A clear world-building fantasy, this novel paints nearly everything and everybody without nuanced shades of gray. The trio of Priestesses [the maiden, the mother and the crone] are everything good and righteous in the world. Their white light magic can revive the dead, purify water and cast out dark monsters and magic. Residing in the capital city of the central kingdom [Valorholme], their influence lords over all other realms. They’re also comically masochistic, self-righteously insufferable and largely unlikable as they impose their will on everybody.
The opposing nation of Briarcroft is depicted as all that is evil. Curiously, the sun never shines there and nothing but briars grow there despite lying just west of the mountains bordering Valorholme. Briarcroft understandably wants to bring the sun back to their land and to be freed from dependence on the whims of self-righteous Valorholme. Their reliance on dragons and ghouls to achieve their means are less noble.
The tale borrows heavily from Greek and Biblical mythos as it introduces unstoppable heroes of inhuman proportion. This includes wholesale attributing the Heruclean slaying of the Hydra to a living hero of this novel.
The narrative prefers to jump from epic confrontation to epic confrontation without character development. Substories with merit, such as the conflict between the royals and religious orders of Valorholme, are left unfilled. Characters slip from the narrative when they should not. And disjointed scenes sit uneasily within the tale such as the one-off vampire castle. Missing from this tale is a single character that feels relatable and real, if not likable.
Where urban fantasy and detective noir come together lies a fertile field to explore the human [and non-human] condition. The detectives themselves are often the fantastical variant. This collection brings together tales of a zombie, 2 vampire, 3 werewolf and 7+ wizarding detectives, among others, providing an external view of the modern human life. Also included are a couple supernatural Sherlock Holmes tales and a handful of ghost tales with a couple stretching all the way back to the Elizabethan era. The crimes are mostly murders which by nature shatter the accepted human social ethics.
This diversity of tales despite a common sub-genre is reflected in my top 3 each meriting 5-stars and in my “honorable mention” 3 earning 4-stars. I’ve reviewed and rated each of the 23 tales included.
–Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts” [5 stars] depicts an intimate look at his Chicago-based wizarding detective, Harry Dresden, as he tries to stop a series of curse-induced love-suicides. –Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of Death and Honey” [5 stars] tells a heart-felt Sherlock Holmes from a vantage beyond both Watson and Holmes. –Charlaine Harris’ “Death by Dahlia” [5 stars] circumstantially places an ancient vampire in the role of detective when a political vampire coronation of sorts is disrupted by a murder. –Patricia Briggs’ “Star of David” [4 stars] tells a familial tale when a werewolf mercenary is called upon by his 40-years estranged daughter. Faith Hunter’s “Signatures of the Dead” [4 stars] pairs an elemental witch and her coven-family with a shapeshifter to solve an Appalachian vampire problem. Jonathan Maberry’s “Like Part of the Family” [4 stars] depicts the canine-like loyalties and ethics of a werewolf evening the playing field in defense of domestic and sexual abuse survivors.
Science and Religion collide when researchers at the new CERN particle accelerator try to discover the elusive theoretical Boson-Higgs particle, aka the “God Particle.” Despite the misnomer, the particle’s existence has zero bearing on religion, nor does the research conducted prove or disprove or in any way relate to religion nor the existence of a deity. However, that’s a repeated subtheme in the tale here, that somehow CERN research set about to disprove God.
In the fantastical, speculative world of the story, the research unleashes hibernating “Angels.” And they are horrifying. [Think: Dr. Who‘s episode “Blink.”] Angels are supernatural, light-based beings who judge harshly and murder. What’s left unclear is where the angels get their moral-code from. It seems to assume the Bible which clashes with the narrative itself.
Working against the narrative is the short story plot stretched into a novel without further development and the highly disjointed first half of the book. Chapters aren’t chronological, but without a good enough reason to not be. They also jump characters frequently without distinguishing the importance of said characters. 3-4 interspersed chapters taking place a half-century before the events of the tale, would have worked just as well as a single flashback, or better yet, could’ve been omitted for the sake of pace as they added little to the tale.
There’s much to like in zombie epics as they explore the fragile constructs of humanity. As most of the populous succumbs to the epidemic literally turning human to inhuman, each survivor is tested on their personal resilience and humanity as it relates to empathizing with others and perhaps banding together. As the epics move away from “Day One,” they inevitably start to explore higher levels of humanity in the modes of society and government once the pre-apocalyptic has been washed away.
The graphic novel series [and television show], The Walking Dead covers the latter issues with much exploration and depth. While the novel series, The Alpha Plague by Michael Robertson, details the opening 48 hours of such a plague over a couple books before opening into the latter topic.
This brilliant series set in the form of a journal by one survivor will appeal to fans of both. An Arkansas native stationed in San Antonio for Naval Flight School makes a New Year’s Resolution to keep a journal. By his second entry, Jan 02, an epidemic is rumored to be spreading across China. By the end of the month, it’s everywhere . . .
The journal-entry method of story telling works extremely well here as it delivers what the hero knows, when he knows it. His mindset changing is chronicled hour by hour. Margin notes presumably made by the protagonist help to drive the perspective home as if he’s studying his own thoughts for later review and reassessment. Luckily, he’s not alone in the world. Just a couple doors down, a neighbor and his dog are trapped by a moat of the undead . . .
The tale is highly enjoyable and recommended. Also recommended is having as companions in any apocalypse: an athletic guy with military survival training, an engineer, and a dog . . .
The cutthroat world of internet startups and social networks reveals its darkest side in this thriller about e-commerce and murder. Most enjoyable are the descriptions of the slapdash, duct tape protocols of the startup office–people living at the “office,” and job interviews at nightclubs.
Dan’s a freelance coder with not enough business coming in. The relationship with his live-in girlfriend has hit the doldrums. Then he lands the interview with Former.ly, an up-and-coming, start-up social networking site . . . for the dead. Clients write their bios while alive, but it doesn’t post until they’ve died. Death = money.
The company runs on high secrecy, sloppy logistics, and the skin of its teeth. Until a company party ends with a murdered journalist. The press is all over it.
The quirky staff of Former.ly feel both the stress and thrill of burgeoning success as questions and deaths propel their business . . .
There’s an ethical conundrum that asks: If you could travel through time and go back to when Hitler was an innocent baby, would you/could you kill him? This novella seems to revolve around this very question. And then lets the question linger.
Two elemental magic users representing the most powerful coalition of elementals travel back in time about 60 years to collect a baby that will grow up to be an awful, awful person. A Voldemort, perhaps. Never is a single atrocity, or crime cited and linked to the baby keeping that important aspect of the story cloaked, or just underdeveloped.
Interestingly, some characters appear in both time lines. Better yet, their positions in the government and in their relationship to the baby or to the kidnapping can oppose their other self. This is a clever contradiction worth exploring but left curiously quiet.
Rather, the book focuses on the mother [Sarah] of the kidnapped child. She’s a flawed elemental with anger issues stemming from being the mother scorned. Her husband is high up in the organization that likely took her child which puts her at odds within her own household. I call her flawed due to her lack of a moral compass. By the start of the book, she has started an uprising gathering over one thousand followers in opposition to the elemental government. She knowingly sets them all up for slaughter for a single siege to perhaps gather a single clue or tool in the drive to reclaim her stolen baby. What type of person would kill 1000 supporters just to open a door that they know their baby is not behind? She’s been wronged, but she’s also an awful person. And the story does not do enough to support this position.
The tale is also full of contradictions other than the purposeful time-bending ones. In the beginning of the tale, Sarah’s husband calls her to talk her out of the action she’s about to do. He knows what she’s doing and cites details. The government knows too, he says, and is expecting her. Much later in the book, he claims to her that he did not know that it was her that did what she did. [Except that he was also on the phone with her while she was doing it and well aware at that point.]
The Alpha Plague is a British rage-style zombie pandemic. The zombies aren’t dead, merely afflicted, and they aren’t dying off due to their hunting prowess and willingness to eat any animal they can get their hands on. Not that zombie tales are about the zombies–they aren’t. They’re almost always about the societies and relationships between people amidst a horrific backdrop that could turn anybody you love into the “other.”
This episode of the series can be read alone or after just the 4th in the series. The initial trilogy was largely self-contained as it documented the initial 48 hours of the pandemic showing the luck, wherewithal, and canniness necessary in such desperate a situation. The immediate predecessor of this installment jumped a full ten years allowing 6-year old Flynn to become a hormonal–but not annoyingly so–teenager. His perspective is unique in that he doesn’t remember nor understand how society used to work. He essentially knows nobody but his parents and Vicky, the lone survivors of the first trilogy. The ten years pass with them not finding anybody as they hid away in a remote location.
A radio broadcast from other survivors launched an epic journey in book 4 to find Home. Along the way, other groups were discovered. And not unlike in The Walking Dead, most of those groups are disturbed in one manner or another. Slavery. Cannibalism.
This book depicts the cushy life inside of Home. The group lives underground with electricity thanks to a solar panel field they maintain. They have alarms and cameras. Clean water, showers and gyms. They even have an underground farm for raising plant crops. Under Hugh’s leadership and sometimes heavy hand, Home supports about 100 people in a little Utopia. And yet Vicky and Flynn cannot relax.
There’s a strictness to Home, in the name of security. Signs of “plague” or mental illness are dealt with in the harshest possible ways . . . Also, the internal farm is starting to fail with its depleted soil.