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Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz & Tyson Mauermann

Manifesto UFPremise: Strange creatures lurk in the shadows in shady back alleys and street corners, waiting to ensnare and devour unsuspecting victims. Battles between good and evil are being fought by angels and demons out of sight of humans. What we see every day is far from what is actually happening in this world and beyond.

The dangerous and illicit activities of inhuman things are ripe for these fantastical stories. With vampires, were-creatures, ghosts, angels, demons, dragons, wizards, trolls, goblins, and more, the imagination is free to run wild. These are the things that make up the tales told in Manifesto: UF.

Themes: Redemption plays a huge role in this anthology, since many of the main characters have fallen from grace or are making up for shortcomings from times past. In order to regain balance of power or to redeem their previous mistakes, it means helping others who cannot help themselves.

Many characters are also seeking justice for themselves or for the innocent. With enduring conflicts and forsaken people, making up for this becomes possible by conquering the evil at the root of the turmoil. Even if it means sacrificing a piece of themselves, the tradeoff for is sometimes worth the price.

Pros: Strangely, I felt pretty strongly about most of the stories in this collection on both sides of the spectrum of liking and not liking them. There were a few that make me want to go find more from the author, such as RL Treadway’s “That Old Tree” that gives personality into a tree long past its reasonable age, intertwined with the lives of those around it in order to give it an ultimate purpose. I loved the emotion of “Green Grow the Rashes” by William Meikle brought out by a haunting song and the discovery of the joys of existence. Teresa Frohock manages to impart soul into song through a frantic search for a lost thread from the tapestry of Armageddon. There is something in here for most readers, at least if you are willing to winnow through the broad variety of styles and subjects.

Cons: With a few exceptions, most of the stories contain profanity, gory violence, drug use, or explicit sex, with at least one containing all of the above. A few of the stories have an anti-religion slant that is not just indifference toward religions, but intentionally and relentlessly inflammatory that highlights this view in a way is unnecessary, especially since in at least one case I think it actually takes away from the story itself. There were a couple of stories that also felt incomplete, leaving me questioning what was supposed to happen next.

Recommendations: With so many urban fantasy books being written for a younger audience, this set of short stories especially targets adult readers. Manifesto: UF is not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. There are several gems in here, such as Teresa Frohock’s enchanting “Naked the Night Sings” and Nikolas Sharps’ humorous “Toejam and Shrapnel” that help to redefine the sub-genre as more than just young adult. While not as seamlessly compiled and unified in voice as Marquitz’s previous Fading Light anthology, Manifesto UF does a better job than most anthologies in showcasing each author’s writing style and will more likely leave you with the knowledge of whether you will love or hate an author’s work. Rest assured this collection contains work from some talented writers. You’ll just have to read through it to find the ones you like.

Tim Marquitz’s website
Manifesto UF on Goodreads
Buy Manifesto: UF on Amazon
Download Manifesto UF for your Kindle
I received a copy from one of the authors to write this honest review.

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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Fantasy, Short Story

 

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Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

Royal Street (Sentinels of New Orleans, #1)Premise: Drusilla Jaco is a junior sentinel and Green Congress wizard, trained in ritual magic, apprenticed by her mentor Gerald St. Simon, who is a physical magic Red Congress wizard. Together they protect New Orleans by investigating breaches in the barrier between the mundane world and the Beyond, where vampires, fae, elves, and the historical undead reside. Drusilla (who also goes by DJ) is busy sending the pirate Jean Lafitte back to the other side when Hurricane Katrina hits, causing much more damage than mere flooding.

The hurricane damages the barrier between two worlds, causing rifts that allow greater access into our world to the undead. Someone is using the chaos to kill soldiers and relief workers in voodoo rituals, all in the name of Baron Samedi, the voodoo deity. During this time Gerry goes missing and DJ is assigned a new partner, the enforcer Alex Warin, who turns out to have some secret powers of his own.

Not only must DJ learn the ropes of her new role assigned to her by the Elders, she must discover the whereabouts of Gerry, uncover who is behind the ritual killings, and protect herself from the relentless attacks of the undead. All of this must be done while New Orleans recovers and she unearths family secrets in Gerry’s journals that have been kept from her for her entire life.

Themes: Royal Street is a mystery with twists and turns, making new revelations around each corner. DJ must investigate Gerry’s disappearance, the barrier destroyed by the hurricane, and the mysterious killings of aid workers and soldiers.

Loyalties are put to the test in this story. As details about her past are revealed, DJ will be forced to choose between her allegiances to family and the promises inherent in performing her duty as a wizard.

Though it didn’t really feel like a romance novel, Royal Street is sprinkled with it throughout, as DJ encounters two cousins with different personalities and with vastly different histories. Even with these two men entering her life, she also is an empath with the ability to sense others’ feelings, including Jean Lafitte’s, with whom she has an ongoing embattled relationship.

Pros: The characters in Royal Street are all fun, including the antagonists. I kept wanting to hate someone, but even despite double-crosses from pirates and voodoo demigods, I found them all likeable, which made picking the enemy that much more difficult. Drusilla is a strong but flawed female character who can take a punch, but who also struggles with showing her emotions, especially at the most inopportune times. I loved the use of magic in an almost mundane manner, like it is just the daily grind for wizards.

Cons: For such an independent female protagonist, DJ seems to entertain the affections of men a lot. The payoff in the end of the story suffered from too much foreshadowing. When we finally arrive to the conclusion I felt like I already knew what was going to happen. Without spoiling anything, I was screaming at DJ to just get it over with.

Recommendations: Royal Street is a lighthearted magical journey with characters that are fun to sit back and watch interact with each other. With an untapped setting people can relate to with recent events, this is an entertaining debut novel from Suzanne Johnson. I will definitely give the sequel a go, with the hopes that DJ will be strong on her own and not feel the need to be in a relationship, and with a greater payoff when we reach the end. And hopefully Louis Armstrong will be there too. Now I’m going to listen to some jazz.

Suzanne Johnson’s website
Royal Street on Goodreads
Buy Royal Street on Amazon
Download ebook of Royal Street for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Fantasy

 

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Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

Hide Me Among the Graves: A NovelPremise: When Christina Rossetti smears her blood on the little statue belonging to her father, she unknowingly releases a curse upon her family: the vampiric spirit of her late uncle John Polidori, physician to poet Lord Byron. Not only does Polidori’s spirit inspire great poetry and painting to Christina and her brother Gabriel, it threatens their other family members and resurrects Gabriel’s dead wife as a vampire as well. They agree that their uncle must be stopped at all costs.

The Rossettis are not the only ones threatened by Polidori. Adelaide McKee is a reformed prostitute who had a tryst with the veterinarian John Crawford seven years earlier, producing a child who had been previously presumed dead. When she discovers that the girl is alive and in danger of being claimed by Polidori, she strikes out with Crawford to find the Rossetti family for their help to save her daughter and to stop Polidori.

Racing across Victorian London streets, riding on carriages, and climbing through dark and mysterious sewers, they all discover there are strange supernatural unseen things in their midst, and the very foundation of London is at risk. With the help of Edward Trelawney, friend of Shelley and Byron, they must track down vampires, speak with ghosts, and discover the way to stop the destruction of their loved ones and of London before it is too late. Some are willing to give up the muse in exchange for stopping Polidori, but there are others who are willing to embrace him and all that entails.

Themes: One of the great themes in Hide Me Among the Graves is sacrifice. Several of the characters are faced with sacrificing their poetry, painting, and other writings in exchange for stopping Polidori. Not every character is willing to do so, and the cost of themselves and of others. It is interesting that the sacrifice can be seen as going either way, as a sacrifice of soul and life in exchange for the muse and eternity, or vice versa.

Hide Me Among the Graves is also a redemption story, with Adelaide McKee making up for her past sins by her relentless pursuit of Polidori and her daughter, Johanna, and with Christina attempting to redeem her mistake of releasing Polidori to begin with. Crawford seeks redemption for his mistakes by following wherever McKee leads him. We even find Trelawney faced with opportunities for redemption after an entirely unrepentant lifetime.

The love story between Crawford and McKee comes into full view when they discover their daughter from their tryst years before is still alive. The steps they take to save her lead them to face their feelings for each other years after their one night stand.

Pros: Hide Me Among the Graves has exquisite characters full of depth and faults, with opportunities for failure and for redemption. The setting plays such a huge part in the story and is so well established that, even though I have never been to London, I felt like I was riding in the cabs and crawling underground right along with the characters. The supernatural elements are so full of intrigue that I felt transported to another world within a world, and was especially fearful for the characters when Polidori and the other vampires revealed themselves.

Cons: The story is thick with information and characters. I was a little confused at the beginning, not knowing anything about the book, as to what was happening and who these people are. Some assumptions are made that you will simply buy into some supernatural or magical elements without explaining why or how they work before you even know what kind of a book this is. As it progresses, however, and you learn more, they begin to make sense at least in the context of this story.

Recommendations: Using real historical figures and giving them unique personalities, this is historical fantasy at its best. Reading Hide Me Among the Graves made me feel the same way I felt after reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for the first time. Powers places you right amongst the characters and makes you feel and fear as they do, especially when facing the supernatural and as they make new discoveries of the unknown. Pushing past Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this is my new favorite vampire novel.

Tim Powers’ website
Hide Me Among the Graves on Goodreads
Buy Hide Me Among the Graves on Amazon
Download ebook of Hide Me Among the Graves for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Fantasy, Historical Fiction

 

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Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter International (MHI, #1)Premise: Monsters are real and there are competing organizations, including the government, out there fighting them in secret. Owen Z. Pitt is an accountant who is attacked by his werewolf boss one day and discovers he has a penchant for killing creatures, which leads him to be recruited by the private organization: Monster Hunter International. His size (he’s a big guy), upbringing with firearms (dad trained him from childhood with guns), and cage fighting past (he was also a bouncer) doesn’t hurt. This book contains just about every monster you can think of: vampires, werewolves, zombies, wights, ghouls, and even the mythical Wendigo.

The Monster Control Bureau is the secret government organization in charge of monster eradication. While not the primary antagonists in this story, they aren’t exactly shown in a pleasant light. They are what you might think of when you hear talk of “the Feds” with coverups and secret missions. They are a fine counterpoint to MHI and lead to some additional conflict throughout the story, even when the two organizations are forced to work together to fight the evil Cursed One, bent on not only ruling the world but destroying it.

Themes: One of the main plot threads through the story is love. Owen finds in Julie his soul mate: a beautiful woman who is still somewhat of an outcast because of her profession and her love of guns. Owen is immediately enamored with her for all of these things, even to the point of putting himself in harm’s way to protect her. The story behind how the Cursed One came to be gives us an insight into his motivation, with love at the center yet somehow still not truly being a motivating factor. For the Cursed One, love is simply another tool to be used to gain power. Love is a strong enough motivator for many of the characters to be willing to do anything to protect it.

Faith is prevalent throughout Monster Hunter International. Owen isn’t necessarily a religious person, but there are characters, like Trip and Milo, who are. At one point this theme is quite obvious, with Milo using his faith to fight a vampire directly. At other points the theme of faith is more subtle, with Owen’s team putting their faith in him to figure out how to save them even when he doesn’t know how to do so.

One more theme is the idea of finding your calling. Owen is an accountant, and has also been a bouncer, a cage fighter, and a competitive shooter, but he finds these things all leading him to his true calling of being a Monster Hunter. He also discovers his calling through the prophecy behind the Cursed One which leads to the final battle to save the world.

Pros: Monster Hunter International is a story for gun geeks and classic monster stories. If reading accurate descriptions of just about every firearm and weapon you can think of is your thing, then this book is for you. MHI abounds in splattering monsters from volleys of bullets. Again, if that is your thing, this is your book. Not only does the author prove he has done his research and knows his stuff, he also gives the reader some good characters and intense story pacing. This is a fun read with 700 pages that go by quickly, almost too quickly.

Cons: If your idea of vampires is sparkling and wooing teenagers then you will probably want to pass. If you aren’t into the gun porn, this isn’t your book either. If I had to have a complaint with this book it would be that I could see how the gun descriptions could grow tiresome to some readers after a while. I will say that Correia did back off the gun descriptions as the story progressed, but there were perhaps still too many for those sensitive to violence and guns. I also found some typos but those can be found in just about any book, even with the most diligent of editors.

Recommendations: If you want a fun, shoot ’em up monster story with a new flavor, look no further. Correia’s Monster Hunter International delivers, and not just with the premise. He proves in this book that he’s a good storyteller and writer.

Monster Hunter International on Goodreads
Larry Correia’s website
Buy Monster Hunter International on Amazon

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in Fantasy, Horror

 

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