Novella Review: Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang by Gord Sellar

4 of 5 stars.

This superhero/supervillain urban fantasy cleverly depicts the complicated relationship between South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and the United States. The countries, cultures, and politics are personified by the superheroes representing them helping to illustrate the complexities of the divided peninsula.

Wonjjang is a South Korean superhero/mutant working on a multinational team in the superhero division of a company. He leads the team that includes American, Japanese and Chinese members. Most of their attentions are used for thwarting the destructive tendencies of North Korean mutants led by a mad dwarf.

Two major sub-themes run through the tale. Firstly, mis-translations and awkward communication run rampant between both allies and enemies alike. One could include in this sub-theme the 2 mutants with communication-based abilities: the telepath and the mind-reader. The other sub-theme is attraction and romance. Wonjjang, who lives with his mother still, has a crush on the Japanese superhero who in turn is crushing on the American–that’s one way to summarize complicated politics. The hero’s mother would prefer him to settle down with a nice Korean girl, even if she’s from the North . . .

The blend of allegory and superhero works well here. The tale is recommended.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi

4 of 5 stars.

Redemption and rehabilitation aren’t uncommon themes in literature. Here, a man struggles to stay true to his word, a word he’s broken before to those he loves.

Marshall was born with hereditary superpowers. But his single mother has never revealed the identity of his absentee father. So, Marshall grows up with a mental list of potential candidates. But growing up is hard, and Marshall finds himself surrounded by bad influences and users. He becomes a supervillain named Downfall in a gang of supervillains.

For the sake of his wife, Allison, he quits the gang and moniker and promises to lead an upstanding life. A bad decision, and relapse, finds Marshall busted in a bank robbery with his old gang and tossed in prison for 5 years. It’s 2 years before his wife even visits. But he vows to steer straight and is released on good behavior after a few more years.

Life on parole isn’t easy. Especially when one particularly beloved superhero, The Imperial, has made it his personal mission to reveal Marshall’s true identity wherever Marshall and Allison try to hang their hat. They can’t put down roots, or relax–they cannot start a family in circumstances like this. So, when The Imperial turns up murdered, it’s awfully ironic the feds want Marshall’s help to find the perpetrator. Or, is it?

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix

Sovereign's Wake (In The Absence of Kings, #1)Sovereign’s Wake by Lee LaCroix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel opens a High Fantasy series without need of fantastical races and creatures [elves, fae, dragons etc] nor magic. It’s more Medieval meets Les Miserables. The rogues are properly roguish without being too-too clever. Indeed, there’s a refreshing naivete to the working class people in their quest to rebel against the dystopian oppressors who’ve taken hold since the death of the king months prior.

The POV mostly flits between 3 main characters, though a limited few others are allowed a narrative perspective. Garreth and son Novas are the undisputed heroes. Garreth grew up a farmer’s son, but worked up the ranks of the former king’s Crown Aegis before retiring into the deep forest to raise his infant son in seclusion. Novas learns a simple forest life of hunting and gathering without influence of any other humans. Their idyll is shaken when men come to chop down the protected forest.

The heroes embark on a quest to the capital to question the surviving Queen on the ensuing destruction of the land and robbing of all travelers by the company run by the queen’s brother, Lord Vyse. Their path soon crosses that of Kayten, an able smith and daughter to a Mastersmith killed by Vyse’s men. The 3 find the unrest in the capital calling to them. And, Garreth makes for a reluctant leader . . .

Garreth’s style of heart over wile is refreshingly novel, if not without secondary problems to the plot. Also enjoyable is the last chapter’s opening up of the world beyond the narrow caste system to which Garreth and Novas have ever known.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Jen Air: The Little Queen by John Coutelier

Jen Air: The Little QueenJen Air: The Little Queen by J. Coutelier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This urban fantasy [with an emphasis on the supernatural fantastic] stands alone though it’s one of a series. Also, the title is a misnomer. Jen Air is but one half of a young adult, gal-pal duo. She gets less face time than her partner Kaya Cade, though she’s better developed. Kaya Cade, like most of the characters in the book, feels like a caricature. And despite the punctuation of the title, the little queen is a different character all together.

Kaya and Jen have a narratively muddled history of friendship and later non-friendship toward each other. But supernatural circumstances perhaps best described as killer faeries draw the two together. Jen brings the techie brains and Kaya brings spunk and little else as they try to unravel a scientifically dastardly plot involving lab-grown fae.

The best backstory is given to Jen Air, but not the narrative space to lean into that strength. Perhaps through the series, Jen’s own mysterious past gets explored. The best scenes are given to Kaya right at the beginning of Chapter 1, the opening lines of which should have opened the book to start it out on the right tone:

Kaya Cade didn’t believe in fate or destiny or in any form of confectionary with messages printed on, and yet some things she knew were just inevitable. It was just down to who she was, who her parents were, her environment–some combination of all those things meant she really had no choice in the decisions she made and so there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent her punching that smug idiot in the face and ending up in the back of a police car. Her only regret about it was that she couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Unfortunately, not 1 but 2 prologues are offered before this catchy hook. Neither prologue earns its keep. Aside from some questionable editorial choices to the plotting and dialogue, my copy carried a fair number of malaprops, missing words, and homophonic substitutions which ultimately distract from the fantasy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: World-Mart by Leigh M. Lane

World-MartWorld-Mart by Leigh M. Lane
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An interesting take on a possible dystopian future akin to that of Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 sees a world with climate change run amok, natural resources spent, and a near history of pandemic. An oligarchy, awkwardly dubbed The Corporate, maintains a severe caste system with its own easily discernible untouchables known as “deviants.” Between these 2 social layers lie 2 others: the Corps [of lower and middle managers in a world of bureaucracy] and the Mart [of lower tiers of white collar workers].

The tale is filtered through the lens of one nuclear family struggling to maintain their position at the bottom of the Corps tier. Mother Virginia maintains the homestead while also holding a job. Father George reviews case files without critically questioning anything. Teenaged daughter Shelley rides the line between dutiful daughter and curious, rebellious teen. And little Kurt has all the naivety of a typical privileged 7-y.o. Their world is rattled when Deviants execute a limited biological attack on the Humans [non-Deviants] in which a released virus turns the afflicted Deviant.

The premise is interesting. The execution is clunky at best. The world and its history fails to reveal itself organically, but rather relies on info-dumps worthy of droning history books. The characters and their motivations remain flat, and yet rushed. The entire book reads as the idea for a story, rather than as a story itself.

Also working against the story is the inconsistent narration. Most scenes offer the 3rd person POV of one member of the core family followed by a scene from another. Small scenes that couldn’t be witnessed by one of the 4 family members are then given to quick throw-away characters without establishing these one-time voices. Also awkward are scenes from Shelley’s POV. In conversation, she calls her parents Mom and Dad, but in narration from her POV, her parents are called their given names. There are also scenes that re-introduce characters seemingly for the first time who’ve already been introduced and vetted chapters earlier.

This title is meant to open a trilogy.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade

The Devil's Mouth (Alex Rains, Vampire Hunter, #1)The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With a particularly well-played prologue to hook the mood and scenery, this vampire hunter series starts on all the right notes. Vampires on the southern US border are preying on illegal immigrants directly and on a legal system that’d prefer to look the other way when it comes to trials of the disenfranchised.

The hero of this tale, Alex Rains, is a Taratino-ish cowboy that’d blend in with the characters of Kill Bill. The campy aw-shucks-t’aint-nothing attitude belies the sword-play martial arts. Early on, Alex meets the ex-cop Carmen desperate for the trail of her sister who’s gone missing after crossing into the New Mexican desert with an immigrant smuggler.

The breadth of the story is guilty fun, if not predictable.

Jen, the character to watch out for, plays medic to the vampire hunting crowd. She hints at a layer of society to which even Alex is unaware. This tease pays off in the brief but poignant epilogue. In a sea of errant author epilogues, this one hits the mark.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Incorruptible by J. B. Garner

Incorruptible (The Push Chronicles #3)Incorruptible by J.B. Garner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The urban fantasy series with the heart, soul and humor of a self-aware comic book concludes appropriately and true to itself. Wishes became reality under the warped plan of an unsure, mad scientist in the series opener. At his mind’s bidding, superheroes and supervillians [“Pushed” and “Pushcrooks”] burst onto the scene. The eternal battle between good and evil was to be led unquestionably by neo-God, Epic–the former professor/mad scientist. Protagonist, ex-girlfriend Dr. Irene Roman [aka “Indy”] leads the charge in countering the comic-inspired madness. She’s one of the few [“Naturals”] that can see through the new reality to the old one.

This final installment sees factions of Pushed each battling to define what the new relationship between Pushed and non-Pushed will look like. The Pushed all too often ignore that the non-Pushed might have their own thoughts in this matter. Indy’s associates [the Atlanta 5] start off in one kind of trouble while she’s roiled in another. New friendly Pushed rush in to take up the mantle. Especially nice is the inclusion of non-Pushed civilians doing their part to rebel and organize while living in an occupied, blockaded city.

The series is campy fun and enjoyable.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I’ve previously read this author’s:
     Indomitable (The Push Chronicles, #1)–4 stars
     Indefatigable (The Push Chronicles, #2)–3 stars
 
 
 
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