Lizzie Brown, once preschool teacher turned demon slayer, is extremely excited to be marrying her true love, Dimitri Kallinikos, who just so happens to also be a magical shape-changing griffin. And she’s also fine with letting her adoptive mother run the whole show, even though her mother wants to make the wedding into a week-long event. She’s not so ok with having to tell her mother about being a demon slayer, though. Or about integrating her mother’s posh southern lady lifestyle with her recently discovered blood-related grandmother’s biker witch gang. She’s pleasantly surprised that her mother found a goth-style mansion to rent for the wedding. Maybe the magical and the non-magical can integrate fairly well, after all. But then it becomes evident that someone in the wedding is trying to kill her. Plus, they find demonic images around the property…..
This remains one of my most enjoyed urban fantasy series. The world Fox has created is bright, witty, imaginative, and a real pleasure to visit, even though sometimes the main character can rub me the wrong way (she’s a bit too straight-laced for me sometimes). Urban fantasy books can either keep the main character perpetually single or have her get married. If they choose to get married, the wedding book winds up with a lot on its plate. It’s hard to integrate the world of urban fantasy with the wedding scene a lot of readers enjoy reading about. Fox achieves this integration eloquently, presenting an intriguing urban fantasy mystery, the clash of urban fantasy magical folks and real world expectations, and manages to show the wedding is about the marriage, not the party.
My main gripe with the previous book was Dimitri and Lizzie’s relationship. Primarily that they don’t appreciate what they have, and how annoying that is. I think the events of the previous book really snapped them out of it, because here, Lizzie and Dimitri have taken their relationship to another level. They have a trust in and intimacy with one another that manages to withstand some pretty tough tests, and is a pleasure to read about. It’s easy to see that this is a couple that is ready for a marriage. It’s a healthy relationship that’s rare to see in urban fantasy. At this point in the series, I can appreciate that Dimitri and Lizzie aren’t perfect in the earlier books. Relationships change and grow with time, and Fox demonstrates that beautifully. Of course, it’s still more fun to read about a happy couple than one bickering with each other over minor things. But those hiccups in the relationship in earlier books helps make it (and the marriage) seem more real.
Similarly, Lizzie has grown with the series. Where at first she’s annoyingly straight-laced, now she is not just starting to break out of that but is enjoying breaking out of it. Seeing her adoptive mother pushes this issue to the forefront. Lizzie is finally coming into her own, and she, and her loving mother, have to confront that.
[Lizzie's mother] paused, straightened her already squared shoulders. “Is this type of style…” she waved a hand over me, “appealing to you? You look like a hooligan.” I let out a sigh. “Try biker.” (page 16)
Whereas this confrontation between Lizzie and her mother could have led to the mother looking like a bad guy, Fox leaves room for Lizzie’s mom to be different from her but still a good person and a loving parent. They butt heads over different opinions, just as real-life parents and adult children do, but they both strive to work through them and love each other for who they are. It’s nice to see how eloquently Fox handles that relationship, particularly with so many other plot issues going on at the same time.
The plot is a combination of wedding events and demon problems. Both ultimately intertwine in a scene that I’m sure is part of many bride’s nightmares. Only it really happens because this is urban fantasy. How Fox wrote the plots to get to that point is enjoyable, makes sense, and works splendidly. The climax perfectly demonstrates how to integrate urban fantasy and real life situations. Plus, I did not come even close to guessing the ending, which is a big deal to me as a reader.
The wit and sex scenes both stay at the highly enjoyable level that has been present throughout the series. Dimitri and Lizzie are hot because they are so hot for and comfortable with each other. The humor is a combination of slapstick and tongue-in-cheek dry humor that fits the world perfectly. I actually laughed aloud quite a few times while reading the book.
Overall, this is an excellent entry in this urban fantasy series. It tackles the wedding of the main character with a joyful gusto that leaves the reader full of wedding happiness and perhaps breathing a sigh of relief that no matter what may go wrong at their wedding, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as what can go wrong at an urban fantasy wedding. Highly recommended to fans of the series. You won’t be disappointed in Lizzie’s wedding, and you’ll be left eager to see her marriage.
5 out of 5 stars
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous. Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them. He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire. When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is one of the twelve indie books I accepted to be reviewed on my blog in 2014 (complete list). I was immediately intrigued by the summary, due to its delightful urban fantasy/paranormal take on AA. The book delivers exactly what it promises, spiced with a noir writing style.
Jack Strayhorn is the perfect paranormal version of the noir-style hardboiled detective. He’s got a biting, snarky wit, a handsome presence, a sharp mind, and is a bit distant and mysterious. It’s just in this case he’s distant and mysterious because he’s a vampire. Making the private eye a vampire makes his character unique in noir, and, similarly, making the vampire a private eye with his focus primarily on crime solving and not paranormal politics gives the urban fantasy vampire a unique twist. Jack is presented as a complex character, one who we could not possibly get to know fully in just the first entry in the series. It’s easy to see how he will manage to carry the proposed 12 entries in the series.
Supporting Jack is a wide range of characters who accurately portray the diversity in a large town like LA, as well as the diversity one expects in a paranormal world. The characters are multiple races and classes. Whereas some urban fantasy books slowly reveal the presence of more and more paranormal races throughout the series, this book starts out with quite a few, and that is a nice change of pace. Most urban fantasy readers expect there to be more than just vampires, and the book meets the urban fantasy reader where they’re at. Even though the book has a large cast, the secondary characters never blend together. They are easily remembered, and the diversity probably helps with that.
I like the idea of vampires having an AA-like group, but I’m still not sure how I feel about this group existing as some secret under the umbrella of AA itself. The book even goes so far as to say the the founder of AA was a vampire himself, and used the human illness of alcoholism as a cover for the vampire group. I like and appreciate vampirism as a disease that some people just mysteriously have at birth as an analogy for alcoholism, but I feel that having it present in the same group as the real life AA groups dampens the realness of actual AA, weakening the analogy instead of strengthening it. I’ve seen books before have paranormal people get together in AA-style groups (zombies anonymous springs to mind), and in real life AA has spinoffs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. Prior to reading the book I thought maybe something might be added by having the vampires be a secret organization under AA, but after reading the book, I don’t think it did. I think the analogy would have been stronger if vampires spotted the similarities of their genetic vampirism with alcoholism and formed a “vampires anonymous” group, inspired by AA. Something about vampires creating AA themselves as a cover hits a bit of a sour note and weakens the analogy.
The plot is complex, with just enough twists and surprises. There were parts of the ending that I was unable to predict. The plot contained within the book was wrapped up sufficiently, and the overarching plot intending to cover the whole series was well-established and filled me with the desire to keep reading. Unfortunately, the second book isn’t out yet, so I will just have to wait!
Overall, this is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series. Some readers might dislike the paranormal take on Alcoholic’s Anonymous found within the book, but it is secondary to the mystery/noir plot and easy to gloss over if necessary. Recommended to urban fantasy readers looking to venture into noir or vice versa, as well as anyone who enjoys both urban fantasy and noir.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Zak wakes up from a night of drunken revelry to find himself in his apartment but not his apartment building. His apartment is now part of a massive structure of multiple different architectural styles that looks like it goes on forever. Plus his bathroom is missing. Shreya wakes up in her car in a parking garage to Hungry Eyes playing on the radio and an ominous car nearby nicknamed “Die Pflaume.”
This first entry of a new serial does a quick job establishing a strong setting but just when the action gets going, it leaves the reader hanging.
When I accepted this review copy, I must admit that I didn’t realize it was the first entry in a serial, I thought it was in a series. Serials offer small episodes of an overarching story in bite-size chunks the reader picks up. Think of it as reading an episode of your favorite tv series. I think it would help if this was marketed more clearly as a serial, since certain readers love that reading experience and others aren’t too keen on it. Making it clearer that it’s a serial will help it better reach the right readers.
A good serial entry will read much like an episode in a tv show with a large, overarching plot, but also a smaller plot that can be told in one episode that is, ideally, tied to the overarching plot in some way. This gives the reader the satisfaction of completing a piece of smaller plot but also keeps them engaged in the series as a whole. This serial does a good job setting up the overarching plot. People are waking up in what appears to be an alternate universe that is possibly punishing them for something they did that they can’t remember with sinister beings chasing them or tormenting them from afar. It’s a good mystery, but it is just getting going when the serial entry stops. This would be ok, but the big weakness of the serial entry is that there is no self-contained smaller plot. Thus, instead of feeling any sense of satisfaction of having learned something or completed one mystery, the two main mysteries of the overarching plot are just getting going and then stop abruptly. Without the presence of a second, self-contained, smaller plot for this entry in the serial, this just leaves the reader feeling cheated out of getting the whole story, rather than the dual experience of satisfaction at the wrap-up of the smaller plot and intrigue at the larger plot.
The setting of the alternate universe is well-established and delightfully creepy. Everything being just a little bit off is creatively written without being in the reader’s face. The author also includes a drawing of a mysterious symbol that Zak sees, which helps build the atmosphere.
In contrast, Zak and Shreya feel a bit two-dimensional, but this is possibly because they have such a short time in which to be established. Similarly, the demonic character who chases Zak comes across as corny, straight out of a B movie, not frightening like he is, presumably, supposed to. The world building is so good that the two-dimensional good guys and cheesy bad guys stick out like a sore thumb.
The one flaw in the writing style is there are way too many similes. At times it feels that every other sentence contains one. Any descriptor used too much can go from artful to annoying. A lighter hand on these would be helpful in future entries.
Overall, this first entry in the serial establishes a delightfully creepy alternate universe where everything is just off. The lack of a smaller, self-contained plot in addition to an overarching plot will make this frustrating to read, unless the reader has the next entry at hand to read immediately. Recommended primarily to horror fans who like their horror in small bites and enjoy the concept of a serial who won’t mind waiting a bit for the conclusion to the mystery in future entries.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review
The Library of America collects together great pieces of American literature into themed books. This can be anything from an author, to writing on aviation, to the Harlem Renaissance, to transcendentalism. Clearly this is a collection of classic 1950s scifi, in particular covering the time period from 1956 to 1958. The books included in the collection, in order of publication date, are:
Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein (1956)–When out-of-work actor Lorenzo Smythe is approached in a bar by a space pilot with a job offer, he agrees to at least go meet the man’s boss and discuss it. Quickly, however, Lorenzo finds himself being kidnapped into outer space and impersonating a missing important politician, John Joseph Bonforte, under slight duress. They must keep the public from knowing the politician has been kidnapped and successfully participate in a Martian adoption ceremony or face interplanetary war.
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (1956)–In the future, men have discovered the ability to jaunte–to teleport from one location to the other. The only catch is that you can only teleport to a place you have previously been. This means that jauntes around the world are the domain of the wealthy who can make the journey first. In this future of teleportation and telepaths, the rich have become a hipster elite, showing off their wealth by using outmoded and and outdated methods of transportation like cars and trains. Foyle is one of the working poor. A hand on a spaceship that has an accident, leaving him in a closet grasping to the last straws of oxygen. Another spaceship passes him by, after clearly seeing his flare, and he vows vengeance upon them if he ever escapes alive. Which he does. What follows is a tangle of intrigue across time and space.
A Case of Conscience by James Blish (1958)–A new inhabited planet, Lithia, has been discovered, and an exploratory Earth crew of four is sent to determine how Earth will respond to the planet. Ruiz-Sanchez is a scientist and a member of this crew, but he’s also a Jesuit priest. Although he admires and respects the reptilian-humanoid inhabitants of Lithia, he soon decides that the socialist, perfectly co-existing society must be an illusion of Satan, so he advises against maintaining ties with the planet. The vote of the crew is a tie, however, so the UN must ultimately decide the fate. While they are awaiting the decision, Ruiz-Sanchez and the others must raise and guardian a Lithian child who is sent as a present to Earth. Soon, Ruiz-Sanchez starts having fears about just who the child might be.
Who? by Algis Budrys (1958)–In an alternate late 20th century, the Allies are still at a cold war with the Soviets. The Allies’ best scientist, Martino, is working on a secret project called K-88 when there is an explosion. The first rescuers to him are Soviet. The norm is for Allied prisoners to ultimately be returned across the line. But the Soviets claim that Martino’s skull and arm were badly damaged and return him with a metal, robotic head and arm. Is this man really Martino, or is he a Soviet plant?
The Big Time by Fritz Leiber (1958)–It’s the Time War, and the Spiders and Snakes are battling each other up and down the timeline in an attempt to give time the ultimate outcome they each are hoping for. Nobody knows precisely who the spiders and snakes are, but they briefly resurrect humans and ask them if they want to participate in the war. Those who say yes become the soldiers, nurses, and the Entertainers who provide rest and relaxation for the soldiers in the waystation. One waystation is about to hit a ton of trouble when a package shows up and a soldier starts talking mutiny.
This is my third Library of America collection and, unfortunately, is the one I’ve liked least so far. Perhaps I have simply discovered that the Red Scare overtakes American scifi of the late 1950s more than I had previously realized, and that is just not to my own personal scifi taste. The collection still does what it purports to, though: it gathers a selection of the best of American scifi in a particular time period, letting the reader immerse herself and truly come to know a particular genre in a particular period.
Since this collection gathers up books written by different authors, I have reviewed the books individually as I read them. Thus, here I will simply summarize my reviews to give you a feeling of the collection as a whole.
Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein
Similar to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein presents a delightful mix of wit, Hollywood glamor, and thought-provoking political speeches all in a well-imagined and engaging future society. A fun piece of classic scifi that tosses together acting and politics in outer space with Martians who look like toadstools and a heavy sprinkling of wit. The romance leaves something to be desired, and the tech isn’t particularly predictive or imaginative, but these are minor aspects of the story. Recommended to fans of witty scifi who don’t mind a dash of political intrigue.
4 out of 5 stars
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
The world building is so excellent and gets so much attention from Bester that it overshadows the more average vengeance plot with iffy morals. Readers who enjoy immersing themselves in various possible futures will revel in the uniqueness and richness of the future presented here. Those who believe firmly in punishment for crime as opposed to redemption may not be able to get past the plot to enjoy the setting. Recommended to scifi fans interested in a unique future setting.
4 out of 5 stars
A Case of Conscience by James Blish
Essentially, the book has interesting world-building and what could be a promising plot that get derailed by two-dimensional characters and too many bizarre plot-twists and occurrences. It’s certainly an interesting read, particularly if you are interested in immersing yourself in this odd world Blish has created. However, readers should not expect to connect with the characters on an emotional level and should be prepared for a bizarre plot.
3 out of 5 stars
Who? by Algis Budrys
An interesting concept that wasn’t fully fleshed out nor the possible weaknesses fully addressed. It is definitely a scifi of its time, with its hyper-focus on the Soviets and the Cold War that could almost feel kitschy today. A short read with an interesting premise, albeit a lack of female scientists, soldiers, or government workers. Recommended to scifi fans who enjoy some old-fashioned red scare in their reads and don’t need the science to be perfect.
3 out of 5 stars
The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
A thought-provoking whodunit mystery set in an R&R waystation in a time-travel war. Some aspects of the book did not age particularly well, such as the hysterical fear of Communism and the lack of women soldiers, but the heart of the book is timeless. How do you know if those in charge are right or wrong, does love make you see things more or less clearly, and does evolution feel frightening and random when it’s happening. Recommended to scifi fans with an interest in a scifi take on a Clue-like story.
3 out of 5 stars
This is an interesting collection that shows how gradually fear of Communism came to take over American thought by the end of 1958. The two earliest books in the collection are set in a far future with no concerns about the long-reaching impacts of the Cold War. By the last two books, the futures are heavily impacted by the perceived threat of Communism, with one book even having time itself being unraveled and re-written in an attempt to stop the Russians. The most light-hearted, entertaining book in the collection is Double Star. I would recommend fans of witty scifi pick it up as soon as they get the chance. The most thought-provoking, with a cool world that could work quite well for cosplay is The Stars My Destination. It withstands the test of time quite well. The most interesting world is the planet and culture of Lithia in James Blish’s A Case of Conscience. The collection as a whole is primarily recommended to scifi fans with a heavy interest in how the Red Scare of 1950s America can be seen in scifi of the time.
3 out of 5 stars
It’s the Time War, and the Spiders and Snakes are battling each other up and down the timeline in an attempt to give time the ultimate outcome they each are hoping for. Nobody knows precisely who the spiders and snakes are, but they briefly resurrect humans and ask them if they want to participate in the war. Those who say yes become the soldiers, nurses, and the Entertainers who provide rest and relaxation for the soldiers in the waystation. One waystation is about to hit a ton of trouble when a package shows up and a soldier starts talking mutiny.
I’m a fan of time-travel as a scifi trope, and I liked the concept of a time war, so when I saw this sitting on my virtual ARC pile, I figured it would be a quick, appealing read. The book is less about time-travel, and more a type of scifi game of Clue, with everyone trapped in a waystation instead of a house trying to figure out who turned off the machine that connects them to the galaxy, rather than solve a murder.
The book takes place entirely within the waystation. The waystation exists outside of time to give the time soldiers a place to recuperate without the pressures of time travel. All but one of the soldiers are men, and most of the Entertainers are women. The one female soldier is from ancient Greece, the clear idea being that her era of women are the only ones tough enough to be soldiers. This definitely dated the book and led to some eye-rolling on my part. On the plus side, the book is narrated by a woman, and she is definitely one of the brains of the bunch. There thus is enough forward-thinking that the sexist distribution of time soldiers doesn’t ruin the book; it’s just irritating.
The crux of the book is the soldiers wondering who, exactly, is telling them what to do up and down the timeline and worrying that they are ruining time, not to mention the planet Earth they once knew. The soldiers are told they’re on the side of the good guys, yet the good guys are insisting that Russia must be stopped at all costs, even if that means the Germans winning WWII. Thus, the soldiers are awkwardly paired up with Nazis in the fight. It’s interesting to force the Allies to attempt to see Germans in a different light. However, the whole idea that Russia (and Communism) will ruin the world is just a bit dated. It’s easy to get past, though, since the dilemma of how to know if who you are following is making the right choices is a timeless one.
The attempted mutineer ends up trying his mutiny because he falls in love with one of the Entertainers.
I decided they were the kind that love makes brave, which it doesn’t do to me. It just gives me two people to worry about. (loc 10353)
The attempted mutiny against the cause is thus kind of simultaneously blamed on love and on the woman behind the man starting the drama. It’s true that love makes people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, but I do wish the characters were more even-handed in dealing out the blame for the mutiny to both halves of the couple. On the plus side, it is left unclear if the mutiny is a good or bad idea, so whether the idealistic couple in love are right or not is up to the reader to decide.
The final bit of the book dives into theories about time-travel, time, and evolution. It’s a bit of a heady side-swipe after the romping, Clue-like plot but it also shows how much of an impact the events of the book have on the narrator. At the beginning, the narrator states it was a life-changing sequence of events, and the wrap-up deftly shows how it impacted her.
Overall, this is a thought-provoking whodunit mystery set in an R&R waystation in a time-travel war. Some aspects of the book did not age particularly well, such as the hysterical fear of Communism and the lack of women soldiers, but the heart of the book is timeless. How do you know if those in charge are right or wrong, does love make you see things more or less clearly, and does evolution feel frightening and random when it’s happening. Recommended to scifi fans with an interest in a scifi take on a Clue-like story.
3 out of 5 stars
The group of people who traveled from the future to the Pliocene past for a willful exile were split into two by the alien race, the Tanu, who, surprisingly, inhabits Earth. Half were sent to slave labor, while the others were deemed talented at mind powers, given necklace-like torcs to enhance those powers, and sent to the capital city of Muriah. In the first book, we followed the daring escape of the group sent into slavery. They then discovered that the Tanu share the Earth with the Firvulag–an alien race from their home planet that has many similarities to their own. They also organized an attack on the industrial city of Finiah. This book at first follows the adventures of the other group, the one sent to the capital city of Muriah. Through them we discover the inner workings of the Tanu, the intersections of humans and aliens, and the impact of the human/Firvulag attack on Finiah. When the time for the Great Combat between the Tanu/human subjects and the Firvulag arrives, the survivors of the escaped slave group end up coming back into contact with the group of humans in Muriah. With dire consequences.
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, finding it to be a delightful mash-up of scifi and fantasy. When I discovered my library had the next book in the series, I picked it up as quickly as possible. This entry feels more fantastical than the first, although science definitely still factors in. It is richer in action and intrigue and perhaps a bit less focused on character development.
This is a difficult book to sum up, since so very much happens. It’s an action-packed chunkster, providing the reader with information and new settings without ever feeling like an info-dump. The medieval-like flare of the Tanu and the goblin/fairie/shapeshifter qualities of the Firvulag are stronger in this entry, and it is delightful. Creating a medieval world of aliens on ancient Earth is probably the most brilliant part of the book, followed closely by the idea of torcs enhancing the brain’s abilities. May has created and weaved a complex, fascinating world that manages to also be easy enough to follow and understand. The sense of the medieval-style court is strong from the clothing, buildings, and organization of society. She doesn’t feel the need to willy-nilly invent lots of new words, which I really appreciated.
The intrigue is so complex that it is almost impossible to summarize, and yet it was easy to follow while reading it. Surprises lurk around every corner, and May is definitely not afraid to kill her darlings, following both William Faulkner’s and Stephen King’s writing advice. A lot happens in the book, the characters are tested, and enough change happens that I am excited there are still two more books, as opposed to wondering how the author could possibly tell more story. In spite of the action, sometimes the book did feel overly long, with long descriptions of vegetation and scenery far away from where most of the action was taking place.
The book is full of characters but every single one of them manages to come across as a unique person, even the ones who are not on-screen long enough to be fully three-dimensional. The cast continues to be diverse, similarly to the first book, with a variety of races, ages, and sexual preferences represented. I was surprised by the addition of a transwoman character. She is treated with a mix of acceptance and transphobia. I think, certainly for the 1980s when this was published, it is overall a progressive presentation of her. She is a doctor who is well-respected in Tanu society. However, she also is presented as a bit crazy (not because of being trans but in addition to being trans), and it is stated by one character that she runs the fertility clinic because it is the one part of being a woman that will always be out of her grasp. I am glad at her inclusion in the story but readers should be aware that some aspects of the writing of her and how other characters interact with her could be considered problematic or triggering. I would be interested to hear a transperson’s analysis of her character.
Overall, this entry in the series ramps up the action and more thoroughly investigates the world of the Pliocene Exile. Readers disappointed by the lack of information on the half of the group heading to the capital city in the first book will be pleased that their story is told in this one. Characters are added, including a transwoman doctor, and all continue to feel completely individual and easily decipherable, in spite of the growing cast list. The fast action pace sometimes is interrupted by lengthy descriptions of settings far away from the action, but overall the chunkster of the book moves along at a good pace and remains engaging. Recommended to fans of fantasy who want a touch of science in their stories and who are interested in the idea of medieval aliens.
4 out of 5 stars
Nobody quite knows what is wrong with Area X, but everyone has their speculations. It’s been cut off from the rest of the world for decades, and the government has kept precisely what is going on rather hush-hush. The government periodically sends teams in to investigate it. The narrator, a biologist, is part of Team 12. The team is entirely made up of women, based on a supposition that women are less badly effected in Area X than men. The biologist’s husband was part of Team 11. She is curious to know what happened to him but also entirely intrigued by the tunnel her team finds. She insists on calling it a tower. Through her mandatory journal, we slowly discover what may or may not be in Area X.
I picked this book up since it sounded like it would be a mix of scifi and Lovecraft style fantasy, plus it features an entirely female investigative group. Although it is an extremely interesting premise, the actual book does drag a bit.
The biologist narrates in a highly analytical way that is true to her character but also doesn’t lend itself to the building of very much tension. Since the biologist calmly narrates everything, the reader stays calm. She also, frankly, isn’t an interesting person due to this same tendency to view everything through an analytical lens. Imagine if Star Trek was 100% written by a Vulcan, and you can begin to imagine the level of ho-hum.
This narration style could have really worked if the language used was stunningly beautiful. While I think that’s probably what the author was going for, it largely missed for me. While the language was good, there was also nothing particularly special about it. I marked three passages that I enjoyed throughout the whole book. Looking back, two were extremely similar. The passage I found to be the most beautiful is:
That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you. From the outside in. Forcing you to live in its reality. (time 3:15:47)
While pretty, it’s not pretty enough to make up for the rather dull narrator.
Since the story has four women to work with, it probably would have worked better to bounce around between their four narratives. This also would have given the bonus of seeing the mysteries of Area X through multiple sets of eyes, enhancing the tension the mystery, while also giving the opportunity for a variety of narration styles.
The mystery of Area X is definitely intriguing and different from other Lovecraft style fantasies. In particular, the passage describing the terror of seeing the thing that cannot be described was particularly well-written. However, the passages describing the horror in Area X are mostly toward the end of the book and are not as well spaced-out as they could have been to help build the tension. The end of the book is definitely the most interesting and managed to heighten my interest enough that I was curious about the next book in the series.
Overall, this is a unique take on the idea of a scientific investigation of an area invaded by Lovecraft style, fantastical creatures. It features an entirely female investigative crew but unfortunately limits itself to only the narration of one overly analytical and dull biologist. Recommended to big fans of Lovecraft/fantastical invasion style fantasies. To those newly interested in the genre, I recommend checking out Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp first (review), as it is a more universally appealing take on the genre.
3 out of 5 stars
The Red Church was the base of a new cult started by Wendell McFall in the 1860s. But when he took things too far and sacrificed a child, his congregation hung him from a tree. Nowadays, the children of the town view the Red Church as haunted…and so do some of the adults. When Wendell’s descendant, Archer, returns to his hometown from California, he brings the cult back with him in a new form. Archer claims he is the second son of God, and that Jesus was the first son who failed to deliver God’s true message. When he reclaims the Red Church and murders start occurring, half the town suspects Archer, while the other half falls under his spell.
This book was loaned to me by someone who really enjoyed the series. For most of the book, I felt that it was well-written horror but of a religious bent that isn’t for me. However, the ending doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the book.
At the beginning, the book feels like a horror story written by a Baptist person truly committed to their faith. The main antithesis to Archer’s cult is the Baptist church in town. At the core of the conflict are a married couple. The wife falls firmly under Archer’s spell while the husband stays true to the Baptist church. Their two small boys are caught in the middle. The most interesting parts of the story are when the third person narrator focuses in on these two boys, showing their crises of faith and the siren call of the cult, as well as the confusion engendered when their mother and father fight over religion. I could definitely see this reading as a richly crafted, frightening horror for someone who is Baptist, or at least Protestant, themselves. For the non-Christian or non-religious reader, however, the frequent mentions of Jesus, capitalizing pronouns referring to God, and attempts at creating horror at the mere idea of not following Jesus fail to aid in establishing the horror. They become something to skim past rather than part of the atmosphere of the book.
For most of the book, the basic plot of Archer versus the family and the sheriff and the crime scene detective flows nicely with just the right touch of horror. Toward the end of the book, just who Archer is and what precisely is going on becomes muddled. A lot of what happens with Archer and his church just doesn’t make a lick of sense. In spite of the religious leanings of the book, I was still engaged and wanting to solve the mystery of Archer. Instead, who he is and what the rules of the world are become increasingly muddled. The ending generally should clear things up, not leave things more confusing than they were before. That kind of confusing ending would be disappointing to anyone who read the book.
I also was disappointed by one particular aspect of the ending. A person who was abusive gets forgiven because forgiveness is what the Baptist church teaches. It bothers me when books brush off abuse as something just getting Jesus in your heart can fix. It’s misleading and dangerous to encourage people to think that way. Granted, this is a horror book, so it’s doubtful many children will be reading it, but that still doesn’t make it a good message.
The characters are interesting and widely varied. The children, particularly, are well-written. The scenes are well-envisioned and communicated. I never had any issues imagining any of the scenes vividly.
Overall, this is a well-written horror book that flounders a bit at the end. It is richly steeped in the Baptist faith. As such, I recommend it most highly to Protestant horror fans who don’t mind a bit of a confusing ending that doesn’t answer all the questions.
2 out of 5 stars