The Trials of Solomon Parker
In 1900s Montana, Solomon Parker lives an uneasy life. He’s in debt to the wrong people, has an unstable wife, and is eking out a living in the dangerous mines and drinking himself to sleep. Until a young man he’s taken under his wing introduces some supernatural chaos into his life. For the Above Ones, eldritch gods of the People, have grown bored with humanity. A servant of theirs named Marked Face hunts down Solomon and offers him a wager. Using a set of unusual dice, Marked Face gambles with Solomon for the fate of humanity, the People, and even the Above Gods in the balance.
The Trials of Solomon Parker is a difficult book to categorize as it’s a rather unique blend of mythology, western, drama, and thriller. However, it does each insanely well. The mythology is grounded without being specific. The characters are incredibly drawn, even the minor ones. The dialogue is snappy and realistic. Solomon’s trials and tribulations drive the story, obviously, but smaller characters like the Irish thug-turned-kingpin nearly steal the show. All of the elements lend the story a surreal realism that’s at odds with the supernatural aspects.
Eric Scott Fischl
Dreamtime: The Gil-Garem
Dreamtime: The Gil-Garems story involves Edmund Mortani, a soldier who fought for the Sorisentine Dominion during the Garemoth Wars. In those wars, he lost his wife, Eurydice, on a mission. He continues to be haunted by dreams and visions of her 10 years after the war ends. When robot attacks begin again, Edmund suspects the Gil-Garem have come back to life, even though they appeared to be eradicated a decade earlier.
From the start, it is clear that Dreamtime: The Gil-Garem was once a screenplay. Character actions are written in the present tense, and several errors in grammar, spelling, and formatting show that a good spell-checker and the Chicago Manual of Style were not contributing resources to this sci-fi epic. Upon finishing the book, I found out the author had created a hybrid tense system for writing around his screenplay format. While it was a good effort, subverting English grammar didnt completely iron out the difference in experience between screenplay and novel, and, ultimately, the author would have done better to start from scratch and use proper storytelling conventions.
Its difficult for a reader to grow attached to a character without even knowing what they look like. If this book were to be made into a movie, viewers would have the luxury of seeing what Edmund looked like, as portrayed by an actor, along with the other characters and the scenery. For the first several chapters, I felt blind, like I was feeling my way along the narrative with indistinguishable human beings and nondescript robots doing things. While it might have slowed the pacing, I would have enjoyed the book more for its ability to paint a clear picture of the action in my mind.
The atmosphere of the book reminded me of a Star Trek fan fiction, intriguing in its development and ideas, but amateurish in its execution. However, a major strong point the book has going for it is its action sequences. Edmund and his crew go on missions to determine what the robots are and where theyre coming from, and the fight scenes are described in richer detail than many of the other elements of the book. Clearly depicted scenery, deeply developed characters, and a coherent adventure plot are the cornerstones of a good sci-fi novel.
I will gladly enjoy a several-hundred-page space opera because I know from its in-depth world and character building, as well as the narratives ability to paint clear pictures and develop tension and conflict that its good science fiction. In addition, good science fiction addresses deeper themes: the search for utopia, the human condition, the hubris of man, or leadership under duress. While some broader ideas were touched upon, such as Edmunds sense of loss and the relationship between artificial and organic intelligence, the themes werent completely clear.
Dreamtime: The Gil-Garem was a good start; the shell of a more developed story, but it is sure to leave readers wanting more.
Last Call for Caviar ( vol.1)
Destruction, death and blood cultsoh my! Maya Jade has been stranded in the Riviera during what can only be accurately described as Armageddon. Author Melissa Roen creates a rather convincing alternate reality in Last Call for Caviar, one in which the world as we know it is quickly and definitively coming to an end. The earth seems to have entered a purge mode, spewing, shattering and shocking humanity right off of her face. Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, extreme weather of all kinds are testing the limits of mankind and the results are catastrophic. War rages everywhere as bands fight against bands, governments fight against their citizens, and individuals fight for their lives. The landscape is chaotic.
Yet, in the midst of all this devastation, there are places where champagne still flows lavishly and caviar is consumed in abundance. Tucked away on the beautiful coast of the Côte dAzur, the wealthy hide from the treacherous minefields of the disintegrating world. It is in this glittery, gilded backdrop that Maya finds herselfcut off from the security of family, the safety of civilization, and the love she found in France. Having traveled to the region for school and making a life there because of connections, Maya fell in love with the Riviera. When sexy surgeon Julian steals her heart, Mayas destiny is sealed. After a fated lovers quarrel leads to their separation, and tragic world events lead to a splintering of society, Maya becomes desperate. Should she abandon her hopes of happiness with the love of her life and run tail for home in the US? Should she stick it out on the slim chance that Julian will return to her? Should she cultivate her resources to find another way to survive the end of the world? Is survival even possible? The questions keep mounting as more and more craziness ensues.
With each new episode of insanity, a greater truth is revealed to Maya, a truth that only she seems to understand or see.
Roen is convincing here. Her vision of the end is so well crafted and executed, as I read, the news humming in the background, it seemed not just feasible but utterly possible that Roen herself is a seer. There is nothing overly farfetched here, which makes the fantastical elements of Last Call for Caviar that much more intriguing; any of this could happen at any moment. And thats what made me keep turning the pages (and watching the skies).
A fairly long volume at 302 pages, the book was a swift read, sucking me in from the very beginning. There is little fat here, this is a trim and tone narrative. Maya Jade is a kick-ass heroine, dynamic and organic, nuanced and complex. At turns shrinking violet and fierce lioness, damsel in distress and irreverent daredevil. The plot allows for rich interactions that lend cinematic interest, with intense action, gut-wrenching drama, sensual and haunting sizzle, well-placed comedy, and the type of fantasy/sci-fi that makes you think Could this really happen?.
There really isnt much to complain about here. A word of caution: read the whole book from the Prologue; its incredibly important to understand the story and set you up for Volume 2 (which I started before even finishing volume 1). Small deductions for: cover art, I found myself wanting to turn the book over, but I have never been one for messy eaters; typos, Im sorry to say but there were a few that pulled me out of the story occasionally; and an incomplete and hard to use glossary of terms. These are the smallest of complaints. The meat here is worth the price and then some. I just might feast on this tasty meal again and again. I hate caviar, but I loved Last Call.
Illidan: World of Warcraft
Novels that take place in role-playing games are a big business and can greatly expand the universe. Just look at the Warhammer series, the novels are incredibly popular and span both fantasy and science fiction. Now it seems World of Warcraft wants to get into the game and publish books that expand its universe. Even though one game is board based and the other is computer based. Honestly as an early effort this falls a bit flat, and William King is well known for his Warhammer books so this effort is surprising. We follow Illidan who has been locked up for thousands of years after betraying the people he was ruling, but now the darkness returns and Illidan is the only one that can stop it. He must gather together a fearsome army, but not everyone trusts him.
This feels like a weak Warhammer book and I will forgive people if they have a hard time telling the difference, the names are similar to what can be found in Warhammer books. If Blizzard is looking to differentiate itself from the other universe it could have done better.
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.
The Third of Seven
Abram Jacobson is a…well, he is human. He is also a…hmmm, well, he does not actually know. The Third of Seven tells the story of how Abram woke up in a strange land, surrounded by strange creatures and no memory of who he is or what he does. As the amnesia slowly clears, his predicament does not.
As he interacts with more beings, he realizes that, not only is he trapped in an alternate dimension, but there is an evil mage wanting to destroy Abram’s home world. If that is not enough for his addled mind to cope with, another mage claims that Abram is the key to saving or destroying his homeland. Which mage wishes to help and which wishes to murder is not very clear to him or to us initially. Is Abram the only human to travel to this strange land, is he the one to save all of the dimensions? You will just have to read the book and see what happens.
Author Jeremie Guy regales us with such vivid imagery, you could almost close your eyes and picture the beauty of the blue moon or hear the gushing of the wind as our hero falls from a mountain. Inhabitants of this new Earth are also quite interesting, my favorites, purely due to their name, are the Elecki of an area called Electrode. This, in short, is a tale of brilliance. There are a few grammatical errors that caused me to re-read a sentence or two to understand the meaning, but it did not deter me from enjoying the storyline at all.