Exciting news! So exciting! Get your excitement boots on!
Are they on? TO THE NEWS!
In just a few short weeks I’ll be releasing my fourth book, the novella My Father’s Death. This pseudo-sequel to The Vamps of the Marais will be set in Paris in 1905 and feature a death cult headed by an immortal deity and the unfortunate chemist who invokes their wrath. Feedback from betas has been overwhelmingly positive, with phrases like “complex and tightly interwoven”, “streets and streets ahead of other stuff I’ve read” and “I should finish it Tuesday” liberally applied.
But enough of that boasting. Today I just want to share the draft promo poster, featuring protagonists Hannibal du Noir, whom you may remember from The Vamps, and Paris’s unluckiest chemist, Roland Lambert.
Expect more – along with the actual cover – soon! If you’d like an advanced review copy, those will be going out totally free next week. And if you’re like, no, Anneque, I want to buy this from you and have you sign my Kindle, then you can do that too! I’ll be signing books and various body parts at Brisbane Supanova on the 27th to 29th of November.
Oh my… get ready!
So a little while ago I was stocking up on Kindle titles, because you know, having 300 hard copy books I haven’t read just wasn’t enough for me. I bought a lot of speculative fiction novellas by independent authors, thinking if I found something good then I’d share it with you guys and the rest of the world.
Oh my. The things I found. The things I’ve seen in that electronic pile of books.
Some weren’t very good at all.
In fact, some were so bad, they were…
As The Last Petal Lingers by I. C. Basye
Every year the people of Findle sends four young men, the Dulas, to the mountain above the city. It is the sacred duty of these bold youths to replant the Lavendula Lily, a flower whose potent stench protects the city from the ghoul-like Nukpana who linger in the darkness beyond Findle’s mountainous borders.
Our hero is Damien, leader of the current Dulas. Like all Dulas, Damien and his three brothers were raised in isolation, knowing only their martial arts sensei and an old teacher. Their lives revolve around their mission to replace the Lavendula Lily, drilled into them from the moment they were snatched from their homes as infants, and driving them as their one holy duty. The four boys are prepared to risk life and limb for Findle, going beyond the city’s protection, facing the darkness of the forest and the terrors of the night-stalking Nukpana to bring hope to the people and glory for themselves in the knowledge of a duty done.
Doesn’t that sound like a cool story? I’d read it. And I did read it, so I can tell you with 100% certainty that As The Last Petal Lingers is utter bullshit.
This is not a story about Damien of the Dulas. This is a story about an author who does not care. At all. I. C. Basye does not care about being a writer, doesn’t care about his readers, doesn’t care about consistency, or good story telling, or what can conscionably be sold as readable material. He just doesn’t care.
There is nothing good about this story. It reads like a checklist of clichés for every half-assed fantasy adventure ever written. Bland ghoul-like bad guys? Check. Obviously evil authority figure? Check. Young girl in cowled robe with vital plot information? Check. No attempt made at world detail? Check.
But worse than the clichés, which are truly awful, is the internal world consistency. It has none. The author cares so little about his own story that the hugest inconsistencies are allowed to fly. Take the Dulas. The Dulas are taken from their homes as infants. Four boys every year. They are then raised in isolation. At age eighteen, the boys are sent to the mountain to replant the Lavendula Lily. However, the author himself gives the birth years of the four boys in Damien’s group. They are Damien 5432; Sedrick 5433; Millet 5434, and Harris 5435.
So then, the boys are all a year apart, with Damien the oldest by three years. Doesn’t matter to Basye; he sends them all out when Damien turns 18.
It also apparently doesn’t matter that there are other groups of Dulas. One group every year. One group which is supposed to be made up of 18 year old boys. So why aren’t there four 18 year olds in Damien’s group? It also means there are 72 boys being raised at any given time, 18 groups of four being raised in isolation from all others. This becomes ridiculous when you realise every group of boys is raised by the same sensei and teacher as Damien’s group. The sensei lives with Damien – who the hell raises the other 68 kids? Not to mention there is no reason whatsoever they were raised in isolation.
It doesn’t help that Damien’s group is made up of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, minus the personality. Damien has a bow staff, one guy has a sword, another a bow – wait! That’s not a Ninja Turtle weapon! The “tough” decision Damien has to make, i.e. whether or not to plant the Lily, is made meaningless because the answer is given to him. He has no character development, because he has no character.
You might think I’m nitpicking. So the dates are wrong. Easy mistake, right? Sure. It’s central to the plot, but there are bigger fish to fry.
So this Lavendula Lily. Sometimes spelled Lilly. The first chapter describes Findle as being in a circular valley, surrounded by mountains. The Nukpana are on the far “dark” side of the mountains. Farmers live on the outskirts, because farmers are the scum of this totally isolated last bastion of humanity, not like you’re relying on those farmers to survive, nope, farmers are scum. Hence the farmers are closest to the tops of the mountains and so closer to the Nukpana.
One night Governor Rathborne floats (he doesn’t walk, it’s never explained) out to a farm that hasn’t paid its petal tax. The petal tax is basically a racket to keep your farm inside the protection of the Lavendula Lily. Don’t pay the tax and Rathborne can have his evil goons remove the protection of the Lavendula and leave your farm exposed to Nukpana attack.
At this point, early on, I was thinking of a medieval city bordered by farms, the surrounding mountain ridges planted with lilies. I figured that if a farmer didn’t pay the racket, Rathborne’s goons would go dig up the lilies nearest the farm, exposing it to danger but leaving the rest of the valley safe.
There’s only ONE Lavendula Lily, on the mountain above Findle. The mountain is covered in trees so dense as to be impenetrable by light, and so common sense would suggest no one farms there. Meaning that since the city is walled, and there are apparently only two exits, that the farms are opposite to the mountain, putting them the further distance from the lily.
But even that is beside the point. The lily’s only power is its scent. How do you keep a scent from reaching one farm in dozens? Wouldn’t it just be everywhere? And even trace amounts of this scent is enough to kill the Nukpana – apparently the scent of it on someone’s breath will kill them – so…? Dumbest protection racket ever? Only it works perfectly in the book, and a farm that fails to pay its tax is destroyed by the Nukpana.
And, hell. How can I take this seriously? One might think the forest is between the city gate and the mountaintop, since the forest is on the mountain slope and the Dulas enter it as soon as they leave the city. Yet the forest is full of Nukpana. That places the Nukpana between the city and the Lavendula Lily. See the problem?
Speaking of the forest, the woods up to the mountain have a path … a path made of wood. I honestly do not think I. C. Basye has ever set foot on a mountain or a forest in his life. He does say that Damien doesn’t see a single rock on the mountain before he reaches the top. What. It’s a mountain. It’s made of rock.
In fact, it is perhaps made of dirt. The path to the top is described both as “a gentle climb to the top” and so treacherous that only highly trained young men in the peak of physical fitness are capable of climbing it.
I’ve griped a lot about this book. I could gripe a lot more. Despite being short, it’s so painful to read I barely got through it. Everything is so clichéd, and I. C. Basye writes like he’s only heard about Earth in radio transmissions. He’s a writer of the vainest degree, detailing his protagonist’s appearance at length but ignoring any need for personality. The story is dumb, it has no reason to exist, it should have never been written, and I. C. Basye should have his thumbs broken in the instance he ever tries to write another one.
And in case you’re thinking as I did, that Basye is just some poor schmuck of a kid who wrote this crapsack and sold it on Amazon for a couple of bucks and a hoot, no. I. C. Basye is a grade one teacher. A teacher! He’s an educated man! If you care to look him up, he has a blog on WordPress, and truly he does seem like a decent guy. But he is a bad, bad writer.
That’s all I have to say about As The Last Petal Lingers. Don’t do your wallet the injustice of paying money for it. I’m giving it 1 star and seven years’ math homework.
One part of this book I absolutely loved: the descriptions of Damien’s clothing. Picture this:
Damien wore a bowler hat and put his long brown hair in a ponytail. His tan trousers went up to his belly button and down to his knees, followed by long white socks. He tightened a brown necktie and strapped on suspenders to match. As far as Damien could tell, he looked as common as most young men his age.
Yeah, Damien looks like this:
It’s ROMANCE time!
Paul Versus The Vampire
by Shade of Roses
It happens like a fairy tale. Walking home in the snow, Paul is doused by a passing snow plough and Eric, who lives nearby, invites him in to dry off. Two such handsome, amicable young men can’t help but hit it off … and then they really hit it off.
Barely a second date has gone by when Eric invites Paul to his family home in Greece. Dazed by Eric’s family’s wealth, Paul commits to making the most of it, getting to know Eric’s odd sister, his open minded butler, and doing some intensive sight-seeing in the region of Eric’s crotch.
The catch? Eric is a vampire – and would Paul mind becoming his thrall? While Paul considers life as Eric’s juice box/ sex slave, his family pits themselves in war against the vampires. They only want to save Paul, but it may not be up to them, or even Paul, which he chooses: his love, or his humanity.
Paul Versus the Vampire is a virtually shojo-ai retelling of Buffy and Angel. It’s fluffy, charming, funny and cute, and boy is there a lot of sex in it. But it’s the growing intimacy between Paul and Eric that carries the story through its twists and turns, its fluffy first act and devastating second act. Paul retains his character at all times, dedicated to Eric, but torn between pursuing the romance and siding with his family. I loved all of Paul’s relationships; the disarming, self-effacing way he interacts with his mother, brother and best friend. He’s a good man and I wanted to slap him until he made the right decision.
Eric too has his charms, although he isn’t as well fleshed out as Paul, or perhaps we just never get to know him as well. He provides a constant focal point for our attentions, the centre of the world Paul is orbiting as everything around them spirals into chaos.
That juxtaposition is what I love about this story. At its heart is this pure romance, fuelled by mutual attraction and great chemistry. Around that everything else is shifting gears, going from winter in Toronto to a Greek manor to Armageddon between these two families. It’s fast paced, emotively-driven, genuine, funny and punchy, a pure joy to read. If Shade of Roses set out with the sheer enjoyment factor as her top priority, then she can count this one a success.
It’s also really smart. The character motivations are inferred, not stated outright, but they’re still fully understandable. Paul’s family doesn’t want him becoming an inhuman slave? I can dig that. Shade of Roses also makes a strange but effective use of her vampires. Their hyper senses give them a super-human sensitivity to sounds, such as the ticking of an egg timer. How many vampire hunters do you know of who use egg timers to weaken their prey? It’s brilliant.
So that shifting gears. Halfway through, the story takes a dramatic twist of the sort most viscerally compared to a snag around the reader’s ankle that leaves them hanging from a tree. It then proceeds to tenderise you with a baseball bat while all hell breaks loose for Paul and bits of story whip past like proverbial bats from said hell.
For about a dozen pages, I thought Shade of Roses had lost it. Yet somehow she reins it in; somehow the beating isn’t all that bad; you find out the baseball bat is a pool noodle and rather than being upside-down, you are now standing upright on what was the cleverly-disguised floor all along.
This sudden change in tone is good, and Shade of Roses does largely make it work. However, given the soft atmosphere of the first act and the ingenious weaponisation of egg timers, I do wish that a non-violent solution had been found for the second part. The violence felt out of place, and it raised too many questions about who was going to prison when the story was over.
Despite this, Paul Versus the Vampire is an intelligent, enchanting, gorgeous tale of a young man and young vampire falling in love. It does justice to vampires while never missing a beat on the romance. While it won’t blow you away with its overall originality, it is a sheer delight to read. I’m giving it 3.5 out of 5.
Fun fact. I had no idea this was m-m romance before I picked it up. I had no idea it was romance, I was just in it for the vampires.
Well hello there. Been a while, hasn’t it? Why yes it has.
Okay! Enough with the blathering on! I have about a dozen reviews to post and nothing to say for my long absence, aside from that I discovered If You Are The One on SBS2 and Gotham on channel WIN. When’s that coming back on, anyway? Probably never. The only reason WIN played it to begin with was so they could take it away.
Today I’ll be reviewing the Holiday Murders by mystery author Robert Gott. I actually had the privilege of meeting Mr Gott during an evening hosted by the Batlow Literary Club last October. We had a fantastic night, Mr Gott the guest star having travelled up from Melbourne that day to be interviewed and pawed for autographs, as well as a bit of story telling. The theme of the night was 1940s, and the Club pulled it off flawlessly; upon entry to the venue we were given ration tickets for the food, and wow, the food. All 1940s style, I dare say with a few more ingredients than wartime rationing allowed for, but there were some beautiful moulded jellies and pannacottas, and it was great to see so many people in costume. There was even singing.
While it wasn’t a book launch, Mr Gott did have a few books on offer, and he told us a bit about each. You may have heard of his William Power series, again mystery, but with a good dose of humour. The Holiday Murders is outside the series, lacking the comedy elements, but in the same WW2 Australia setting, and a darker, grittier edge which sold me on it instantly. What! Jewish cops versus Australian Nazis! How could I not read it?
So, while it’s not speculative fiction, who cares, let’s review it anyway, here it is, strap in your eyeballs and get ready to be blown away.
The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott
Christmas Eve in Melbourne, 1943. Officers Titus Lambert and Joe Sable are called to the scene of a gruesome double murder, a father shot and his son tortured and crucified.
Sole survivor of the Quinn family, radio starlet Mary is first to find the bodies of her father and brother. But there are bodies on the way. It seems the killer will do anything to torture Mary – and that’s before he catches her.
As the new year dawns, it becomes apparent that the killer’s politics go far beyond the personal, as Nazism rears its ugly head in Melbourne. For Joe Sable, an Australia-born Jew, the case provides an opportunity to strike back against the atrocities committed in Europe. Pity Joe has no idea what he’s up against, and the monster he’s facing has no plans of stopping…
The cast in this book is just fantastic. They’re likeable, and failing that, believable. Ptolemy Jones is a brutal and terrifying antagonist, Constable Joe Sable naive but not dumb, and these two pitted against each other in the background of WW2 political tensions is a gritty and exhilarating ride.
And it is gritty. It’s brutal. There are multiple instances of torture, and Ptolemy Jones’s twisted sexual appetite is deeply uncomfortable for the reader. It makes the story all the more compelling. The discomfort of the violence matches the discomfort of the xenophobia, making for a visceral read. You will physically feel things in this book – disgust, discomfort, relief. I can’t name another book that puts its readers through such hoops, and it’s very well done.
The politics themselves are well researched, articulate and sensitive. My favourite part of the book is the relevance of the Antisemitism to modern day Western culture. Holy shit do we need to hear some of the crazy beliefs of the National Socialists. You would be amazed at just how much resemblance it bears to the anti-Muslim sentiments pervading so much of our culture throughout the last decade, and it might make you think again about the way we as a culture treat immigrants and minorities.
The story also describes Melbourne and the 1940s in loving detail. I especially loved the Red Mask radio drama. Not only was the drama an important plot point, but the way a character would occasionally mention listening in or recognise one of the cast suffused a real life into the pages.
I’ll be honest. Some of the story felt like notes. As if the author had drafted up the scene with filler dialogue and the necessary A to B of action and clues, and then moved on to writing a part he was more interested in. These scenes are particularly common when the three main police offers are speaking together. The peppering of typos and bad dialogue in these scenes adds to the sense they were meant to be further refined.
As much as I enjoy murder mysteries, The Holiday Murders reminded me why I don’t often read them. The ending was fine, but the actual reveal of the murderer and his motivation was so contrived, it was more of an eye roll than a heart-pounding moment of truth. Mystery stories are so often focused on the chase that they forget the story of the killer. As readers, we natural empathise with the detectives working the case. But we also need to understand the killer’s motivation. When the killer’s motivation turns out to be feeble or contrived, it makes what should be the climax, a flop instead, and we feel cheated of the satisfying smack of justice we’ve been waiting for.
Well, the ending wasn’t what I’d hoped. Despite that, the Holiday Murders is smartly written, deftly executed, a gripping, gut-wrenching tale of xenophobia, violence and the fight for justice. It promises big and most often delivers. If you’re interested in a more political murder mystery or just want to immerse yourself in the romance of 1940s, I highly recommend it. I would definitely read more of Gott’s work.
I’m giving it 3.5 stars.
What am I reading right now? What are YOU reading right now? Any Arthur C. Clarke perchance? If so, hold onto your hats. Coming up next (next when, Anneque, next October?) is my review for the double Hugo-Nebula award winning explanation (exploration surely) extraordinaire, Rendezvous With Rama!
The Good, the Bad and the Continuablity Review
I thought I’d try something different for this review. Rather than a block of text, the review is broken into three sections: the Good, the Bad, and the Continuability. I think I made up that last word. By continuability, I mean how likely I am to read the next book in the series based on this book.
Let’s get to it!
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Young adult, urban fantasy
Twelve year old Percy Jackson has problems. ADHD and dyslexia make school tough. Percy’s magnetism for disaster makes it all but impossible. Things just seem to go wrong when Percy is around: such as the day his algebra teacher becomes a Fury hell-bent on disembowelling him. And (even stranger) with a little help, Percy is able to turn a pen into a sword and lop his transformed teacher in two.
This bizarre disaster means Percy is forced to change schools yet again. However, this time the change will be more drastic than anything he can imagine. And sure Greek is his best subject – but when Percy is enrolled in Camp Half Blood, a summer school for the children of Greek gods, his life unravels at his feet. He’s thrown into a new world of monsters, mortal heroes, fighting for his life, and the ever-changing whims of the gods.
*Action scenes. Though short, these were frequent, and with quite a few boss battles thrown in as well. The action was fluid, believable and clever. Perfectly suited to a modern Greek epic.
*The Greek. Riordan’s fusion of Greek myth and contemporary Western civilisation was seamlessly done. Many of the gods and creatures take on two aspects – Charon both a wheelchair-bound teacher and a centaur, the algebra teacher / Fury, and many more. A lot of fun was in guessing which character was what, and the Greek references added a real sense of the epic to Percy’s adventures.
*The token bad guys. Hades and Ares act as some of the primary antagonists; nothing new there. But a World War II reference puts the Allies as the children of Poseidon and Zeus, and Axis as the sons of Hades. Hades, really? Come on!
*The line “Somehow, I knew…” This line is used to explain every Greek reference or oddity that Percy somehow understands without prior explanation. But we get it! Percy is the son of a Greek god, he doesn’t need a reason to understand. Repeating “Somehow, I knew” a dozen or so times throughout the story doesn’t explain anything anyway, and it comes across as trite and unprofessional – so why use it?
Percy Jackson wasn’t a story I dreaded finishing. It was an end I’d been anticipating, and I was curious to see if my wild suppositions were right (they were.) It was an engaging, energetic, good-humoured and emotive ride, a real modern fantasy epic. The action scenes were tight, the main cast had interesting backstories and were passable leads; and more than that, I’m just plain intrigued to see where Riordan will take the story.
I will definitely continue reading this series. If you’re fond of classic culture or heroic epics, and especially if you have a young one who isn’t fond of reading, Percy Jackson is worth your time.
I’m giving it 3 ½ stars.
To celebrate the end of another week (oh my goodness, where did it go? Oh right. Oblivion.) here’s a video review of Shaune Lafferty Webb’s Bus Stop on a Strange Loop.
I dunno. I wish I had daily internet access. Doing this blog shenaniganising without regular internet is a Sisyphean task. It’s easy enough to write articles and make videos without the net, but keeping up with everyone is just impossible. So I’m not sure about continuing with certain things. It seems the internet time I have would be better spent keeping up with what y’all are doing, and writing and researching and finding new places to submit work to.
Maybe it’s the weather. I’m a wad of dunno this week. Gonna go read some more of Johannes Cabal the Detective and have a bit of port and think about it.
Well, hell. After a solid 40 hours work, I’ve just finished this week’s review video. And while it looks okay, it really needs a lot of work to make it be as good as it can be.
Is anyone going to complain if I make three videos a fortnight instead of four? A reading once a week and another video every two weeks? Probably not. If you want to complain, please feel free to do so here. Otherwise, that’s what I’m going to do: take two weeks to work on the review videos. Because it’s a hellova a lot of work and I want to do them justice in the editing.
In light of that, this week’s video will be out next Friday. But there will still be a reading video out on Monday. If you don’t follow this blog regularly, you are probably lost. Shush, child, and have this teaser of two Lego men riding a time machine past Magarat Thatcher:
If I told you it’s relevance to the review, I’d have to kill you. So be glad that you’re totally confused right now. It’s all that stands between you and a swift death from above, hiya!