Author Archives: possumpudding

Gameboard of the Gods

Gameboard of the Gods

By Richelle Mead

Release date: June 4, 2013

I don’t like a lot of things.  This becomes apparent as I pick books to review.  And in the interest of not being one big vicious downer, I try to choose books worth talking about.  But still, sometimes I just like to complain.

 Often.  Just warning you.

 I have read most of Richelle Mead’s adult urban fantasy books.  I don’t own any of them.  On reflection, I wondered why that was when I started reading Gameboard of the Gods.  Her writing style is solid; her characters are very interesting.  Sure she writes teen paranormal romance…but I haven’t tried to read any, so it’s not like I can say that ruined everything for me.  (I work at a bookstore.  We all hate teen paranormal romance.  My one exception is Dia Reeves, and that’s because her stuff is crazy.  In a good way.)

 We follow two characters, Justin March and Mae Koskinen.  Justin is a disgraced former government worker who made his living debunking religious groups.  Mae Koskinen is a purebred Nordic super soldier.  Both are emotionally damaged.  Both are very compelling, likeable characters.  Mae is tough and capable without being two dimensional.  You know what type I mean: “Oh I am a Xena-clone warrior woman, hear me roar!”  She’s not.  Justin is a loveable rogue, and rather sleazy, but I didn’t feel dirty afterward, so that’s a good sign.  He’s built up as extremely competent and observant.  And now RUNA wants him back to solve a series of locked door murders with a potential supernatural bend.  Which is good, because Justin wants to go back.  And bad, because the supernatural doesn’t exist, does it?

 In addition, I liked Tessa, Justin’s teenage ward.  She provides the most identifiable voice.  She isn’t from RUNA, and she doesn’t understand all the rules/technology.  She’s believable, mostly likeable, and plays a larger role than the synopsis blurb mentions.

I liked the world too.  Disease, genetic mutations, and anarchy have led to the fall of the world as we know it.  But not everything is bleak and dystopic.  RUNA, the Republic of United North America, is comprised of parts of Canada and the former United States.  They have all sorts of shiny technology, clean streets, and no dominant religions.   Justin’s job was to prove certain religions were dangerous or in violation of the law and then to shut them down.  Therefore, there are lots of vague miscellaneous religions that don’t last very long, like Our Lady of the Key rather than Buddha, or Anansi, or Durga.  A neighboring country, the southern part of the United States, has become a hostile theocracy.  But Mead doesn’t really go into much detail.

 There is the issue is a virus called Mephistopheles, or colloquially, Cain.  It killed half of humanity, causing scarring, asthma, loss of fertility, and other fun things.  Diverse genetic backgrounds offered more resistance; so much of the populace has grab bag ancestry.  They’re referred to as plebians.  The castals are groups of varying specificity that claim ethnic pureness.  They have higher susceptibility to Cain, and special reservations.  Their “pureness” is varying from the Nordics and their multiple Scandinavian backgrounds to “Nipponese.”  Mead throws you in with little explanation of what some of the terms mean.  I thought I’d had a typo with Gemmans, another word for people from RUNA.  About a hundred pages in, things are explained.  But that leaves you with the traditional sci-fi opening feeling of “WTF is going on?”

 So the world is a playground.  The people aren’t boring.  Why don’t I love this?

 It was fun.  But flawed.

 Perhaps these things won’t bother you, and you will freely enjoy the book.  They bothered me a lot.

 Justin is built up as some kind of genius.  His exile is a silly punishment for the crime.  And it doesn’t really make sense.  Justin’s character is intelligent enough, but he doesn’t live up to the hype.  For example, I guessed, in the first chapter, what was going on with his…passengers.  He’s supposedly some kind of genius.  Focusing on religions. Possibly being used by something supernatural.  And he can’t guess who it is, despite having all that “genius” knowledge and free time for research.  He had to pretty much be told at the end of the book.

 So yeah, not that sharp.

 This detail is very very small.  Praetorian super soldiers like Mae don’t sleep.  Ever.  There is no explanation how they don’t go insane.  But seriously, prolonged sleep deprivation can cause drastic personality shifts, insanity, death…

 Final verdict:  Fun book, if you can overlook some of these details.  It’s been awhile since I read Mead’s other books, but I’m getting the feeling that I had similar issues.

Review: The Blue Blazes

TheBlueBlazes-144dpi  The Blue Blazes

By Chuck Wendig

  Release date:  May 28, 2013

  Angry Robot has been hit or miss for me, but Chuck Wendig is a hit.   I guess it’s not really fair for me to single out a publisher, but they’re memorable.  That is due to their tag system; the back of every book has a list of descriptions.  File under Occult Underworld/Psychedelic Color Drugs/Not Your Mother’s Elektra-Complex.  I made those ones up.  But you get the gist.  Also, this book doesn’t come out for another month, but we all need something to look forward to, right?

If you’ve read Wendig’s Miriam Black series (Blackbirds, Mockingbird), you know he can write.  And you know the characters he writes aren’t really people you want to invite to your house.  Wendig is gritty.  His characters are damaged, not always likeable, and likely to make off with the good silver. I also want to add an “o” to the end of his name because how awesome would that be?  But I digress.  The Miriam Black series skirts the paranormal.  For the most part, it’s the world as we know it, only with more trailer trash and serial killers than Ohio.  (It’s OK, I can say that; I live in Ohio.  No, I lied; it will never be OK.  I live in Ohio.)  In The Blue Blazes, Wendig finally takes the plunge and brings us Neverwhere‘s crackwhore stepsister with serious daddy issues.  I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Mookie Pearl is a thug, an estranged father, and a soldier in the Polish mob.  He likes eating meat, beating the shit out of goblins, and doing the eponymous Blue.  Blue is a drug mined from the Underworld, a literal chthonic nightmare situated under NYC.  It makes the user stronger, faster, and open to seeing disturbing magical things, which also come from said Underworld.  The most common are goblins: primitive, man-eating, and possessing disgusting spawning habits.  There are more things in the depths too, things that drive mere mortals to gibbering insanity.  It’s a Lovecraftian setup with nary a “ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

And then comes Nora AKA Persephone: Mookie’s dear drug-dealing daughter who has daddy-issues.  She’s started a rival setup and is heading toward war with Mookie’s Polish friends.  Now Mookie isn’t a total monster, he really does care about Nora.  But it would be very bad if his employers found out about their relationship.  Then the boss-to-be approaches Mookie about a very special mission in the Underworld… Of course, things just go to subterranean hell from there.

I enjoyed the fantasy element a lot.  Wendig made very entertaining characters and factions.  The potential love interest grows a little bland at parts, but Mookie and Nora set a high bar.   I’m also a sucker for well-meaning but utterly dysfunctional family stories.  Mookie and Nora’s relationship is not good.  And they both have very good reasons to be unhappy with each other.   Lister and Werth also have extremely…unhealthy but compelling relationships with Mookie.  I won’t go into spoilers, but I enjoyed their interaction too.

The street gangs get a little silly (roller derby rockabilly chicks that don’t use guns are cool in theory, but not using heavier weapons makes it hard to take them seriously).   The Blue Blazes has a more distinct questing element than Miriam Black.  Parts of the treasure hunt feel a little too convenient, but I can suspend disbelief because of the writing. Also because Wendig throws in fun crazy shit: construction worker-warriors, zombie-towns, delicious meats…  It’s gritty, but fun.  Maybe a bit more uplifting than the Miram Black books; which is weird because this definitely has more disturbing imagery.

The journal entries before each chapter are a nice bit of milieu.  Very Lovecraftian.  I don’t think the super bad things are quite as scary as they should be, but I took this more as a dark urban fantasy romp than a horror story.  The ending is a little predictable, but still satisfying.

So if you need something dark, gritty, and fun, I recommend The Blue Blazes.

Review: Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations

WeirdDetectivesWeird Detectives: Recent Investigations

Edited by Paula Guran

Published March 19, 2013

I love short story anthologies, especially the kind that provide a sampling from several authors.   I know going in that there are going to be some stinkers, but usually there are at least a few good ones, and if I’m lucky, there will be a new author to pick up.  And the topic matter makes for great stories.

Weird Detectives has a lot of heavy-hitters.  This guarantees good solid reads that won’t make you go “Oh God I spent $16.99 on this book, and now I can’t afford lunch, and it sucks!”  Unfortunately, most of the things by the people we know best are reprints.  In fact, everything in here is a reprint, but since some of the authors aren’t so well-known some of the stories were new to me.  The only really new content is case summary.  Each chapter has a case summary, if you will, outlining the who and the what of the crime.

For the authors you know, nothing really deviates from the expected.  Neil Gaiman and Patricia Briggs are impressive as always.  I prefer Jim Butcher’s novels to his short stories, but “Love Hurts” is decent read.  Reprint or not it is a very good selection of stories.  BUT, some of them are very old.

I’ve picked a few stories to highlight, and they’re spoiler free!

“Fox Tails” by Richard Parks surprised me.  I’d seen his Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter, and decided to pass on that one.  I’m very picky about Asian-themed lit.  It’s either not very good or tends to play to stereotypes.    His writing took a moment to get used to; the style was punchier than most Heian era tales.   That put me off initially – it felt too anachronistic.  The protagonist sounds like he’d be more at home in the Maltese Falcon than the Tale of Genji.  It’s a little jarring.

As monsters went, youkai ran the gamut from “mildly annoying” to “slurp your intestines like hot noodles.” By the time you knew which sort you were dealing with, it was usually too late.  (pg 371)

But a few pages into the story I was able to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the ride.  I don’t know if I’ll buy his collection of Yamada stories, but I liked his writing.

“Like Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry piqued my interest.  He’s on my to-read list.  This one doesn’t involve zombies and it’s a rather predictable private eye tale, but I enjoyed his voice and style.  Definitely going to pick up more of his stuff.

“Imposters” by Sarah Monette held some very interesting post-modern magic and not a little social commentary.  It’s Capgras Syndrome in reverse, which in these cases happens to be very terminal.  The character dynamic was very compelling, but it felt a little preachy at the end.

“Cryptic Coloration” by Elizabeth Bear was not what I expected.  The first time I read it, I was surprised, and not certain if I liked it.  But after a reread I’ve decided that I do.  It involves virgins, monsters, and a rather improper students/teacher relationship that has severe consequences.  Elizabeth Bear recently put out a short story anthology Shoggoths in Bloom.  This is printed in that as well ( and where I saw it first), and it is an excellent compilation.

“Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris was a pleasant reread.  Yes, I know, everyone knows Charlaine Harris and I was trying to highlight some of the less famous, but still good stories.  I’m hypercritical and have been editing my words, but here I’ll be blunt.  I don’t like the Sookie Stackhouse series; it’s a revolving door dating service for an only somewhat likeable but not very compelling psychic waitress.  There, I said it.  Bring on the fire and pitchforks.  But while we’re waiting, I will admit, Charlaine Harris can write (despite my feelings about that series).  Dahlia is a far more interesting character than Sookie, and she’s set in the same universe.  A familiar character makes a cameo.  So even if you don’t like Sookie, Dahlia is worth a read.

Overall, this is a great collection worth owning.  BUT, you should definitely check to see if you’ve already read/purchased these stories elsewhere.  Prime Books posted a copy of the table of contents here.

Harbor Moon by Ryan Colucci

When I received Harbor Moon, I was very excited.  The cover art is amazing, and it’s nice to see werewolves closer to the horror niche instead of fuzzy puppy love stories.  Also, graphic novels are great.  This review is spoiler-free.

Harbor Moon was written by Ryan Colucci and Dikran Ornekian.  Illustrations were done by Pawel Sambor.

Synopsis from the author’s website:

When professional soldier Timothy Vance receives information from someone claiming to be his long-lost father, he takes a trip to out-of-the-way Harbor Moon, Maine. It turns out that man hasn’t been there in thirty years and pretty soon Tim’s life is in danger. Fighting for the truth and his survival, Tim discovers that Harbor Moon is harboring a secret. The entire town is werewolves and the man he was looking for may be just like them. Just as a ruthless band of werewolf hunters descend upon the town, Tim must decide whether he is going to stay and fight or turn his back on what he really is.

Edited to add: Mr. Colucci has very generously offered $5 off the price to Three Crow readers.  E-mail him for details.

Read the rest of this entry

Xombies: Apocalypticon by Walter Greatshell

Fortunately, when Xombies: Apocalypticon, by Walter Greatshell, arrived on my doorstep, I didn’t need to dig my shotgun out.  I was, however, understandably wary.   This review is mostly spoiler-free! Read the rest of this entry

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