Wednesday, September 30, 2015

City Of Stairs - Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs came out last year, to broad acclaim. The sequel, City of Blades, is out soon, so I thought I’d better catch up before release.

The titular City of Stairs is in fact the shattered and reconstructed remnants of a far larger city, a conurbation  formed by divine agency, a meeting place for followers of various divine faiths on a continent. Then those gods were killed. The city lost touch with parts of itself formed by divine will, and contracted, leaving sections which had never met before merged together, and larger sections missing. It’s a city of survivors, familiar with the backlash of the demise of the divine. Those who killed the gods, and caused this catastrophe, now rule the city. Former colonists and slaves, without a divinity of their own, they threw off oppression to become unlikely conquerors – and now rule the continent in all but name, through economic sanction, through diplomatic pressure, and through a small but effective arm of covert operatives.

The author’s  refusal to bend the complexity of the setting is part of what makes City of Stairs wonderful. The straits of the Continentals we see in the city are still fairly dire, even a great deal of time after their stealthy occupation. It’s a wonderful portrait of a city in transition, from conquered province to junior partner – but our sympathy for those oppressed is matched by the knowledge of how they got that way. Their opposite numbers, descendants of island slaves, have a certain sympathy for that – but their efforts to retain their control of their old masters results in actions which it’s harder to go along with. It’s a world which is swathed in conflicts and contradictions. Between religious and secular. Nationalism and integration. Past and future. And the balance of those elements is something that Bennett does perfectly. The narrative serves in part, as a fulcrum that may move the world, a little, even as it shows it to us. There’s a nuanced view here, behind every interaction and every emotional and physical impact – the world is a complex, breathing, and above all, ambiguous place.

This ambiguity is emphasised by the characters with it. Our main view is provided by an "operative" from outside the continent, sent to investigate a murder. She begins the narrative filled with a certain amount of doubt, a kind of raw emotional wounding, and a weary, cynical calculation which wouldn’t be out of place in a novel of the cold war. Bennett has crafted an agent, a spy, and done so with a deftness which is, honestly, breathtaking. There’s some excellent shifts in character here too – slowly, our protagonists’s past is revealed, andit carries an honest equilibrium of hurt and joy.  Watching this torn, threatened person struggle with their convictions, especially as they negin to break down in the face of a new reality, is fascinating, agonising, and carries a fair amount of human truth.

There’s some excellent supporting cast as well – the similarly torn ex-lover of our protagonist, whose love of country and desire to improve it runs afoul of the social laws that define part of his identity. There’s the bodyguard, the killer without conscience, per se, but with a raw depth of feeling visible through the page. And an assortment of others, whose appearances, if brief, feel plausible because the author makes them so. I’m not sure I’d want to meet several of these people in a dark alley – there’s far too much time spent on the calculus of violence for that – but they do have a feeling of being people.

The plot starts slowly, as our characters investigate a murder. It quickly gathers pace, however, as it becomes clear that murder was the last of the available concerns. By halfway through the book, it really did feel difficult to put down, the weight of expectation and intrigue keeping me turning pages.

The narrative crescendo near the close was emotionally exhausting, but utterly, terrifyingly delightful – and the dénouement, touching and heart-wringing. It kept me guessing all of the way through, either because the characters knew more than the reader, but weren’t talking, or the characters knew less than, or as much as the reader, and were identically baffled. The narrative isn’t afraid to go big, either – it knocks around an entire city, on the one hand, but also uses that period to talk about attitudes to colonialism, religion, and social issues. There’s a lot of great stuff in here, and it’s approached with a care and focus which makes it an interesting, fulfilling read, as well as an enthralling one. If that sounds like something you might enjoy – this one’s absolutely worth picking up. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interstitial - City Of Stairs

Tomorrow we'll have a review of Robert Jackson Bennett's City Of Stairs, which was a sleeper hit last year. It's full of politics, spycraft, moral qualms, and a kind of multi-layered ambiguity which suggests it's going to be great.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dauntless - Jack Campbell

Dauntless is the first in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series. It’s billed as military SF, filled with epic space combat, lots of life-and death situations, honour, heroism, and so on. Given that basis, I’d say that it lives up to the billing.

The world of Dauntless is one of marvellous contrasts. There’s star-spanning governments, with opposing political philosophies; the corporate Syndics, and the more democratic Alliance. There’s not one, but two means of interstellar travel. And the ships that we see using those means are clearly the product of an advanced industrial base.  But this is a humanity which, we quickly become aware, has been at war for a century. Whilst the social structures put in place in peacetime are still holding – at least those we learn about – they’re under constant pressure from the people within them, struggling to match ideals with the exigencies of war. What the author does well is present to us a universe whose military is broken. They’re the product of a century of constant warfare, and it shows. 

There’s discussion of the necessity of eliminating prisoners, for example, and the desirability of bombing populated enemy planets into powder. Fleet decisions are made by committee, and the committee harbours a poisonous resentment of their enemy, and a sort of blind pride, a will to take apart the enemy at any cost.

Into this world walks Black Jack Geary, our protagonist. He’s rescued from suspended animation at the start if the novel, coming back to life a hundred years in his future – and as an officer at the start of the war, he doesn’t like what it’s become, at all. Geary is a perhaps slightly idealised version of an officer – he’s honourable, steadfast, rewards loyalty, requires discipline, and gives occasional second chances. His opponents in the fleet that he ends up commanding believe him to be dangerous, weak, or sometimes both. It’s not entirely Geary’s fault – he’s been built up as a legend during his time in hibernation, and people don’t always find what they expected and what they see in front of them matching up. This struggle with hero worship is one of the book’s better character moments. Geary is caught between needing to use individual’s view of him to get things done, and the knowledge that if he makes mistakes, that will erode the image he needs to project – he doesn’t want to be the hero of legend, but finds he has to both fill the role and find ways to adapt it, to make it work for him, rather than acting as a constraint.

There’s also some excellent exchanges between Geary and the surviving civilian representative, in a similar vein. She’s wary of accepting Geary, firstly because she suspects he’ll eventually do something in search of glory (despite his protestations to the contrary), but also because she fears what will happen if he succeeds – a hero of legend returning home with a fleet thought to have been annihilated, might be enough to overthrow a stricken government and replace them with an autocracy. It’s a clever push back by the author against the hero myth, and the sparring exchanges here were well reasoned, well written, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Some of the other characters don’t fare as well; they don’t really have the room they require to grow. Geary’s detractors in the fleet, for example, start off believably enough, but seem to descend into plotting against him largely out of spite. There’s a few lines around the failure to shift away from a culture that rewards aggression and has allowed lapses of discipline, but it’s not enough. I’d like to see Geary’s more fervent antagonists given a bit more room for growth – explaining and perhaps modifying their views. Instead, the antagonistic ones are also the incompetent ones – it makes for a decent read, still, as Geary struggles against these millstones around his neck, but I’d like to see a few more complex characterisations here, in line with those from the other side.

Then there’s the plot. Not to get into it in details (though it’s actually rather straightforward), but it’s reasonably paced stuff. There’s a fairly clear distinction between the combat sequences and the character pieces (as referenced above). The latter, since we’ve not mentioned them before, are very well done. The logic associated with combat at approximations of lightspeed is impeccable, and the tactics employed are both logical and dramatic. Though they sometimes felt a bit sterile, the author can certainly write a compelling combat moment, to put it mildly.

Is it worth reading? If you have a hankering for military SF, quite probably. The characters are decent enough, with the promise of more, the plot has enough impetus to keep you turning pages and the combat sequences are excellent. Certainly worth giving it a try if you’re in the mood.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Interstitial - Dauntless

Monday will see a review of Jack Campbell's Dauntless. It's the first in his rather large military-sci-fi series, The Lost Fleet. It's got a lot of excellent battle scenes, some plausible characters, and a world I want to see more of - we'll see how that goes on Monday!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Providence Of Fire - Brain Staveley

Providence of Fire is the second in Brian Staveley’s “Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne” series. It follows directly from the first, which means it has a fair amount to live up to.

The world of Providence of Fire is hopefully familiar from the first novel. A sprawling Empire, tied together by a shared culture across uncommon geography, with an Imperial family that purports to carry a spark of the divine. That they also tend to have glowing eyes to back this claim up is rather helpful. In any event, at the close of the first book, the Emperor had been murdered, and his three children were all trying to deal with this in their own way. We do get to see a bit more of the Empire this time – actually, we get to see a fair bit more of the capital city and the surrounding countryside.
Staveley manages to make the Imperial city feel like a baroque dream, filled with towering spires and open boulevards – and then confounds expectations by taking us into the poorer quarters, the sewer runs, the slums and garrets of the lower classes. The urban underclass here feel appropriately misused, seething with vitality and distrust of authority.  They’re contrasted with a military which is shown as disciplined and effective, but ultimately supine in the hands of the authority that they serve. 
There’s a theme of strong personalities here – not just the three Imperial children, whose efforts to gain control of their lives and those around them are ministered by divine right, but generals, spiritual figures, tribal leaders. These personalities shape the world around them, and Staveley shows the driving power of those personalities, and their effect on their followers, very effectively.

Speaking of powerful personalities – we also get a view of some of the enemies of the Empire. In particular, we see an array of horsemen, plains tribes, brought together by one strong leader. The horsemen of the steppes are a staple of fantasy – Staveley’s happen to worship a divinity who requires suffering. They see pain as sacrament, for both themselves and their enemies. We don’t get to see enough of their social structures here – they serve as a brooding external threat for most of the characters. Where they do interact with one of our viewpoint characters, those interactions are either verbally scathing or brutally violent. That said, those interactions are executed perfectly – the focus of the tribes, their need for ‘hardening’, the rather unpleasant games that they play – all are entirely believable in the moment. It’s a shame though, that we don’t have time to delve deeper into the tribes, as something apart from antagonists.

Character-wise, our key views are once again the three children of the Emperor.  We do spend more time with the daughter in this novel, which is excellent. She served as an excellent view on the politics of the Empire in the first book, but wasn’t really given enough to do In this volume, there’s a rather larger share of politics – and she takes up a rather larger share of the text. There’s some interesting shifts in character as she gradually convinces those around her that she may be divinely inspired – and we get to see the mental contortions she goes through in trying to convince herself to take the Imperial throne, unaware of whether either of her brothers are still alive.

One of her brothers is, to be fair, very much alive, and leading a wing of Kettral – a sort of special forces team, which uses a giant bird as both transport and tactical assault platform (the Kettral were always a fun read in the first volume, and they maintain that streak here). The change to our protagonist as he becomes used to the burdens – and costs – of command is striking. The decisions he’s forced to make – whether to murder hostile civilians to cover the team’s tracks, whether to assist members of the team or focus on a high value target – leave both him and us morally wrung out. It’s a fascinating rendition of the effects of high stress on an individual, somewhat reminiscent of Heart of Darkness,  and Staveley keeps us mired in the mental morass alongside our viewpoint – evoking sympathy, anger and horror in equal measure.

That leaves the heir to the throne, who has the capacity to pass between various magical gates, after years of training in how to enter the requisite mental state. From a character standpoint, he’s forged further here as well. There’s issues around the cost of his actions, and whether it’s right to sacrifice another person for your goals. Whether the world is ready for what you’re trying to do, and whether, as always, the ends justify the means. It’s all wrapped up in the plot here, rather than what felt like the more intimate character study of the Kettral, but the character work slides in neatly alongside the narrative, making a cohesive, wonderfully readable whole.

I won’t get into the plot, except to say that there’s…rather a lot of it. There’s a great many pivot points in this book, where things can fall out one way or another and have grand impact on what the first volume described as the status quo. The pacing’s solid, the lead up and smaller crises were more than enough to keep me reading – and then occasionally, there’d be an absolute game changer, with ripples felt throughout the rest of the text. Staveley isn’t playing around – this is high stakes politics, epic battles, and real, lasting consequences felt in the narrative as a result.

Is it worth reading? Assuming you’ve read the first volume, absolutely. It’s dialled  everything up to eleven, and you’ll be feeling the effects of Providence of Fire long after you’re done reading it. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Interstitial - The Providence of Fire

A few months ago, I reviewed Brian Staveley's The Emperor's Blades , in preparation for the sequel arriving. At long last, I got around to reading the sequel - so tomorrow will see a review of his The Providence of Fire.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two of Swords (Part Eight) - K.J. Parker

Two of Swords is the new serialised novel by K.J. Parker. The first eight parts are available now, and run to about eighty pages each. Further parts will be made available on a monthly basis. I’m going to try and put out a review for one of the currently available, and then review each new part in the month where it becomes available.

Part eight of the series continues the tradition of the first seven, in giving us the viewpoint of a secondary character from the preceding part. In this case, it’s that of the Imperial food taster, seconded into minding a thief (Musen, from the first and second parts of the serial) as they travel out from the capital to acquire a particularly special deck of cards.

In terms of setting, we get quite a lot of the familiar here. We’re dragged across desolate moors, and other pieces of unpleasant countryside. In some ways, these are familiar – they look a lot like the desolate moors that the village infantrymen were dragged across in the opening part of the serial. That parallel, a journey out, and a journey back, is echoed elsewhere as well. Part of that echo comes when our taster and his thief meet other characters. Most of them are, it turns out, fairly heavily armed, and of ambiguous friendliness. There’s also a lot more Craftsmen kicking about. The Craftsmen, thus far, have been something of a shadow, a power behind the curtains of the power behind the throne. A large proportion of our characters seem to have been part of the mysterious ‘Lodge’, at least nominally – and here we finally see them in a bit more depth.

That’s the world that Parker’s got for us here – it’s familiar, from earlier in the serial, but the addition of the Craftsmen leaves our understanding of that world changed. At least, somewhat. In vintage Parker style, the dialogue of our new protagonist with the members of the Craft that he meets are rather cryptic. In fact, they’re deliberately obfuscatory. Our protagonist is trying to prise information from the Craft without giving away his bargaining position, as he tries to learn what’s going on whilst acquiring the aforesaid deck of cards. They rather want the money that he has in hand, for various long term reasons, but don’t want to give too much away. It’s reminiscent of a Le Carre thriller – both sides speaking around the point, assuming knowledge, even assuming certain assumptions. The effect is to offer the reader a half-visible glimmer of understanding, surrounded by a swamp of potential  fabrications. On the other hand, Parker’s dialogue has always been a joy to rad. It flows wonderfully, with a perfect pitch of wry self-knowledge on both sides of the conversation. The undercurrent of dry, pragmatic wit is still there, and gave me some solid chuckles, as well as the occasional raised eyebrow as something particularly clever went off.

On which topic – the plot. Well, the conversation itself doesn’t advance the broader plot so much. However, it does throw some elements into the mix of the plot. The consequences of the conversation, however, are broadly described at the close of the text, and there’s hints that what happened here is one of the pivot points for the wider conflict.  It’s not a fast paced occasion, by any means, but as usual, it’s a piece of compelling prose, which makes promises, and then delivers on them – if not always in the way you might expect.  As with the preceding segment, it’s a fairly short 60 pages, and they felt like they went by a lot quicker. This volume doesn’t have the raw physicality of some of the others, but has a compulsive momentum that won’t let go of the reader – and makes for a fascinating read.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Interstitial - Two of Swords (Part Eight)

Tomorrow we'll have another in my ongoing series of reviews of K.J. Parker's "Two of Swords", which is being released in instalments as a serial novel.  Part Eight came out a week or so ago, and gives us a bit more of a view on the mysterious Craftsmen, and their agenda...

More tomorrow!

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Ark - Patrick S. Tomlinson

It’s been a good year for novels set on generation ships, and Patrick S. Tomlinson’s ‘The Ark’ continues that trend. It’s a fast-paced sci-fi thriller, with a central mystery at the core, with some decent characters and well executed prose.

One of the central pivots of this book is the world it’s created. A generation ship, carrying the third generation descendants of mankind’s best and brightest. A ship separated with a gulf between crew and passenger. A ship with two spinning modules filled with the last of the human race, with all the petty rivalries that implies. A ship where every birth is tracked, where every citizen carries an implant which allows their every move to be monitored, where there are few weapons, and fewer crimes.
Tomlinson’s ship is a logical extension of our current situation, both technologically and socially. 

The technical aspects of the ship are examined in satisfying, if not exhaustive, detail. It certainly feels like the author has done their research. I was delighted on discovering that the ship was brought up to thrust by nuclear blasts, and even more delighted to have a character reference the Orion project, a real-life NASA idea for doing exactly this (eventually canned because letting off nuclear bombs inside an atmosphere is a bad idea).  It was suggestive of a writer who was making an effort to be persuasively accurate with their technology. There’s similar watermarks of solid research throughout – the spinning of the habitats, for example – and whilst there’s a few instances of future-tech, these aren’t overburdened with technical jargon of their own. The technology here is used as environmental texture, to build out a more convincing world, without overwhelming the reader in minutiae.

The sociology at play in the narrative is equally interesting. The protagonist, as head of the police force for one of the modules, ruminates on the social conditioning which has led to an almost crime-free shipboard life. Throughout the text, characters reference their ‘plant’, which appears to function as a combined personal AI and (more chillingly) recording device. I would have enjoyed seeing more of the implications that span out of this technology explored – they’re touched on, alongside those of some other truly terrifying technologies, but the idea of a civilisation under constant, mandatory, but effectively community driven surveillance is an intriguing one, and felt like it deserved more room to grow. Still, Tomlinson approaches the issues in this area with a degree of nuance, and integrates them nicely into the plot.

The central point for the characters is Bryan Benson. He serves as the protagonist, the viewpoint character for the reader. From the perspective of the moment, he’s presented very well. Tomlinson gives us a great view on a character who begins as blithe and assured, and who runs aground on the rocks of doubt. Benson’s gradual shift in emotional state is wonderfully portrayed, his increasing level of weariness and cynicism pitched perfectly. We also get to hear a little of his back story – his role in a winning sports team is mentioned every so often, as part of his popular appeal and the reason behind his skills and physical condition. But there’s a lot more – the role of his family in shipboard life, for example, is mentioned briefly, but not, perhaps, closely enough.  Through Benson’s eyes, we also get a view on the various social tiers of the ship, through his supporting cast. Here, Tomlinson is on fairly frim ground; the secondary characters fit their roles well, and convey most of their character through dialogue, and asides in Benson’s own thoughts.

Whilst the way the characters act is consistent, enjoyable, and entirely believable, it would have been nice if they’d had more room to grow, as the protagonist does. Benson’s relationship, for example, was always interesting, usually amusing, and occasionally sympathy inducing – but getting past the traits of his lover, and into their character, was a little trickier. That said, each character worked as an individual, and within the confines of the plot – I would simply have enjoyed a little more time with each of them.

Having said that, the lack of time with the ancillary characters may be related to the time taken up by the plot. It starts with a murder, and never really lets up thereafter.  There’s a period at the start with a relatively slow burn, as Benson assembles suspects, speculated on motive, and tries to locate a mysterious killer. As is traditional, he’s not assisted by obstructive witnesses, red herrings, and the occasional personal dilemma. The action ramps up as the book proceeds, moving from the tension of a covert investigation into some sterling action sequences, and an impressively shocking denouement.  It’s a fast-paced action-adventure of a novel, especially as the stakes rise and the pace ratchets up – but the mystery at the core is both intricate and intriguing – and kept me guessing for quite a while.

Is it worth the read? If you’re looking for a fusion of excellent hard sci-fi and action thriller, with a soupcon of mystery, then yes, absolutely. I’m already looking forward to seeing what the next book in the series has in store.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Interstitial - The Ark

Tomorrow we're going to be looking at Patrick S. Tomlinson's debut sci-fi novel, The Ark. It's set on a generation ship which is about to arrive at it's destination - at which point, of course, there's a murder. There's mystery, investigation, some excellent examination of the construction of a closed society...and the occasional nuclear warhead. It was a fast, fun read - more on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Interview - Adam Rakunas (Author of Windswept)

Today, as alluded to yesterday, we're going to be talking to Adam Rakunas about his debut novel, Windswept. It's a story about a lot of things - labour rights in a spacefaring future. Rebuilding after a trauma. Big explosions. Oh, and a crane chase. It was thoroughly enjoyable stuff, and a pleasure to catch up with Adam and try and learn a little more about the man behind the story.

Hi Adam– thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Padma Mehta says hello.

Windswept is unusual in its discussion of labour rights in a future space – what made you decide to broach this topic in your narrative?

Because no one seems to be writing about the people who maintain future societies’ basic needs. 

When’s the last time Star Trek focused on the lowly Starfleet plumber’s mate who kept the Enterprise’s many toilets unclogged? Geordi LaForge and Montgomery Scott may keep the engines running, but if the sewer lines back up, it’s game over.

I think it’s going to be a while before machines completely take over all our menial work, which means people will keep doing all those dirty jobs that keep human civilization running. The supply of cheap labor outstrips the hell out of the demand. If Jane Janitor goes to her boss to ask for a raise, that boss is going to point at the fifty other people standing in line for Jane’s job. I think Jane should be paid fairly for her work and retain her dignity. Like Rose Schneiderman said, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” I want to tell stories like that.

Your protagonist, Padma Mehta is, I think, a wonderful blend of focused violence, intellect, and emotional damage.  Was there any aspect of the character that you find particularly interesting, or would highlight to readers?

Padma is a combination of Rosalind Russell from His Gal Friday and Philip Marlowe. She’d rather disarm someone with a quip, but she’s not afraid to use her fists if she’s cornered. She’s cynical as hell about human nature, but she will fight for what she believes is right. And, while she doesn’t suffer fools, she’ll still have empathy towards anyone who’s getting screwed.

 Windswept’s villains include employees of mega-corporations; when you were crafting your struggle between Unions and Mega-corps, what kind of research did you do to inform your narrative choices?

I worked.

No, seriously. I’ve worked a variety of jobs, and each of them was a glimpse into the magic that is the corporate world. In high school, I bagged groceries, manned a drive-through window, and directed traffic in parking lots. After college, I did time in the software mines for Activision, TicketMaster, Nissan, and a few smaller firms. I also had a brief stint as an online advertising guy, so I got to figure out how to sell stuff (which is why you should buy my book).

What I learned is that work sucks, even if you’re close to the top of the pyramid. At the bottom, yes, you’ve got long hours, low pay, and a miserable sense of self-worth. Higher up, you start fighting with other people for budgets and headcounts and your own relevancy. And the bigger the company, the more potential for abuse and misery, especially when your company has the mojo to deal directly with government. During my time at Nissan, they wanted to move shop to Tennessee, and the Governator came down to convince them to stay. It didn’t take, and it punched a hell of a hole in the local economy. Fortunately, I was just a consultant, so I didn’t have to undergo the gut-wrenching decision that everyone had to make: do I go with my job, or stay where I am and hope I find something that pays as well?

It used to be that you’d work your ass off for your company for your entire career, and then you’d get a pension and medical and a watch. My dad was the last of that generation, and even his benefits got slashed as his former employer did its level best to increase shareholder value by screwing everyone who’d worked for them. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to go from General Electric to Governance By General Electric. I just hope we can trip it up and keep out of the way before we’re crushed.

Similarly, the world of Windswept, one previously utilised for, and then cast aside by Mega-corporations, is a vivid and well realised one – was there any real-world inspiration for the setting?

I think we’re living in it right now. Last week, the New York Times published an article about Amazon’s work practices, and I thought I was reading science fiction. The idea of a Darwinist workforce where people are driven to ruin in the name of maximizing shareholder value is ridiculous, yet there it is. Amazon paid for ambulances to wait outside their warehouses to take their heat prostrated workers to the hospital rather than, you know, install air conditioning ( I used Wal-Mart as the inspiration for the Big Three, but I was looking in the wrong place.

There’s a lot of cool moments in Windswept, which I won’t spoil – but with that in mind, is there a moment you put in the book purely because it was awesome?

The crane chase. I really hope I pulled that one off because the whole idea seemed so silly and awesome.

Several of your characters feel older, more experienced, throwing off corporate careers in order to join the Union – was the move to more mature characters a deliberate choice?

Absolutely. Part of it was practical: Padma’s feelings of burnout are because she’s been a Union recruiter for twelve years, and she had another twelve years of school and work before she joined the Union. I felt I could see her world-weariness if she had plenty of time to get that weary.
Also, I didn’t want to write about some young beautiful people. I wanted people in their forties and fifties who had made a lot of choices and had to deal with the consequences. When you’re young and quit your first job, it’s not that big a deal. But when you quit after long career? There’s a lot of potential for conflict there. You have to confront the person you’ve become and figure out how much is you and how much was shaped by your circumstances. Then you’ve got to decide what you keep.

As a reader, what type of book do you enjoy – and what are you reading right now?

I have very wide-ranging tastes because I think the more culture you consume, the more jokes you can get. Right now, I’m finally reading Robert Joseph Levy’s The Glittering World, which is beautiful and terrifying (sorry it took so long to get to it, Robert). Next up is Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper, which I hope is every bit as mambotastic as his Half-Resurrection Blues.

Can you tell us a little bit about your average day/week as a writer?

I’m a stay-at-home dad, so my writing work revolves around my daughter’s school hours. I get up, make breakfast, get her dressed, walk her to school, then hustle home. I am terrible at getting distracted by Twitter, and I have to rely on the Freedom app to keep on track. I shoot for writing 1,500 words of new fiction a day, and I hit that target. Sometimes.

Some authors plan their novels in great detail before setting pen to paper; others seem to take a more seat-of-the pants approach. How would you describe yourself on that continuum?

Windswept was very seat-of-the-pants, which was fun until it wasn’t. Hitting a plot wall is paralyzing. For Windswept’s sequel, I made an outline using Mark Teppo’s magical Twenty-Five Chapter/Nine Questions structure (which you can learn about in his new book, Jumpstart Your Novel). The first draft of Windswept took a little over two years; the sequel took six months. I like riffing when I write, but all that riffing has to hang on a solid structure. Teppo’s is so rock solid you could build a city on it.

How did you get into writing? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do, or is it something of a new path for you?

I’ve always been a scribbler; I just didn’t know how to get paid for it. In the mid-90s, when the Web was new and fresh, I wrote for personal story-telling sites like (hi, Derek!). It was exhilarating to pour my heart into the keyboard and get someone say, “Hey, I feel like that too!”
I didn’t start writing fiction until 2001, when someone loaned me Stephen King’s On Writing. I ripped through that and thought, “Wow! That’s how you do it!” It’s one thing to be a reader, but to understand how those books and stories were made was revelatory. I started writing short stories and promptly collecting rejection slips. Good times.

As a follow up: as a debut author, has anything about the publishing process surprised you?

That no one has a typical story. Every writer’s path to publication is different, even though we’re all trudging through the same territory. I am reassured by the fact that every writer I know struggles with their work. We’re all toiling together.

Food and drink play a central role in your narrative – not least the titular Old Windswept rum. What meal do you think would work best with a bottle of Old Windswept?

Roasted fish kabobs with lime and mango chutney, with a little Old Windswept bananas flambé for dessert.

Have you found the rise of social media has had any impact on you as an author?

What, other than distracting me from writing?

I used to do social media marketing for a living, and it’s been weird to use it to sell my book. Most of the people who follow me are friends, and I don’t want to be that guy who crashes a party and yells, “Hey, I’ve got a book, and you should buy it!” The phenomenon of following people on Twitter in the hopes of them following you back should be stopped. It’s creepy and needy. Don’t do that. Follow people because you like what they have to say, not because you want something from them. Ew.

What will we be seeing from you in the coming months?

The sequel to Windswept, title TBD. I have ideas for a third book about Padma’s adventures; we’ll see if they come to fruition. I’m also toying around with a book about family stories and talking guns.

 Finally – any words of advice for budding authors out there?

When in doubt, follow Delilah Dawson’s Writer’s Prayer:
Head down
Butt in chair
Honey badger
Doesn't care
Hands on keyboard
Coffee's hot
Give this edit
All you've got.


Biographical Notes (courtesy of the lovely folk at Angry Robot)

Adam Rakunas has worked a variety of weird jobs. He’s been a virtual world developer, a parking lot attendant, a triathlon race director, a fast food cashier, and an online marketing consultant.
Now a stay-at-home dad, Adam splits his non-parenting time between writing, playing the cello, and political rabble-rousing. His stories have appeared in Futurismic and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Windswept is his first novel.
You can find Adam online at his website:, on Twitter @rakdaddy and on Facebook and Tumblr.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Interstitial - Interview with Adam Rakunas

Tomorrow we've got an interview with Adam Rakunas, whose debut work, Windswept , I said very nice things about a little while back. Adam has some great stuff to share about the inspirations behind Windswept, and his own process, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with you!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Shadows Of Self - Brandon Sanderson

Shadows Of Self is the second in Brandon Sanderson’s “Wax and Wayne” series; the series is set several hundred years after Sanderson’s “Mistborn” series, but nominally in the same world. That means that there’s a lot of things fans loved about Mistborn – individuals using the power inherent in metals to perform seemingly supernatural feats, noble houses politicking, rooftop chases, and so on – but looked at from a slightly different perspective. The focus of this second volume remains on the protagonists from the first – the noble Allomancer, Wax, who acts as a sort of independent investigative consultant for his city’s police force (partly because they can’t convince him to stop, and partly because he’s good at catching dangerous criminals) and the slightly less-than- noble Wayne, who matches an ability to blend in almost anywhere with an occasionally odd demeanour and an interest in haberdashery.

This second book in the series is focused, geographically, on the city of Elendel. As with the first book, the reader catches the city in the throes of change. The motor-car is making its first appearance on the streets. Industrialisation appears to be on the rise. There’s mention of the opening of factories, a suggestion of an increase in living with shift patterns, and mention of the potential of electricity. The city is adapting to this, technology working in symbiosis with existing magic. But Sanderson evokes the sceptical anger created by urbanisation as well. Workers are upset to find they are working long hours for low pay. There’s an increasing feeling, laced through the subtext of the narrative, that the old noble houses are no longer paying their way, but exploiting those beneath them. It’s delicately, sympathetically done, and a pleasure to see this sort of social conflict represented in the narrative. The potential for these changes to turn to social unrest is explored, and the potential effects, particularly for law-keeping, are examined closely. Alongside these changes, we see some beacons of notional stability – the noble houses, now Captains of Industry, maintain their position as leaders of the people. The constabulary holds the law in its hands. The various religions act as centres of civic virtue. But this Elendel is a city in flux, one where these traditional roles are being passively eroded and actively challenged.

Wax and Wayne, our main viewpoints into this world, started in the preceding novel as fast-talking, fast-acting agents of justice. They’re still portrayed that way, but there’s a more reflective tenor to them. Wayne, a man given to acts of quirky comic relief, spends some time considering the unfortunate crime that led him to the life he now leads. It’s a quiet moment in a journey which is full of wry, oddball humour, and it gives his character a sense of depth and humanity which is much appreciated. Wax is also driven by his inner demons; we’re treated to some views into the slough of despond that Wax fills his sessions of self-recrimination with, and it’s not pretty. It is, however, emotionally authentic and compelling.  Both men feel like they’re given more room to breathe in this narrative, to fill out a little, and let the reader get a firmer grasp of their characters.

In this, they’re ably assisted by a sterling supporting cast. Of particular note are Wax’s wife, Selis, and Marasi, once an accidental part of Wax and Wayne’s team, and now a member of the Constabulary. Selis gives us a view into the nobility, the somewhat ossified stratum at the top of Elendel society. But she’s more than that – the Selis of this narrative is cool, collected, seems to have a plan for every contingency – matched with an iron will, and a terrifying ability to pretend, mostly successfully, that she’s perfectly normal. She’s an absolute pleasure to read, and her relationship with Wax is given new life here. It’s still odd, but the extra time on the page lets some of the complexity out into the air, and makes their scenes together a fascinating read.

Marasi gives us a perspective on the law and order of Elendel;  her travails as a newly promoted Lieutenant are a fraught read. The casual petty spite she encounters is both shocking, and entirely believable. Her efforts to become worthy of the position that she holds, to prove herself an effective and valuable member of the team, are always interesting. She also starts to re-evaluate her relationship with Wax and Wayne, a development which has a great deal of promise. It’s a shame that she doesn’t feel like she has enough to do – the investigative work is still here, and Sanderson manages to make the central mystery intense and intriguing, but Marasi feels like she’s still out on the periphery. Still, when present, her scenes are still thoroughly enjoyable.

From a plot standpoint, we’re in a mix of familiar and unfamiliar territory. There’s fast-paced chases. There’s Wax leaping all over the place, trying to bring down bad guys. As already alluded to, there’s a wonderful strand of investigation, which starts with a slow burn, and has what I’d describe as a game-changing payoff. There’s several larger issues, wrapped up in the chase scenes and gunfights, and those absolutely explode across the page, alongside a couple of really excellent twists, which certainly kept me guessing. Sanderson’s always been great at writing a plot that means you can’t put the book down once you start reading, and he’s done the same again here.  I’d love to get into the detail here, but am anxious to avoid spoilers.

In any event – is this worth reading? Well, if you’re already a Sanderson fan, absolutely. That said, you’ll need to read Alloy of Law first. I think you could read this as a stand-alone, just about, but it’s part of a cohesive set of character and narrative arcs set up in the first volume of the series, and the payoff is far greater if you’re across those fully. But if you’ve finished the Alloy of Law, and want to see more of the world that Sanderson’s crafted so skilfully, then this book will reward your attention – with fire, blood, excitement, and adventure. Pick it up, and start reading!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Interstitial - Shadows Of Self

On Monday, we'll hjave a review of Brandon Sanderson's upcoming novel, Shadows Of Self. The sequel to Alloy Of Law, it covers the further adventures of the cromefighting duo Wax and Wayne. There's a lot of Sanderson's trademark action, some really witty dialogue, some cool magic - and a plot which promises to change things in their world dramatically.

More on Monday!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Traitor - Seth Dickinson

The Traitor (“The Traitor Baru Cormorant” in the US) is Seth Dickinson’s debut novel. It’s a complex piece, which can be viewed from several angles. It’s the tale of Baru Cormorant, an island girl taken into the service of the Mask Empire. A savant, she quickly becomes useful to them – but her goal is to bring down their system from within. There’s a strand of narrative about her personal growth, and the moral quandaries she finds both internally and externally as she strives to shatter the Imperial system. But there’s also duels, and lovingly rendered large scale battles. There’s discussions on utilitarian morality, wrapped up in Baru’s own relationships. There’s cut-throat (possibly literally) politics, and some fascinating discussion of economics. And then there’s wider themes – about choice, about the impact of colonialism, about humanity – the heights and depths which people will allow themselves, and the way both are screened by institutions.

The world Dickinson presents is one spread over geographical locales, with distinct cultures to suit. There’s the island culture which is the origin of our protagonist. It’s defined in broad strokes, a polyamorous paradise, a culture with stylised conflict and a straightforwardly bucolic lifestyle. It’s defined more closely by the contrast it makes with the Empire of the Mask.

The Mask is a growing Imperial power, it’s civil servants cloaked by masks when on duty. The sense of conformity that this induces – both in those servants, and in the reader – seems quite intentional.  Dickinson does a masterclass in depersonalisation and separation – the members of the Mask that we run into are uniformly competent, and typically quite terrifying in one form or another. There’s a conflict for the reader between the inhumanity of their role and the humanity of the individuals behind the masks. This is exacerbated by a seemingly deliberate tension between  political policies which allow citizens freedom – economically, and largely socially – and the brutal psychological conditioning that the Empire inflicts on those it thinks are living outside of accepted norms. 

Dickinson’s done well here, creating a system which is, in many ways, beneficial to the ruled – whilst also providing enough policies guaranteed to draw horrors from the reader to induce conflict. That conflict, that narrative mirror between the reader and the increasingly torn Baru, is marvellous.
Then there’s the battleground. The Empire works on a series of fragmented duchies which cannot be ruled. The cool, green trees of this space are in contrast to the distant mechanism of the Mask, or the warmth of Baru’s homeland. An area soaked in mist and conflict, it’s the centre of much of the book. It’s to the author’s credit that these duchies begin, after a while, to feel real. It’s possible that there are too many of them – the reader doesn’t get the room to explore them all, as much as we’d like to. However, there’s enough of a sense of national solidarity to allow us to draw a feeling of character, and how the Mask is encroaching upon it.

This is one of those areas where Dickinson’s interest in colonialism, and in the issue of identity, becomes obvious. One of the others is more personally focused, being our protagonist, Baru. Torn between the Mask, which has shaped her for a task, and her homeland, she’s flung into a political battlefield, unsure of who or what she is. The Mask’s presence in the duchies mirrors this confusion. Members of the Duchies are absorbing social attitudes from their governors. At the same time, the new ruling elite exist alongside an older lineage, and are picking up distinctly new habits – as when the Mask governor goes hunting with one of the Dukes. There’s some wonderful subtext here, of absorption of cultural attitude on both sides, and of the subtle realignments that take place due to this – and it’s a joy to read.

From a character standpoint, there’s quite a lot going on. Our protagonist is Baru, one-time conquest, now a member of the Mask elite. Her character is a wonderful example of the duality seen throughout the novel – on the one hand, she’s determined to break down the regime of the Mask, to break it’s hold on her homeland, and entirely if possible. On the other, she’s determined to collaborate, to do the best that she can for the Mask, in order to climb ever higher echelons of the system that she’s now bound to. It’s a fascinating examination of the psyche of the conquered. She acknowledges the superiority of the system, in part, but is determined to overthrow it – but, paradoxically, feels there is no choice but to make it stronger. That her own social proclivities are likely to draw down the attention of the Mask’s terrifyingly named ‘hygienists’ is a fabulous means of adding personal terror and investment to an already aching sense of dread.

Baru is a complex beast. There’s a great deal here which happens out  in the open, where Baru acknowledges who and what she is, to herself. But there’s a great deal more which passes in subtext, in unspoken asides in dialogue, in broken off sentences, in understandings of facial expression, which the reader is left to interpret. There’s enough in the top layer to make for a good, even a great book, but delving into the detail, into the small asides and the broken promises, builds a character which is thoroughly compelling – impossible not to read, tied up in Baru’s twists of fortune.  Her compromises, her reactions to misadventure and success, her vices (several) and her virtues (visible) are a complex mix, and are what craft this character into a person.

Delightfully, the ensemble cast here is given a fair bit of room to manoeuvre. They’re all eclipsed by Baru’s coruscating brilliance, but it’s almost accidental. The duchess with whom Baru discusses economic warfare. The governor whom she reports to on arrival. The naval lieutenant who assists her with delicate problems. They have enough depth, even in a self-centred narrative, that they feel like the stars of their own books, intersecting Baru’s for a moment. She overshadows them, because this is her story, but they have the complexity, the sense of things hidden beneath the surface, to feel like starts of a story of their own.

The plot…well, this is an instance where there are multiple ways to spoil it, so I’ll contain myself. It is, however, exactly as convoluted as you might imagine. There are red herrings strewn through the narrative with great abandon. Dickinson has the skill to pull off a lengthy discussion of warfare-through-economics, several times, and make it as tense and intriguing as any stand-up duel – and there’s more than a few fight scenes here as well. As Baru wends her way through a space filled with conflicting loyalties, personal, political and national, the reader is dragged with her – through every choice and every error, through every repercussion, and every triumph. It’s perfectly pitched, perfectly paced, and wonderfully done ; Dickinson has managed to produce a pitch perfect, complex novel, with multiple levels, and some great things to say across the themes it approaches and with the characters it uses to do so. Absolutely worth the read.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Interstitial - The Traitor

Tomorrow we'll have a review of Seth Dickinson's stunning debut, The Traitor. It's a complex narrative of swordfights, cultural oppression, imperialism, politics, economics, and warfare. It's huge, it gets into complex themes in a fascinating way, and it's been a really great read - more tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Hive Construct - Alexander Maskill

The Hive Construct is Alexander Maskill’s debut novel. It’s a sci-fi techno-thriller, set in a future version of Cairo. It’s got a lot to recommend it – some interesting concepts, and a compelling story – though there are some things I’d like to see explored further.

The first of these is New Cairo. Maskill does a great job of evoking a living city with relatively broad strokes. There’s a strong sense of society here, and a less strong one of place. The social fabric of New Cairo is drawn with care – we’re taken through the various neighbourhoods with our protagonists. We’re shown the privations of one group, the rising economic and social standing of another, and the affluence of the high-end districts. These are mirrored, at least in part, in the characters that inhabit them. But what we’re seeing here is a city divided by class, divided by a need to work, to acquire food, a desire to live a normal life. This is all brought into focus by one of the central groups in the text, which, amongst other things, is struggling to get a fair economic deal for members. As the heat simmers away in the background, Maskill brings these socio-economic divisions to a head.

 It’s a struggle largely seen in dialogue, though the descriptions of the poorer areas of New Cairo are appropriately heart-wrenching. The city, sat in a broken crater, with an artificial sun overhead, fuelled by solar panels, ringed by elevator stations – the city starts to feel alive. I would have been delighted to hear more about this. To have seen more of the politics of the city, not tied to the immediate plot. To have looked in more depth at the neighbourhoods, rather than a passing line. To have delved into the formation of certain social action groups that feature through the text, and seen their demands with a smidge more nuance.
Having said that, this New Cairo is a city of dust, and sand. A city of desire, and of drive. A city of need, and wealth. It’s a study in contrasts, and Maskill has created and manipulated those contrasts to make the location feel real. It would have been a pleasure to spend more time getting into the guts of the city, but what’s there is presented well.

The same sparing ethos is in play for the characters. There are multiple viewpoints at play here. A city politician, desperate to present his point of view (and perhaps to profit thereby) was a personal favourite. There’s also an ex-police mission planner, and an accused murderer turned cyber-expert. And a whole host of supporting cast. From the central triad, it was possible to get a solid sense of character through the narrative. Again, Maskill uses his pen sparingly, and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions. Of the three, it is the  ex-policewoman who receives the most non-plot time, or it feels that way – we learn a little about her husband, rather more about her desire to protect her children. Her moral qualms as she’s dragged deeper into a plot which rewards moral failure are a delight. The councillor, by contrast, speaks a great deal, but more of that is exposition. He feels half-alive – there’s enough here to make him interesting to read, but not quite enough to make him come off the page. The cyber-warrior, by contrast, is swathed in a bubble of expository information – whilst she has goals of her own, there’s not a sense of emotional depth. On the other hand, she carries a great deal of the plot comfortably, and manages some highly compelling action scenes – so peaks and troughs.

The plot…well, as you may gather from the above, this is an action movie of a book. There’s a great deal of running about. There’s gunfire, and hand to hand combat. There’s a threat that could end life on earth as we know it. And our grimy anti-heroes are the only ones available who might stop it. And it works, it really does. The action is fast-paced and compelling. The dialogue is snappy, believable, and easy to read. The text manages to convey the sense of high stakes, and the prose makes you believe in them, and keep turning pages.

Overall then, this is a good action novel. It has some decent characters, in a well realised, if sparse, setting, in service to a plot which roars like a jet engine. It’s fast-paced, arse-kicking fun, and thoroughly enjoyable for it.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Interstitial - The Hive Construct

Tomorrow we have a review of Alexander Maskill's 'The Hive Construct'. It's a sci-fi techno-thriller, set in a futuristic version of Cairo. There's a lot of fast-paced action - gunfights, hacking, a little bit of politics - in the intriguing setting of New Cairo.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse - Daphne Lamb

The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse is Daphne Lamb’s debut novel. It sets out to explore the human response to the end of the world – whilst also bringing the funny.

The author gives us an interesting protagonist in Verdell, a young woman who spends her days doing data entry. She works at what she regards as a dead end job, in a company which appears to make products with no real use, with co-workers whose interpersonal interactions are…questionable at best. She has a boyfriend she’s not sure she wants to deal with, and operates a policy of using weapons-grade sarcasm in most conversations. The opening section of the text brings us into Verdell’s frustrating, baffling world, with its pettiness and aggravations, and makes it familiar.
And then, of course, the titular apocalypse happens. Quite what it is was never made clear. There’s mention of a virus. Then mutants. Then mushroom clouds. I must admit, the sheer vagueness of the end of civilisation did get a chuckle out of me. And our protagonist finds herself in a world she’s entirely unsuited to survive in – a sarcastic but hardly survival-trained slacker,  surrounded by idiots.

In that respect, Lamb absolutely nails the world. She shows us the world before, and it’s dead on, a fluorescent hellscape recognisable to anyone who ever sat at a desk. And the world after the disaster is a greatest hits of apocalypse fiction. There’s cannibal cults. Military quarantine camps. People living out of shattered shopfronts. It’s entirely possible to believe in this broken world, or at least to accept the images that Lamb evokes with some sterling prose. At the same time, it’s trying very hard to be funny. Sometimes this works. There’s a set of jokes about what different coloured armbands issued to evacuees represent at the start of the book, for example, which has me chuckling thinking about it now. Later, there’s a board put up in a quarantine camp where people can leave messages – not in an effort to contact loved ones, but as a simulacrum of Twitter.

There’s also places where the jokes fall flat. Some of this is the fault of the characters. I enjoyed Verdell’s baffled irony, and cynical dislike of everyone around her, but it didn’t manage to compensate for the supporting cast all suffering from slapstick levels of stupidity. In moderation, this actually works quite well as a comic device – and again, some of the interactions hit the funnybone perfectly. But there were an equal amount where Verdell’s rage at the oblivious idiocy or insanity of everyone around her didn’t manage to ring true.

The plot is largely centred around Verdell’s struggle to survive. The book is divided into episodic chapters, each given a title relevant to the titular “Girl’s Guide…”, with a section of Verdell’s story serving as an example. And the narrative flow works within the chapters, though there are a few stuttering moments – but these are more visible in the start and close of chapters. Still, Verdell’s journey around her battered city is quite an entertaining one at the core. That’s the thing about this book – there’s a good story lurking under everything. There’s flashes of a wry, clever humour that it would have been lovely to see more of – sparks of humour which hit their mark. It was great to see this, it’s a shame that much of the humour felt a little flat.

That said, there’s a lot to like about the book. It’s quirky. It gives us a not-often-seen point of view onto a world that’s ended. If the narrative can feel fragmentary, and some of the humour doesn’t quite work, that can be balanced by the times when it does, and you’re left chuckling over the sheer absurdity of it all. It’s not perfect, but the Guide is an interesting read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Lamb has in store for us in the future.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Interstitial - The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse

Tomorrow we'll have a review of Daphne Lamb's debut novel, The Girl's Guide to the Apocalypse. It sets out to make the end of the world amusing, and often succeeds. More on that tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Chapelwood - Cherie Priest

Chapelwood is the second in Cherie Priest’s ‘Borden Dispatches’ series. It posits a world in which the supernatural, the eldritch, the deeply strange, lives beneath our world. The original turned around the travails of Elizabeth Borden as she was exposed to this world, leading to some incidents with an axe. This sequel, set some time later, keeps the eerie, sinister atmosphere, and gives the reader characters both old and new to use as a view onto the world.

The book is set up in an epistolary style – for example, entries from diaries, characters sending case notes back to their office, that sort of thing. It’s a clever device, and fits into the early-twentieth century setting perfectly. The prose has a feel of that time about it – it’s accessible, and not laced with jargon or obscure period language conventions, but there’s a taste of the time about the way certain parts of the text are phrased. The format also allows for several points of view (totting it up, I think there were five), whilst giving the reader a certain separation, to help keep the narrative clear. Epistolary texts aren’t common, but in this case the format is both thematically appropriate and narratively effective.

The world…well, the text is set in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1920’s. It’s shown to be a town which, independently of any supernatural shenanigans, is not in a happy place. Priest does a good job of showing us a town on the cusp – striving to be better than the past, but able to teeter back into madness at a moment’s notice. There’s some interesting undercurrents at play, in dialogue and in character expectations – there’s misogyny, there’s casual segregation. More overtly, there’s an exploration of the Ku Klux Klan in town politics. An election is available to be bought – and the sense of pervasive corruption this engenders is entirely unrelated to the supernatural.  The feel of a town at war with itself, of the petty rivalries and bigotries at play, is evoked wonderfully.

Beneath that, however, is a slithering current of the strange.  It’s  not glaring in the narrative – for the most part, there are oddities, instances where the inexplicable becomes the probable. Priest does an excellent job of bringing the creeping dread across in the text, without venturing into schlock. The pacing’s pitch perfect - there’s a marvellous sense of tension, and a feeling of horrors unseen, just out of the eye of the narrator (and the reader), which makes each turn of the page into a nerve-wracking adventure.

The plot starts with a mystery, of sorts, as a man begins murdering citizens of Birmingham with an axe. He seems to be wrapped up with a shadowy church, which also has ties to the Klan, and to the dubiously named “True Americans”. Quite what the agenda of these groups is becomes gradually clearer throughout the text, as the now older Elizabeth Borden, amongst others, begins to investigate. Everything is, of course, not what it initially appears.

It’s not perfect – there’s a few instances of supporting characters needing clearer roles, and some people may not enjoy the slow burning pace at the start of the narrative. It is, however, very good at what it sets out to achieve – a historical mystery blended with a view into the unnatural and paranormal.

With that in mind, I’d say this one is well worth a look. It has an unsentimental yet atmospheric setting in the Birmingham of the 1920’s. It has interesting, sympathetic protagonists, with emotional depth and breadth. It has a clever plot, with an intriguing mystery at the core.  And it has a kind of quietly eerie horror about it, which makes it an extremely compelling read. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Interstitial - Chapelwood

Tomorrow we'll see a review of Cherie Priest's 'Chapelwood'. It's a historical mystery blended with a kind of eerie horror, set in Alabama in the 1920's. It's cleverly crafted, and a very compulsive read.