Review: Known Devil by Justin Guistanis

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Known Devil by Justin GuistanisKnown Devil on 2014-01-28
Format: eARC
Goodreads
three-stars
My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets. A new supernatural gang is intent on invading Scranton – as if I didn’t have enough to contend with! Supernatural gang warfare? Not on my watch! File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Fang Warfare | Invading Forces | Uneasy Alliances | The Devil You Know ]

In which I talk, not about the book, but about the lessons it’s teaching us.

This series puzzles me a lot. I have read a lot of this author’s work and enjoyed almost all of it, so I’ve given this series a very large dose of benefit of the doubt. It’s not that the plot or characterization is confusing — they’re not. It just seems that the deep, moral lesson of the series can be a bit heavy-handed.

As the main character of our series, we have an ordinary human detective whose cultural heritage would find him the butt of many a joke. We know this, because it’s mentioned in every book. This man himself, at the start of the series, has a deep-seated hatred himself of a cultural group — namely, vampires; and he’s not too fond of the other types of supernaturals living in his city either.

Soon, Markowski has to face his own prejudice: both his daughter and his partner become blood-suckers. Crazily, we find out that Markowski had his daughter turned *at his own request* because she had a fatal medical condition. The choice was either undeath or true death. This complicates his feelings even more, as he hates the undead but loves his daughter. He despises what she became, even while admitting that it’s better than having her dead. He can’t hate his daughter when she was turned, not by her choice, but by his. He can’t hate all vampires when she is one of them.

So essentially we have this bigoted man whose job and home life have both forced him to confront the fact that he hates by default a class of people that includes the person he loves most AND the people that, as a police detective, he is supposed to be trying to protect. Couple this with an outside conflict with a man whose goal is complete obliteration of all the supernatural species — a goal that, perhaps at least at the beginning, Markowski may not have been too antagonistic towards.

However, the law he prizes is now on the side of the creatures he hates. He is slowly exposed to the very real, thinking, feeling beings at the source of his hatred. It’s his duty to protect with his life the thing he hates most… And eventually, he starts to see the supernatural community not as a group of monsters but as distinct people with their own individual wants and desires. Just like humans.

I wish prejudice was so easy to handle in real life. Pick a marginalized group and their story could echo the obstacles found in this series. Hatred on the street just for being different? Check. Blamed for their own disadvantages? Check. Even while hatred and politics keeps them disadvantaged? Yep. The cops who are supposed to be protecting them being a source of the problem? Oh, hell yes.

Feminists. POC. LGBTQ. The poor. Pick a group and they could be dropped into this book without much trouble. Does the author intend to speak about one of these groups? Or maybe all of them? Or perhaps it’s none at all and my own experiences with trying to be a champion and ally are coloring my reading. (Possible, but I think unlikely. I did say the moral lesson seems to be pretty thickly laid down here.)

The point of the thing, I think, is that we shouldn’t let ignorance and fear (and especially our politicians) convince us that people different from us are automatically the enemy. As humans, our brains like to classify things, but it’s all a lie. There is no such thing as “the vampires” or “the goblins”. “The gays”, “the blacks”, “the feminazis”, “the welfare moms”… Those labels are all a lie. Lies completely fabricated at times by people who want to point our hatred in a specific direction for their own benefit.

There are just people. People who are trying to do the best that they can with the life that they were given. Even people who make the wrong choices should be given enough of our respect to be seen as PEOPLE and not as a stereotype. And when I say this, I’m thinking of the series’ recurring antagonist: a rich, white man who was willing to wipe out entire groups of people for his own gain. Even he is just a man: an evil, misguided, ignorant and greedy man who made his own choices and now — after this latest book — has to deal with the consequences of them.

If only real life worked out so well.

three-stars

Review: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck WendigUnder the Empyrean Sky on July 30, 2013
Pages: 354
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow ? and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie ? his first mate and the love of his life ? forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry ? angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. Cael's ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

This book foretells the near-future dystopian conclusion to our recent political history: Occupy Wallstreet and the 1%, GMO food scandals, domestic government spying campaigns, and the health detriments of high fructose corn syrup. In this somewhere-in-the-future world, the richest 1% literally float high above the rest. Below, spouses are chosen by government dictate and everyone gets hitched and is expected to procreate whether they’re reproductive or heterosexually inclined or not.

The farming heartland has become filled from horizon to horizon with one crop only: a strain of corn that has carnivorous tendencies. Other crops are forbidden, and whole towns have been completely depopulated over the merest whisper of a fresh vegetable, with no trace left of where the residents may have been taken — if they were ‘taken’ anywhere at all. Cancer runs rampant through the population and a deadlier, more virulent strain of plant-like growths pop up to devastating effects.

In the midst of all this bleakness, we have a group of teenagers coming of age. Their government-chosen spouses are about to be announced and they’ll be expected to abandon any pretense they had of hope for their future in favor of factory or farm work that will without doubt one day kill them.

Our main character — for he isn’t at all a hero — is Cael. Seventeen and about to arbitrarily be declared a man, he resents his lot in life and is angry with just about everyone. Most teenagers are, but Cael has more reason than most. He’s ashamed of his father for not standing up to their bully of a mayor. He’s lost his ship and his hopes for a different livelihood to the mayor’s arrogant son. His mother is bed-ridden with tumors and cancer. His lover is most likely about to be pledged to wed another against both of their wills.

All of this is completely understandable. All of this also turns Cael into a little asshole. He is arrogant, head-strong, selfish, and focused only on the usual and generally misplaced dreams of glory and triumph of the young. He treats just about everyone, including his friends and girlfriend, badly.

But there is hope at the end of this book, even if only a glimmer. There is clear indication that there is still story left to tell, at least. To be completely honest with you, I found this story terrifying. Not because there is anything particularly horror-genre-like to be had. There is suspense, surely, and moments of tension but nothing that can be pointed to and named as the Big Bad Monster. Except, of course, when you take into account all of those things that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Maybe I am just old and embittered, but I find this world Wendig has created not so very far fetched at all, and that scares the daylights out of me. My own fear and feelings of helplessness at the circumstances of right now, today, in the real world make this story sound more like science than science fiction. With that said, I want young people to read this. I want lots of young people to read this. I want them to read this with hope in their hearts rather than the despair I have in mine, and I want them to make better choices than we have been making.

I haven’t felt this petrified that a story might actually happen since Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. And since we actually did get NSA spying after all, I’m hoping we as a society can nip this particular narrative in the bud before we end up growing some killer corn.

Note: If you’re interested in reading this book, there’s a giveaway over on Goodreads

four-stars

Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck WendigThe Blue Blazes on May 28th 2013
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
Meet Mookie Pearl.
Criminal underworld? He runs it.
Supernatural underworld? He hunts in it.
Nothing stops Mookie when he’s on the job.
But when his daughter takes up arms and opposes him, something’s gotta give…

The Blue Blazes – the first in a new urban fantasy series in which lovable thug Mookie Pearl must contend with the criminal underworld, the supernatural underworld, a new drug that makes the invisible visible, and a rebellious teen daughter who opposes him at every turn.

Oh, Mookie Pearl. Just an average boy living in a mafia world. One populated by creatures of the Great Below: goblins, snake-faced men, demon gods and other things that would sooner eat you than look at you.

Mookie’s got problems. He’s addicted to a (supernatural) underworld drug, his boss is ill, his daughter hates him, and he hasn’t seen his ex-wife in years. To top it all off, his boss’ grandson, heir to the (criminal) underworld throne has asked him to complete an impossible task: find the potentially mythological supernatural cure for Mafia Grandpa’s sickness. But when Mookie starts searching through both underworlds for this magic elixir, he starts to become aware of — and opposed by — other factions with their own sinister goals. Now more than his boss’ life and his daughter’s love are on the line. Now, the entirety of New York City is in jeopardy.

Let’s be honest here: Mookie Pearl is not the kind of guy you’d really want to entrust with the fate of an entire city. Oh, he’s honorable enough in his own way. If Mookie says he’s going to do something, he damn well does it. But he’s also a mafia grunt, a bruiser, a guy who maybe doesn’t enjoy killing but it certainly doesn’t seem to keep him up at night either. He’s the guy we all have nightmares of becoming. He’s the guy who made all the wrong choices in his youth: wrong job, wrong priorities, wrong people in his life.

Now he’s woken up and realized that all the things he should have spent his life fighting for are the ones he’s neglected into dust. Mookie’s whole life is rotten. It’s as filled with holes and demons and monsters as the rest of New York City, and one wrong move forward could blow the whole thing to hell, collapsing it into a big pile of rubble and blood and bodies. Extend this metaphor farther, and on bad days you can wonder if this isn’t the problem with the whole damn world.

This book kicked a big face-full of sand into my teeth and here I am days later still spitting out grit. It’s not for the faint of heart (Wendig’s books never are). While you’re looking up at that one dazzling ray of hope at the end, you’re also getting a knife in the chest. I’m not even sure yet if I even *liked* this book, but that’s not really the point. What we have here is a new flavor of urban fantasy in a genre that was starting to get a bit bland. There are interesting, full-fleshed characters whose choices drive the narrative into believable consequences. We have some interesting new monsters for a change built into an intriguing world with it’s own complete mythology.

The Blue Blazes is an iceberg kind of book. There’s so much going on under the surface (in more ways than one) that you are quite dazzled by it. And Wendig takes advantage of that bedazzlement to give you several swift kicks in the gut.

(Ed Note: Edited from original because repetitive word choice is repetitive.)

four-stars

Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

This is the fifth book in the Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne. It will be released November 27th, 2012 from Del Rey.

The Blurb

After twelve years of secret training, Atticus O’Sullivan is finally ready to bind his apprentice, Granuaile, to the earth and double the number of Druids in the world. But on the eve of the ritual, the world that thought he was dead abruptly discovers that he’s still alive, and they would much rather he return to the grave.
 
Having no other choice, Atticus, his trusted Irish wolfhound, Oberon, and Granuaile travel to the base of Mount Olympus, where the Roman god Bacchus is anxious to take his sworn revenge—but he’ll have to get in line behind an ancient vampire, a band of dark elves, and an old god of mischief, who all seem to have KILL THE DRUID at the top of their to-do lists. [Goodreads]

The Review

The leap past twelve years of training is understandable. I’d wondered how Hearne was going to work around that. On the other hand, as a fan of the series, I find myself gnashing my teeth at twelve years worth of stories that have just been skipped past.  I’m holding out hope that we’ll get to see more of them later. Maybe in some more short stories? (Yeah, why don’t you get on that, Mr. Hearne?) 😉

I honestly can’t believe that we’re already five books into this series. I’ve devoured everything so quickly that the story doesn’t seem long enough to have taken five books. (I think Atticus, our poor abused hero, would disagree with this.) Part of that is also the fact that the volumes themselves have been released fairly rapidly. The story seems quick because I haven’t had to wait and wait (and wait) for subsequent tales to be released. (This is a good thing.)

I won’t go into the plot on this one, since it is the fifth installment. However, I will tell you that the pacing is frenzied and the writing keeps getting tighter. I love it when a writer seems to find their rhythm and things really start booking along. Atticus’ story manages to fit the genre mold while still remaining unexpected and fun. So many books have gotten formulaic and tired, but the world-building here is fresh and charming without being bizarre.

If you’re a fan of Hearne, I’m sure you’ll be picking up this volume. If you’re not already, but you’re a fan of Jim Butcher or urban fantasy in general, you should give this series a shot. Click here for my review of the first book.

Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

This book is the first in a series from debut author Jay Kristoff called The Lotus War. It will be released on September 18, 2012 from St. Martin’s Press in hard cover and digital. Buy it here.

The Blurb

A DYING LAND 
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever. 

AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger—a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her. 

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire. [Goodreads]

The Review

Do I really need to tell you anything besides “Psychic teenager and her freaking griffin  fighting Japanese steampunk empire”? No? I didn’t think so, but here’s the rest of my review anyway.

Airships. Griffins. Crazy hallucinogenic drugs made from lotus flowers. Evil dictator. Endless war. Vast expanses of wilderness. And one small girl just trying to stay alive. All of this plays out under the ominous blood-red sky — a sign of man’s destruction of his own world.

It’s really much too soon to be naming anyone as Brandon Sanderson’s successor, but if we needed to appoint one then Jay Kristoff would have my nomination. Stormdancer has some of the same mind-boggling world-building that one would expect from one of Sanderson’s door-stoppers (but in a much more bite-size format at only 366 pages for the hardcover).

I adore Yukiko. Everything from her stubborn refusal to forgive her father for her mother’s disappearance, to her defiance of emperor and rebels alike, to her teenage pining over a boy, to her brutal reprisals for betrayal: I love everything about her. Have you heard people talking lately about what a role model Katniss Everdeen (from The Hunger Games) is for teenage girls? Well, as much as I agree with them, I have to say – move over, Katniss, because Yukiko is going to kick your ass. The Girl on Fire is a sputtering candle flame next to the inferno that is this Girl with the Thunder Tiger.

Does it sound like I’m gushing? I think it sounds like I’m gushing… I seriously didn’t realize how much I loved this book until I sat down to write this review. But – I love it. Not to mention the cover is gorgeous. My bet is that Kristoff is going to be a guy to watch in the next few years, and I look forward to being proven right. (No, I have no doubt that I will be proven 100% correct in this and many other things.)

If I hadn’t also read Libriomancer, then Stormdancer would be my favorite book of the year. Please note, however, that though I compare this book to a YA novel, and while it has appeared on many a YA list over on Goodreads: this book is being published as an adult title. It does contain lots of violence and at least one instance of “sexeh time”. I doubt a teenager would have many issues reading this, but your mileage may vary.

I’m giving this 4 & 3/4 out of 5 stars, only because I want the sequel to have some room to grow.

[xrr rating=4.75/5 imageset=default]

 

Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

This is the second book in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series. It was released from Angry Robot on August 28th. Continuing the tradition of the first in the series, Blackbirds, this one also has a kick ass cover.

The Blurb

Miriam is trying. Really, she is.

But this whole “settling down thing” that Louis has going for her just isn’t working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around. Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis–who’s on the road half the time in his truck–is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does.

It just isn’t going well. Still, she’s keeping her psychic ability–to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them–in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she’s keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle.

Then comes one bad day that turns it all on her ear.

The Review

If I had a literary id, I think Miriam Black would be the personification of it. She’s a broken, vulgar-mouthed, anti-social, unapologetically selfish woman who seems to be developing this nasty habit of risking her life for the sake of other people’s. If we met in real life we’d either be instant friends or enemies for life. Maybe both. What is a certainty is that neither one of us should ever work retail again. I love Miriam because she’s just so damned fascinating. It’s like she can’t help herself but to make bad choices, and reading her is like watching a slow-motion train wreck made of blood and broken steel and sarcasm.

If you’ve read Blackbirds (and why haven’t you?) and you thought that story was a twisty mind-fuck of a tale, then you’re in for a real treat with Mockingbird. Just the title, that seemingly deceptive single word, contains layers of meaning that echo through the whole book. That’s some damned talent. So much talent, in fact, that it just makes the writer in me sick with jealousy. Sick, I tell you.

I was waxing poetic here about broken stained-glass and how this book’s complete picture is both unknowable and cutting. But you know what? Fuck that noise. This is a good damned book that’ll scare the daylights out of you, and if you like that kind of thing you should read it. Chuck Wendig is the only author I know of who can manage to be subtle with his message while beating you bloody in the face with the violent action of his story. Like I said: that’s some damned talent.

[xrr rating=3.75/5 imageset=default]

Review: Dragon Justice by Laura Anne Gilman

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Dragon Justice by Laura Anne GilmanDragon Justice by Laura Anne Gilman
Published by LUNA on July 24th 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Paranormal, Romance, Urban
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-half-stars
In my time with PUPI, formally known as Private, Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations, I've seen a lot. Learned a lot. And not all of it's been good. But what we do—make people accountable for crimes committed with magic—is important work.Still. Even I need to take a break every now and again. Or so I've just been told (ordered).So hey, vacation. Maybe I'll finally figure out what's going on with the "special bond" between me and the boss man, Benjamin Venec. Venec seems to like that idea—he's invited me down to join him on a jaunt to Philly. But no sooner do I arrive in the City of Brotherly Love than we're called in to look at a dead body.And that's when life gets really complicated….

Dragon Justice is the 4th and final book in the Paranormal Scene Investigations series. It was released by Luna on July 24, 2012.

The Blurb

In my time with PUPI, formally known as Private, Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations, I’ve seen a lot. Learned a lot. And not all of it’s been good. But what we do—make people accountable for crimes committed with magic—is important work.

Still. Even I need to take a break every now and again. Or so I’ve just been told (ordered).

So hey, vacation. Maybe I’ll finally figure out what’s going on with the “special bond” between me and the boss man, Benjamin Venec. Venec seems to like that idea—he’s invited me down to join him on a jaunt to Philly. But no sooner do I arrive in the City of Brotherly Love than we’re called in to look at a dead body.

And that’s when life gets really complicated….

The Review

Bonnie and the other PUPIs have grown on me throughout this series. I wasn’t sure I liked this outgoing, outspoken, free spirit of a woman at first, but I’ve come to like her. She’s faced danger with bravery. She’s faced ambiguous moral situations and held fast to her own code. I may not have always understood the choices she made, but they always felt true to her character. Moreover, she made me respect her: her strength and her tenacity. And the fact that I can write about her here as if she were a real person and not just words on a page is a testimony to Gilman’s skill as an author.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Gilman’s work. She does good stuff, and this book (and series) is certainly worth the read. However, I finished Dragon Justice not triumphantly but instead vaguely disappointed. This is an adequate ending to a great series, but only adequate. The plot is solid and action-filled, don’t get me wrong. I devoured this book in less than two days, after all. I greatly enjoyed the return of the Wren as well. (I’d say that was my favorite part.)

The problem lies in the fact that it is the end of the series. This poor reader doesn’t feel like the plot threads were resolved at all. Sure, not every book has to have all the ends tied up neatly in pretty little bows. I like the idea that the characters and their lives will keep going on once the pages have all been turned. However, though we’re told how the main romance will be resolved, we don’t actually get to see it. I was convinced during my reading that a certain plot element was just a ruse, but it doesn’t seem to be so with the ending we receive here.That most of all just leaves me sad and rather disappointed.

If there were more – or just one more – book(s) in the series, then I’d say that Dragon Justice performs at a solid 4 (out of 5) stars. As it is, I think it goes out on a bit of a downer, with the barest hint of hope that our battered PUPIs will recover and go on. In my opinion, this installment lacks a significant something that would bring it from a solid and exciting entry in a series to a climactic and appropriate ending.

[xrr rating=3/5 imageset=default]

three-half-stars

Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

This is the debut novel from Daniel O’Malley, published on January 11, 2012 from Little, Brown.

The Blurb

The body you are wearing used to be mine.

So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her. 

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own. 

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined. [Goodreads]

The Review

This book shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. There are info-dumps galore. The main character’s name is a confusing jumble of consonants. The reader spends a large portion of the book confused. Hell, I thought this book was a “straight” thriller when I first picked it up!

Yet the info-dumping is done quite quaintly in letters from our heroine to her post-amnesiac self. It grates after awhile, but the intriguing story managed to drag me through it. It’s also noted fairly early on that Myfawnwy is pronounced like “Tiffany” but with a beginning “M” sound. (Still, I stumbled over the pronunciation in my head each time I came across it.) And it does seem sort of realistic to have the reader just as bewildered as the the point of view character, after all. I don’t know where my expectations of the book having no supernatural element came from, though.

In any case, for a book I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy and that I fully expected to put down forever after a couple of chapters, this does rather well. Myfawnwy’s story is unique and captivating. It itched at me under my skin whenever I wasn’t reading it, just as the thought of this review has itched at me since I put the finished book down. It was such a nice new spin on the genre that I really had no idea where the story was going to go. If the ending is any indication (and I assume that it is), then we should be expecting a sequel, too.

The Rook is a solid foundation for some truly original ideas in urban fantasy. I look forward to seeing another installment soon.

Review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

This book will be released April 24th, 2012 from Angry Robot. It is the first in a new series from Chuck Wendig, the foul-mouthed penmonkey behind the website Terrible Minds.

The Blurb

Miriam Black knows when you will die. She’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

But when Miriam hitches a ride with Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be murdered while he calls her name. Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim.

No matter what she does she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try. [Goodreads]

The Review

Blackbirds is a hauntingly macabre book. It was so intense that I read it in two nights, which I spread over three days. I had to take a night off in the middle just to recover from all the violence. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is ugly and vicious and cruel, actually, and that fingernail’s edge of hope that Wendig gives us may not be enough for some readers.

The prose is visceral and brutally beautiful. Miriam is a wonderfully flawed character who moves through her life like a tidal wave. Her path rains destruction down on everyone around her, but she is helpless to stop it. Imagine knowing that the people kindest to you in your life are destined to die horribly and the more you try to stop it, the more inevitable that death is. Now imagine living with that for a few years.

Miriam’s story is a disturbing and fascinating look at the fatal romance of inevitability and finality. In fact, “fatal” is the perfect word for Miriam. She’s caught in the twin grips of fate and death. No. Not death, but dying. That’s an important distinction. Miriam’s “gift”  is not concerned with what comes after life, but only with those final, horrifying moments of leaving it. 

Wendig does dark and brutal very, very well. His Atlanta Burns novella, Shotgun Gravy was similar in tone. I now find myself perversely wishing that I could read a light-hearted Wendig story, just for contrast sake.

[xrr rating=4/5 imageset=default]

Review: White Horse by Alex Adams

White Horse is the debut novel of Alex Adams and will be published from Atria/Emily Bestler Books on April 17, 2012. It is the first in a trilogy.

The Blurb

Thirty-year-old Zoe leads an ordinary life until the end of the world arrives. She is cleaning cages and floors at Pope Pharmaceuticals when the President of the United States announces that human beings are no longer a viable species. When Zoe realizes that everyone she loves is disappearing, she starts running. Scared and alone in a shockingly changed world, she embarks on a remarkable journey of survival and redemption. Along the way, Zoe comes to see that humans are not defined by their genetic code, but rather by their actions and choices. White Horse offers hope for a broken world, where love can lead to the most unexpected places. [GoodReads]

The Review

This book was a little more “literary” and a lot less fun then most stuff I’ve read lately. Sure, the end of the world isn’t exactly an uplifting subject, and the story does say a lot about human nature, hope, love, and despair. But Laura Anne Gilman’s Dragon Virus touched all those points, too, and she did it better, to boot. You may recall me saying that Gilman’s story was pretty bleak. Well, Dragon Virus was a beacon of hope compared to White Horse.

That’s not to say there’s no value in this. If you are less fond of the fantastic then you are of realism, Adams’ book is not much more far-fetched then a near-future imagining. If you need allegory in your novels, or haven’t been able to quite leave your college literature classes behind, then you may enjoy this one better than I did. Some of the blurbs accompanying it have compared it to Cormac McCarthy – and since I’ve never read him, I have no reason to think they’re lying. Which explains why McCarthy has never crossed my radar before. 

The book is well-written, and though I found Zoe a dry character, she’s not an unsympathetic one. The way the narrative jumps back and forth between “then” and “now” until the two time-lines coincide was obviously done so for impact. Unfortunately, it also kept me from becoming really engaged with Zoe’s character. Further, some of the events in the book seem almost more for shock value then to move the plot forward. They do do that, but they seem sort of shoe-horned in, not having evolved naturally.

I didn’t hate it, but I did find it disturbing and depressing. If you like your literature fantastic and with more prose than plot, you may enjoy this one better than I did.