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 bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

Also included are:
Bear, Elizabeth–“Cryptic Coloration”–3 stars
Bick, Ilsa J.–“The Key”–3 stars
Bowes, Richard–“Mortal Bait”–3 stars
Denton, Bradley–The Adakian Eagle–3 stars
Elrod, P. N.–“Hecate’s Golden Eye”–3 stars
Green, Simon R.–“The Nightside, Needless to Say”–3 stars
Huff, Tanya–“See Me”–3 stars
Kiernan, Caitlin R.–“The Maltese Unicorn”–3 stars
Monette, Sarah–“Impostors”–3 stars
Parks, Richard–“Fox Tails”–3 stars
Vaughn, Carrie–“Defining Shadows” [Kitty Norville]–3 stars
Cameron, Dana–“Swing Shift”–2 stars
Carl, Lillian Stewart–“The Necromancer’s Apprentice”–2 stars
Clark, Simon–“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell”–2 stars
Gustainis, Justin–“Deal Breaker”–2 stars
Lansdale, Joe R.–“The Case of the Stalking Shadow”–2 stars
Meikle, William–“The Beast of Glamis”–2 stars

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

3 of 5 stars.

When the purest substance on earth, unicorn horn, is used to make a dildo, every demon for millennia wants to get their . . . hands . . . on it.

Two demon brothel madams battle over NYC turf. Each would like to add the aforementioned rumored item to their arsenal and jump into action when it hits Chinatown. The scrap up comes down to a dead Jimmy Wong, an ambitious double-crossing sorceress, and a lesbian store owner of rare books.

The tale comes across plenty noir, but more Lovecraft than detective. There’s much world-building for a short story, stretching this tale to the extremes with what’s left unexplained.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously read this author’s:
     “The Bone’s Prayer”–3 stars
     “Bridle”–4 stars
     “The Cats of River Street (1925)”–5 stars
     “The Cripple and Starfish”–4 stars
     “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur”–3 stars
     “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”–4 stars
     “The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge”–2 stars
     “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”–5 stars
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “See Me” by Tanya Huff

3 of 5 stars.

This is a different sort of detective tale in that the one doing the detecting, Tony Foster, is not a detective by trade, but rather by circumstance. He is, however, a wizard. This allows him to delve more deeply into the mystery of dead elderly men without IDs being found near his work and near his home in Vancouver.

Tony works on the crew of a popular vampire/detective television show. His boyfriend, an actor, plays the detective on the show. Things get “complicated” when the hooker who’d been serving the first of the dead men takes an interest in Tony’s boyfriend. The police are too busy hunting recent missing persons to investigate old men dying of natural causes . . .

The unusual and complex relationship between Tony, Lee [the boyfriend], and Valerie [the prostitute] grows steadily throughout the story making it work.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Signatures of the Dead” by Faith Hunter

Signatures of the Dead (Jane Yellowrock, #0.7)Signatures of the Dead by Faith Hunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quiet Appalachian town is rocked by the gruesome murder and partial consumption of a young family of 5. The local sheriff knows enough to know when he’s out of his league and requests the aid of a stay-at-home young mother, who’s also a genetic elemental earth witch. Her sensitivity to life, death and undeath could just provide the clues needed to stop the murders.

The witchcraft here is second to the settings and landscape, emerging organically. Molly, the earth witch, and her sisters, witches of other elements and a couple non-witch sisters, have their clear limitations to their knowledge and to their abilities.

Molly also receives aid from a Native American shapeshifter, Jane Yellowrock–the hero of a series by this author.

There are many ways a tale about witches, a shapeshifter, and a rogue pack of vampires could go very wrong. But allowing the landscape and the local culture to center the story makes this very strong.

This tale is highly recommended. It appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Star of David” by Patricia Briggs

4 of 5 stars.

This one-off detective tale, brilliantly, is much more about the characters at its heart than about the case at hand. It would make a strong start to a series.

David discovered he was a werewolf when he returned from serving in Vietnam to a cheating wife with one foot out the door. In his uncontrolled rage, he destroyed his wife, her lover and the house they shared–all in front of his 12 y.o. daughter who bravely protected her 2 younger brothers from their father.

That was the last time he saw his daughter. For 40 years, he stayed away at her preteen, tearful request. Stella never married, nor had kids. Rather, she directed her energy into helping place fostered children into good, safe homes. The foster children are all her children.

When one of her good kids lands in the hospital with a broken bones and deep bruises after a new placement, one look at crime scene photos of destroyed furniture and the foster parents’ allegations of the bookish teen being the culprit sends Stella into flashbacks. She turns to her estranged father, now a detective and mercenary, for supernatural answers to an unexplained mess . . .

This tale is highly recommended. It appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Impostors” by Sarah Monette

3 of 5 stars.

Paranormal investigators handle the most curious of cases. The paranormal partnership of Mick and Jamie is a study in contrasts. Mick is ESP-sensitive and slight while Jamie is usually the muscle.

When a series of suicides are linked by strangely similar last words, Mick and Jamie are pulled in to investigate. The victims are all guiltily convinced they’re impostors in their own bodies. While it seems a curse, the victims seem unrelated and random . . . Motive remains elusive.

The strength of the tale is the character development. However, the case itself is nicely clever.

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
     “A Night in Electric Squidland”–4 stars
     “Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home”–5 stars
     “White Charles”–3 stars
     [w/ Elizabeth Bear]–“The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward–4 stars

 
 
 
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