Novel Review: The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade

The Devil's Mouth (Alex Rains, Vampire Hunter, #1)The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With a particularly well-played prologue to hook the mood and scenery, this vampire hunter series starts on all the right notes. Vampires on the southern US border are preying on illegal immigrants directly and on a legal system that’d prefer to look the other way when it comes to trials of the disenfranchised.

The hero of this tale, Alex Rains, is a Taratino-ish cowboy that’d blend in with the characters of Kill Bill. The campy aw-shucks-t’aint-nothing attitude belies the sword-play martial arts. Early on, Alex meets the ex-cop Carmen desperate for the trail of her sister who’s gone missing after crossing into the New Mexican desert with an immigrant smuggler.

The breadth of the story is guilty fun, if not predictable.

Jen, the character to watch out for, plays medic to the vampire hunting crowd. She hints at a layer of society to which even Alex is unaware. This tease pays off in the brief but poignant epilogue. In a sea of errant author epilogues, this one hits the mark.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through
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Short Story Review: “Dr. Death vs. the Vampire” by Aaron Schutz

3 of 5 stars.

This rather quixotic tale has superheroes-who-aren’t-superheroes pitted against vampires-who-aren’t-vampires. Either the narrator, Dr. Death, is a hero in wanting to rid the world of faux-vampires or he’s a psychopath. His friends seem to think he’s a bit of both.

Dr. Death’s superpower is the ability to really feel what others are feeling, both bodily and emotionally. Call it super-empathy. He has a morally questionable habit of killing those who he deems beyond saving from their own internal suffering. One could consider this assisted suicide if the victim was actually asking for help or relief, but there’s no indication that they do.

Vampires, in this world, are not bloodsuckers. They’re parasites of a different nature, feeding off of the emotional pain of others. They both keep the victims alive and in a constant state of suffering. Really, the superhero and the vampire clash in being 2 sides of the same coin . . .

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Indefatigable by J. B. Garner

Indefatigable (The Push Chronicles, #2)Indefatigable by J.B. Garner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The urban fantasy series with the heart, soul and humor of a self-aware comic book continues here after its impressive start with Indomitable. Wishes became reality under the warped plan of an unsure, mad scientist in the series opener. At his mind’s bidding, superheroes and supervillians burst onto the scene. The eternal battle between good and evil was to be led unquestionably by neo-God, Epic–the former professor/mad scientist. Protagonist, ex-girlfriend Dr. Irene Roman leads the charge in countering the comic-inspired madness. She’s one of the few that can see through the new reality to the old one. She’s accompanied by a ragtag band of loyal new superheroes that don’t necessarily agree that everything new, including their powers, is bad.

Another unaffected person takes center stage here, but his methods are too extreme for Irene and he either wants her help or her death. This new mega-foe has lost his moral compass as he coaxes corpses into zombie-like vampires to help bring down the superheroes.

Irene must decide whether everything about the new reality is bad, or if something redeemable lies therein. It’s this internal struggle that makes the series. That, and its sheer sense of fun. The series is recommended.

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

Novel Review: Steel Victory by J. L. Gribble

Steel VictorySteel Victory by J.L. Gribble
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An uneven smorgasbord of fantasy and urban fantasy tropes jumble together in a post-nuclear apocalypse setting. A millennia after the nuclear war, society has reformed with humans, elves, vampires, mages, and were-creatures of all sorts. The political entities are the New World Greek city-state of Limani and the British and Roman Empires somehow revived after the wars. This unlikely mix stretches the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point in its refusal to world-build with any sort of coherence.

POVs alternate between a thousand-y.o. vampire, Victory, as she juggles the politics of Limani dealing with both internal xenophobic pro-humanists and external Roman aggression and that of her adopted, mage-warrior teenaged daughter offering the angst-ridden, young adult angle.

Eyebrow raising developments lie around every plot twist. The implication of a bonded pair of mage-warriors. The implication of said pair being separated. An unexplained curse that stops one from doing magic. The threat of a 1000-y.o. nuclear missile without a delivery system.

The convoluted cultural and historical structure assumed in the tale would strengthen with careful pruning. This would allow the two themes of conservative xenophobia and imperial expansionism to take root. Each has merits worth exploring.

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

Short Story Review: “The Cripple and Starfish” by Caitlin R. Kiernan

4 of 5 stars.

Vampire lore is both rich and varied, coming from many scattered cultures across the world. With a solid grounding in the Romanian tradition, this vignette from the predators’ POV almost plays out as a ghost story as echoes from the past and unanswered thirsts and questions haunt the condemned souls like shadows.

At an annual, mid-Winter gathering of The Silver Lady’s court at a burnt-out hotel in Appalachian New York, most of the vampires debauch and feast on wayward travelers as the cruel eyes of the Lady watch. One vampire, picked by lottery, will be fed to the Lady at the gathering’s culmination.

Two vampires separate from the rest elsewhere on the grounds and put their restlessness into thoughts and words. While doting Willie Love, nee Hiram Levi, philosophizes about the vampire condition and the state of souls and bodies, Marjorie Marie seeks answers to her century-old turning and the missing memories from that night . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, I received directly from Prime Books. Kiernan’s tales are consistently good if not brilliant. I’ve previously read her “The Bone’s Prayer”, “Bridle”, “The Cats of River Street (1925)”, “Dancy vs. the Pterosaur”, “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean”, “The Peddler’s Tale, or Isobel’s Revenge”, and “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings”




[Check out my other reviews here.]

Care of Magical Creatures

Zombies are hot right now. Vampires are still enjoying a resurgence. And many other creatures that lurk and skulk still get plenty of ink: werewolves, dragons, ghouls, fae and more. This, of course, does not necessarily mean that a zombie is a zombie is a zombie. There are Obeah [voodoo] zombies, Walking Dead zombies , rage zombies [ie 28 Days Later], and even insomnia zombies [such as in Black Moon]. One brilliant anthology I read, Extreme Zombies, had a little bit of all of these and more. But, each short story had a consistent vision of their zombie, which I think is important.

There is much lore to pick from, one need only let us know what one is using. And yes, one can even invent new attributes, such as Twilight’s sparkly vampires. That was new to me–not that I’ve read those books. But I do think it’s important to define the creatures one is using. Sure, some categories are very broad, such as demon and fae, and a story may include a broad range within its scope.

I recently read a book, Revelations, that used the terms ghouls and vampires interchangeably. I’ve also heard the term ghouls used for zombies such as in Night of the Living Dead which does just that. In the novel I read, the ghouls ate people–the entire person. To me, that makes it not a vampire. The book went on to say that vampires, ghouls, zombies, mummies etc. were all the same thing. But I disagree. The mythos is different. By likening them all, rather than define the creatures it was using, it muddied the definitions.

Maybe I’m the only one bothered by this. I still think elves should be generally humanoid, but more ideal and eternal [ie Lord of the Rings]. Santa and Keebler have been making “elves” of gnomes in my opinion.

We cannot always consult Newt Scamander’s Care of and Guides to Magical Creatures, but we can demand definition, culture, and attributes of the species writers employ.

What say you, the fantasy readers out there?

Review: “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

4 of 5 stars

War-time occupation and concentration camps get a supernatural spin in this tale, without making light of their real-world effects. Humans have lost the war world-wide to vampiric predators, and have been relegated to different tiers of concentration camps based on their perceived usefulness: work camps, feeding camps, breeding camps, and entertainment camps. A complex culture and subsequent countercultures emerge among the interned.

Key, a 34-y.o., childless human, has been an overseer at the feeding camp, Grade Orange, on Maui for 4 years when she gets reassigned back to Grade Gold, an entertainment camp, on Oahu, despite the suicide of one of her human charges. Wasted blood is unacceptable. She also finds out that her mother has been toiling away at a work camp on Lanai for years. The return to the privileged Grade Gold comes at an emotional price as she has history with the vampire in charge, Tetsuo.

At the start of the war, 17-y.o. Key had found a teenage-looking Tetsuo hiding out from the sun in her family’s back shed. She did not expose the vulnerable Tetsuo to the sun; in all those years since, he has never harmed or fed on her, despite her complicity. Key feels like a betrayer of her species . . .

“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 edited by Rich Norton and published by Prime Books. It first appeared in F&SF, July/August 2014.
[Check out my other reviews here.]