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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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: “Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell” by Simon Clark

2 of 5 stars.

Sherlock Holmes and his faithful counterpart in Dr. Watson come with certain expectations. Watson often tells the tale, as he does here, being the Everyman to Holmes’ mad genius. There’s also a certain expectation on the unriddling of the conundrum at the basis of every Holmes’ tale. Watson, as an educated man, will note many things that the reader may or may not recognize. And, then Holmes will sweep in to solve a case that confounds Scotland Yard and Watson . . . and the reader.

This Holmes tale misses the mark. While the relationship between the Holmes and Watson plays right, and the dialogue sounds particularly Victorian and appropriately antiquated, the “mystery” is short on clues, reasoning and resolution. That the mystery seems to imply a supernatural, ghostly answer is expected. That the answer truly is supernatural breaks the point of Sherlock Holmes making apparent that which is unapparent.

The case: A man descends into the ocean depths in a diving bell to recover treasure. The cables break dooming the diver to a watery grave. Five years later, in a recovery of the recovery equipment, ghostly sounds and voices emanate from the long submerged diving bell. A second diving bell is sent down with two on board. It returns to the surface with both occupants dead of fright . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris

5 of 5 stars.

One of the most wonderful settings for a murder mystery is the dinner party spoiled by a body. This classic setup appeared in the movies Clue and Godford Park and in countless television shows including the launch of Remington Steele and before that in scores of novels. The gathering of people, each with a potential hidden agenda, lines up the suspects before the clues have even been revealed. Distrust and tension immediately follow. And hopefully, some clever detective work.

This well paced and plotted tale ironically takes place at the vampire mansion where protocol and diplomacy ranks above blood lust. The gathering is to celebrate the ascension of a new vampire family sheriff. The dethroned former boss is still around, and the new guy hasn’t been living in the mansion with the rest. Also in attendance are a smattering of werewolves, demons and half-demons, and non-fairy fae. There’s also the dozen humans blood donors the agency sent over, one of whom fails to walk back out of the mansion again . . .

The politics between races of supernaturals is thick with tension. But it pales in comparison to the ranks and rankles of the vampires, where age and status mean everything. Aside from the new and old bosses, there the friend with benefits to the new boss, the human shepherd with a human lover on the side, and another vamp married to a werewolf. Dahlia, a petite old vampire with centuries on most everybody at the party, is called upon to determine why there’s a human sprawled in the kitchen with a missing throat.

And who called the police . . . ? . . .

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