Joshua by John S. Wilson

A dystopian novel all about the money

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (Mature themes)

Money… it’s just paper with writing on it! Not many of us stop to think about this. What would happen if suddenly people stopped accepting cash? They would look at your wad of paper and say, “I don’t care what famous person’s face is on there. It’s just paper!” This fear, the de-valuing of cash, may have been more realistic before my time. Today, money is nothing but a figure in the sky, printed on screens, telling you “value” from on-line accounts and ATMs. Despite this fact, imagine with me for a second a world where cash is market central. Without cash, the economy would fall, chaos would ensue, and people would be brought back to their roots; what does it take to survive? If your imagination is as vibrant as that of John S. Wilson, you may have imagined a world similar to that of Joshua.

The Good:

Joshua is the story of a man and little boy making their way through a dystopian wasteland. The first thing that struck me about this book was how character driven it is. So much time is spent walking alongside “the man” (yes the protagonist is simply identified) that the reader becomes engaged in his life and journeys. From start to finish, the reader will follow this man through the joys and sorrows of what it might be like to live in a post-apocalyptic world.

John S. Wilson does an excellent job at make the destitution in this world he has created seem real. It doesn’t just feel like random looting, killing, and destruction for the sake of it, but instead the world bleeds hopelessness with tangible and heart-felt realism. Not everyone is seeking to make the best out of what they have, or hoarding, or fighting for their survival. Many give in to their inner demons, the reality of life too much to bear. Joshua has a quiet, sorrowful tone to it that I have rarely seen penetrating a book from cover to cover.

The Bad:

John S. Wilson had some great ideas, but the execution was, sadly, quite poor. The first half of the book is a series of flashbacks which attempt to develop the world and the characters therein. Though they work well considering such intentions, they do nothing to further the plot, and, in fact, put it on hold, making the whole book feel disjointed in the same way a jumping POV would.

The jumping back and forth in time makes the book very slow and allows for large sections told exclusively in passive voice thus forcing the reader to take a step back from the action and see it as an outside observer, instead of being fully engaged. With such destitution running rampant, there is plenty of opportunity for this book to bleed with emotion, drawing the reader in with the raw power of helplessness, but unfortunately these opportunities are missed entirely.

So much time is spent with the back-story of why “the man” is where he is, and what happened along the way that once the story gets going, there is hardly enough time for anything to happen before the book is done. It almost feels like the book is split into two sections: what happened before, and what is happening now. I applaud John S. Wilson for attempting this unique narrative style, but sadly he did not pull it off.

Conclusion:

John S. Wilson had a great story to tell, but sadly didn’t know how to tell it. The reader spends most of the book feeling like an outcast, the word choice and language almost purposefully pushing them away. If you can get past the poor story telling and dive into the actual story, there is a hopeless world waiting for your discovery. If you like dystopian fiction, this book may be for you.

Where you can find it:
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

The Dim Realm by Matthew Holgate

No Dim words herein

The Rating:
Mature-content Rating: R (Coarse language, violence, and sexuality)

Have you ever woken up with a hang-over so bad that no amount of coffee can help you remember what happened last night? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I am willing to bet (don’t ask me how much) that once the truth of your night is revealed, it is nothing like the truth that Corin Drey discovers after waking up in similar straights. He wakes to find… dead bodies. How did they die, and what is he doing there? Find out in The Dim Realm by Matthew Holgate.

The Good:

The first thing that struck me was the length of this novel. A long book usually means one of two things: it is amazing, or it is awful. Within the first few pages I could tell that the former would be a more relevant description. The reader is immediately pulled into the scenes unfolding, hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling the world coming to life around them. The imagery in this book is amazingly flavourful, and the scenes are set beautifully. Holgate has a handle on how to use personification to bring a scene to life.

“Wind moaned in the trees behind him, drawing breath and then sighing. A lonely sound, a whispering voice born not of the ocean but of the land, one that yearned to cry out. It pleaded with the crash of waves and the pleas of gulls to listen, just as it pleaded with the traveller in words he almost knew. Come back to us. There is so much more to do.

Not only is the description so rich and inviting that the reader can forget where they truly are (and no, this time it’s not because of too much alcohol), but the internal musings of the characters are brilliantly rich and masterfully implemented. The back-story reveals through internal monologue are pleasingly realistic. Just like our minds and memories ramble about, so do they in the heads of the character in The Dim Realm. This adds delightful flavour to the characters that is not often seen.

The different point-of-view characters are wonderfully interwoven with smatterings of what is to come in someone else’s POV section, or reminders of what has happened through clever word choice. Just when the reader is wondering how this new POV section connects to the rest, enough clues are revealed to keep things succinct while remaining interesting and mysterious.

The Bad:

Sadly, every good thing must come to an end. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It has a lot going for it. Holgate knows how to craft a scene, shape characters, and implement a plot, but it falls flat in many areas.

The Dim Realm has a bad case of “can’t see the forest for the trees.” The trees are beautiful, wonderful, glorious even, but there is so much focus on the trees that the forest becomes a haze. Some scenes are very over-drawn with too much meticulous description of scenery and passive voice to explain the history of the world/characters. Mostly character history was well done, but sometimes it droned on in an unengaging manner, adding length but no meat to a scene.

This plays into the gigantic pacing issues. Most of the book is extremely slow, and it takes 90% of the book until the plot finally gets going. The whole thing felt like a giant introduction. To be fair, this is only Volume I of The Dim Realm, and there is more to come, but after 700 pages, I was hoping the plot would go somewhere.

Many scenes that should realistically be one chapter are split over ten chapters, stopping in the middle to flip to some other POV, and then that scene is cut off to flip back to the first scene that was previously left unfinished. Because of the long chapter lengths, this makes the book feel incredibly disjointed. I kept having to remind myself, “Where is this character again? What are they doing?” because the scene resumed in the middle. It is almost like in the middle of a heart-pumping fight sequence the reader is thrown over to watching some guy take a walk in the park. Such antics make the whole thing feel incredibly unrefined and lacks focus/immersion value.

On the note of action sequences, a lot of them are split so because they drag on forever. They plod along too slow to keep the thrill up because of over-description of every single sword swipe interspersed with giant internal monologue sections which break the flow. This gives much of the book a stop and go feel. The pages are filled with lights coloured yellow and red, but not many greens.

A number of chapters end with poorly implemented foreshadowing that ruins the thrill of what is going to happen. Often, the reader will experience concluding sentences such as: “he would, however, not see them again, because he was about to die,” or “little did they know that the man would never be the same again.” Instead of adding suspense, most of the time, this ruins the coming scene because the reader already knows what is going to happen.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, what made this book good is also what made it bad. The flavourful description and internal monologue is excellent – more than excellent, it is downright amazing – but too often poorly implemented, throwing off the book’s pacing. The book is great if you love getting into the heads of characters, being invested in a scene so much that your senses come alive. After reading it, I almost feel like the world described and the characters/culture therein are real. Sadly, the pacing issues in this book diminish it’s enjoyability factor. If you like a great fantasy tale of truly epic proportions, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Fantastic Currency

There are certain things in our culture that are often over-looked, being blindly thrown into books without considering the immersion factor. Culture is transient by nature, and as such, will change with time and location. I read a review one time that said the immersion factor of a fantasy novel (don’t remember which one) was thrown off (for them) when the author used distance terms – like miles, feet inches, metres – and time terms – hours, minutes, seconds – that did not fit the culture. This got me thinking about what we do culturally without thinking, and thus infect our fantasy worlds with.

Said review has a point, and I was even more invested in the idea when reading Thread Sliver by Leeland Arta. (Check out the book on Amazon and my review of it here). For this book, the author spent a lot of time and energy building the world in a way that allows for greater immersion, remembering to look after these finer points that many of us forget should possibly be different. There is an entire glossary in the back of Leeland’s book that delve into some of these details. The detail of choice today is money, or more properly, currency.

I am currently writing draft two of my epic fantasy novel, Glanderxe (and yes, I am even thinking of changing that book name completely for those interested in that detail). In my first draft I wanted to make cursing/swearing different because the words that we consider “inappropriate” or “vulgar” are culturally dictated. As I get more involved in the culture of the world I am creating, more intriguing cultural differences are coming to play. I have yet to define how the people of Glanderxe talk about time and distance, but in the rewrite of a scene today I dealt with currency.

What would it mean to you if someone gave you a fistful of gold? This phrase may mean something different to the people of Glanderxe. I have integrated hand anatomy into how they speak of money. Instead of giving someone a fist, as in punching them, you can give them a fistful of gold, consisting of four fingers and one thumb. As a writer, I find I am using my hands a lot (go figure) thus I notice them more than some people might. (Also, I’m crazy and notice silly things). Each finger has three “joints” or “parts” or “knuckles” (whatever the proper word is. This is not an anatomy lesson; it is about currency.) and a thumb has but two. Here are some currency thoughts that I have just implemented into round two of Glanderxe thus far.

1 fist = 4 fingers + 1 thumb (of gold)

1 finger = 3 joints

1 thumb = 2 joints

… Thus 1 fist = 12 joints

So… some currency ideas based on my hands (yes my hands, not yours. Don’t be taking the credit, now). I wonder what else this crazy brain of mine will come up with out of the blue. Too many more, and I may just have to give myself a fist full of gold.

Night Watcher by Chris Longmuir

Eyes in the dark, a watcher in the night… or is it just the wind?

The Rating:
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (Mature themes, sexual content, and course language)

Do you ever feel like you are being watched. Your head whirls around, the shadows creep toward you, your heart beats louder, rising in your chest, but you see no one: no pair of eyes from within that darkened veil of night, no watcher in the shadows. How foolish you feel, how silly, but the paranoia mounts until you reach the comfort of your home. Only then, does the fear subside… mostly. That house of your, that home, that haven of safety still has windows, those panes of glass like two-way eyes in the darkness which cloaks the sky, and your house, in an invisible haze.

If you have ever felt like this, you have felt like Nichole (the protagonist) who is stalked by the Night Watcher… or is it just her imagination?

The Good:

Night Watcher is a crime mystery. Think, police procedural, but then forget that you ever thought that. Chris Longmuir pulls the reader into the lives of her characters, and there is almost more about the people involved than the mystery itself. The point-of-view jumps around like a happy-go-lucky rabbit, but this is not a bad thing. Often lots of POV changes can leave the reader confused or uninterested, however, Longmuir seems to have a knack for it. By jumping between characters, the reader gets a chance to be inside the head of almost every character involved. This works well because the scenes are short and to the point, keeping things moving so that one character POV is not left hanging for too long. The internal thought processes mixed with a hopping POV give this book a great flow, as well as developing the characters well.

There are just enough back-story-reveals to round out the characters, keeping the reader interested in what is going on. Often with mystery novels, the author holds things back to let the suspense build. Longmuir takes the completely opposite approach. The reader gets to experience the unfolding story though the eyes of victim, police, lover, friend, enemy, villain, and much more. Instead of not knowing what is going on, Longmuir open up the mystery for the reader, while still allowing the villainous moments to be just as thrilling. The “night watcher,” for which the book is named, gets his time in the lime light, but his curious ways are still shrouded in enough mystery to keep things interesting. The night watcher’s POV moments were not over-powering, but delightfully speckled throughout, building suspenseful/dark moments into otherwise dramatic events.

The Bad:

After finishing this book, I am surprised at its length. It gives the reader that poppy teen feeling, which often will translate into a shorter book. Night Watcher is not incredibly long, but it runs over 300 pages. Though it is packed full of characters and plot, there is not a whole lot of writing to go with it. Every now and again, the reader is struck by a wonderfully crafted scene, but for the most part I found the writing a little dry and lacking flavour. The story and characters hold potential, but it is sadly unrealised.

The book moves quickly, but not necessarily because of what is happening. There are brief what-is-going-to-happen-next moments, but mostly it is a story about a bunch of characters living out their lives: going to work, going home, and fighting with their spouse (yes there is lots of drama in this book). Though a fast pace can be good, sometimes I felt like the book moved a little too fast, not letting me stop and breathe in the scene. The pacing is artificially inflated with a lack of words instead of artfully enhanced through flavourful description. Such lack leads to a lack of emotion within the scenes, thus a lack of connection with the characters.

Most scenes lack description of any kind, and the ones that do have description are few and far between. The characters spend most of their time talking to each other, or talking to themselves. Though this is delightful, it lacks scene/emotion building. As a reader, I felt like an innocent bystander, watching events unfold, instead of being drawn into the story.

POV changes to minor characters adds flavour, but the reader isn’t given enough time to actually get to know/care about them. Though the POV changes inform the reader about some of the other characters and the struggles they are having at home/at work, it comes across as unfocused. Many of the POVs were well done, but a number of them added little or nothing and could have been left out entirely, approaching the scenes from a different angle to enhance the flavour.

Conclusion:

Night Watcher is wonderful for the reader who likes crime mysteries and lots of drama. It is packed full of characters and the story is wonderfully crafted. It moves at a fast pace, but sadly lacks the emotional punch that draws a reader in. If you enjoy crime mysteries, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)
Kobo

What is art?

In a word: art is freedom. The freedom to think what we want to think, write what we want to write, paint what we want to paint. It is the connection of one thought, one emotion, one inspiration to the next, all holding hands to form a beautiful chain. Who can say where it begins? Who can say where it should end? Art is the freedom to be inspired, create from inspiration, and inspire in return.

Inspiration knows no bounds, no jail cells can hold it back. It ebbs and flows as desire and nature directs. Who can lock it in a box? Who can slap on a set of rules, regulations to keep it in place, to limit art? The world loves its rules, loves its laws, all those perfect boxes in a row, but art cannot fit in a box. We try to place it there, close the lid, seal it shut, but it slips between the cracks like strands from a steaming kettle. Force it down, seal it up, and soon that container will explode, like a frozen soda can, spilling contents from their shell: spilling art.

Art cannot be locked, controlled, told what to do. It is like a rebellious teenager, acting out simply because it can. You tell it “red doesn’t belong with blue,” and it makes purple. You tell it, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but they can’t make art,” and it creates another Stonehenge, an artist’s monument made of stone, defying those laws. You tell it, “never start a sentence with because.” Because you said that, it chooses to.

What is art? In a word: art is freedom.

Because of the nature of art, I do not believe in Copyright in its truest form, but instead use Creative Commons licensing. For this reason, the following disclaiming is in the credits section of my most recent release Dark Messages. I hope it inspires you: inspires you to create art.

This world is a place of inspiration. Licensing this work under a Creative Commons licence allows me (the author) to share the results of such inspiration freely while, at the same time, allowing you (the reader) to take hold of the magic of these words and shape them, mould them, and make them into something new. Inspiration should not be locked away. Art should not be restricted. Restrictions are rules, and rules go against the very nature of art itself. If you are inspired to create new art based on the existing words here-in, I allow it. No, I encourage it. Art is created on the building blocks of inspiration, and inspiration flourishes through its consumption. From inspiration, to art, to inspiration again, let us make the world a better place one book, one story, one phrase, and one word at a time.

Dark Messages Released

Finally, the moment we have all been waiting for! Okay, so, the moment that I have been waiting for, at least. My first official book is now available to the masses. Dark Messages is a collection of some of the short stories that you may read right here on my site, and some that maybe you haven’t. this collection includes: Undying Memories, A Mile in My Shoes, A Storm is Coming, Master of Death, Know Not What They Do, and Infinity. This Halloween can be more about candy and costumes. Maybe there are messages waiting for you: messages in the dark.

I have been asked why only some of my stories were included in this anthology. Shouldn’t I put all of my short stories behind this cover? Well, I will answer that question in due time. While I am still hard at work on the second draft of my epic fantasy novel “Glanderxe,” these are not the last messages you will hear in the dark. I have plans for most of other short stories in future anthology releases. You will just have to wait and see, wait and listen, wait in the dark to hear the messages that might reach you.

In the mean time, there are already Dark Messages waiting. Pay what you want for this short story anthology on my new store page. If you want to download it for free and read it all before deciding how much it is worth to you, great! Download now, pay after. If you want to give me a bunch of money just because you think I’m amazing… that’s great too. 😉 Hey, let’s strike a deal. I choose the messages, you choose the price. How’s that?

Enjoy, and spread the love. Let’s keep making the world a better place, one book at a time.

Where you can find it:
My Store, Smashwords, Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble

Also, keep up to date with general news on my Facebook Fan Page.

Thirty Scary Tales by Rayne Hall

Thirty Scary Tails… oops… I mean Tales. (Although thirty scary tails would be exciting too, I imagine.)

The Rating: 
Mature-Content Rating: PG-13 (disturbing images and sexually mature scenarios)

There are a few numbers that can cause fear or trepidation. A common number is “13,” being avoided because it is “evil” or “unlucky” to the point where, in some countries, floor 13 is omitted when building high-rises. Some people are afraid of the number “4” because of similar reasons, and it is equally omitted from elevator buttons and staircase labels. My favourite number fear is “666.” All three of these fears have specific terms to go along with them, which I will not bore you with, but the word for “fear of the number 666” is so incredible, I must share it. Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia – and don’t ask me to pronounce it!

Rayne Hall has written a collection of scary tales. Not 4. Not 13. Not 666 (maybe she has a mild case of Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia just thinking about writing that many…). The number to be scared of here is 30. Thirty Scary Tales is a wonderful title that tells the reader exactly what is lying beneath that cover. Hall brings a great variety of horror styles to the eyes and hearts of any who dare pick up this collection. Hidden in the darkened depths is everything from a foreboding realism of the things that go bump in the night to the grotesque, macabre style of Victorian horror. If you can name it, think of it, be scared of it, its here: ghosts, zombies, psychological thrills and chills – some modern day, some Victorian age, and some in fantasy worlds. Some of the stories are based on real events, others are retellings of children’s stories or fairy tales, and still others are completely fresh ideas sprung from the creative juices flowing in the darkness of Rayne Hall’s imagination. Each story is accompanied with a brief note from the author concerning the inspiration for the writing and telling, which adds a unique and delightful touch.

The Good:

Before reading this book, I had heard of Rayne Hall, but never sat down and cracked open a cover with her name embossed (digitally or otherwise) thereon. It may be some time before I may that mistake again. As the cover is lifted, those words bleed out, and the beginning of a story unfolds, I was immediately drawn in with wonder. Though it is hard to do each story justice through a simple review, I will try to reach across the pages with ever-broadening strokes. The best way to discover the magic behind each story, each page, and each sentence is to read the book.

Hall uses an interesting stylistic descriptive format that helps build suspense while, at the same time, painting scenery around the story and characters. The action builds, fear is swelling, and Hall fires off punctuated descriptions in the midst of it all, striking the reader like a bullet from an unseen gun. The world is empty, the unknown darkness filling readers and characters alike with mounting trepidation, until pieces of scenery begin to fall like a driving rain, locking into place from some unknown realm beyond. Often slow and drawn-out descriptions can be masterfully done, but their use is more suited for tortoise pacing than the sprint of a rabbit through shrubs, running away from the fear rising like a cloud behind it (or is that just the dust kicked up by its quick escape? 😉 ). Punctuated descriptions fit the mood, describing scenes with wonder-filled emotion, making every scene come alive with fear.

A lot of the stories have well thought-out back stories for the characters therein. The stories are not bogged down with too much information of the past, but just enough to build the scene, informing the reader of why they are where they are, and why they are so afraid. This is coupled seamlessly with a delightfully rich use of internal monologue often forgone is shorter stories. Hall builds fear by letting the reader process through each moment, the characters and their emotions coming alive as fears become reality in their minds.

The Bad:

It is hard to be picky with such a vast collection of stories. Some of them fell short of my expectations/preferences, but others were engaging and well-developed. The collection (as a whole) has a lack of focus, just being a bunch of stories lumped together with a cover on top. Some potential magic, through more integrated connections between the stories, was lost because of this choice of formatting.

Some of the stories weren’t as satisfying as others. This is a point concerning personal preference, and not necessarily the writing style or quality as a whole. Every reader will experience this collection differently, each story speaking individually to personal fears, being seen through different eyes.

For the most part, the stories did not scare me because I saw what was coming. Though the internal monologue was great, a lot of the time it was easy to tell what was going to happen and how it would effect the character(s) is question because the reader is so invested in their thought processes. The ability to discern what is going to happen through reveals in the writing takes away some of the edge-of-your-seat thrills that are often prevalent in the horror genre. Sometimes the internal monologues were so blatantly pointing the reading toward the obvious conclusion that it almost felt silly.

Conclusion:

This collection of short stories is worth a read no matter who you are. There is something in here for every flavour of reader. The scenes are punctuated and fresh, stories coming alive with character motivations and the fears lying beneath their skin. Many of the fears are predictable, but satisfying none-the-less. Maybe four of the stories will really scare you, maybe thirteen, maybe all thirty. Find out by cracking open the cover, and let the words bleed into your imagination, filling in those cracks of horrific desire. If you like horror of any flavour, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)
Barnes & Noble
iBooks

The Other Side

Every road has two sides. A clearing through the trees, a bridged lake, a winding path through fields: all these roads share one thing. Trees on one side mirror those on the other, water left and water right, grass plays sweet tunes with the wind on both sides of the road. Every road has two sides, as did the road before me now… but those memories were taken, vegetation was taken, life was taken by the storm.

Once things were better: the past a dying light in the darkness of my mind. Reach through that blackness, claw through the darkness, talons reach for that speck of light – speck of hope – beyond. Dig deeper. Scratch wildly at the ground’s surface for a wriggling worm, a seed, any life, any food, any hope. All these things lie in the past. I have lost all hope, my talons cracked and broken, yet no sustenance rewarded for their effort. I see nothing but despair, feel nothing but death, wish for nothing but to reach the Other Side. You, however, may find life in this wasteland – hope in this snow-scape – if you dig deep enough.

Dig deeper now. Reach for that light dying behind me. See the past as I once did. See the grass returning, the trees filling in dark and empty spaces in the snow. See branches stretched wide, leafs blotting out the dead sky. See the black terror above fade through the seasons, through the years, back to a time when it was blue. See the purple clouds shot through with electric power fade into puffs of white. Now, see a flock of birds. See me before this time of death, before they all left me, before… too many things happened.

I huddled there, beneath a low-hanging tree branch, the heat of many bodies blocking out the chill of the night. Spring had turned to summer, and summer was loosing its grasp. The flock worked as one, slept as one, lived as one. The sun finally crested the horizon. Warmth tickled my feathers, soaking up the morning dew. I stretched out my span with a mighty yawn, wings touched lightly by morning whispers on soft breezes. The whispers turned to shrieks as the head cock shook the forest to life with his beautiful call. It shot out from yellowed beak, red wattle laughing beneath it. The comb atop his head was the envy of many in the brood. The power of his voice and commanding appearance made all listen to him, follow him, trust him.

The rooster crowed again.

Stretched wings and fluffing feathers passed from one hen to the next like a giant wave. It sloshed one way and then the next, cushion raised, fluff exposed, feet ready to take the first morning steps. Spring was gone. Summer was fading. Autumn had come and soon… winter. Death was around the corner. Two things were on my mind, on everyone’s minds: food and shelter. It was a year of peace, a year of freedom. The barn had been restricting, but it kept us safe. Kept us warm. Too warm. The rooster crowed before those flames even started, but we were a large brood. My singed tail feathers were evidence of that. The barn, our home, died. God finally heard our pain, heard the hens crying in the night. He came to free us with a mighty fire from the sky… but what of that freedom now? The farmer and his wife, they fed us well… sometimes feeding on us.

I remember the screaming, the fighting, the clucking, the biting. Feathers were in a flurry, we began to scurry… and when it was all over. One of our sisters was gone. Still, a few losses a year was better than… this. Where would we go? The barn was just a pile of ash, the feed bags therein reduced to death instead of giving us life.

The rooster crowed again.

He would protect us. He always did. He saved us from the flames, fed us in the spring, provided in the summer, and led us in the fall. Surely winter would be no challenge to him. The days passed into weeks. Red leafs turned to crusty browns beneath our feet. Nights fell colder. Food grew scarce. Still, we pressed on. We passed through the dying trees, passed over dying blades of grass. They were dry and tasteless in my mouth, but at least filled my stomach… until they disappeared.

Strange noises came from up ahead. The wind whistled sharp and intense before fading. Then it came again. Whoosh. Whoosh. The sound filled my ears with hope. Hope for change. Hope for… something. Then another sound came.

The rooster crowed again.

It was not a morning call. I knew that sound well. It was not that three-times shout that shook me from slumber, shook me from warmth, ready for a long journey ahead. It was not that call that promised my legs more fatigue and my pallet more dry, tasteless grass. It was a new call, one none of us had heard since those days of morning feedings at the barn. A cry of hope: food.

Another sound passed through the brood, from one hen to the next. We cackled with glee and clucked with pleasure, almost tasting the food… whatever it was. I grabbed at the wind and pushed it under my wings. Frantic flapping gave me a short burst of flight, a burst of speed that my sisters mimicked. We all wanted to reach the rooster first, all wanted to share in the joy he promised us with his voice.

The rooster crowed again.

Whoosh. The noises grew louder. They were closer. Whoosh. A clearing stretched between lengths of dying trees. The rooster stood atop that strange floor. The black mass broke forest in two. Atop it stood the rooster… and the food. Whoosh. Strange beasts rushed behind him, but he was not afraid. They gleamed in the dying light, hummed in the distance, and rusted his feathers in passing. He stood like an immovable God, unshaken by their presence. Bread from Heaven lay before him: a feast for the brood.

He picked a piece off one hunk and crowed again, encouraging us to approach. We gave no hesitation. My sisters rushes ahead of me with giant leaps of joy. They fell on the bread like hawks to a carcass. The scene was a mess of feathers. Whoosh. They gave a brief pause as another beast went rushing by. A few feathers blew free with the hot breath of the thing, but soon it was forgotten. I struggled forward with the remaining brood, mouth watering with the promise of life just beyond my reach… and then it happened.

Whoosh.

Every road has two sides: bread on one, beasts on the other; life on one, death on the other. Whoosh. The two sides matched. Screams of terror broke out. Feathers flew. The beast screeched, enraged. Wind rushed ahead. The thing slammed to a halt, but not fast enough. It took off again a moment later. The beast roared with life, leaving nothing but death behind it. Death and terror. Death and feathers. Death and the rooster. The damage was done.

I wanted to scream, but found no voice. His body lay atop Heaven’s gift, blood soaking through the food. It added a new kind of warmth to that black scar through the trees. Lights above made the tar hot to the touch, made the blood boil. It bubbled with the last remnants of life, passing from one discarded piece of bread to the next, spelling out our fate. One by one, the bread was spoiled, and one by one, the brood fled.

I know not how long it took, nor why I even stayed. Nothing remained of that host of hens… nothing but me. Nothing left of autumn’s beauty, the trees dead and shaking. Nothing left of the tired grass, dead and covered with snow. The storm hit strong, came in a flurry from above, but I couldn’t move. The only warmth I saw was in the rooster’s blood… the blood that was now cold. The storm came. I remained. Winter came. I remained. Death came. I remained.

Now I sit to one side of the road, no warmth in my bones, no warmth in my heart, no warmth in the blood… the blood of a long-dead rooster. His carcass is long discarded, and no hawks came for the kill. I can find no food beneath the snow, nor find his body buried beneath the great stormy rifts. Snow piles high to either side of that black scar through the trees.

Whoosh. The beasts come rarely now, but I hear them in my mind. I see them in my head. See them on the road. Hear them laugh. See the feathers. See the death. See the blood soaked bread. My stomach reaches for it, but I know it is not there… or do I? The storm plays tricks with my mind, playing my memories out before me like macabre entertainment. I witness the death again and again, but have nowhere to go. No food. No shelter. No life. It trickles through my veins, barely keeping me in this place: on my side of the road. The trickle does not comfort me, but laughs at my pain. I see another trickle before me, dying between breadcrumbs.

No end, no end, no end to this road. It stretches left and right, grinning at me from blackened lips, taunting me with its infinity. There is no hope there. I work that trickle of blood into my tired legs. They scream a taunt of their own with each plodding step. My wings provide no aid. No wind rushes beneath them. They are too tired to flap, too tired to live. I reach the edge of that black scar and lean over the smirking lips. Infinity: left and right. No end, no end, no end to this road. No end to those images. No end to the macabre entertainment depicted thereon. I want to lash out at the face, scratch those taunting lips with my claws, or maybe lash out at my own face, scratch those deceiving eyes from their sockets. Would the memories still play in my mind? There is no fighting this face before me, no besting the infinite smirk. I have but one hope amidst this dying world, one hope to shake the images from my head. I must leave the road behind, must leave the face with its memories, must get to the other side.

I raise one leg to place in on those blackened lips. They shout at me – whoosh – and I pull back. There is no beast, no sound, just memories of that day. Each time I lift my foot to take that first step I hear the beast, see the death, and cower back in fear. I cannot cross the road, cannot get to the other side, cannot leave this face behind.

A feather shakes free from my dying skin. The wind gusts, twisting it, twirling it, taking it. It flies with the sky’s locomotive force, taunts me with the journey, laughs at me from the other side. It lands unharmed on the snow, briefly turning back to torture me, then takes off again. The wind carries it beyond the snow cleft, beyond my sight, beyond the road before me. There is no power in my tired wings. The wind fights against me as I raise them and begin to flap: a slow and desperate plea. There is no hope in the act, just despair. I raise one foot and then the other, pleading with the sky, reaching for those heights I know it can take me to… but never will.

Finally I give up, settle back in the snow and – whoosh – the images come again. I can almost feel the hot blood as it sprays the front of the beast, shoots into the sky, filters through dying breadcrumbs. There seems to be more life in that dying replay than my own tired body. No food. No shelter. No life. No hope. Just one thing, one desire, so close yet so far… get to the other side.

I lift my foot again, forcing myself to go on. Whoosh, but I am not afraid. The black scar laughs at me again as I take that first step. Whoosh. There is no beast. Step one. Whoosh. The beast screams at me, but then is gone. Step two. Fear chases me, swirls around me with the snow. The ground seems to open up. The rooster’s blood seeps into the crack, disappearing between those smirking lips. Step three.

The other side is closer now. Whoosh. The phantom beast shrieks at me, tries to get me to stop, tries to stop itself before slamming into the carcass already on the ground. The lips open up again, a yellow line of teeth cracking them open. Dot, dot, dot, dotted with yellow. Dot, dot, dot, dotted with breadcrumbs. Dot, dot, dot, dotted with blood. Dotted with death. Whoosh.

The beast comes for me again as I cross the yellow line, as I cross to the other side. I hear the familiar sounds, see the familiar feathers, feel the familiar blood. This time I can taste it. The hot mess rushes up my throat and out my beak, landing on the smirking lips below me. It speckles those yellow teeth with the taste of death, not the rooster’s death, but my own. That phantom beast put the real thing in its place… and I didn’t notice the change.

Every road has two sides. One side black, the other a mirror, yellow teeth in between. One side a dead chicken, the other a mirror. Once the sides differed. Once a rooster lay dead, the other side still holding hope. The two sides are now one, like an inevitably cruel trick of fate. Rooster dead, hen dead: the two sides meet. However, there is some hope in this scene of death, a shred of decency in the macabre entertainment there portrayed. I passed to the Other Side.

Journey to Altmortis by Thaddeus White

An Epic Fantasy about a thief’s journey to steal what is rightfully his

The Rating:
Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (moderately coarse language, mild sexual-content/mature situations & violence)

If you are Canadian, like myself, we have just come out the other end of Thanksgiving. If you are American, the holiday will soon be upon you. While I was sitting in ridiculous holiday traffic on the highway, en-route to meet family for too much turkey and pie, my mind wandered into those far reaching spaces were imagination comes alive. I was thinking back to my most recent read, Journey to Altmortis, and considering what to put it my review. Though I was not journeying to Altmortis, I felt it would be appropriate to compare my recent journeys with that of Thaddeus White’s creation.

 

 

 

I went on a journey to acquire lots of free food.
– Thaddeus went on a journey to acquire something originally stolen from him.
I had to fight with traffic to get there.
– Thaddeus had to fight with… other things to get there.
I was travelling with my family
– Thaddeus was travelling with family (his sister) as well as some hired help.

Okay, so there are little to no similarities between our journeys, but wasn’t this a creative way to start a review? Thaddeus is journeying to Altmortis, a dead city where untold treasure and dangers abound. His goal is to retrieve a family heirloom that may have more than just sentimental value going for it. I was just journeying for some Thanksgiving dinner… but I guess that’s the closest my life gets to a quest of epic fantasy proportions.

The Good:

The book starts out wonderfully. Right from the first chapter, the characters drew me in, to the point where I knew a plot would develop, but no matter what the characters went through, I could see myself enjoying questing vicariously through the words of Thaddeus White. The characters are well-balances and play off of each other nicely. The banter between them is both hilarious and enlightening as character development is concerned. Here is a short snippet that I find particularly amusing:

“What were you doing last night, mon ami?” Pretty Pierre asked. The Felarian’s nickname was ironic. Flames had devoured his left ear, puckered his left cheek and inflicted twisted scars upon half his skull.

“Killing my sister.” He accepted Pierre’s helping hand and got to his feet. “An unpleasant dream indeed.”

“Your sister, despite being dead, is enjoying dinner downstairs. It is quite late, but she suggested we let you sleep in.”

“And our diminutive friend?” Roger the Goat was notorious for many things, but his skill at picking locks and his short stature had persuaded Thaddeus it would be useful to bring him along. The ruins of Altmortis were likely to offer plenty of small spaces into which the thieving dwarf might squeeze.

Pierre shrugged. “Thieving, whoring, picking pockets.”

Thaddeus grinned. “Making himself at home then.”

As expected, this is a story about a journey. There is not a lot of development before the characters are off on their quest, but as the story progresses, the continual character development and back-story reveals hold the reader’s interest. The characters and their development are, by far, the selling feature of this book.

Not only are the characters well-done, but White has a way of crafting a scene through vivid imagery that makes his writing come alive. I can say it no better than White himself, hence thus I quote:

“The salty spray was deliciously cold on his skin. The chill wind pierced his cloak and turned his skin a bloodless white. Gusts billowed his cloak and rain lashed him, and Amoux Broussard loved every moment of it.”

This is but one of many moments during the long Journey to Altmortis that I felt the need to stop and sigh, or smile at the wonderful crafting of words. I cannot and will not ruin all of these precious moments for you. All of the magic therein can only be experienced by reading this work of art, devouring the words spilling from the mind, heart, and fingers of Thaddeus White.

Point-of-view changes can often be poorly done, but, though White implements many different POVs, none of them felt sloppy. In fact, the POV changes between party members were so seamlessly implemented that the reader hardly notices them at all. With point-of-view changes comes further understanding, flavour, and believability to every character, thus enhancing the relatability of the reader to the characters immensely. The POV bounces around some, but because it mostly stays within the party that the reader has been previously introduced to, nothing ever gets confusing or muddied. Instead the reader gets treated to following this Journey to Altmortis through a variety of character’s eyes.

The Bad:

There is explanation and character reveals throughout, and the book starts off strong, but I would have liked to see more introduction before the journey. There is not a lot of meat before the reader is thrown into the main plot, travelling toward the dead city of Altmortis, without really knowing who is travelling. The introduction to the characters that is there is quite well done, but unfortunately it just touches the tip of the iceberg. I wasn’t really sure why exactly this group was travelling together, what motivated them, what was so important about Altmortis and the family heirloom they were searching for until about half way through the book. More initial development of the characters outside of the main quest would have enhanced the journey, making the reader understand more of what is going on and why, instead of just being thrown right in.

Though the POV changes are internal, making them easier to follow, because of the lack of character introductions, I often found myself confused as to who was who. There are a fair number of characters introduced all at once, and though they all have their own little quirks and reasons for tagging along, this was thrown on the back-burner, almost as if White assumed that his readers would know who the characters are. Bear in mind, that I have not read White’s other book in the same world. The author stated that there is some cross-over, but it is not imperative for one to read Bane of Souls (his first book) before Journey to Altmortis. I can guess (depending on the character cross-over in Bane of Souls) that reading the first book previously to picking up the Journey might nullify this complaint, but take such surmising for what they are (opinion without any knowledge of potential rectification). Suffice it to say, as a stand-alone book, the character introduction leave much to be desired, leaving the reader confused at times and uninterested at others because of this fault.

White uses a lot of passive voice, and it seems to be his writing style. It blends fairly well with the more active sections, but fleshing out these scenes instead of just stating the facts and pressing on would have increased the enjoyability of this book as a whole. I found the ending, in particular, to be very fast-tracked with rampant use of passive voice. It was almost as if the whole book was about the Journey to Altmortis (go figure 😉 ) but the return journey was so unimportant that it was barely mentioned.

Conclusion:

Journey to Altmortis will take readers on a journey through the mind and words of Thaddeus White. Along the way, the reader is exposed to humorous characters, witty banter, and some sections of beautiful prose that make the world more alive. Clever use of point-of-view makes the characters the reader travels with more well-rounded, though the initial introduction of them may lack some meat. If you are a fan of epic fantasy and journeying through a strange and magical land, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Smashwords
Diesel
Kobo
Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)

Streets of Payne by Jeff Brackett

A sci-fi mystery filled with Payne

The Rating:
Mature-content Rating: (PG for coarse language and violence)

Eyes: those things we take for granted. Everything around us is processed and managed by them, but we don’t often think about how much work they actually do for us. What would you do without your eyes? If you ask Amber Payne this question, she would say, “just get cybernetic implants, of course.” Amber does not live in a world like our. The Streets of Payne are full of cybernetically enhanced cops and criminals alike.

The Good:

In the opening pages of Streets of Payne, we find Amber getting ready for work, when all of a sudden, her and the reader are thrown right into the action. There is just enough scene setting to get a feel for what is going on before adrenaline is pushed into the pages. Jeff Brackett uses the action to further develop the world that Payne lives in and explain some of a the cybernetic tech while engaging the reader in the story. The engagement continues as Amber Payne faces difficulties throughout the book, the action scenes keeps the pages flying by.

I found that the pacing was quite well done. There is enough down-time between the action of being in the line of duty that both Amber Payne and the reader get a breather. While the plot develops, new characters (good and bad) are introduced and the world the reader gets thrown into is more fully explored.

Jeff Brackett includes a lot of cyberspace interaction in Streets of Payne. Amber Payne’s partner (Kevin Glass) is an “elite cyber-surfer.” This doesn’t simply mean that he is good with computers and that is that. Jeff Brackett lets the reader “jack in” to cyberspace from the perspective of Kevin Glass, opening the doors to a whole new reality that effects the physical word in real and tangible ways. Cyberspace is so involved that it comes into play in everything from simple data recovery to actively effecting the outcome of a fight.

The Bad:

I absolutely loved how cyberspace effected the world. This, to me, was the best and most intriguing part of the book. However, there is still a dirty cloud beneath that silver lining. Cyberspace integration adds some magic to a lot of the action sequences, sometimes to their detriment. Some of the fights scenes are portrayed from Amber Payne’s physical reality, yet at the same time from the perspective of Kevin Glass while he sifts through cyberspace. Though there was magic in this, it often took away from the fast-pacing which is desired in action scenes. It took a lot longer to get from one end of the fight to the next because of the strange POV changes, trying to show the same encounter from two different perspectives at the same time.

The Streets of Payne are not all roses. Some pretty awful things happen along the way, and I really wanted to feel bad for Amber and Kevin, but found no motivation to do so. Based on the book blurb I expected there to be a lot more character development. “Cybernetic implants replaced the organics she lost in the line of duty, and their appearance often causes Amber to doubt her self-worth.” This single sentence in the blurb tells the reader just as much about Amber’s internal self-worth struggles as the whole book does. Yes, she has struggles, but I never felt them. The struggles were mentioned, and there is even some clever use of dreams in an attempt to build back-story, but there was not enough development to make it believable and valuable. This, by far, was the biggest downfall in Streets of Payne.

Conclusion:

Streets of Payne was not a bad book, but I wouldn’t say it was good either. It is worth a read, to be sure, but nothing stood out as spectacular. It was, in a word, average. A lack of well crafted prose, developed characters, and a few disorienting POV problems leave this book in the middle of the road. The plot was good, and it had excellent concepts and tech implementation, but there isn’t much else going for it. If you like action with a touch of mystery, this book is for you.

Where you can find it:

Amazon (COM) (CA) (CO.UK)