from the 30’s. Even on vacation Barbara manages to find trouble in the form of her childhood friend Kai and the three “students” hunting him down. Can she figure out what Kai’s gotten himself into and how to save him or will Batgirl flunk out?

I feel very out of my depth reviewing this. It’s been since Gail Simone left the Book that I’ve read a Batgirl comic and I’ve missed a lot. That said, while there’s some thing’s I’m not a huge fan of, I find myself really liking this iteration of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. Hope Larson does a good job with the characters and a more than reasonably good job with the story.

Let’s actually start with that. What makes this Batgirl different than what I’m used to? She feels a lot younger for one, that’s one of those things I’m not real big on, but it also lends a lighter feel to the comic so it balances out. She’s apparently running her own company as well, a company that makes enough that she can travel around the world pretty easily, so that’s something I’m curious about. I’m also interested in what’s going on in Burnside, which seems to be Batgirl’s Bludhaven, her Gotham in a way. So a lot of that actually makes for a really good jumping on point. The character is familiar enough not to alienate a reader who’s either lapsed or someone who knows her from something else, but also fresh enough to feel new.

The flipside is that the arc that Beyond Burnside covers is very standard Batfamily stuff. The new old friend, Kai, just happens to be Barbara’s roommate at the first place she stays. He gets attacked while they’re out seeing a festival and meeting Fruit Bat, thus introducing our villain. Necessary coincidences happen as required. It’s a good building point, and I’m curious about some of the characters, but it does feel like a safe introduction kind of story. This being the first arc for the DC Universe Rebirth for Batgirl, that’s not a bad thing just very safe.

I’m not familiar with Rafael Albuquerque’s art. It’s not my favorite thing, and I do feel like it’s one of the weaker parts of the book. This is mostly due to the lack of backgrounds throughout the book. Having a single solid color backing the panel can be a great way to reinforce the emotion of a scene, if used sparingly. I feel like it’s overused here, which makes it lose its effectiveness and just feels a little off. Albuquerque’s faces can be fantastically emotive, though they can also slip into something just slightly off, something about the angling in some of the close-ups or just going a little too far with an expression.

I enjoyed this a good deal, it was fun, it did the job of introducing the world at large to keep my interest past this arc, and the one-shot story at the end was a good way to tie up loose ends and cool down from the arc. Batgirl Volume 1: Beyond Burnside gets a four out of five from me, it would have been a five if not for the few issues with the art.

And, in a turn of events I’m sure no one saw coming, I am late posting my postponed review. Who would have thought, right? I’d have had it if not for that sleeping curse. But it’s here now, much to everyone’s delight. Thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s The People’s Police. Enjoy!

the-peoples-police-cover

When Officer Martin Luther Martin was ordered to serve his own eviction notice he didn’t expect to wind up the face for the following police strike against the loan lizards trying to foreclose on everyone. When bordello owner J. B. Lafitte called the strike on being self serving, only helping the police, he didn’t expect them to agree. When MaryLou Boudreau first woke up from dancing with a full hat and no memory of how it wound up that way she never expected to wind up as Mama Legba, television personality and horse to the Loa. No one expected Papa Legba himself to address Luke on tv or the question he would ask. “What do you offer?”

This one might get a little weird, there may also be a few spoilers so heads up. Norman Spinrad’s The People’s Police is a bit of an odd duck as far as fantasy or urban fantasy novels go. It’s well written in many respects, but I’d have a hard time calling it a fun read. It’s got definite fantasy elements, but is also almost cynical in its approach to politics and the way we’re governed. It’s got a really political thesis, but then avoids a lot of what makes that thesis political, becoming sort of a preaching to the choir deal. It’s actually a little hard to come up with much of an opinion on it because of all that, I’m really not used to that.

So, start from the beginning, does the story live up to its blurb? Yes and no. The actual blurb for the book doesn’t really say much, so it’s hard for the book to not fall into it. At the same time the book lacks a certain degree of coherency for much of its run which, in addition to making it feel like it could have been trimmed a good deal, also leads to it feeling very scattered in places. Several characters could have been worked in much better, but instead weren’t introduced until the last probably fifth of the novel. The same can be said for certain events not having enough lead up and so winding up feeling misplaced.

We also get some weirdness with the language of the book both in that Spinrad occasionally chooses to write in characters’ accents, something I’m not a fan of, and that multiple characters will more or less verbatim use really specific wording. That bit is very like being beaten over the head with propaganda, like video game levels of it that you’re supposed to know what it is so you don’t take it seriously, which doesn’t fit because it’s part of the book’s main idea. It feels clumsy or like Spinrad doesn’t trust his audience to get it.

Here’s the kicker, none of that singly or grouped together runs a serious risk of killing a book for me, at least not usually. He’s also got some stuff that’s usually near guaranteed to get me invested. There’s good character work, any number of scenes are strongly written and play well to the reader’s senses, and the weird cynical optimism often works in the book’s favor. It doesn’t set though. We get a lot of back story in the first half of the book, but a lot of its told rather than shown. The supernatural aspect is interesting and the in book discussion had potential, though I feel like maybe Spinrad could have used something other than the Loa or done more to actively show his work. I know next to nothing about Voodoo, so I could easily be missing the mark entirely on that one, but still. Even the character work falls flat in places with a later character’s focus on his religion making him feel very cardboard where he, if introduced earlier, could have been much more dynamic.

I’m sitting at the point where I can easily see people getting really into The People’s Police and any number of other people reading two chapters and reselling it. Its writing is technically pretty good but lacks flavor, for lack of a better word, and has enough little things that I’m just neutral on the whole thing. So that said, The People’s Police gets a three out of five.