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These are the chronicles of a book addict, a photo junkie, and an aspiring author, rewriting the very fabric of reality one page (and one snapshot) at a time. From the strange to the unusual; the abandoned to the abnormal; the haunted to the historic; the supernatural to the surreal; the forests of dark fantasy, the cemeteries of gothic horror, and the post-apocalyptic ruins of science fiction are the landscapes of my imagination.
So, how do you top a pair of kinky lesbians in a long distance-relationship, one of whom has a fetish for snakes, and one of whom likes to watch? Well, if the story is Loch Ness Lay by Kevin Strange, then you give Margo something truly monstrous with which to feed her fetish.
Circus freak show girl turned cryptozoologist, Margo just landed the gig of a lifetime as an expert for the reality show "Finding Nessie." Having celebrated virtually with her girlfriend, she heads to Scotland and seduces her way aboard the crew's boat. You can probably guess where it goes from there, and you're largely right (whether you like it or not), but it's Margo's means and motivations that put a truly horrifying spin on the story.
This is a story laced by, infused with, and defined by violence. It's as incredible as it is impossible, with Margo's past compelling her to sacrifice all and everyone for the monstrous equivalent of revenge sex. Yes, boys and girls, the Loch Ness Monster is real . . . and it's hungry for more than one flavor of human flesh. As for the patented Strange twist at the end, this has to be one of my favorites, with twist piled upon twist upon twist as he tears through the final couple of pages.
Assuming I believed in Hell, I'm completely and utterly convinced that I would be headed there on a suicidal express train for having read, much less enjoyed, Holey Matrimony. This is the kind of story that WTF Friday was invented for. It's weird, perverse, blasphemous, and monstrous in equal measure, with an awkward clash of the arousing and the amusing.
The story starts out simply enough, with a henpecked husband careening off the Met Street bridge and into the waters below. Just when he figures he's about to take his final breath, he's not only saved, but saved by guy who puts the 'save' in 'savior' - yes, Jesus Christ himself! Together, they look down upon the paramedics trying to save John's life . . . while Jesus begins playing the weird seducer. As if that weren't awkward enough, it turns out John isn't just a closeted gay man, and not even just a closeted gay man with green scales below the neckline, but a closeted gay man with green scales below the neckline and three (count 'em, three!) penises.
Yeah, it gets even weirder from there, with some of the most blasphemous use of hands and holes you can imagine, but things are not what they seem (the tentacles are a dead giveaway). I really have to hand it to Kevin Strange, he pulls no punches with his imagination. Lest you think this is just a blatant, empty attempt to offend and horrify, however, there is a story behind it all, and a few final twists that almost - I say almost - bring a semblance of normality to the story. At least, that is, until the final line.
"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.
Beyond the Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Expected publication: May 17th 2016 by Grand Central Publishing
That thing is growing again. We must destroy it. The time to act is now...
With these words begins Gideon Crew's latest, most dangerous, most high-stakes assignment yet. Failure will mean nothing short of the end of humankind on earth.
Five years ago, the mysterious and inscrutable head of Effective Engineering Solutions, Eli Glinn, led a mission to recover a gigantic meteorite--the largest ever discovered--from a remote island off the coast of South America. The mission ended in disaster when their ship, the Rolvaag, foundered in a vicious storm in the Antarctic waters and broke apart, sinking-along with its unique cargo-to the ocean floor. One hundred and eight crew members perished, and Eli Glinn was left paralyzed.
But this was not all. The tragedy revealed something truly terrifying: the meteorite they tried to retrieve was not, in fact, simply a rock. Instead, it was a complex organism from the deep reaches of space.
Now, that organism has implanted itself in the sea bed two miles below the surface-and it is growing. If it is not destroyed, the planet will be doomed. There is only one hope: for Glinn and his team to annihilate it, a task which requires Gideon's expertise with nuclear weapons. But as Gideon and his colleagues soon discover, the "meteorite" has a mind of its own-and it has no intention of going quietly...
A whopping 16 years after The Ice Limit first hit shelves, Preston and Child have finally returned to that mystery, this time tying it into the Gideon Crew series.
Titties. Fun bags. Jumbo mumbos. Zongas. Milk bags. Twin peaks. Boppers. Gazingas.
In case the title, the cover, or the suggestive (.) (.) section breaks didn't give it away, Principles Lost in the Cleavage of Angels and Demons is a story about breasts. Dilland Doe uses every one of those terms to describe the impossibly, perfectly large breasts of angels, demons, humans, and lizard people - many of which glow, jiggle, bounce, and (in one pivotal case) expel weaponized milk with explosive force.
Deliberately juvenile and sophomoric at times, this is a story that's actually rather clever, set in a post-apocalyptic future where demons have taken over the Earth. Our hero, Keanu, is the one man with the knowledge of how to open a portal into heaven. The demons want it to wage war against the angels, and the lizard men want it to kill god, but all Keanu wants to do is ask god to save humanity.
It's a wild and crazy ride through dimensions, full of R-rated sex and violence. The story is funny as hell (pun intended), but also surprisingly thoughtful at times, with some interesting explorations of the nature of good versus evil, and the role of creation versus evolution. It's so silly, and so deliberately over the top, that it's hard to take offense to even the most politically incorrect aspects (like the sex slave with the Japanese sounding name who talks like a Vietnam War prostitute), which is part of its charm.
Scoff all you want, and titter as you must at the endless breast puns, but it's a thoroughly entertaining read with a messy, violent climax that more than delivered on its premise.
Tonight, Again is a slender little collection from Clive Barker that slipped out of Subterranean Press last November with little fanfare - and, it pains me to say this, for good reason.
There were a few interesting stories here, and his drawings are always interesting to look at, but there are far too many half-page and single-page entries that amount to nothing more than stream of consciousness narrative snippets. Whereas the original Books of Bloodspread 4 stories over 160 pages at their most slender, Barker crams a whopping 32 titles in just 106 pages here.
Feel free to do the math.
The collection opens on a positive note, with Tonight, Again, a short story that serves as a framing device, similar to The Book of Blood in his first collection. Craw: A Fable was an interesting tale with a classic Barker twist in the end, but some readers may be uncomfortable with the sexual interplay between a thirteen-year-old girl and a talking beast.
Martha was a really well-developed story with something of a Firestarter flavor to it (a coming of age tale with pyrotechnics), while Dollie was a darkly realistic favorite (even if I saw the final transformation coming). A Blessing and An Incident at the Nunnery were two of my favorites, with the deliberate juxtaposition of the sacred and the erotic that Barker has always done so well. Finally, Mr. Fred Coady Professes His Undying Love for His Little Sylvia was weirdly erotic, exploring the love between a 28 inch tall woman and a 6 foot 2 inch tall man, but oddly tender for the master of the erotic macabre.
In the end, Tonight, Again has some good stories and a few pieces of art that are worth more than a glance, but even the e-book edition isn't worth the price of admission
When it comes to horror, sometimes the best scares are those just hinted at, kept off the page, or left open to explanation. It's that sense of doubt, that inability to trust our senses, that makes the reader so perfectly uncomfortable. It's a large part of why Gothic horror endures, and why the haunted house tale remains a classic.
The Devil's Serenade by Catherine Cavendish is a brilliant example of the genre, and even if it does show a bit more than we might expect in the end, the entire story is built up to justify it. This is a haunted house tale as full of memories and regrets as it is demons and spirits. More importantly, it's a story where the house itself is part of the story.
On the surface, Hargest House seems like your typical Gothic haunted house. It's large, looming, dark, and cold throughout. There is a definite sense of age, as evidenced by its lack of heating, its scarcity of illumination, and its dusty antique furniture. The attic is full of those ghosts and memories, striking Maddie with a fear she can't explain, but it's the cellar where Cavendish puts her mark on things most strongly. Down there are tree roots that seem a part of the house's foundation, with no tree close enough to justify their intrusion, and . . . well, let's just say their frequent comparison to tentacles is an apt one.
As for Maddie, she's an interesting twist on the Gothic heroine. Neither an innocent young damsel nor a crooked old maid, she's a strong, confident middle-aged divorcee looking to reclaim a life on her own terms. As surprised as she is to have inherited her aunt's estate, there are fond memories attached to it that make for a welcome return. There's also a gap in her memory, however, coinciding with the last summer she stayed there as a child. As each lost memory is triggered by something sinister inside the house, we begin to get a fuller picture of what happened then, and what is happening now.
Like the best haunted house stories, The Devil's Serenade is something to be experienced for yourself. I could go on and on about the characters, the setting, and the plot, but they're only part of the story. It's the narrative itself . . . the air of mystery . . . the slowly building tension . . . and the overall atmosphere that make it so effective. There are subtle twists aplenty as well, with Cavendish playing on our assumptions. Much to her credit, while I had figured out some of what was going on, there were still some genuine surprises in the climax.
ebook, 166 pages
Expected publication: April 19th 2016 by Samhain Publishing
Forge of Darkness, the first book ofSteven Erikson's Malazan prequel, The Kharkanas Trilogy, struck me in much the same way that Gardens of the Moon did so many years ago. In both cases, it took me several aborted attempts to get through the book. In fact, it was only the arrival of an ARC of Fall of Light that convinced me to go back and give this one more try.
Normally, I wouldn't invest so much time or so many attempts in a book, but my persistence with his first series paid off. While several aspects of Gardens of the Moon kept putting me off, something eventually clicked. There was no 'ah-ha' moment that I can pinpoint, just a span of pages that finally pulled me down into the epic maelstrom and refused to let me go. That series went on to be one of my all-time favorites, so I was eager to read more, and even more eager to explore the history of Anomander Rake and the mythology of his epic sword, Dragnipur.
Unfortunately, many of those little things that bothered me about Gardens of the Moon weighed on me even more wit Forge of Darkness. Don't get me wrong, there are some awesome moments in the book, and some fascinating revelations of how the world of the Malazan Empire came to be, but there's far too much filler. This is a book that, for all intents and purposes, comes across an epic fantasy soap opera. It could have made for an interesting evolution of the saga, but it lacks much of the humor of the original books, settling instead for something dry and overly melodramatic. To make matters worse, the very nature of a prequel means we get stuck with whiny, immature versions of some of our favorite characters, forcing us to endure the same coming-of-age aspect that was so refreshingly absent from the original 10 books.
I think there's an element of too much, too soon with this book as well. We were introduced to a lot of characters in The Malazan Book of the Fallen, but that was over the course of 10 books. There, we had a chance to get to know them, to understand them, and to appreciate their contributions to the story. Each of them had an extended spotlight that made them both memorable and relevant. Here, it feels like there are even more characters thrown into the mix, but all at once, over the course of a single book. It's confusing at best, and bewildering at worst. Even with the 4 pages of Dramatis Personae, I found my brain glossing over as to who was who, where they fit, and why the hell I should give a damn.
Similarly, while many of the narrative tangents and philosophical discussions in the original series were interesting, adding color to the characters we already knew and loved, here it's too much again. There were pages upon pages where we got mired in nonsensical conversations about grand, esoteric concepts, which did nothing to advance the plot. Instead of accentuating the characters, these discussions defined them - and when you're already struggling to keep tabs, that makes a confusing tale a boring one as well. Add that to a serious pacing issue, with hundreds of pages passing between events of interest, and you have a book that is challenging even to fans.
Now, like I said, there are some awesome moments. T'riss was, for me, the absolute highlight of the book. Her emergence from the sea of Vitr and journey to Mother Dark is full of action, horror, imagination, and humor. It's like Erikson took everything that made the original series great and put it all into her. Anomander and Silchas Ruin had some great scenes together that evoked memories of Malazan (just not enough of them) while Lord Draconus was a welcome surprise in how strongly he dominated the tale.
Having said all that, I will still give Fall of Light a read, because I believe Erikson can do better, although I am worried a trilogy may not be enough time to win me back.
Justice may be blind, but she's also cruel - and, in so far as Stuck On Youis concerned, she has a razor sharp sense of irony.
All Ricardo had to do was drive across the border into Mexico, pick up some cheap little artesanias for his wife, and bring them back home for her hobby business. The side-trip to the cheap strip club might have been excusable, but agreeing to help Consuela smuggle her belly full of contraband back across the border certainly was not . . . and following her into forest for a little hanky panky even less so.
That's all backstory, though, andJasper Bark makes us wait for the explanation. Instead, he throws us right into the ironic carnage, with Ricardo waking up fused to the hideously charred corpse of his little piece of Mexican tail, having been struck by lightning at the moment of climax. Trapped, far from civilization, he has to drag their melted bodies through the forest in an agonizing attempt to reach his Jeep and the cellphone locked inside.
It's a tense story, full of sex and gore, that seems increasingly hopeless as Ricardo's dilemma drags on. The level of detail is just about perfect, with Bark's style echoing the efficient yet eloquent prose of masters like Laymon and Little. As deliciously cruel as it all is however, it's the series of final twists in the end that really make it work. Without giving anything away, if you thought being melted to a rotting corpse, with your manhood permanently locked inside her, was as bad as it could get . . . well, as Ricardo would no doubt tell you, assumptions can be dangerous things.
Kindle Edition, 42 pages
Published March 25th 2014 by Crystal Lake Publishing
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
Expected publication: May 10th 2016 by NAL
The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.
From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.
The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.
As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…
The Voodoo Killings: A Kincaid Strange Novel by Kristi Charish
Expected publication: May 10th 2016 by Vintage Canada
For starters, she's only 27. Then there's the fact that she lives in rain-soaked Seattle, which is not exactly Haiti. And she's broke. With raising zombies outlawed throughout the continental USA, Kincaid has to eke out a living running seances for university students with more money than brains who are desperate for guitar lessons with the ghost of a Seattle grunge rocker--who happens to be Kincaid's on-again, off-again roommate.
Then a stray zombie turns up outside her neighbourhood bar: Cameron Wight, an up-and-coming visual artist with no recollection of how he died or who raised him. Not only is it dangerous for Kincaid to be caught with an unauthorized zombie, she soon realizes he's tied to a spate of murders: someone is targeting the zombies and voodoo practitioners in Seattle's infamous Underground City, a paranormal hub. When the police refuse to investigate, the City's oldest and foremost zombie asks Kincaid to help. Raising ghosts and zombies is one thing, but finding a murderer? She's broke, but she's not stupid.
And then she becomes the target...As the saying goes, when it rains it pours, especially in Seattle.
Forge of Darkness (The Kharkanas Trilogy #1) by Steven Erikson
Published September 18th 2012 by Tor Books
Now is the time to tell the story of an ancient realm, a tragic tale that sets the stage for all the tales yet to come and all those already told...
It's a conflicted time in Kurald Galain, the realm of Darkness, where Mother Dark reigns. But this ancient land was once home to many a power. and even death is not quite eternal. The commoners' great hero, Vatha Urusander, is being promoted by his followers to take Mother Dark's hand in marriage, but her Consort, Lord Draconus, stands in the way of such ambitions. The impending clash sends fissures throughout the realm, and as the rumors of civil war burn through the masses, an ancient power emerges from the long dead seas. Caught in the middle of it all are the First Sons of Darkness, Anomander, Andarist, and Silchas Ruin of the Purake Hold...
Steven Erikson entered the pantheon of great fantasy writers with his debut Gardens of the Moon. Now he returns with the first novel in a trilogy that takes place millennia before the events of the Malazan Book of the Fallen and introduces readers to Kurald Galain, the warren of Darkness. It is the epic story of a realm whose fate plays a crucial role in shaping the world of the Malazan Empire.
While it opens with a scene that's reminiscent of a Criminal Minds episode,Drop Dead Gorgeous quickly veers into something more akin to a Roger Corman movie, before reaching a conclusion that could have come straight out of theTwilight Zone.
What Donald Allen Kirch weaves here is a twisted story of revenge, medical experimentation, and outright insanity that only gets more intense as it races along. Here we have a young man who wakes up in a strange basement, surrounded by stacks of rotting bodies, bound and gagged, with no memory of how he got there. The revelation that his kidnapper is an impossibly beautiful woman is certainly an interesting twist, but her backstory is the biggest twist of all.
You see, 7 years ago Eve Doe - the world's most perfect woman - was a man known by the name of Steve Kane. Forget the usual horror cliches, because Eve is neither a crazy drag queen nor a tormented transsexual. Instead, she is a perfect punishment, a genetic life sentence for cheating on Steve's mad scientist wife.
That's about as much as I want to say about the plot, as you really need to discover it for yourself. It's the interplay between Ray and Eve, between captive and captor, that is at the heart of the story. Kirch establishes them both very well, allowing their own fears and failings to play off one another. It's not often a book like this successfully manages to switch the roles of monster and victim so many times so successfully, but be prepared to have your assumptions challenged.
Drop Dead Gorgeous is a book that goes to some very dark places, with some of the most imaginative scenes of torture and transformation that I've encountered in some time. It's not the book I expected it to be, and the reading experience is that much better for it.
Kindle Edition, 169 pages
Published February 5th 2016 by Double Dragon Publishing
You know, "Monty Python meets Gladiator" certainly has a nice ring to it, and there's no denying that it has definite cover appeal, but in my humble opinion it's not quite right for War God Rising.
If I were in charge of marketing Tim Marquitz's latest, I'd have to go with "Monty Python and the Holy Grail A**hole Sword meets A Knight's Tale (minus the foot-tapping musical numbers) by way of a medieval Fish Called Wanda." Sure, it doesn't quite roll off the tongue as nicely, but I can't think of a better way to sum it up.
This was one hell of a fun read, full of groans, moans, and even a few belly laughs. It's so stupid at times that it approaches brilliant, and even the jokes you see coming from pages away somehow land perfectly. Comedic timing is tough, especially when it comes to the written word, but Tim has it nailed. Whether he's making excuses for sheep molestation,
“They attacked me. Vicious, foul demons those creatures were. Vampire sheep."
having a pair of wannabe War Gods engaged in a lively philosophical discussion,
“I already said yeah!”
“Well, yeah to you too!”
or making little penis jokes,
“You have a plan?”
“I have an inkling of one,” she answered, holding her hand up, thumb and forefinger separated by about a half inch.
“So your plan involves Sand’s penis?”
it all works.
Surprisingly, though, it also works as legitimate heist/con fantasy novel, complete with some solid characters to carry it along. Bess and Kaede make for a fantastic pair of protagonists, playing off one another like the best mismatched, odd couple, road trip buddies imaginable; Mother Calliope and Alvernon are two very different, but very amusing, magical scoundrels with secrets; Sand is absolutely perfect as the dumb-as-dirt sheep boy turned insane-swordsman (with a flatulence issue); and Whineblade may just be the funniest sentient sword in fantasy. There are no heroes here, no paragons of virtue, just a parade of idiots, scoundrels, jerks, and sarcastic jerks who pull the story together.
If you're in the mood for a little sophomoric dark humor, over-the-top brutality, sheep jokes, rather imaginative monsters, and a gladiator tournament that actually pays off, then War God Rising is well worth the read. If you don't laugh out loud at least once while reading it, then there's something seriously wrong with you.
February 29th only comes around once every four years, so I figure let's celebrate in style by having the one-and-only Kristi Charish stop by for a chat!
While it initially appears to be nothing more than a pulp adventure tale filled with comically flamboyant superheroes, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again is actually a book with a surprising amount of diversity and depth.A.C. Wise has crafted a layered series of interconnected stories with as much heart and soul as action and drama.
The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron itself is a group of women from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality. It's a level of diversity that should feel awkward and forced, but Wise pulls if off smoothly but giving each of them - with the exception of the mysterious pain loving M - a heartfelt origin story. Outcasts, loners, and victims one and all, they've found a common cause in embracing the glitter and glam of drag, choosing to become the kind of heroes the world so desperately needs.
As for that heroism, it pits them against everything from gorilla men on Mars, to tentacle monsters from beneath the sea, space eels, killer scarabs, winged harpies, demons, ghosts, and massive monstrous beetles from deep beneath the Earth. There are mad scientists along the way, a crisis aboard Air Force One, run-of-the-mill bullies at a roller rink, and even a gang of superhero strippers known as the G-String Men. It all sounds silly, pulpish, and over-the-top, but the strength (and depth) of the characters keeps it all grounded.
Beneath all the monstrous mayhem and superhero silliness lies a heart of shared pain, suffering, and hurt. Wise makes us care about these women, sympathize with their struggles, and root for their personal triumphs as much as their professional ones. It's not in-your-face, but the message here about accepting and embracing your true identity is one that I'd hope any reader can relate to. My only complaint would be that the collection ends just as Wise introduces some real tension within the group, putting Bunny and Penny at odds with one another, but that just means I'll be on the hook for the next chapter.
When it comes to media tie-ins - whether it be movie, television, or comic book - one name that consistent comes to mind is Greg Cox. Winner of 3 Scribe Awards from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers, Cox has adapted everything from The Avengers, Batman, and Buffy, toXena, The X-Files, and X-Men. He is also the author of two dozen novels and short stories in the various Star Trek universes, with Miasma being his first Star Trek e-book.
The plot itself is simple, with Spock, McCoy, Chekov, and a few red-shirts sent to investigate an alien signal coming from an unexplored planet. Things begin to go wrong from the start, when their shields produce an explosive reaction in the atmosphere, and then quickly get worse when they crash their shuttle craft in the middle of a swamp. As if that weren't enough, their phasers are just as dangerous as the shields in the planet's atmosphere; their communicators are useless; and there are massive, man-eating leech-like monsters hunting them in the mist.
In many ways, this plays like an sci-fi horror story, more akin to the Alien orPredator franchises than Star Trek, but Cox's mastery of the characters, the mythology, and the humor of the series makes it work. It seems like an entirely helpless situation, with a pair of red shirts getting eaten early on, but clever touches - like weaponizing Spock's coppery blood - remind us of the optimism and camaraderie of Gene Roddenberry's vision. Captain Kirk is really a secondary character here, although there is one tongue-in-cheek reference to his old womanizing ways, while Saavik is used exceptionally well.
Although it originated as an idea for Star Trek: Voyager, Miasma works even better as a Star Trek: The Original Series story. Not only does it give us a chance to revisit the cast of the original (i.e. pre-Abrams) series, but it allows Cox to weave in characters and story elements from the original movies. In addition, as a relatively short novella of approximately 100 pages, it makes for a more concentrated and intense story, which is perfectly suited to be consumed (much like an episode of the original series) in a single sitting. Fun, action-packed, intense, and humorous all at the same time, Miasma reminds of what Star Trek can be, when it's in the right hands.
"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.
Dancer's Lament by Ian C. Esslemont
Expected publication: April 21st 2016 by Tor Books
Taking Malazan fans back to that troubled continent's turbulent early history. the opening chapter in Ian C. Esslemont's epic new fantasy sequence, the Path to Ascendancy trilogy.
For ages warfare has crippled the continent as minor city states, baronies, and principalities fought in an endless round of hostilities. Only the alliance of the rival Tali and Quon cities could field the resources to mount a hegemony from coast to coast -- and thus become known as Quon Taili.
It is a generation since the collapse of this dynasty and regional powers are once more rousing themselves. Into this arena of renewed border wars come two youths to the powerful central city state that is LiHeng. One is named Dorin, and he comes determined to prove himself the most skilled assassin of his age; he is chasing the other youth -- a Dal Hon mage who has proven himself annoyingly difficult to kill.
Li Heng has been guided and warded for centuries by the powerful sorceress known as the "Protectress" and she allows no rivals. She and her cabal of five mage servants were enough to repel the Quon Tali Iron Legions -- what could two youths hope to accomplish under their stifling rule?
Yet under the new and ambitious King Chulalorn the Third, Itko Kan is on the march from the south. He sends his own assassin servants, the Nightblades, against the city, and there are hints that he also commands inhuman forces out of legend.
While above all, shadows swirl oddly about Li Heng, and monstrous slathering beasts seem to appear from nowhere to run howling through the street. It is a time of chaos and upheaval, and in chaos, as the young Dal Hon mage would say, there is opportunity.
With 6 side entries in the Malazan series under his belt, filling in gaps and fleshing out the main story from Steven Erikson, it's Esslemont turn to reach back and introduce more of the backstory/history behind the Malazan Book of the Fallen.
I don't know what it is about them, but submarines have always fascinated me. I'm not sure if it's their clandestine nature, their inherent claustrophobia, or the impending sense of doom, but there's a massive (fictional) appeal there for me. I remember staying up way too late to watch Das Boot as a child, and I recall being quite content to sit alone in a nearly empty theater to enjoy The Hunt for Red October, but I think it was Clive Cussler who sealed the fascination for me withRaise the Titanic.
Given all that, The Passenger: A Novelwould have caught my eye regardless, but toss a Gothic sort of ghost story into the mix and there was no way I could pass it by. To his credit, F.R. Tallis uses the ghost story element sparingly, allowing the real horror of submarine warfare to carry most of the plot, but there's an underlying thread of anxiety and superstition that magnifies the sense of dread throughout. It's a subtle sort of supernatural flavor, one that allows for a lot of doubt as to what's really going on. The whole story is carefully crafted so as to never come right out and declare that there are ghosts on board or that the boat is really cursed, leaving us to wonder what's real and what's imagined.
It's a small cast of characters who carry the story here, and they're all well-developed. Not necessarily the most likable of men, but admirable in their own way. Even though these are German sailors counting the tonnage of allied ships they've sunk, there's a humanity to them . . . and even a sense of mercy for their victims. In fact, the futility of war and the psychological cost is a huge part of the horror here, adding yet another layer to the story. With the exception of a prolonged section of the book where the men are on furlough with the ship in dry dock, it's a fast pasted novel that races from one near-disaster to the next. It seems like everything that can go wrong for them does, and there were more than a few times I didn't expect the U-330 to rise again.
Readers looking for a more straightforward horror story are likely to be turned off by the amount of detail surrounding submarine warfare, maintenance, and survival, but it's those elements that drive the story home. Tallis makes us share the dread, the fear, and the hopelessness of the situation on multiple occasions, until we're almost wishing he'd wave it all away with a ghostly explanation and give them men their rest. Who and what The Passenger may be is, of course, the mystery that drives the novel, providing Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Lorenz with reasons to question both his superiors and himself. As much as part of me was hoping for a bit more of the supernatural going into it, I think the balance here is perfect, with the subtlety making for a much more effective story.