Gaia’s Children by Paul Kieniewicz. Book review(0)
Matador, p/b, £7.99/Kindle, £4.11, LINK
Reviewed by David Brzeski
I have very mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it’s very readable, not at all badly-written, with some engaging characters and interesting ideas. On the other hand it has some major lapses of logic and one glaring, silly error.
It’s set in Aberdeenshire in 2050. The world has been transformed by climate change. There’s a seemingly unstoppable plague killing one in ten of the population and women are occasionally giving birth to very strange children.
These children—the Lupans—have little in common with their parents. They don’t seem able to use language and they prefer the company of wolves to humans.
Scott Maguire, a lawyer on the run, infected by the plague, is rescued from a suicide attempt by air crash by the Lupans. They recognise him as “The Messenger”. Scott will eventually discover why the Lupans must not be destroyed—why they are essential to the survival of the human race.
Linella Sienkiewicz lives in a cottage near a community of refugees from countries made uninhabitable by global warming. The only thing standing between the Lupans, and the government that would like to destroy them is their village. Almost as unpopular with the general population as the Lupans themselves, they face forcible eviction from their homes and internment. She had once been in a relationship with Brigadier Brian Johnson, who had done what he could to protect both the village and the Lupans, but things are getting worse and he can no longer help her.
There’s quite a lot to like here. The Lupans, and the way their society differs from humans, are fascinating. There’s a lot of Native American and aboriginal culture in their oneness with nature, and their use of certain hallucinogenic herbs to achieve a closer connection to the living Earth.
It’s near-future science fiction, crossed with ecological drama and ancient mysticism. While reading I could see how the basic concept and characters would work well as a TV miniseries.
Unfortunately it’s flawed. It’s really difficult to describe these flaws without giving away major plot points. Scott undergoes a sort of past-life regression. In this past life, he rejects the ways of the forest people and chooses to defend his village of sheep farmers by a method that ends in disaster and permanently severs his people’s connection with nature. For some reason, it appears that taking up sheep farming in place of living wild and hunting with the wolves, was humanity’s first step on the rocky road to ruin. Everything changes after this event. Humans learn to kill each other—hang on, if they didn’t already do that, then why did they need to defend the village against an invading enemy?
I mentioned a silly error. Early on in the book, while Scott lies badly injured in a Lupan hut, Linella “rinsed her hands with boiling water, using the heather for a quick surgical scrub.” It’s hard to believe an author with Paul Kieniewicz’s scientific credentials (He holds advanced degrees in astronomy and geophysics, and has taught workshops and courses in astronomy, geology, philosophy and the Gaia Theory.) wrote that. Apparently none of his degrees covered the fact that boiling water tends to cause severe pain and damage to human skin.
By the end of the book, things look very bleak for the refugees and the Lupans. So much so that the sudden ceasing of hostilities in the last chapter simply fails to convince.
Matador is a vanity press, set up to help authors self-publish and this book is a classic example of the lack of an editorial eye to help clean up the inconsistencies.
It’s not an awful book, but I have to be honest and say that I have no great desire to read the planned sequel.
Whitstable by Stephen Volk. Book review(1)
Spectral Press, p/b, £15.00, LINK
Reviewed by David Brzeski
I was familiar with Stephen Volk as the writer behind the TV series, ‘Afterlife’, which I’d been telling everyone who’d listen they absolutely must watch for a few years now. This is the first piece of prose fiction I’ve read by him.
I loved ‘Afterlife’ so much that there was a real danger that my expectations for the author’s subsequent work might be too high. I needn’t have worried. In fact, my only problem in reviewing this book is that I may gush to an embarrassing extent about how wonderful it is.
‘Whitstable’ is an interesting amalgam of fact and fiction. Much of the book is based solidly on real events in the life of Peter Cushing and it’s written with such palpable love and respect for the man and his work that I found it greatly moving to read.
It’s set during the darkest period in Cushing’s life, not long after the death of his beloved wife. Stephen Volk has a talent for portraying sadness and grief, without having it make the whole work so oppressively bleak that it’s hard to read. It’s so beautifully written that I had cause to wipe my eyes on more than one occasion.
Peter Cushing strolls along the beach in Whitstable, having been forced to go out to avoid the constant pain of sympathetic calls from well-wishers. He meets a boy, who recognises him as ‘Van Helsing’ and desperately needs his help to stop a monster.
There are no supernatural happenings in this book. The “monster” is all too human and real. The way in which Stephen Volk parallels the events regarding this monster, with the scenes from one of Cushing’s horror films is simply brilliant writing.
I’ve occasionally written a review, in which I’ve stated that the book in question ought to win an award, but this one is SO good that I am willing to go out on a limb and say that it will not only definitely get my vote, but it WILL win awards for the best in its category for 2013… even though there are still another 8 months to go as I write. I was given a .pdf copy for review purposes and as soon as I finished it, I ordered a copy of the book. I NEVER do that!
I almost pity Mr Volk, as he is now in the unenviable position of having to follow this truly inspired piece of work.
Wolfhound Century. Book Review(0)
Gollancz, h/b, £20
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (@mangozoid)
Wolfhound Century has already received a barrage of publicity and attention, yet still remains difficult to classify under any cosy subset of genre fiction today. Is it science-fantasy, alternate-world history, a noir detective-thriller, or a steampunk myth in the making…? We have tree spirits, a totalitarian Soviet-style cold war society, a hard-nosed detective, nasty villains, a sundered moon, and a world ‘beyond’, as well as angels falling from heaven, and giants and golems wandering the streets, too; the latter being mechanical-style automatons usually ‘implanted’ with the brain of a dog (no kidding).
So where to start? Well, it’s much easier to tell you what it’s not… finished. Yes, this book tips 300+ pages of large type and doesn’t reach an end, nor even any form of satisfactory conclusion — indeed, it feels like the story has been arbitrarily cut in half by the powers that be, leaving the reader hanging, twiddling thumbs, and vexed. Of course, we are promised the second part next year (called Truth and Fear, I believe), but that doesn’t stop me as a reader feeling cheated at only having half the story.
Wolfhound Century introduces us to Vissarion Lom, a hard-boiled detective who has failed to progress up the ranks due to rubbing a few too many of his bosses up the wrong way. Fair enough, you say, yet another good detective with a bad attitude and probably a troublesome past: so far, so perfunctory… But then Lom is instructed to report directly to the head of secret police, and sent to Mirgorod, and from that point on nothing is as it seems, and all bets are off as they say.
Mirgorod is the capital city of Vlast: a totalitarian state and home to warring factions, home-grown terrorists, and a police force that’s anything but lawful. Ruled with an iron fist (sorry), mired in corruption, and skirted by dangerous revolutionaries and free-thinking ‘artists’, Mirgorod is not a happy place — indeed it’s wet and it’s miserable, and home to a hidden ancient landscape, called Lezarye. There are only fleeting glimpses of the latter, but the author evokes a real sense of a world-beneath-our-world as he utilises Raku Vishnik (one of Lom’s few ‘friends’) as a kind of archivist, taking photos of things that no longer exist or maybe never did…
It’s beautifully done, and the story deftly switches tone and pace as we follow Lom through the Vlast underworld on the hunt for Josef Kantor, a terrorist with a penchant for poetic destruction and a lot more besides. He’s not the only one with an appetite for violence, and I’d put Artyom Safran well up there with many a badass villain, not to mention his ingenuity in the face of adversity throughout.
If things were that easy we’d have no story, so the deeper we dig, the more threatening and violent the action becomes, and soon we are entirely buried in a fantastical city that draws heavily from Russian history and its fairytales — very heavily from what I gather, but that’s another story. We are also introduced to Maroussia, Kantor’s step-daughter, and —it must be said— one of the few female protagonists in the entire book. Initially she struggles to come to terms with her father’s actions, or even to trust Lom at all, but as things spiral out of control and her life brutally wrecked, he literally becomes the only person she can depend on, forcing the narrative down a path that feels precarious yet utterly enthralling. And all the while, like a sickening disease, a fallen angel is creeping towards Mirgorod in search of something called the Pollandore, key to the promise of a better world and alternative future, but one that many are seeking to destroy, including the fallen angel, the head of the secret police, and Kantor himself, but all for reasons of their own.
It doesn’t get any easier to understand the nuances of the plot, but this is a lightning read, with short sharp chapters, relentless pacing, and a sparkling patchwork of destruction and misery — it’s like a crazy painting in which the brightest colour is dark grey, and the inkwell a murky shade of black and blacker, but nonetheless, for all that, it’s still a thrilling masterpiece.
I remain sore at the fact that there’s only half a book here, but what a half it is… brilliant world-building, great writing, and a pace that challenges you to put it down and then slaps you in the face with a constant niggling itch to return — a truly excellent debut, and Higgins’ writing style ensures it just keeps flowing: in merely describing something as simple as a dash through rain-soaked streets, the author leaves you reaching for a towel and shivering from the clinging damp that lingers long after you’ve moved further down the page. Very highly recommended, and another book that may find its way onto many 2013 shortlists, but don’t ask me to name which ones.
The Crash. Book Review(0)
Atom, p/b, £6.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby
There are two things to say about this book before launching into the review proper, the first of which is that it’s been translated from German, a language which I speak albeit at a basic level. As those of you who speak a second language will know, direct translation can be hard. Translating one word is relatively easy, but when you get to sentences with a cultural meaning it can be nigh on impossible. The German word schadenfreude has no direct comparison in English, which is why we use the original. Whereas English has only one word for love, Greek has three, agape, philia and eros. Subtleties and nuances in meaning can also be lost. The direct translation of the phrase ‘I am hot’ from English to German is ‘ich bin heisse’. However, if you say that to someone in Germany they’ll think you have the hots for them and want to have sex. We have a number of words and phrases we can use to describe rain, which have no bearing on their everyday, normal use: stair rods, cats and dogs, chucking it down and many more. A direct translation of these phrases will cause problems. It’s why the experience and ability of the translator is vital when transcribing from one language to another.
The second thing to take into account is that this is a young adult novel.
Now that’s out of the way, here’s the review: It’s awful, terrible, frustrating and has sucked several hours out of my life I wish I could have back. It’s almost as bad as Twilight.
It’s set in an elite college on the edge of the Canadian Rockies and the main characters are 18-20 years old, the children of rich and powerful parents. There is nothing likeable about any of them and I could happily push the lot of them into a crevasse and leave them to die slow deaths while they argue about whose nail polish has the best colour. The girls are just as bad. They’re the kind of people who think a disaster is turning up to class in the wrong clothes and whose world would fall apart if a designer shoe got scuffed.
The blurb on the back talks of the character Julia and her desire to discover more about the valley, but the book itself focuses on the character of Katie West with brief point of view changes to Julia.
The story itself only really gets going after 200 pages and is not a fantasy. It is, at best, a ghost story, at worst a teenage angst story.
The main plot concerns Katie West and her desire to climb a mountain called The Ghost. Julia is her best friend who’s obsessed with a boy called Chris, who treats her like dirt but she loves him anyway. In short, the group of friends avoid a visit from the Governor-General by going to climb the mountain, have trials and hardships and learn about each other. The subplot is about a group of missing children who got lost 30 years ago, hence the ghost story aspect.
If you really do feel the need to read this, start at page 200 then read through to the end and you might just enjoy it; but for me the biggest problem with this book is not the story, it’s the translation.
Krystyna Kuhn has over 20 novels to her name and has been a freelance writer since 1998, writing in German for a German audience, and this book is the second in a series set around GraceCollege. The German editions of these books are highly regarded by the readers, getting a large number of 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads. The English version has only managed two reviews, both of which were 2 star ones. Why the dichotomy?
I believe it’s down to the translation. I find it hard to believe that a writer with 20 novels to her name is that bad, whether you like her work or not, or the Young Adult genre. An interesting point to note is that Kuhn’s book has also been translated into other languages, French and Polish were two others I found, and all use the same word as the title: The Catastrophe. For some reason, the English title has been changed to The Crash when there is no crash anywhere in the book, unless you include an avalanche or think that a clash of personalities amounts to a crash.
The person who’s done this translation does a lot of work in the industry, so isn’t a fly-by-night operator, but I feel she’s totally missed the boat with this book, both with the title and the content. I would be interested in reading it again if it were translated by a different person, but as things stand I can’t recommend this book to anyone.
Krystyna Kuhn is probably a good writer in her genre, but this translation does her no favours at all.
Zenn Scarlett. Book Review(0)
Strange Chemistry, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
A very large number of youngsters, especially girls, dream of working with animals. Most of them never do. Many adults, especially from the older generations had the idea that SF for youngsters was mainly aimed at boys. To a certain extent it was. Times have changed but the combination of animals and SF is a rare combination. There may be the odd pet, or the enhanced lab animal, or aliens but not a focus on off-world, non-sentient creatures other than those that want to eat the explorers. That is what makes this book a joy.
The setting is a far future Mars. To make it liveable, the deeper valleys have been equipped with generators that produce a sort of force-field that keeps a breathable atmosphere in. The precarious life of the colonists has worsened by a rift with Earth. The government there blames aliens for the virus that very severely reduced the population. Mars deals with aliens. Much of the technology that keeps the Mars situation going comes from earth and it is beginning to break down with little hope for replacements.
The main character is Zenn, a seventeen year-old girl whose only ambition is to be an exovet – not entirely surprising as that is her family’s trade. The clinic is in a Ciscan Cloister, originally set up by a religious order but now only lip-service is paid to regime. It used to be a thriving exovet school but Zenn is now the only student, her uncle the only tutor (her father is off-world and her mother missing presumed dead). The patients are exotic, alien pets or zoo specimens. Many of them are large. Local people perceive them as dangerous. Some are.
Naturally, there are factors that complicate the situation. The lease for the land that the Cloister is on and the clinic uses, is up for renewal and there is a growing opposition by the town council to its continued presence, possibly linked to the rift with Earth. Zenn is concerned that her father hasn’t been heard from for a while and is worried that something has happened to him. Her end of year tests are immanent and if she fails them, her future as an exovet will be non-existent. The problem here is things have started to go wrong. When she is working with the animals she sometimes gets a fleeting communication with them that breaks her concentration. She tries to explain this to her uncle but as it is outside his experience, he puts it down to imagination and stress. The thing that worries her most is the accumulation of small incidents that could be put down to her negligence. Taken with all the other things, she is convinced that someone is trying to sabotage the clinic. On top of this, the towner boy, Liam, who helps out around the place is beginning to have an effect on her hormones. An added problem, likely to feature more heavily in future volumes is the disappearance of starships that are guided by creatures called Indra.
This appears to be the first of a series and has all the right ingredients to capture the imagination of a mid-teen reader and many will be able to relate to Zenn’s problems. They are unlikely to notice the issues about the plot that an adult reader might spot, the main one being why would an alien species bring a pet, however exotic, all the way to Mars for veterinary treatment? The same adult may also be able to spot the likely plot progression and identify the root of some of the menaces before Zenn does. This aside, the characters are engaging, the dangers real and setting believable. I look forward to seeing how the series progresses.
Book of Sith. Book Review(0)
Titan Books, h/b, £12.99
Reviewed by Brin Lunt
Allow me to begin by stating that this tome is probably not for the uncommitted Star Wars fan. The only thing it can be genuinely compared to is the Light Side version, released a couple of years back, called The Jedi Path. More a research manual than a get-engrossed novel, Book of Sith contains references to Lord Kaan, Wayland, Mara Jade, Iella Wessiri and Beskar, amongst many others. Only a person who knows the significance of those names would fully appreciate Book of Sith; for others, it will probably mark their first step into the vast, almost unending galaxy that is the Star Wars Expanded Universe. For the purposes of this review, I’ll assume that you, the reader, know a little something about the characters already.
Book of Sith, like The Jedi Path, is split into numerous chapters. Sith contains seven – two from the hand of Sidious, one each from Plagueis, Malgus, Bane, Sorzus Syn and Mother Talzin. Each extols the virtues and necessities of the Dark Side and how to attain its power. The book in total covers 10,000 years of in-universe history, making it possibly the most complete text book the Expanded Universe has come up with.
Each chapter is denoted by a different sort of fraying at the page edges, as well as differing textures, which adds to the novelty of the book. It really does feel like a compilation of chapters torn from the pages of others. The different chapters are likewise written with differing styles and fonts, as befits the various authors.
Similar to The Jedi Path, most of the pages are annotated by the former owners and readers of the book – Sidious appears again, as does Vader, Asajj Ventress, Luke Skywalker, Quinlan Vos, Mace Windu and Yoda. It can be quite interesting to read these additions, especially when one addition replies directly to another. The annotations likewise span the course of in-universe history, with the latest additions (similar again to The Jedi Path) coming from the hand of Luke Skywalker, a decade after the Battle of Yavin depicted in Star Wars: A New Hope.
I do have to question the inclusion of a section by Mother Talzin on the Nightsisters of Dathomir – you wouldn’t usually expect to find a chapter devoted to a Dark Side Sect in a book compiled by the Dark Lords of the Sith. But then, I suppose the editors needed to include something to entice the fans of that newest generation, the fans who see The Clone Wars cartoon as the highest echelon of Star Wars-based entertainment.
I found the book fascinating and informative. However, I’m a fully-fledged Star Wars fanatic, who loves nothing better than to research the huge history contained within the galaxy far, far away. There will be others who’ll think it’s an entertaining collection. Whatever your view, whether you’re an avid reader, watcher or collector, Book of Sith makes a fantastic addition to your bookshelf. Just don’t get lost in it. If once you start down the Dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny…
Zenith Lives! by Various Authors, ed. Stuart Douglas. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by I O’Reilly
Who the flying passarola is Monsieur Zenith? Not the Rick-Astley look-alike from the comic fandom?
No. Monsieur Zenith is probably the coolest cat that you may never have heard of:
“Upon a couch in a room of black and silver a figure of white marble came to life.
A bell rang; and a Japanese pushed the curtains aside to stand down in front of the couch.
‘You rang, excellency.’
The figure of white marble opened crimson-irised eyes. Instantly his strange exotic charm became apparent; the debonair recklessness of his face; the fact that he was a true albino.
‘Put out some clothes, Oyani.’
‘His excellency will dine at home?’
The eyes of the albino turned towards a yen-hok, the pipe in which opium is smoked.
‘I have dined already; I am going out. I have had sad dreams, Oyani. I need to amuse myself.’ “
- “The Box of Ho Sen,” from Detective Weekly
At a time when Sherlock Holmes was getting a bit old in the tooth for running around waterfalls and James Bond still hadn’t emerged (c.1920-1935), there was private gentleman-adventurer-detective Sexton Blake, and his nemesis was Monsieur Zenith the Albino. Sexton Blake was like Sherlock Holmes but with a boxers build and sensibility. He picked up, dusted down and kicked in the trousers where Sherlock left off.
Monsieur Zenith the albino on the other hand was pure class. He was a world-weary aristocratic-criminal of some vaguely Eastern-European family (in keeping with the vaguely Victorian feelings of the time that the further you went East the more outlandish adventure there was to be had). He outwitted and outfoxed Sexton Blake, and left a trail of mayhem and murder.
These stories contained here are a tribute and a re-imagining of that character Monsieur Zenith from some very big names indeed. We have Michael Moorcock and George Mann, Paul Magrs and Mark Hodder. Look them and you’ll see that just getting shorts from these guys all under one jacket is, in my opinion at least, worth the cover price.
What follows is a collection of stories some long and some short, each of which provide a different take on the classic villain. What I love about the book is that the writers have felt able to take Monsieur Zenith in new directions and impart their own reality to him (George Mann sees some references to a particular time-travelling series of books, whilst Magrs throws the story into a reality-fiction-colliding narrative free-for-all).
Moorcock’s story is one of the longest, and doesn’t altogether satisfy as it paints the secondary derivative characters (Seaton Begg instead of Sexton Blake) into a tale of voodoo cults. However there is a sort of aptness to find Moorcock writing about world-weary albino anti-heroes…
The story that stands out by far is the editors, Stuart Douglas’. He paints a picture of Zenith in the Seventies, wondering whether he really has lost the knack for danger and asking himself if he is a figure left behind by pace of modernity.
All in all this is a collection of stories that will amuse the uninformed, please fans of any sort of pulp-fiction, and delight those who have previously discovered the adventures of Sexton Blake..
The Wurms Of Blearmouth by Steven Erikson. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by I O’Reilly
I was unremittingly ignorant of the characters of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach when I picked up this book, having heard people whisper about the awesomeness of the Malazan series but, as yet, not quite getting around to tackling it. It had been pegged in my literary imagination as one of those long, epic cycles of books that you could build a house out of and use the dust jackets for the wallpaper.
In short, you could say I was kind of daunted by the prospect.
THE WURMS OF BLEARMOUTH on the other hand, is entirely different. For one, it is only just over 120 pages. With that kind of brevity Erikson wastes no time in getting to action, as the very first scene introduces us to a mad necromancer busy attempting to assert his evil rule through the power of lyric verse, and torturing his own brother. Throw into the mix a rancid village full of the hopeless and helpless, and then the slightly sociopathic heroes Bauchelain, Broach and Emancipoor Reese and you can see that we have a tale full of murder and mayhem.
The story itself reads a little like Shakespeare-gone-TARANTINO, with a fully developed sense of glam and irony as Erikson pokes fun at his own creations.
There is a shipwreck amidst a storm (owing in part to the fact that unlucky Emancipoor Reese is the unluckiest soul ever to not-drown, as every boat he has ever sailed on has capsized), which brings to the shores of the horrible little spit of land called Spendrugle, our protagonists. Instead of defeating the evil necromancer Lord Fangatooth Claw the Render (yes, you did read that name right), the gentleman-rogue Bauchelain and his manservant Korbal Broach instead decide to have dinner with him.
There is also a Witch and a cursed statue, a tax-collector and an inn full of more ladies of negotiable virtue than you could shake, well, whatever it is you shake in those sorts of circumstances.
Yep you’ve got it, this is a farce. A bit like of comedy of errors, but the errors are all character flaws and outrageous characters. There are characters called Spilgit Purrble and Warmet Humble, Whuffine and Tiny. The prose oozes mud and depravity with a general ‘ick’ factor that makes you yearn for a fantasy with more elves and magic swords.
But that is the point with Erikson, isn’t it? He isn’t presenting here a story in a ‘classic’ fantasy world. Sure there is magic and tunics and blouses and swords, but I get the feeling that Erikson has stripped all of the shiny bits out of this fantasy world and is heading straight for the dark, horrible bits where all good tales are made. Most of the book is light in style with character dialogue that will have you laughing out loud, but at times Erikson delivers a line straight to the jugular:
“Faith was a claw hammer to pry loose the boards beneath the commonry’s feet, an executioner’s axe to lop off the heads of unbelievers, a flaring torch to set light to the kindling, crowding a thrashing fool bound to a stake.”
On the whole I do not think that this story is for everybody. If you like your heroes admirable and their thoughts noble then stay away! However, if you like stories that are knowingly having fun with their own genre, or you are just fascinated to learn more about the sorts of people that inhabit the world of the Malazan then you will find the WURMS OF BLEARMOUTH a singular treat.
A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer. Book reviewComments Off
A PRETTY MOUTH by Molly Tanzer, Lazy Fascist Press p/b £7.77, ebook £4.43, http://lazyfascistpress.com
Reviewed by Glen Mehn
“A Pretty Mouth” is a strong debut from Molly Tanzer, an emerging weird author. The four short stories and one novella paint an incomplete history of the Calipash family, each story delving a little bit further back into history, and delving a bit more into the Weird.
Two things make this connected collection stand out: first, the styles. Tanzer presents five stories written in five clearly distinct styles.
The first, “A Spotted Trouble at Dolor-on-the Downs”, is a Wodehouse-inspired tale with Lovecraftian horror dumped in. It’s probably one of, if not the, most fun stories in the piece. Bertie Wooster appears and loans Jeeves to the current Calipash heir, with a strange result. Tanzer’s mashes up Wodehouse with gothic horror, wandering without effort in and out of period style. Not everything rings correct – this is an homage to each style, as we’ll come to see.
The second story, “The Hour of the Tortoise”, is a gothic tale of a young lady returning home. This is a young, independent woman, who just happens to write erotica, and has an apparent taste for the lurid herself, as one will come to see. We find out a bit of the history behind the first story, but have more questions that can only be answered in the third.
“The Infernal Hsitory of the Ivybridge Twins” takes place another generation earlier, and is another rather ribald tale – there is sex a-plenty in this history, often disturbing.
The eponymous novella which makes up the fourth story is probably the most idiosyncratic – it falls out of the 17th century in which it is set in language and style quite a lot, but it still delivers.
The final story, “Damnatio Memoriae”, is a Roman story with the most minimal tinge of the supernatural.
These are fantasy stories, so I’m not bothered – though sometimes jarred – by anachronistic language and descriptions. The collection is just plain fun. It appears to have been oft-overlooked, but it’s worth seeking out and finding this infernal history.
The River Through The Trees By David Peak. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by David A. Riley
Although this is not a long book it packs a heavy punch. Set in a small town in the American backwoods, which has been in steady decline for years, most of the characters are losers whose lives have been blighted by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and by ghosts from a past that has polluted everything around them.
The main character, Dan Robertson, runs the local undertakers. Bullied since school, his half sister Grace is the bane of his life. Known as the local bike, high on whatever drugs she can get, she is a force for chaos for everyone with whom she comes into contact. Dan feels guilty that her mental problems are his fault, caused when they were young children and were attacked by a local bogeyman, Bicycle Bill. Although Dan managed to escape, Grace didn’t. Mentally damaged by whatever happened while she was in his clutches, Dan has tried to distance himself from her ever since, obsessively stressing whenever she is mentioned that she is only his “half” sister.
Starting with a suicide that Dan is certain was murder, every detail of the town’s inhabitants is grimly described. It is the middle of winter, thick with snow and icily cold, a vivid metaphor for the state of the community. As one death leads to another, the police investigation encompasses drug peddling backwoods cultists, dysfunctional families with secrets within secrets, and a morbid supernatural menace.
Vividly depicted, the flaws and weaknesses of the various characters are remorselessly exposed. It is perhaps one of the darkest, most nihilistic novels I have ever read, a slow motion car crash whose development is a fascinating trek into the grim depths of a community blighted by something that is outside anyone’s control, a supernatural presence which uses the weaknesses of everyone it touches to spread its influence. A thoroughly enjoyable read.