Book Review: The REVELATION

Leave a comment

the-revelation-bentley-littleBentley Little

Strange things are happening in the small town of Randall, Arizona. The local minister vanishes, his church defiled by blasphemous obscenities scrawled in blood…A crazed old woman in her eighties becomes pregnant…Herds of animals are discovered butchered in a field…And one by one, the good folks in town are falling victim to the same unspeakable fate…Now, an itinerant preacher has arrived spreading a gospel of cataclysmic fury. Darkness is falling on Randall, Arizona. The smell of fear lingers in the air. And stranger things are yet to come…

The Revelation was Bentley Little’s first novel published, and one that, since discovering his books years ago, I had some of the hardest times trying to locate and read. It never seemed to be available in print, Barnes & Nobel never carried Little’s stuff to begin with, and it was always hit-and-miss with the Half Price Books. And it wasn’t one of the titles that was available in eBook form on Google Play. But then, one late morning, while killing some time at the Half Price Books in the area in a vain attempt at getting my two younger nephews to spark an interest in literary contentment (don’t get me started), I noticed that there was, in fact, a copy of The Revelation in the Horror section of the mass paperback shelves. Yes, I snatched that sucker up faster than saving a kitten from the jaws of something…not nice. Those two spawn of my sister and brother-in-law can keep their noses in that Poke’-whatever game of theirs; I just caught a rare Little title. They don’t know what they’re missing. Or, maybe they do. I don’t know. Point is, I finally got to read this first novel from Bentley Little. Is it as crazy as the later works that I’m well acquainted with?

Well, yes. Yes it is.

I have to admit, I really had a different idea of what this book was going to be about. I’ve read enough religious-themed horror novels in my time to have developed something of a preconceived notion of what to expect. You know: crazy-eyed preacher blows into town, causes all kinds of wackiness, turns out to be on the side of evil and such, plucky doubter has to take them out some how, yadda yadda yadda. Here, though, there is a crazy-eyed preacher…but the trope is turned on its head. In this case, he shows up to once again put to rest an evil that pops up every couple of centuries or so, at random places in the world. This time, the showdown is outside an obscure town in Arizona.

The Revelation hits the usual hallmarks that sets a Bentley Little novel apart: small Southwest town, claustrophobic atmosphere, evil undead babies…you know, a Bentley Little novel. It builds up the dread, has what I like to call “That Ain’t Right” moments sprinkled liberally throughout, and has this tendency to get under your skin at just the right moments, then zig when you expect the story to zag. It does seem a bit tame compared to his later output, but still is a very effective visceral horror novel. Check it out some time.

Book Review: The FIREMAN

Leave a comment

fireman-theJoe hill
William Morrow & Company

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe. Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child. Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged. In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

There’s maybe a handful of authors that qualify for my Buy Immediately Upon Release list. In case you haven’t deducted it yet, Joe Hill is on that list. Ironically, he has actually supplanted his own father from that list (if you have no idea who his father is, feel free to Google it); usually I’m very much on top of the publishing schedule. With this particular release, The Fireman, the release itself managed to get past me until a few months after the fact. Let’s just say, I was a bit busy around that time. Nephew/Godson graduating High School and all that. Family wackiness. Anyway, once I realized a new novel came out back in May, I stopped by the local Barnes & Noble to remedy this oversight as soon as I possibly could

The one thing I admire about author Joe Hill is his ability to not get stuck in just one genre mold. While Heart Shaped Box was straight horror, the followup Horns was more dark urban fantasy, while NOS4A2 was a whimsical dark fantasy; The Fireman continues in the whole genre-bending in that it’s a post apocalyptic sci-fi tale where the horror is found within humanity and stuff.

There’s an outbreak of something called Dragonscale, an airborne disease of rather ambiguous origin (was it a dormant strain reactivated by global warming? Is it a terrorist bioweapon? Is it the result of a science disaster that couldn’t be contained? You never really know), which covers the victim with black scale-like lesions that bond on a cellular level, and can immolate the victim if stress levels get too high. It spreads rather quickly, and faster than you can say “Among The Living” it’s spread to global proportions.

Enter, then, a former elementary school nurse that has decided to volunteer in the hospital where they’re housing the locals infected with the Dragonscale. This is where she first encounters the titular Fireman, who disrupts an afternoon by demanding that the young boy he’s brought with him be treated for his appendicitis. She intervenes to help the boy, and she thinks that’s the last she’s seen of this mysterious man in firefighting duds. That is, of course, until she herself starts to develop Dragonscale, right after she discovers she’s pregnant. This makes her husband freak out, causing him to leave and, in the course of time, go bonkers. She’s determined to bring the baby to term, while he decides the best thing to do is to go the Romeo and Juliet route. Or something like that. Remember, bonkers now. Anyway, she manages to escape via the help of the mysterious Fireman, who brings her to a secret encampment of others inflicted with the Dragonscale, but have learned how to not only live with it, but also commune with it. Almost like a religious experience. Which, of course, leads to the obvious outcome, with the Fireman and several others–including our former nurse–having to escape with their lives to the north, where a sanctuary is rumored to exist for those infected. On their tale is a posse of normals who want to exterminate all the infected, a group that includes the nurse’s insane husband, all while coming to grips with the new abilities the Dragonscale is granting them.

The Fireman once again proved why Joe Hill is so high on my list. The concept of what is Dragonscale and what it does to the human physiology is intriguing; but like all good post-apocalyptic stories, it’s not about the disease or the disaster, but the journey of the people who find themselves in the midst of the end of the world as they know it. And the journeys taken by the main characters in this story are not only memorable, but also brought forth this rare thing inside of me called “emotion” and “empathy for the characters”. The story itself doesn’t take any easy ways out, and can get rather gruesome at times (especially when the camp goes all Lord of the Flies on our cast), but the result was a 745 page hardcover novel going by faster than a 250 page dimestore novel. Highly recommended.

Book Review: SKIN GAME (The Dresden Files)

Leave a comment

skin-game-the-dresden-filesJim Butcher

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. He doesn’t know the half of it. Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever. It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry. Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…

So, here we are at the fifteenth book in the seemingly never-ending Dresden Files series. The latest one, and as such am waiting for the next book to come out as I’m writing this. To recap, I came across reading this series due to a friend insisting that I read this, then promptly loaning me all 16 books (including the short story collection) to do so. I managed to binge read them all in a handful of months, not just because I’m an old hand at reading things in a rather timely manner (it helps to come from a family of readers), but also because I found the series to be a fantastic way to get lost into another world, and thus all those multi-hundred pages goes by rather quickly. You can keep your Harry Potter; I have a favorite wizard right here. Anyhoo…

Over the course of the series, Dresden has crossed the paths of some very big names in bad-assery. All those names pale in comparison with the Lord of the Underworld himself, the ruler of Death and Darkness, and inspiration for many a garage metal band in existence: Hades. And Dresden finds himself borrowed out to the fallen angel Nicodemus to pull an Indiana Jones and fetch the Holy Grail from the vaults of Hades himself. As you may imagine, trying to get in there and then out without getting hit with a fate presumably worse than death isn’t easy. Let’s just say, not only wackiness ensues, but plenty of subterfuge, twists and action going on. Then the whole thing ends with Butters getting a level up in his game and acquiring a possible copyright infringement.

Overall, Skin Game could be considered a “filler episode” in the Dresden series. It didn’t really forward the overarching journey, but it was a pretty good (if not a bit derivative, but what urban fantasy isn’t, really?) story.

Book Review: SIDE JOBS (The Dresden Files)

Leave a comment

side-jobs-the-dresden-filesJim Butcher

In between the publication of the several novels of the Dresden Files series, author Jim Butcher also wrote a bunch of short stories featuring his put-upon wizard detective; some for various magazines, some for short story collections, all a little bit of story that mostly takes place in-between the regular novels, sometimes filling in some continuity. Either way, short stories are fun, so let’s take a look at this collection, shall we?

“A Restoration of Faith”
Harry is on the case of finding a runaway, only to learn upon finding her that the parents are planning on accusing Harry of kidnapping her to save face. Then they encouter a troll that has taken up residence under a bridge they need to cross. Wackiness ensues…

“Publicity and Advertising (Vignette)”
Harry and Bob the Skull have a discussion on how to properly write a Yellow Pages ad. Um, that’s it, really. No wackiness to ensue…

“Something Borrowed”
Harry is getting ready as best man at the wedding of a couple of the Alphas, when the Bride goes missing, and the Groom being tricked into marrying one of the faeries of the Winter Court. Wackiness ensues…

“It’s My Birthday, Too”
On his White Court vampire half-brother Thomas’ birthday, the vampire-themed LARP (just go with it) is interrupted by a jilted former member of the LARP who has been turned into a Black Court vampire and is filled with NERD RAGE! Wackiness ensues…

A newlywed woman is kidnapped at a local beer fest, along with a keg of microbrew. Turns out it’s a descendant of Grendel, who needs mead in order to breed a child of his own. Wackiness ensues…

“Harry’s Day Off”
Harry has a rare day off, and he plans on spending it on a date. Oh, la-la. Only, these carefully laid plans of mice and men are interrupted by his apprentice wanting to bone up on some potion-making, and by a couple of the Alphas needing a magical flea-dip to get rid of psychophagic mites. Wackiness ensues…

Entirely told by the point of view of Harry’s half-brother Thomas Raith, as he helps out Harry with locating a kidnapped child while keeping Harry unaware that he’s actually helping out. Wackiness ensues…

“The Warrior”
Someone is targeting Michael Carpenter’s family in a bid to get ahold of the Sword of the Cross that Michael no longer wields. The attempts at stealing the swords fail, and then one of Michael’s daughters is kidnapped to try and force their surrender. Kidnap the daughter of a former Knight of the Cross? Bad idea…

“Last Call”
A spell is placed on MacAnally’s famous homemade beer by a maenad to control people attending some kind of sporting event. Wackiness ensues…

“Love Hurts”
After a series of bizarre double-suicides, Harry and Karrin Murphy investigate the source at a carnival outside of Chicago. Turns out it’s the work of a Red Court vampire, casting love spells because they wanted to stick it to the White Court vampires. Um, yeah…

Taking place immediately after the events in Changes, Karrin Murphy doesn’t accept that Harry is really dead, on account that his body wasn’t found. She moves on with her life, continuing on the fight against the supernatural evil in Chicago while maintaining her standing as a policewoman…

Overall, Side Jobs is a nifty collection of bite-sized Dresden stories that pack in the humor, mystery and excitement of your standard Dresden story while keeping things brief yet satisfying. Mostly. “Publicity and Advertising (Vignette)” is just that: a vignette rather than a proper story. But still, rather amusing. In any case, very much worth checking out for a nice suplament companion collection to the regular novels in the series.

Book Review: COLD DAYS (The Dresden Files)

Leave a comment

cold-days-dresden-filesJim Butcher

After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Guess which Mab wants first? Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday. Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…his soul.

Here we are, the fourteenth entry into the Dresden Files, and we’ve seen our hapless wizard detective warden take on vampires, werewolves, rogue FBI agents, dark wizards and warlocks, various members of the Nevernever, cantankerous teenagers, unrequited love, and even death itself, to name but a few. Now, having been brought back to the land of the living, Dresden is now taking on perhaps the greatest challenge in his life: fulfilling his duties as the new Winter Knight in service to the Winter Fae without losing his humanity in the process. Does he succeed? Like it’s going to be wrapped up in the course of one book, silly human.

Dresden has been back in the land of the living, and has spent considerable time recuperating in the Fae Court of Winter, preparing for his official inauguration as Winter Knight. Of course, this being the court of the Winter Queen, things aren’t really as cut and dried as a formal party. The festivities include several attempts to kill Dresden, set up by the Winter Lady Maeve, which Dresden takes care of with the help of his physical therapist and Kris Kringle. I’m not making that up. Thus, Mab gives Dresden his first directive as the Winter Knight: kill the Winter Lady. You ever try to kill an immortal? Not as easy as it sounds. But, thanks to some advise by Bob the Skull, there’s a chance…on Halloween, which is a mere few days away. Also, Demonreach–that mysterious island that Dresden is spiritually tied to–is building energy and may be in danger of exploding. This may be due to the various supernatural entities entrapped underneath in a kind of metaphysical prison. In the meantime, after some consulting with various individuals, turns out Maeve may be quite insane (well, more-so than normal…whatever that amounts to), which leads to an obligatory showdown at Demonreach, which ends up with some unexpected promotions.

Tell the truth, it’s a bit rough trying to follow up Changes, but as with Ghost Story, Cold Days doesn’t really concern itself with top that one, and instead forge ahead with a story all its own that continues the journey that Dresden is making. And logically, we’d have to see how he handles his new title as the Winter Queen’s enforcer, which seems to be better than the previous Winter Knight had handled things. Dresden may be operating within the belly of the proverbial beast, but that just helps enhance the delicious mystery that he has to figure out. He’s come a long way from a mere wizard trying to get by as a supernatural detective in Chi-town, and by the time we get to the end of the book, the changes to some of the key characters in Dresden’s life come as quite the surprise. At least to me; I have a tendency to get so wrapped up in the story I’m not paying attention to how things may end. Recommended, as always.

Book Review: GHOST STORY (The Dresden Files)

Leave a comment

ghost-story-the-dresden-filesJim Butcher

When we last left the mighty wizard detective Harry Dresden, he wasn’t doing well. In fact, he had been murdered by an unknown assassin. But being dead doesn’t stop him when his friends are in danger. Except now he has no body, and no magic to help him. And there are also several dark spirits roaming the Chicago shadows who owe Harry some payback of their own. To save his friends—and his own soul—Harry will have to pull off the ultimate trick without any magic…

Right, so, in case you haven’t figured things out, the whole story here is one big spoiler for the ending of the previous novel in the Dresden Files series. In case you haven’t read it yet, and you just read the reviews of books in lieu of actually reading the books. In which case, you’re weird. Anyway…

Dresden is a ghost now. After being sniped and falling into Lake Michigan, he’s turned up in a kind of afterlife midway point, being told that his death was highly irregular, and so Harry goes back to Chicago in spirit form to try and find his killer. Since he’s all Casper-like, and reality doesn’t play by the same rules in the spirit realm as it does in the corporal world, he goes to resident (and reluctant) necromancer Mortimer Lindquist for help. Seems that Dresden has been dead for six months now, and his living friends have moved on with their lives in one form or another, some for the better and some for the worse. Also, there’s this thing called the Corpsetaker that ends up kidnapping Mort for the express purpose of possessing his body, presumably not for the most honorable of purposes. Also, his former protege Molly has gone rather batty in the interim since Harry’s death…the reason behind it he discovers after unlocking an erased memory detailing his killer behind his death. But before that, he has to rally the troops together to help him out…which is a bit tough, seeing as how he’s all living impaired and such. Wackiness doth ensue.

At this point in the Dresden Files series, I think we can all agree that the one character that has come a long, long way in terms of character development and and journey would be Butters. Here, it was sheer joy to read the polka-loving former mortician now fighting the supernatural evil by wielding both science and Bob the Skull by the seat of his pants. It was interesting to get a glimpse into the lives of those that either loved Dresden or at the very least had a profound respect for him six months after, trying to forge ahead without their friend, and just how much of an impact Dresden had in all of their lives. Also, did I mention Butters and Bob? That needs to at least have a spinoff comic miniseries or something. The ending I kind of saw coming, but then again the series began as an exercise in urban fantasy tropes to begin with. And, yeah the ending made sense in the overall scheme of things.

Book Review: CHANGES (The Dresden Files)

Leave a comment

changes-the-dresden-filesJim Butcher

Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden’s lover—until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. Susan then disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it. Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has discovered a secret Susan has long kept, and she plans to use it—against Harry. To prevail this time, he may have no choice but to embrace the raging fury of his own untapped dark power. Because Harry’s not fighting to save the world…he’s fighting to save his child.

The twelfth novel in the Dresden Files series, and this is where things take a rather dark turn. And given the rather dark twists in the previous novels, that should say something. How is that possible, you ask? Here, let me tell you…

The whole thing kicks off with a visit from old flame Susan Rodriguez informing Harry that their last bit of angry sexy time resulted in a daughter. And while he’s processing that bit of information, he’s then told that little Margaret was kidnapped by the Red Court vampires in South America. But, he’s prevented from doing anything because the Queen of the Red Court is currently in peace talks with the Wizard Council. Allegedly. Then Harry’s office building blows up. Then the Norse God Odin (yeah, that guy) informs Harry that his daughter is going to be used in a blood curse ritual that will result in the deaths of everyone genetically related to the girl, including Harry. Which is what you would call overkill for trying to get rid of one guy. Literally, in this case. As if that isn’t enough (it never is), the FBI is investigating Harry, a couple of vampire assassins are taking shots at him, and then the house he dwells in is firebombed, resulting in Harry literally breaking his back while rescuing the other residents of the house. And to fix his spine, he finally agrees to be Mab’s (remember her?) Winter Knight in exchange for that and the army he needs to rescue his daughter from the Red Court Vamps. This leads to a massive and bloody showdown at the temple where the ritual is taking place, which culminates with Susan sacrificing her life to turn the blood curse onto the Red Court, subsequently killing every last one of the Red Court vampires. And the whole thing ends on a boat on Lake Michigan. I’ll just leave it at that.

Well, now. This entry in the Dresden Files series might just be my favorite of the bunch. It’s rather dark, it’s gritty, it throws in some extra tropes in there that adds to the action and tone, there were some jarring twists with the resulting consequences…and that ending battle. Gads. Epic, it was.

This may come as a big ol’ cliche’, but, yeah…Changes is what you would call a game changer for the Dresden Files series. There are some long-term consequences that stretch beyond this entry, and our reluctant hero won’t be the same since this point. Which makes for some very good reading in this episodic series.

Book Review: TURN COAT (The Dresden Files)

Leave a comment

book-review_-turn-coat-the-dresden-files-11Jim Butcher

When it comes to the magical ruling body known as the White Council, Harry keeps his nose clean and his head down. For years, the Council has held a death mark over Harry’s head. He’s still thought of as a black sheep by some and as a sacrificial lamb by others. But none regard him with more suspicion and disdain than Morgan, a veteran Warden with a grudge against anyone who bends the rules. Like Harry. So when Morgan turns up asking for help, Harry isn’t exactly eager to leap into action. Morgan has been accused of treason against the White Council, and there’s only one final punishment for that crime. He’s on the run, he wants his name cleared, and he needs someone with a knack for backing the underdog. Like Harry. Now Harry must uncover a traitor within the Council, keep a less than agreeable Morgan under wraps, and avoid coming under scrutiny himself. And a single mistake may cost someone his head. Like Harry…

The eleventh entry in the ongoing Dresden Files series, and this time around we have a focus on Dresen’s former probation officer and resident hardass Warden Morgan is framed for the murder of a Senior Council member. Things start getting convoluted when a Native American shape shifter and the White Court of vampires get involved with the conspiracy mystery, resulting in Dresden’s brother Thomas being kidnapped for ransom purposes, a showdown between Dresden and several other wizards and the shapeshifter and head of the vampire clan, Morgan’s eventual trial where it’s revealed in a twist worthy of a Matlock episode that it was the Council’s glorified secretarial clerk that was behind the murder by way of magical ink (of course), then another showdown in the Nevernever, where Morgan saves the day but is mortally wounded and dies. Then Luccio breaks things off with Dresen, while his former mentor Ebenezar decides to form a secret group to oppose the rising of a super-secret Black Council from within their midst.

Well, now. This was kind of bittersweet. Since the beginning of the series, Warren Morgan has been a thorn in Dresden’s side, being the guy readers loved to hate. He wasn’t really a villain, but boy was he a legalistic prick with little wiggle room outside of the Wizard’s law. Over time, Morgan had grown a begrudging respect for Dresden, but here is where he more or less redeems himself and ultimately sacrifices himself in the process. Overall, this was a rather darker entry into the series, and one that signifies massive changes in the life of our long-suffering wizard detective.