Novel Review: Salted by Aaron Galvin

Salted (Salt series, #1)Salted by Aaron Galvin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Folklores around the world tell of transmorphic sea creatures shifting into human shape and blending in with the unaware local human populous: mermaids [merrows, sirens], selkies [silkies], and kelpies to name some more common forms. Often, a form of seduction transpires between the folk-creature and some humans. The deceptions often escalate to kidnapping, rape and slavery of either humans lured into the drowning sea or sea-folk trapped into a terrestrial existence until said time that they can escape back into the sea.

This imaginative urban fantasy creates a rich and elaborate world of sea-folk and humans in a modern setting. Selkies, seal people, are an enslaving society with a strict caste system. The form of seal one can transform into matters. With leopard seals [“lepers”] being the most dangerous. Though sea lions [“racers”] and elephant seals can be quite formidable, too. No less than 7 species of seal/selkie appear. But more importantly, most are enslaved. Others are slave owners, slavers, runaway slave catchers, and slave abolitionists. Humans are as oblivious to the horrors around them as most people are today of the ongoing existence of modern human trafficking present still in the modern US and Europe.

To be clear, through a well-developed veneer of urban fantasy and folklore this is a story about modern slavery from many nuanced vantage points. And that is brilliant. It can also be quite disturbing to see the abuse, violence and heavily suggested rape.

As the opening volume to a series, the world construct will only get richer as other transmorphic folk are seen minimally but with the suggestion that the interactions and history between the selkies and the dolphin-folk merrows, orca-folk [“orcs”], and shark-folk [“nomads”] is equally as complex once one descends beneath the ocean’s surface.

Interestingly, some liberties are taken with the folk traditions. The young adult hero of the tale is an “orc”, unbeknownst to him, living in landlocked Indiana. So, sea-folk can be oblivious to their own status–for generations. Also, it’s suggested humans can be transformed into sea-folk, ie a non-selkie can become an enslaved selkie. Finally, though not elaborated, a form of glamour magic exists around the sea-folk such that humans cannot see a half-transformed merrow as anything other than a dolphin. Whereas, other sea-folk can see every stage of the transformation from dolphin form to mer to human.

This novel and series is recommended. I received my copy of this novel directly from the author.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Steel Victory by J. L. Gribble

Steel VictorySteel Victory by J.L. Gribble
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An uneven smorgasbord of fantasy and urban fantasy tropes jumble together in a post-nuclear apocalypse setting. A millennia after the nuclear war, society has reformed with humans, elves, vampires, mages, and were-creatures of all sorts. The political entities are the New World Greek city-state of Limani and the British and Roman Empires somehow revived after the wars. This unlikely mix stretches the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point in its refusal to world-build with any sort of coherence.

POVs alternate between a thousand-y.o. vampire, Victory, as she juggles the politics of Limani dealing with both internal xenophobic pro-humanists and external Roman aggression and that of her adopted, mage-warrior teenaged daughter offering the angst-ridden, young adult angle.

Eyebrow raising developments lie around every plot twist. The implication of a bonded pair of mage-warriors. The implication of said pair being separated. An unexplained curse that stops one from doing magic. The threat of a 1000-y.o. nuclear missile without a delivery system.

The convoluted cultural and historical structure assumed in the tale would strengthen with careful pruning. This would allow the two themes of conservative xenophobia and imperial expansionism to take root. Each has merits worth exploring.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Ghastly Bird” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

The strength of science lies in the scientific method–form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, collect data from the test, and check the conclusions. If that isn’t enough, peer review has other independent scientists check the work and cross check the methodology. Science is not just another form of faith like a godless religion, despite the implications of some unscientific skewing of the term “theory”.

Fictional scientists should act like scientists, at least somewhat.

In this tale, Zev is an ornithologist, a zoologist that studies birds. He moves to the island nation of Mauritius to teach because his favorite LIVING bird is the dodo. That’s right, he profoundly has faith that the dodo isn’t extinct. Without empirical or observational evidence, he also decides that the dodo is an intelligent animal and friendly. Due to his beliefs, his girlfriend leaves him and he hides his dodo faith from colleagues. [As well he should considering his very unscientific stance.]

One day while observing the many bird feeders he maintains on the back of his property, Zev witnesses a dodo emerge from the forest. Or does he? . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Altar by Philip Fracassi

ALTARALTAR by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The mundanity of suburbia with its micro-dramas beneath the surface strikes a realistic if not nostalgic look at the rite of passage that is the summertime visit to the community swimming pool. Then, horror descends upon the scene–true, unfathomable, Lovecraftian horror. The contrast, without warning nor transition makes the ensuing insanity all the more horrible in the true sense of the word.

This tale follows three POV characters in their typical summer day trip to the local pool. 12 y.o. Gary, accompanied by his single-mother-with-a-drinking-problem and his 15 y.o. sister whom he idolizes, has all of the pubescent insecurities expected for one his age. His mother provides a second POV providing a bit more depth into her side of the contentious divorce her cheating husband is putting her through. Her urges to smoke and drink are every bit what Gary imagines.

A third POV is provided by Tyler, unrelated to and unknown by the other 2 narrators. Young Tyler navigates the pool by himself without his mother paying any attention and with just the water wings she provided to keep him safe. He’s the first to notice the large crack split the pool from side to side . . .

Containing the narration to the character POVs and very “in-the-moment” experiences is particularly effective and shocking as normalcy descends into an apocalyptic chaos. This tale is highly recommended for horror and Lovecraft fans.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Snow” by Dale Bailey

5 of 5 stars.

Apocalypses, by definition, show the ending to civilization, the tales usually focus in on the survivors and beyond showing their survival skills, or lack thereof, tend to spotlight the degrade of civility itself. Social convention can only outrun the apocalypse for so long.

This haunting tale carries the tone of a campfire ghost story. More than not, the horror is in the unseen and the imagined. When electricity fails and weather is shelling out its worst, the psychological games triggered by the fevered, sleep-deprived mind are enough to make adults do reckless things.

Four friends–or rather a guy, his wife of 17 years, his best friend, and his best friend’s current half-witted female companion–head up into the mountains from Boulder for a get away with the ridiculously best supplies in tents, sleeping bags and camping stoves that money can buy. And they have a gun. The satellite radio starts to warn of a virus–the Red Death–that’s mowing through the populous quickly. And then after 3 days, the radio falls silent.

The group decides to find an abandoned summer cabin and hole up until things clear up. Snowstorms move in. For days, things are fine until wife Felicia slips on loose scree badly breaking her leg. After much arguing, they decide to descend into Boulder to find antibiotics, painkillers and other supplies. In the howling snow, they take refuge in a suburban house left unlocked and stocked. Without electricity, the freezing house and white-filled windows play havoc with the mind. And then noises emerge from the white. Shrieks. Rattles. Knocking. And then, a window breaks . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Crevasse” and “The End of the End of Everything”

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Street of the Dead House” by Robert Lopresti

4 of 5 stars.

Ironically, the intelligence of animals is often quantified by their ability to understand and communicate on human terms. Dolphins and dogs will be granted credit for reacting in specific ways in response to certain words. Koko, the kitten-owning gorilla, still epitomizes animal intelligence for mastering a form of sign language. And yet, humans have yet to master any animal languages . . . whale song, anyone?

This clever tale re-imagines the Rue Morgue [“Street of the Dead House” in sign language] from the POV of the orangutan. And while in Poe’s original, the ape is a brute. Here, the intelligent creature has been trained like Koko and yet plays dumb. The motives of various human and non-human characters play across each other like the inevitable language and cultural barriers informing each character.

This recommended tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “In Pursuit of the Swan at Brentford Ait” by Eley Williams

3 of 5 stars.

One-off creatures of urban legend and local folklore, such as Bigfoot, yeti, and Nessie, have fascinated and perhaps terrified humans for millennia. While most lurk at the darker edges of society where detection could conceivably be avoided, others loom large in urban alleys.

This tale of fictional nonfiction is the research of an amateur crytozoologist seeking the proof for a horse-or-house sized swan of pink-to-purple plummage haunting the islands of West London. He draws from accounts and conjecture spanning hundreds of years as proof of witness. He also cites scientific studies that could explain the evolution of said creature or a biological explanation for the day-glo feathers. As with many legends, supernatural conjecture also comes into play as if scientific proof weren’t enough, or all sources were considered equal.

Most of all, this tale embeds a subtle humor lost on the narrator:

It was lucky that I lost my job so that I could devote all my time to my research, and luckier still that I was able to commit a whole extra room to my studies and to the paperwork once my wife left me. It is from here that I can make my phone calls, and fax my evidence on to the appropriate authorities.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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