Novel Review: Recreance by H. G. Chambers

Recreance (The Aeternum Chronicles, #1)Recreance by H.G. Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More than a few fantasy series can be described as: a future dystopian society on the verge of social apocalypse with 1 or 2 teenagers stepping up to overcome terrible odds for the sake of all. It’s in the differences between this epic and others that makes it special and in the parts that it does particularly well. As the opening installment of a series, the potential is also worth. But the series also owes some explanations left unanswered in this volume.

Humankind long ago overcame aging and natural death, but that led to an unexpected new discovery. Like the changes of puberty in teenagers making them adults, humans undergo a second major change [or third if one counts menopause] in which after the age of 150 individuals gain a physics-bending, if not magical ability. Interestingly, the magical process taps into and opens portals and potentials in parallel universes. Some of these are quite different and deadly–and tantalizingly left for future volumes.

What matters here is that the truly ancient Patriarch wishes to keep others from the final change by culling them at 150 years of age. He also uses his abilities to enslave the citizens of the only known true city on the planet. His plans are of demonic, Lovecraftian proportions.

Two teens, Oren and Clementine, each lost their respective families. Cast aside by society, they are the city’s only hope.

Some things are handled particularly well by this series. 1) The development and yet understatement of exobiological species. 2) The individual development arc of the two teens. Each follows a very different path. Especially strong is the relationship between Oren and his mentor. 3) Speculative technologies and Clem’s manipulation of them.

Left unanswered is the atypical development of Clem and Oren to their species. Similar and shared experiences hopefully explain it, as otherwise the kids don’t represent the potential in us all. Lastly, the overly Millennial colloquial euphemisms and dialogue between the teens makes little sense in a world and time so different from ours.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Poetry Review: The Watcher by Joshua Pantalleresco

The WatcherThe Watcher by Joshua Pantalleresco
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Building on a long history of narrative epic poetry, this tale follows a young human slave in a dystopian society as he makes his moves to escape the oppressive non-human regime. The interesting premise fights to play through the poetic structure, or lack thereof.

Traditionally, epic poetry is purely narrative with the speaker telling the story of a hero. The structure of the poem, whether it chooses to adeptly utilize rhyme or not, often employs rhythm providing momentum for the poem. In the English and Norse epics, the mid line break [caesura] also built a sub-structure into the poem. Rhythm and [optional] rhyme aided in memorizing the tale.

This tale is free verse since it opted for first person stream-of-consciousness rather than third person narrative. It also opts to eschew all punctuation to achieve the desired POV. That forces all structure onto the line breaks and stanza breaks to reflect the phrases. There is no win from this structural arrangement.

The stream-of-consciousness limitation to the narrative compromises the world building of the tale without third party characters introducing outside concepts. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, the narrow POV is meant to be highly filtered. But with such a tantalizing recent history lingering in the shadows of the tale, one could hope for a wider lens. Characters in the know, such as the speaker’s parents, are silenced by their effective absence.

With everything else stripped away [other characters, context, structure and even punctuation] the reader solely relies on the speaker and the interesting if sparse illustrations by Florence Chan. The speaker fails in consistency. Verb tenses flip from present tense to past tense and then double back again without a subsequent change of subject or time period. Either the speaker is giving the immediate tale that the reactionary rhetorical questions and present tense verbs would imply, or he has gained at least the limited understanding and context provided by the passage of time. Both cannot happen at once, and yet confoundingly here they do. And even the very passing of time is made contradictory. In the scene “The Hunt,” the speaker claims an “after-the-fact” advantage that time provides: “patience was the key to those early days / the times were tough / I had no idea what to look for . . . I’ve tried killing [the stag] every day since I came here . . .” After this the first successful hunt scene plays out in the present tense, despite the opening passage being after the tough times of unsuccessful hunts.

Perhaps the tale is relying on the missing graphic structure that illustrations can provide. Such as in Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga graphic series where scenes play out in the present tense, but the ultimate narrator is also able to apply meta commentary in the past tense from a far future POV. If that is the case, it hasn’t been established here.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella[s] Review: The Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice Tales by Wolfen M.

The Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice TalesThe Drosselmeier Chronicles: The Solstice Tales by Wolfen M.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two beloved Victorian Christmas stories get reworked into the same world in this collection of 2 novellas. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King opens the series in a barely re-imagined format. The novella more than just liberally borrows from the original, it offers almost nothing new which is disappointing. Mostly, it seems to be pure set up for Hoffmann’s tinkerer character [Drosselmeyer] to be the main manipulator in other tales now set in his trippy world, one foot in the land of Fae.

The second novella slightly tweaks Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but imagines that the 3 ghosts are Drosselmeier’s doing. More promising is the shift in POV to that of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s dead business partner that opens the Dickens’ version as the haunt coming before the 3-act spiritual crash course in being a decent human being. The promise lies in the queer re-telling with Marley admitting his forbidden love for Scrooge and taking responsibility for how Scrooge turned out.

Unfortunately, the promise doesn’t pay off with new content, it merely acts as a queer filter as the original novel plays out around it. A veneer of 21st century queer acceptance and psychology is provided by Drosselmeier and friends to the ghost Marley in and around their torment of Scrooge.

Many classical tales have received successful reworks, such as The Wizard of Oz inspiring Wicked. The success comes in the new scenes that shape the original tale anew. It’s all about the new content that applies the new slant. And that’s what’s missing here, new content. It’s scene for scene, the original tale without the original author’s name on it.

I received my copy of the collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Clay Tongue by Nicholas Conley

Clay Tongue: A NoveletteClay Tongue: A Novelette by Nicholas Conley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful modern day folktale as a girl explores the scary and wondrous world beyond her house in order to alleviate the family’s frustrations in the wake of her beloved grandfather’s stroke. He’s been left aphasic, and the stress of caring for him weighs on the girl’s mother. The tale builds on the Jewish lore of the golem, a clay-made servant that has the ability to grant wishes. Though, with a girl turning toward fantasy, albeit unknown potentially scary fantasy, in order to solve a family’s problems, one is reminded of a less-dark Pan’s Labyrinth.

The seed for young Katie’s adventure is planted when she secretly reads her grandfather’s notebook containing either a story he’s written or a journal entry he’s made. The tale is unfinished, but tells of a young married couple many decades ago moving into a house just like her grandfather’s house that she lives in with him and her parents. The house in the notebook is in her town. And the name of the young bride is Kate’s grandmother’s name. When the couple move into the house, they are told of a cave in the back forested part of the property which–legend holds–houses a golem made by the original owner of the house. The golem was created to grant one wish to each person who dared visit it.

Even with such ripe fodder for the imagination, Kate’s brave adventure amusingly cites other fantastical creatures. With a mysterious key in hand, she finds a cave in the forested back part of the property:

Right above her head was an iron lock with foreign characters cut into it. Katie knocked, waited for a moment, hoping that maybe a friendly troll or fairy might answer. No answer came–so if there was a troll on the other side, it wasn’t a nice one . . .

The cave rumbled, as if from a minor earthquake. Katie stopped, and a deep growling noise reverberated from deep inside the cavern–a low, guttural moan, as if a dragon had just awakened . . .

“I’m here,” she whispered to any friendly trolls that might hear her.

This tale is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Metronome by Oliver Langmead

MetronomeMetronome by Oliver Langmead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s fantasy–and then there’s fantastical. Metronome takes the reader and the narrator on a fantastical journey worthy of a Miyazaki film. Elderly Scotsman, Manderlay, once was a celebrated violinist and avid sailor. Now, he bides his time breaking rules at the retirement home, until his increasingly vivid dreams sweep him away to the fantastical world where all dreams come together.

Amid memories of his deceased wife and of his former musical glory, Manderlay sets off on an adventure through stunning towered cities forever bathed in light, to dark shadowed places always under the moon. Aboard the clockwork flying ship, Metronome Manderlay and his odd companions of a nightmare, a nightmare hunter and an insane pirate captain set off for the eye of the storm always churning at the edge of the world of dreams. Their only map is the music of Manderlay’s last album . . .

Others have learned how to manipulate their shared dream so as to create magic in the world. Manderlay wants to do the same, and fights the inclination to awaken into his elderly limited world again.

The writing creates a beautiful, wondrous landscape leading to a meandering pseudo-ending that won’t satisfy all as it doesn’t feel the need to justify and situate its Neverland/Wonderland/Oz/Narnia.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the publisher, Unsung Stories, through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Writers of the Future, Volume 33 edited by David Farland

Writers of the Future: Volume 33Writers of the Future: Volume 33 by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This annual competition and anthology never fails to introduce emergent voices in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. The open-to-all format leads to a pleasantly wide diversity. The anthology also always includes a short story written by L. Ron Hubbard and a couple other guests writers. These were far less impressive than the contests winners–as usual.

Five stories stood out for me, all meriting 4 of 5 stars:
“Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson is a murder mystery set on a moonbase. When the detective is the only other person on the moon, things are interesting . . .
“The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza is a profoundly moving tale about a military man that merged his thoughts and memories with that of the AI in his mech suit. The blurred lines between human and android lead to interesting developments.
“Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker is a Lovecraftian tale of a centuries-old alien envoy to Earth plopped down in the Antarctic. After centuries of sitting there, the reasons for the visit remain elusive. But this trip is different . . .
“Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery conveys the generational gap and the loss of traditional lore through the metaphor of magic. The older generations know lots of magic, but the next knows very little and it’s increasingly useless. But yet, it’s no less endearing to share . . .
“The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen depicts one man’s aging through his descent from being an able wizard to a mere illusionist living within his memories of former greatness. Pride, wisdom, and self-worth all tug at his grip on reality.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the included contest winners:
Atkins, Molly Elizabeth–“Obsidian Spire”–3 stars
Hildebrandt, Ziporah–“The Long Dizzy Down”–3 stars
Merilainen, Ville–“The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove”–3 stars
Roberts, Andrew L.–“Tears for Shülna”–3 stars
Dinjos, Walter–“The Woodcutters’ Deity”–2 stars
Hazlett, Sean–“Adramelech”–2 stars
Kagmi, C. L.–“The Drake Equation”–2 stars
Marley, Jake–“Acquisition”–2 stars
Rose, Anton–“A Glowing Heart”–2 stars

Also included are:
Hubbard, L. Ron–“The Devil’s Rescue”–3 stars
McCaffrey, Todd–“The Dragon Killer’s Daughter”–2 stars
Sawyer, Robert J.–“Gator”–2 stars

I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I previously enjoyed previous years’ Writers of the Future Volume 31 and Writers of the Future Volume 32 also edited by David Farland. Both of the previous anthologies rated 4 stars.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove” by Ville Merilainen

3 of 5 stars.

This is a fantastical folktale in which 3 sisters journey to the world tree in order to bring Spring back in a world of endless winter. They’re guided by a parable etched in stone along the journey that tells of a brave wolf, a clever fox and a little dove that journeyed through winter to the river of the Swan King. Wolf faced the Swan King who stood in the way of the verdant fields beyond. The fox came up with a plan. And the little dove found the acorn that brought forth Spring. But not before the wolf sacrificed herself for the plan to work.

The sisters try to follow the parable as a guide while avoiding the fate of the characters within the parable. They are also armed with the knowledge that their parents died trying to do the same thing. Rose [the wolf] was trained in the ways of the sword by her mother. The narrator [the fox] was trained in the ways of magic by her father. Lily [the dove] was born during the parents attempts to thaw the world tree. They sacrificed themselves so that she might live to try again.

The world tree is protected by wolves that seek to bring down all of the trios making pilgrimage to bring about Spring.

This tale works in its form as a fantastical short story. World building is minimal and narrow-focused. Character building is reduced to the narrowly defined parameters of the parable.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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