Friday, November 19, 2010

"The Wall" published in Issue 132 of Hub Magazine

You can download it here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kirkus Review on "Cave Gossip"

You can read Kirkus Review's take on my novel Cave Gossip here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rebecca Levene's "The Infernal Game: Ghost Dance"

I had never heard of Rebecca Levene until I stumbled onto Pat Kelleher's Black Hand Gang (Abaddon Books 2010), one of my favorite reads of the year. In that novel there is a reference to the croatoans and Dr. John Dee, which, of course, I am very interested in because of my abiding interest in alchemy, Jung, and depth psychology. So, I googled "croatoan" and "Doctor John Dee" and up pops Levene's The Infernal Game: Ghost Dance (Abbadon Books 2010) and I knew I had to check it out.

I was pleasantly surprised: Ghost Dance is a mixed-genre feast of action, horror, spy-craft, true crime, the supernatural, mythology, time-travel and Christianity. It's all there wrapped up in a nice prose package, tightly plotted and briskly presented.

Levene sets the novel in San Francisco and London, with a sojourn to the Mojave desert. In order to stay true to her settings she also incorporates images from American Indian mythology, along with some of its major memes: tricksters, spirit walking, and spirit animals.

The novel involves three point-of-view characters, with two taking the lead as protagonists: Morgan, a member of the Hermetic Divison of MI6 and Alex of the CIA.

The novel, however, begins with a mass murder committed by an American teenager, named Coby, and the visions of Alex, who has a pre-vision of the killings. Coby's acts become the exciting force that ultimately, years later, set Alex, Morgan, and Coby on a collision course.

Morgan is an assassin without a soul, literally, and he appeared in the first volume of Levene's new series: The Infernal Game: Cold Warriors (Abbadon Books 2010). The title, of course, is a pun because Morgan's partner in Cold Warriors was a zombie. Alex is a rich young woman, recruited as agent in the CIA because she can spirit walk. Her recruitment, however, is really a kidnapping; the CIA press-gang her into the service through blackmail and intimidation; consequently, she is never a willing participant and her participation has to be forced and her powers jump-started through drugs.

Two separate investigations proceed through parallel narratives. Alex investigates a cult based in San Francisco called the Croatoans. The Croatoans have gotten their hands on a shofar, a sacred ram's horn, that belonged to Doctor John Dee, and are using it in some bizarre ritual, which the CIA is interested in stopping. Morgan, in England, is tracking the killer of Dr. Granger, one of the foremost authorities on Doctor John Dee. Her murderer is a Mossad agent, who seems intent on killing not only Granger but her graduate students. Through his special talents Morgan quickly ascertains that Granger seeks an artifact, belonging to Dee, that grants eternal life: a philosopher stone, as it were, that is in the hands of a cult in America--the Croatoans.

As the actions unfolds, the two plots intertwine and then join in the spirit world, where good and evil struggle for control of the shofar and the ability to live for ever. However, in Levene's world, the so-called good is not necessarily good; she seems to adopt Rilke's belief that ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich (that every angel is horrifying/terrible).

My conclusion is that the novel is just downright fun to read. Levene throws almost every meme, metaphor, and trope available into the narrative, even pulling off a nice time travel sub-plot that ties everything together. Alex and her bouts with the trickster reminded me of the novels of Charles de Lint; however, where de Lint's novels are kind-hearted, Levene's are tough, sassy, rugged, and brash. And, frankly, I think that is what she intended.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gav Thorpe's "The Crown of the Blood"

Gav Thorpe, along with Paul Kearney, Stephen Pressfield and David Drake, writes war as it should be written: brutal, dark, bloody, treacherous, confusing, and insane. In The Crown of the Blood (Angry Robot 2010), his first independent novel, Thorpe breaks away from the Warhammer universe and paints his own created fantasy world with a broad brush, so broad in fact that at the end of the novel you feel as if you just began your exploration of the brutal and warring world, controlled, dominated, and threatened by the Empire of Askh.

This broad scope, of course, is what the epic fantasy reader wants and Thorpe sets up the pieces on the board to be played through what will either be a trilogy or a series of books. However, and this is important, in the setting up of his universe, through his own unique creation process, Thorpe employs and distorts the usual fantasy tropes (no elves, wizards or haflings here) to provide a somewhat familiar (but not really) psychological as well as realistic view of a bronze-age world at war, where magic is dark and dangerous--horrific really--and warfare is waged on an epic scale: tens of legions square off in gigantic set pieces involving hundreds of thousands of men across a universe. And the result is that Thorpe writes in a vein closer to Gemmell than Tolkien and, as a result, he seems less interested in the glory of the hero than in the psychological underpinning of the combatants, which provides a view of their inner workings and thereby making the novel seem harder, truer, and grave. The result of his method, of course, is a sense of weight, which is necessary for epic fantasy: epic fantasy must have a sense of psychological depth, as demonstrated through well-rounded characters,operating in a unique universe, and a sense of tragedy.

Thorpe provides the elements of tragedy through his depiction of the machinations of the Bloods: the members of the royal family who rule the Empire with the help and guidance of the Brotherhood, a cult of priests, who use alchemy and astrology to manipulate and control their fate. The chief protagonist, although I would argue that there are several because Thorpe uses multiple points of view to describe the workings of the Empire, is Ullsaard, a native of Enair and a young general, commanding several Askh Legions. It is Ullsaard whose arc provides the tragic theme of the novel and it is Ullsaard, who first demonstrates that Thorpe is not interested in providing us with a epic fantasy stereotype. Ullsaard is a complex man, full of pride and ambition, who, at times, is not particularly smart or honorable. It is his story that propels the plot but he is not always a hero or heroic. Sometimes he is pitiful, cowardly and vainglorious, asking others to do his dirty work or betraying life-long allies, even brothers. In fact, I would argue that there is no real "hero" in the novel; instead, Thorpe provides us with a myriad of flawed individuals, who blindly grope for power on various levels in a brutal world. However, Ullsaard, of course, carries the plot and it is his fortune that furnishes the exciting force of the novel and provides the elements of tragedy.

With tragedy comes complexity and Thorpe has arranged his novel to include characters from every stratum of the empire. In this, you can see either Tolkien's influence or Shakespeare's (take your pick). In fact, there is a beautiful scene near the end of the novel where one of the POV characters, Gelthius, opts out of raping and pillaging and decides to have a bit of drink, food, and sleep, instead. When the conquering Ullsaard enters the city, he finds the tipsy and drowsing Gelthius on the steps leading to the ramparts. The scene illustrates the common legionnaire interacting with the great general and brings to conclusion the multiple points of view approach that allowed us to see the working of the Legions. A nice touch to a book full of nice touches.

In the final analysis, a created world must have created beings; and, although Thorpe has avoided the usual fantasy tropes, he does provide us with some interesting creations: the officers of the legions ride giant cats called ailurs; the cavalry ride Kolubrids, large snake-like creatures; the warriors of Mekha ride reptilian creatures called behemodon; while slavers travel in landships, propelled by oarsmen. The sine qua non of fantasy tropes--the horse--is no where to be found. He also has created a unique social world, where polygamy is the norm, bastards of the Blood are hunted down by the Brotherhood; and debtor prisons common. The magic, too, is different, it seems based on human sacrifice, alchemy, and astrology.

All in all, the novel is well-written, with a complex plot that promises additional books, ruthless, fully-developed characters, and a penchant for psychological realism that makes the book an adult read rather than a childish escape.