It all starts with a mummified show dog that’s been kidnapped. Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, troublemakers on the side of the angels, are hired to recover the dog, but they suspect there’s something amiss about this deal, and boy, are they ever right. What’s meant to be a quick trade of cash for canine corpse turns out to be part of a bigger mystery, one that threatens to put Hap and Leonard behind bars.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this brief outing with Lansdale’s flagship duo, I was hoping it would last a little longer, as Lansdale’s crackling dialogue and the intriguingly peculiar premise were playing together quite nicely. This story had some meat on it, and the conclusion felt rushed.
Also, for anyone who read Honky Tonk Samurai — the duo’s previous novel-length outing — don’t expect any insight into that book’s final twist. Coco Butternut seems to start sometime afterward, with no mention of the events of that book, save for Chance’s inclusion here. I found that omission more than a little jarring.
That being said, this is a fun little visit with Hap and Leonard, though not quite as satisfying a novella as Hyenas or Dead Aim.
Joe R. Lansdale
The Children of Darkness
In this case, you really cant judge a book by its cover. The Children of Darkness is not at all the post-apocalyptic tale that you might expect, based on the cover or the title. It is, in actuality, a delightful sci-fi/fantasy story about three kids trying to find themselves and achieve their potential through understanding their history and, consequently, the history of the world. While not categorized as a YA novel, I think it should be. There is probably more meat here that kids on the cusp of adulthood would find nourishing than more mature readers (although its not an unwelcome trip down memory lane).
Orah (the smart girl), Nathaniel (the strapping leader), and Thomas (the nimble artist) unwittingly embark upon a life-changing journey to find the truth after each has a teaching encounter with the vicars of the Temple of Light. In this post-post-post-modern world with little-to-no technology, defined castes, and isolation between communities, the Temple of Light controls all life functionsfrom how many children may be born to what citizens may think. These three kids bumble into a treasure hunt that will finally lead them to the truth about the darkness.
Litwack has created a gem that incorporates some of the best of the genre: Orah will likely remind many readers of J.K. Rowlings Hermoine (Harry Potter). Elements of the story arch are classic, but will seem particularly familiar to readers of Terry Goodkind (The Wizards First Rule). And while Litwack uses typical archetypes, his characters approach conflict in some ways that diverge from expectation while also providing enough of the familiar, tried and true not to disappoint.
The pacing of The Children of Darkness drags in places; all of the inner dialogue and story setup may not be appealing to every reader, and so you may feel a niggling desire to skip a few pages to get back into the action. But, in general, there is careful craftsmanship at play that endeavors to provide enough description without becoming bogged in unnecessary detailswhich could easily happen as Litwack creates an in-between world that is not quite medieval, but not modern either.
There are also seems to be a bit of a struggle with light and darkness not just in the themes but in the presentation as well; there is a tension in the novel that Im not sure is intentional. Litwack seems to want to convey the darkness of humanity but seems timid in just how much to describe, how dark to go. The story hovers in an uncomfortable realm that suggests horrors, but never truly shows them. There is order, but a sinister element bubbles just under the surface; however, Litwack never really allows us to look at it. Never giving into the grotesque or graphic for graphics sake, Litwacks restrained pen seems to be the balance to contemporary sci-fi productions (Mad Max: Road to Fury , Dredd ). There is something about the seemingly inevitable direction of the story that wants some moment of violence, something explosive in the pot that the three young adults stir.
If it is Litwacks project to complicate the notions of good and evil, he succeeds. In unexpected ways, he shows the fallibility and potential of human beings as a race and as individuals to effect changeperhaps neither for good nor ill. There is much to unpack here and a great deal worth expecting in the sequel.
A good read if you check your expectations at the door.
Sunborn Rising: Beneath the Fall
Barras world is dying. Slowly, ring by ring, the loft grows darker, less vibrant. With clues left in her fathers research notes, Barra and her friends, Tory and Plicks, must find a proof to show the elders. To save their world, they must Fall and go farther into the darkness than anyone before them.
Sunborn Rising by Aaron Safronoff is a young adult novel set in the imaginative world of Cerulean. Safronoff has built a rich and vibrant world, full of layers. Each of the main characters is unique and complex.
Barra, Tory, and Plicks are typical teenagers still on the threshold of childish behavior, but wanting to be taken seriously in their thoughts and endeavors. As with most coming of age sagas, this leads to trouble. The story really picks up about a third of the way through when the trio makes the discovery that leads to said trouble.
The accompanying drawings are beautifully detailed and allow the reader to see the world of Cerulean through the eyes of its creator. They are reminiscent of the movie Avatar in the vividness and color palette.
Although the descriptiveness of the writing will be sure to appeal to the YA crowd, the author uses a bit of a higher level of vocabulary, so older readers shouldnt feel like they are reading a childrens book. Dont be surprised if you have to look up the definitions of a couple of words.
My one complaint regarding the story is the elders journey to find the wayward trio. It seemed glossed over and summarized in an effort of expediency to move the story forward.
Even though Sunborn Rising is the first part of a two-part series, it doesnt end in a huge cliffhanger. While it sets up for the second half of the battle, it provides a satisfying close to the first chapter. That isnt to say you wont be left wanting to know what happens next, but you also wont feel like you were left with no answers to the saga that took place.
The Methuselarity Transformation
Raymond Mettler is a wealthy recluse, obsessed with his personal safety and staving off death at all costs. Marcus Takana is a poor athlete with big aspirations and no hope of realizing them. They would never have met, if not for a stranger named Terra, wielding an incredible offer: making Marcus’s dreams come true if he agrees to let Raymond’s mind inhabit his body when Ray dies. In a world where genetically engineered grass is choking the planet and aging can be held off indefinitely for the right price, both Ray and Marcus will discover the dark side of the secret Faustian bargain they’ve struck.
The Methuselarity Transformation feels like vintage sci-fi, tackling hard questions like social equality, economic disparity, and the consequences of genetic tinkering by crafting a human narrative around them. As Ray and Marcus’s bargain with Terra plays out, the reader slowly gains a foothold in this advanced – yet still very familiar – version of Earth.
That ambitious storytelling spirit also informs the novel’s pacing, as frequent jumps forward in time grant a glimpse of years in the lives of our protagonists, all told in the looming shadow of Ray’s eventual death and transfer into Marcus’s body. (Though, as the novel moves between the two main characters, it’s sometimes unclear how much time is passing.)
The various romantic and scientific subplots that weave in and out of our paired narratives help move Marcus and Raymond beyond being pieces on the gameboard, giving their stories a depth and resonance that move this beyond a simple “what if” scenario. But while the HibernaTurf crisis subplot provides intriguing insight into both Ray and Marcus’s individual histories (and adds a touch of backstory to the narrative), the SPUDs/sentient beings subplot never really gels with the novel’s major themes, adding color but little substance.
Cleverly, Moskovitz’s social commentary and scientific insight add a timeless quality to the book, preventing it from feeling too anchored to a 2014-fueled mentality. The Methuselarity Transformation is socially conscious sci-fi, something we could use more of these days.
Eons ago, the nation of Caladorn and the kingdoms of the Rhen existed in harmony. Those days are long past. Though they still share a root philosophy, at least so far as the nature of magic is concerned, relations between Bryn Calazar and Aerysius are far from friendly. Braden Reis is a Master of the Lyceum, sent to Aerysius as an ambassador in a last-ditch attempt to prevent war . . . but all is not as it seems. When an Acolyte from Aerysius Hall of Watchers stumbles upon an unholy conspiracy involving the demonic power of Xerys, Prince of Chaos, Braden finds himself embroiled in a struggle against the most powerful members of both Colleges of Magic for the future of his entire world. If he fails, Chaos will reign supreme. If he succeeds, it may mean the end of the world as he knows it.
The world presented in Darkstorm is fascinating, to say the least. I initially feared Caladorn would prove the stereotypical fantasy land where women are forced to rely on men to protect them, but this wasnt quite accuratethat only proves necessary if the woman in question has little status. There are many powerful women in Caladorn, though a good deal of their status and prestige seems to be founded in how alluring they are able to make themselves. Aerysius seems to be a bit more founded on equality, but as we spend a comparatively short time there I cannot say for certain. Fantasy tropes pop up left and right, but usually cast in a new light or employed in interesting combinations that dampen any potential annoyance.
The characters shown here are without fail three-dimensional and complex. One seems inconsistent at times, but that turns out to be intentional. Braden Reis is a man of convictions, with blood on his hands despite (or because of) his strong moral compass. Bradens lover, Master Sephana Clemley, holds a similarly steady morality despite serving a rival nation. Faced with evidence of corruption infecting both their orders, Braden and Sephana barely hesitate before seeking the truth. Also caught up in events is Sephanas apprentice, Merris Bryar, whose nosiness tips the Masters off to the conspiracy in their midst, and Bradens wine-sotted brother Quinlan. Even the antagonists prove complicated, and their motivations understandable even as we deplore their methods. We arent even entirely sure theyre wrong, in most cases.
Bottom line, this was an amazingly entertaining read. I do have some issues with the ending, but I cannot discuss them without courting spoilers, and so will leave off with merely that vague caveat. I look forward to seeing more in this trilogy when the time comes.
Maya Rising (Last Call for Caviar, vol.2)
SPOILER ALERT: The following contains spoilers for Volume 1 Last Call for Caviar.
This sequel to Last Call for Caviar is equally delicious as the first installment. A warning for persnickety readers, this is not a standalone volume. It will make almost no sense if you havent read the first book. This isnt to say that author Melissa Roen doesnt weave the storylines together seamlesslyshe doesbut she doesnt fully set up volume 2 the way she does volume 1. I recommend reading the books in order to get the full effect. And do NOT miss the prologues. Start at the very beginning.
Having said that
Destruction, death and blood cultsoh my! Maya Jade is still stranded on the continent during what can only be accurately described as Armageddon. Having finally found her way out of the Riviera and back into the arms of sexy surgeon Julian, the future is anything but certain. What perils lurk on the interior of Europe? Will they reach their destination in the safety of Switzerland? Will the safety promised there be real? Again, there are more questions than answers. And the few answers there are lead Maya further into trouble and the deviant and devious schemes for power and control that broil beneath the surface of a splintered civilization.
Finally reunited with lover Julian, Maya believes she has escaped the dangers of her past until they appear right on her tail bumper ready to rear end her into oblivion. And we are there to watch her dangle on the edge. Maya Rising jumps right into the action, and it doesnt let up. The plot winds through the French countryside and down back into the Riviera, coming full circle. Maya is forced to face the demons that have hounded her steps throughout both volumes.
The earth trembles with a mystical power that haunts Maya. The mysteries of this force seem to hold her destiny in its grip and the blazing red eye of the Purifier scorches. Through the melee, Maya has to figure out if her love for Julian is as strong as shes always believed. Could her feelings for another powerful man jeopardize their fairytale ending? Could unfinished business render all of the questions moot? Always just one step away from the end, Maya Jade is on an unrelenting journey toward her truth and the fate of the world.
This novel is a fast paced whirlwind of adventure, hurdling towards an odd conclusion that will keep you guessing until the very end. Roen is cruel in her conclusion. I implore her to reconsider, and serve us at least one more serving of Caviar.