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: “Blossom” by Chan McConnell

3 of 5 stars.

Despite the innocuous title, this vignette is about violence–horrible, horrible violence. A parallel is drawn. A zombie is a human that has become so inhuman as to destroy and consume that of another human. A rapist is a human that has become so inhuman as to destroy and consume that of another human . . .

When your income hit the high six figures there was no such animal as date rape.

Based on the amount of money a privileged and empowered man spent over dinner, he assumed his right to have sex with his date. He doesn’t ask permission or create safe words. He destroys her clothes cutting them off. Ties her up to be kinky and puts a mask on her that suffocates her. Everything could have been consensual if he had only asked or cared.

Panting, he lumbered immediately to the bathroom. When he returned, Amelia had not changed position, and he finally noticed she was no longer breathing.

Sometimes it went down that way, he thought. The price of true passion, however aberrant. But she was still moist and poised at the ready, so he opted to have one more go.

The metaphor is completed in the second half of the vignette. Perhaps a bit heavy handedly, but the point is made. There’s not enough plot for a short story here, but that’s not the purpose. Tables turn quickly, if not misogynistically. While she’s eating through the leather mask and his face with one orifice, another orifice seems to have grown teeth and castrated the rich rapist . . .

This tale appears in Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector.
 
 
 
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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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Novel Review: Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne

Day by Day Armageddon (Day by Day Armageddon, #1)Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s much to like in zombie epics as they explore the fragile constructs of humanity. As most of the populous succumbs to the epidemic literally turning human to inhuman, each survivor is tested on their personal resilience and humanity as it relates to empathizing with others and perhaps banding together. As the epics move away from “Day One,” they inevitably start to explore higher levels of humanity in the modes of society and government once the pre-apocalyptic has been washed away.

The graphic novel series [and television show], The Walking Dead covers the latter issues with much exploration and depth. While the novel series, The Alpha Plague by Michael Robertson, details the opening 48 hours of such a plague over a couple books before opening into the latter topic.

This brilliant series set in the form of a journal by one survivor will appeal to fans of both. An Arkansas native stationed in San Antonio for Naval Flight School makes a New Year’s Resolution to keep a journal. By his second entry, Jan 02, an epidemic is rumored to be spreading across China. By the end of the month, it’s everywhere . . .

The journal-entry method of story telling works extremely well here as it delivers what the hero knows, when he knows it. His mindset changing is chronicled hour by hour. Margin notes presumably made by the protagonist help to drive the perspective home as if he’s studying his own thoughts for later review and reassessment. Luckily, he’s not alone in the world. Just a couple doors down, a neighbor and his dog are trapped by a moat of the undead . . .

The tale is highly enjoyable and recommended. Also recommended is having as companions in any apocalypse: an athletic guy with military survival training, an engineer, and a dog . . .
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Novel Review: The Alpha Plague 5 by Michael Robertson

The Alpha Plague 5 (The Alpha Plague #5)The Alpha Plague 5 by Michael Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Alpha Plague is a British rage-style zombie pandemic. The zombies aren’t dead, merely afflicted, and they aren’t dying off due to their hunting prowess and willingness to eat any animal they can get their hands on. Not that zombie tales are about the zombies–they aren’t. They’re almost always about the societies and relationships between people amidst a horrific backdrop that could turn anybody you love into the “other.”

This episode of the series can be read alone or after just the 4th in the series. The initial trilogy was largely self-contained as it documented the initial 48 hours of the pandemic showing the luck, wherewithal, and canniness necessary in such desperate a situation. The immediate predecessor of this installment jumped a full ten years allowing 6-year old Flynn to become a hormonal–but not annoyingly so–teenager. His perspective is unique in that he doesn’t remember nor understand how society used to work. He essentially knows nobody but his parents and Vicky, the lone survivors of the first trilogy. The ten years pass with them not finding anybody as they hid away in a remote location.

A radio broadcast from other survivors launched an epic journey in book 4 to find Home. Along the way, other groups were discovered. And not unlike in The Walking Dead, most of those groups are disturbed in one manner or another. Slavery. Cannibalism.

This book depicts the cushy life inside of Home. The group lives underground with electricity thanks to a solar panel field they maintain. They have alarms and cameras. Clean water, showers and gyms. They even have an underground farm for raising plant crops. Under Hugh’s leadership and sometimes heavy hand, Home supports about 100 people in a little Utopia. And yet Vicky and Flynn cannot relax.

There’s a strictness to Home, in the name of security. Signs of “plague” or mental illness are dealt with in the harshest possible ways . . . Also, the internal farm is starting to fail with its depleted soil.

The entire series is recommended.

I’ve previously read this author’s:
     The Alpha Plague–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
     The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
     The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
     “The Arena” (The Shadow Order)–5 stars
     The Black Hole (The Shadow Order, #1)–2 stars
     Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
     New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
     New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
     New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars

Short Story Review: “The Nightside, Needless to Say” by Simon R. Green

3 of 5 stars.

Following the success of wizarding detectives, the latest urban fantasy cluster has been a shift toward zombie detectives, with or without the noir voice. The added bonus for the zombie detective is the impetus to investigate one’s own turning as an origin story. On television and on print is iZombie. A similar modern day take is found in My Life as a White Trash Zombie, also with a female assistant coroner. And in Braineater Jones, a 1930s noir-voiced world is rich with zombies.

This overly brief tale is set within the urban fantasy world of Nightside, a fictional London neighborhood that never leaves the bleak darkness of 3am. I previously read “The Spirit of the Thing” which is also a detective noir vignette set within this world by this author. At the time, I found the story a little too convenient and brief, lacking in the development and relying too heavily on readers perhaps knowing his urban fantasy world. The same holds true for this tale, especially in that it’s an entirely new cast of characters including the protagonist detective.

Larry Oblivion awakens to find himself walking dead and lacking a few days worth of memories. He rightly decides to solve his own murder and turning. Step one: contact his detective partner and ex-mistress and update her as to his current circumstances . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Anthology Review: The Rotting Cities and Other Stories by Charles E. P. Murphy

The Rotting City and Other StoriesThe Rotting City and Other Stories by Charles E.P. Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection of four urban fantasies spans major common themes: zombies, vampires, urban legend, and dystopian apocalyptic. However, none of the tales are run-of-the-mill.

The opening novelette, “The Rotting City,” is the strongest of the bunch. The world is generations past an environmental apocalypse that sank most of the major cities of the world beneath the rising seas. The world economics and academics shifted to formerly third world countries. This is the backdrop to an archaeological excavation at Old London under the heavy eye of a xenophobic, dystopian regime. Unexpected ties to Lovecraftian lore brings this tale home. I highly recommend the tale.

“Graveyard Shift” is a forgettable vignette offering a slightly different perspective from the POV of a zombie.

“The Man Who Knew” is equal parts urban legend and supernatural ghost tale. This tale twists and turns to its surprising end.

Finally, “Down in the Cages” provides a new take on vampire/human relations. The vampire politics and mind games make for an interesting inclusion into the vampire canon. This tale is recommended.

I received my copy of this collection directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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