Short Story Review: “Adramelech” by Sean Hazlett

2 of 5 stars.

Demon-possessions and demon-interactions [or in this tale something residing between the two] are more often related from an observer POV, perhaps by the battler of said demon [think: Exocist]. This tale opts for the potentially more Lovecraftian POV of the person possessed or enslaved when something unknown, dark and undefined takes over the narrator and creates a 200-pg journal in an ancient dead language. The book itself then has dark power, which is also Lovecraftian.

Unfortunately, the demonic book and the series of experts consulted all drop out of the narrative as the tale pulls back and lets decades elapse showing a demon-slaved human do a couple dark things to feed his demon dead orphans in exchange for his questionable gift of being able to possess another human temporarily in order to get them to do what he wants. His own body lies inert while this is going on. The body possession implications get short-changed narratively, too.

A longer form of this tale would perhaps explore a few of the issues and situations raised, along with the relationships of the people affected by the demon.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Dragon Killer’s Daughter” by Todd McCaffrey

2 of 5 stars.

This tale was created in the fashion of many writing prompts, in this case based on a still drawing of an armored man fighting a dragon. That’s not much to go on and leaves things wide open for interpretation. Unfortunately, the fantastical folk tale that emerges is thin on plot and lacking development.

Creatures called raksha prey on domestic farm animals driving the rural folk away. Dragons feed on raksha. Until, that is, there are too few to feed on and then dragons prey on humans. Again, driving the rural folk away. Dragons also hoard gold because of legend and folk lore. It’s some sort of innate draw to one random element or particularly shiny color.

When raksha infest a village and then a dragon comes to feed on the raksha, the villagers send word to the duke to get help. The duke sends his disposable 7th son. The son kills the dragon, but stays in the village. That’s all pre-history. The tale follows the young pre-teen dragonslayer’s daughter as she hears the tale of the dragon every year on her birthday. Questions about her absent mother remain unanswered until her 12th birthday. In the absence of the dragon, raksha have returned and devastated the land driving the villagers away. If only there was a dragon to drive the raksha away . . .

The daughter has a bizarre draw to gold . . . and the father knows that her 12th birthday is an important one because, this is a folktale and knowledge that 12 will be an important number can just be assumed without reason, or prophecy or precedent . . .

This tale was included in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This debut novel beautifully , and at times disgustingly, deconstructs social notions of gender and gender roles along with the idea of “the individual” and what it means to be human. With descriptive language ranging from the visceral and pungent to the passionate and poetic, folkloric monsters are brought to life on the page ultimately pushing the subject of what separates the “monsters” from the “humans.”

The creatures in question are shape-shifters incorporating the lores of the Norse kveldulf, the French loup-garou, the Greek lycanthrope, the Romanian vampire, the Middle Eastern djinn, and the Hindu rakshasa. All are one and the same filtered through centuries of culture and lore. And they’re real. They disguise themselves as human. Transform into monsters. And then devour humans. When they devour humans they take on all of the memories of their victims such that memories of the beast and the various victims become indistinguishable.

Through the accumulation of memories and the horrific acts the creatures enact upon their victims, one experiences the roles of both the raped and the rapist, the murdered and the murderer, the devoured and the cannibal, the child killing a parent and the parent being killed by the child.

The novel takes the reader places they may not wish to go. But it could not do so more beautifully:

The full moon watches through the clouds, eager for massacre. With a bark of exhaled air, the clatter of tusk and fang, we spring. The bauls’ song is loud, and beautiful in its imperfection. It is their last. I run with my pack. My tribe. The bauls are surrounded. They sing till the very last moment.

The first kill is silent as our running, a glistening whisper of crimson in the air. The last is louder than the baying of a wolf, and rings like the bauls’ mad song across the marshes of what is not yet Kolkata. I can hear the howl as I run with this human in my arms, into the darkness, away from the shadows of slaughter. The howl curdles into a roar, enveloping the scream of the last dying minstrel.

But she is alive, against me, shivering against my dew-dappled fur. She is alive.

This tale is recommended.

 

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Gator” by Robert J. Sawyer

GatorGator by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This short story takes an urban legend [that of released alligators living in the sewers of New York City], boldly calls it out for being an urban legend, and then veers the tale in a different direction. Interestingly, the different direction is more outlandish than the urban legend relying on multiple levels of science fiction and speculation.

An NYC sewer worker gets a massive chunk of flesh torn from his thigh in a monster attack beneath the streets of Manhattan. He saw his attacker in the dim light of the sewer and claimed it was an alligator–a deformed one. The emergency doctor and a paleontologist team up to solve the mystery with only one clue beyond that of the testimonial–a 4-inch tooth extracted from the wound . . .

Once the viability of the urban legend is debunked as outrageous and impossible, the tale veers into an answer more outrageous and impossible than the urban legend. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. But for a short tale to quickly layer on speculation into mineralogy, alternate evolution, alternate history, multi-verses, and confluences of all of the above is an undertaking beyond the scope of this narrative.

This tale is included in Writers of the Future: Volume 33, the anthology of winners of the contest by the same name started by L. Ron Hubbard. This year’s anthology was edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Obsidian Spire” by Molly Elizabeth Atkins

3 of 5 stars.

Fairy tales and folk tales often present a bit of the fantastical or magical along with a quest and perhaps a suggested moral. Nuanced character development is usually lacking as tropes of heroes and nobles [usually unquestioned in their born privilege] come with a ready package. This tight tale is no exception.

An ancient ominous tower of obsidian looms over a small idyllic village. Then, rumors of threats coming from the long abandoned tower scares the peasants into inactivity. Young Lady Varga, daughter of the ruling Lord, assumes the quest of finding out the truth and perhaps dealing with any threats to the village therein. If only she can rise above her own privileged arrogance.

Only one person volunteers to lead Lady Varga into the woods and up the mountain to the obsidian tower, a scrappy young guy by the name of Fiske armed only with a fishing spear. [He’s the only other named character in the tale.] Lady Varga is not impressed with what she sees, but hasn’t much choice in guides.

No surprises lurk in this story, but a beast up the mountain is surprisingly original and almost sympathetic.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Graphic Novel Review: Birthright, Volume 2: Call To Adventure by Joshua Williamson

Birthright, Vol. 2: Call to AdventureBirthright, Vol. 2: Call to Adventure by Joshua Williamson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The sophomore slump drags down this graphic sequel as it abandons its strengths and unique points in favor of a fantastical chase and action sequence that manages to not move the plot more than a hair with its final panel and yet also manages to avoid further world-building.

The first volume establish a rich, dark tone depicting the grief of a father having lost his son in the woods. As days and weeks stretch to months and even a year, suspicions rise that the father must have killed his younger child. His wife leaves him, and the law is always probing him for evidence. He almost loses his older son in favor of his growing alcohol dependency.

Then one day a crazy man is found in the woods with a sword that claims to be the lost son, grown much older in the misaligned timelines of neighboring dimensional planes.

This volume barely shows the parents and fails to further their angle. The older brother, now much younger than the man his younger brother has grown into, is on a quest with the dimension-crossing warrior. Law enforcement now chases them, as do forces from the fantastical realm whence Warrior Mikey sprang.

We know Mikey has been corrupted into a character of questionable morality, as this was established in Volume 1. The interspersed flashbacks into Mikey’s decades off-world don’t show the cause behind the corruption. All we know is that his unrevealed plans include his still pre-teen older brother.

The father was “corrupted” in very specific ways: guilt, suspicion, accusation, abandonment, and alcohol. It’s time for the series to allow the same treatment for the lost son . . .

This series is co-created by author Williamson and artist Andrei Bressan. My rating for Birthright, Volume 1: Homecoming was 4 stars.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Moom!” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

This very short vignette reads like a modern animal folk tale. A swordfish, after attacking an underwater oil pipe, earns the right to be transformed into a larger, more dangerous being. In its words–a monster.

Due to the animal POV not being overly anthropromorhphized, little in the way of plot and motivation is explained. The epilogue tag attempts to tie the tale to actual recent history events, but remains disjointed from the tale.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]