Novel Review: Of Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell

Of Plagues and PriestessesOf Plagues and Priestesses by Logan Martell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Fox Tails” by Richard Parks

3 of 5 stars.

Pre-Modern Japan anchors this tale of animal spirits, ghosts, and the rigid class structure of the nobility. A low-ranked noble is hired to find a lord’s wife and son that disappeared after it was revealed that the wife was actually a true trickster fox spirit.

The role spirits and ghosts play in the culture is made clear. As are the strict rules and dangers for interacting with said spirits and ghosts. However, not all fox spirits should be judged by their bushy tails [plural] as the 2-tailed Lady truly loved her husband, showing a loyalty not usual granted the fox spirits.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Manor of Lost Time.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Retroflection

A watching grackle in the treetops blocks the light
from the setting sun. Feathers ruffle in the wind.
The bird means nothing, but I try to squint-close
my eyes to block it out. I try to think
of ways to clear my mind because my head
is full of self-pity—a slap in the face

to him, lying supine, whose waxy face
and sealed lips reflect the harsh white light.
Sad and morbid thoughts run through my head
as the funeral winds down. It takes forever to wind
down. After numbing distraction, I finally think
words of closure. The casket groans to a close.

I was by his bed when his eyes finally closed.
It was peaceful judging by the look on his face.
That’s how I would want to go, I think.
Did I then realize he was seeing his last light?
It was as if he smelled it in the wind
like a storm. And to that something, he cocked his head.

Lastly, he told me not to mourn ahead
of due time. Not when the inevitable was merely close
at hand. He fully knew his time was winding
down and found joy in stroking my face.
He kindly asked me to dim the overhead light.
It hurt his eyes, he said; it hurt to think.

I fingered my watch not wanting to think
about his claim that at her funeral, upon turning his head,
he had spotted a grackle in the faded evening light.
“The grackle knows by watching everything closely.
It cocked its head and studied the contours of my face.
It was her,” he said, “with her back against the wind.”

I had tarried just outside the door, as if to wind
my watch. “Thirty minutes should do, I think,”
I had told myself. I hadn’t been expecting him to be facing
the door. I returned his smile and went ahead.
Turning, I checked to ensure the door was close.
I could barely read my watch in the muted light.

To the grackle standing close, I say, “Go ahead
and try to face the last of the sun’s light
for what you think has been lost upon the wind.”

[Check out other original poems here.]

Novella Review: The Uprising by Kachi Ugo

The UprisingThe Uprising by Kachi Ugo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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.]

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through I previously read and reviewed this author’s The Great Hunt.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Case of the Stalking Shadows” by Joe R. Lansdale

The Case of the Stalking ShadowThe Case of the Stalking Shadow by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Despite the title of the tale and its inclusion in a supernatural detective anthology, this isn’t a detective story. It’s a supernatural ghost story with elements of Lovecraft in its default to unspeakable horror at its heart. I tend not to be moved by “unspeakable horror” since little tends to make it to the page to suggest horror. I find it akin to someone opening a box without letting you peek and then saying, “It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t you agree?” I wouldn’t know, you aren’t showing me what’s in the box . . .

Horror works best with immediacy–something at stake with an unsure outcome. The stakes are raised if the hero might possibly not make it out of the situation. The horror is diffused a level if the narrator is telling the story after the fact. [Let me guess, you survived the room full of knife-wielding clowns long enough to tell me this story . . .] It’s diffused even more when the tale is not even told by the person who experienced it. [So, your neighbor went on vacation and saw a shark . . . ok.] This tale follows option 3.

An allegedly ghost-skeptical narrator was at a book club where a person recounted a spirit encounter from decades earlier. This is multiple degrees from immediacy. And despite the narrator’s affirmation that the tale he heard made him a believer, little to the story is compelling in the re-retelling of a vague unspeakable horror.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “Godzilla’s Twelve-Step Program”–4 stars
     “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks”–2 stars
     “Torn Away”–2 stars
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Necromancer’s Apprentice” by Lillian Stewart Carl

2 of 5 stars.

While Victorian era detective stories aren’t rare–think: Sherlock Holmes, much less common are Elizabethan era detective tales. And yet here, the Virgin Queen herself makes a royal appearance.

Early in Elizabeth’s reign while Spain is still employing nefarious machinations to usurp the Protestant throne of England to deliver it back to the Pope, a lord rumored to have affections and possibly even relations with the queen loses his wife to an untimely tumble down a flight of stairs.

To stop the tongues from wagging about his own possible involvement, the lord orders a necromancer to obtain better evidence and insight into the death of his wife, to see if anybody was indeed responsible for the death. Was it murder? Or even shameful suicide?

The tale is rather light on the actual detecting aspect as it’s more of a mage’s tale. The necromancer really just sets about talking to ghosts, not hunting clues.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Children’s Book Review: The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

The Wolves in the WallsThe Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dave McKean brilliantly illustrates this tale with a collage of photographs and drawings to create a dark and foreboding ambiance perfect for this modern folktale. The drawings could be too sinister for some kids. Cleverly, the wolves are depicted as children’s drawings as if emerging straight from wild imaginations . . .

The tale revolves around young Lucy when she’s convinced that she hears wolves in the walls of her family’s old house. Her parents and her appropriately annoying younger brother all try to reassure her that she is mistaken. And that what she really hears is mice [mom], rats [dad], or bats [brother]. Presumably, these are all acceptable alternatives . . . yikes.

But then again, maybe Lucy is right . . .

This tale is not very long–which is fine. But I wish it were cleverer. I wish young Lucy or perhaps her whole family were more clever in their addressing the disturbances to their abode.

I’ve previously reviewed one other Gaiman/McKean collaboration and I loved it:
Signal to Noise–5 stars

I’ve also read Gaiman’s:
     “Black Dog”–3 stars
     “The Goldfish Pond and Other Stories”–3 stars
     “The Sea Change”–4 stars
[Check out my other reviews here.]