Book Review: FULL DARK, NO STARS

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Book Review FULL DARK, NO STARSStephen King
Scribner
2010

Stephen King excels at telling stories. That’s pretty much the basic gist of it, I guess. He’s been telling stories in many different formats over several decades, which means he’s capable of telling tales that manage to break the bounds of the genre that most have pigeonholed him in. Which, I guess, is my lame way to start off this review for his third collection of novellas to have been published, Full Dark, No Stars.

The four stories collected here lean more to the hard-boild crime chiller type of stories that, had this been a different time, probably would have been published under King’s former pen name Richard Bachman. But, before I get too far, let’s take a look at the individual stories contained herein, shall we?

“1922”
…a Nebraska farmer writes a confession/suicide note detailing the bad year he had in 1922. It’s a murder chiller that plays out like a classic story from the old EC Comics thrillers of old.

“Big Driver”
…this was a hard one for me to get through, mainly due to the subject matter of a woman who is raped and gets her revenge on the culprits. The whole violence against women thing makes me sick to my stomach; regardless, this was a good hard-boiled revenge thriller with…well, I wouldn’t say a “happy ending”. Would that even be possible ever again?

“Fair Extension”
…the shortest story in this collection, it would be a stretch to call this a novella, given that it’s just a skosh over thirty pages. And for whatever reason, I pictured Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) playing the part as the Devil in this story. Anyway, kind of a darker Twilight Zone type of story, where a guy who’s had nothing but bad luck happens upon someone who can give him a new lease on life, for a certain price.

“A Good Marriage”
…a wife’s long-time and idealistic (if not a bit hum-drum) marriage existence gets shaken to the core when she accidentally finds out her husband might be a notorious serial killer. Pretty tense, and the ending is straight out of a Columbo mystery.

Overall, the collection within Full Dark, No Stars aren’t so much supernatural horror, so much as hard boiled thrillers from the same vein as the EC Comic and the Alfred Hitchcock pulp magazines. Obviously, there’s going to be a touch of the supernatural style, mostly with “A Fair Extension”; most of the horror, though, is derived from regular everyday people finding themselves in a very non-regular and dark situation, where there’s no hope of coming out unscathed. Like I mentioned earlier you might say these are Richard Bachman stories that King just decided to put his regular name on.

I really should note that two stories from here have already been made into movies: “Big Driver”, which was made into a Lifetime movie, and “A Good Marriage”. And there’s been news of “1922” being made into one as well. I haven’t watched any of the two movie adaptations, and probably won’t any time soon. As far as reading the book goes, yeah, no regrets doing so. It’s a Stephen King book for certain. What more can I say?

Book Review: The THRAWN TRILOGY

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Timothy Zahn
Bantam Spectra
1991-1993

As long as I’m getting the novels that I have read a long, long time ago (see what I did, there?), I might as well knock one out on the Thrawn Trilogy of novels that I read, most in part due to my friend introducing me to some of his favorite Star Wars characters, both from the movies and the Expanded Universe. And while now, in the post-Disney acquired Star Wars that we have, most if not all of the previous Expanded Universe stories have been rendered glorified fan-fic, in the case of one Grand Admiral Thrawn, things are a bit different.

Back in the early 1990s, interest in Star Wars was waning from what it was in the 1980s, mostly due to lack of movies and general tie-ins to keep the momentum going. With the release of this trilogy, Star Wars fans were introduced to a character that was never in the Original Trilogy of movies–Grand Admiral Thrawn, a remnant of the now-defunct Imperial Empire. Suddenly, a character that was never in the movies, nor had a toy made out of him became a fan favorite, and more or less revitalized the Star Wars franchise, at least in the Expanded Universe form.

And thus it was, in the early days of the 21st Century, my friend Nex lent me his copies of the Thrawn Trilogy, to introduce me to one of his favorite characters, and I obliged by reading them. And here’s my belated assessment of what I did thus read:

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-1Book One: HEIR TO THE EMPIRE
It’s been five years since the second Death Star went boom, and along with it the Empire was shattered and the New Republic arose from the smoke and ash. Well, metaphorically speaking, give or take. Leia Organa is married to Han Solo, and they’re expecting twins. Luke is working to re-establish the Jedi, and everyone is working to mop up the remaining Imperial remnant while making sure everyone in the galaxy plays nice. Unfortunately, there’s one hold out that’s causing problems to the fledgling government, one Grand Admiral Thrawn, a high-ranking and brilliant tactician, and one of the rare non-human officers in the Imperial fleet. Thrawn spends time gathering a bunch of critters called ysalamiri, which cancels out the Force within a short radius, and in the process runs into and recruits a mad Jedi by the name of Joruus C’baoth, whose only request is to have Thrawn obtain Luke and Leia so that he may train them in his vision of the Force. Meanwhile, Han is trying to recruit fellow smugglers to help with rebuilding the Republic with much-needed cargo transport, Thrawn launches a bunch of hit-and-run offensives in New Republic territory, Luke gets stranded on a planet and encounters the Wild Karrde, the official smuggler ship of one Talon Karrde, the guy who is supplying Thrawn with the ysalamiri. On board is Mara Jade, who kinda sorta has a hate-on for Luke for reasons stemming from her time as Emperor Palpatine’s assassin tasked in eliminating Luke Skywalker. Leia experiences a bunch of kidnapping attempts by the Noghri, an alien species that can be described as Golum if trained as ninja assassins. Most of these attempts fail, but since they’re persistent little buggars, they manage to come close to succeeding…until the one that nearly gets her stops suddenly for no apparent reason before slapping it into “B” for “Boogie” and splitting. Meanwhile, Lando has his newest operation invaded by Thrawn, and Admiral Ackbar is arrested on Coruscant on charges of treason. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-2Book Two: DARK FORCE RISING
Grand Admiral Thrawn now has full access to Emperor Palpatine’s private storehouse on the planet Wayland, and he begins planning for a massive attack against the New republic. Part of the plan is to find the fabled Katana fleet, a fleet of highly automated Dreadnaughts that were constructed in the days before the Clone Wars, that went missing after the crews went mad due to a virus, slaved the controls to each other, and sent them all into hyperspace, never to be heard from again. Until now, it appears. Seems a former Republic Senator that Han and Lando try to recruit in their fight against Thrawn has a few of those particular Dreadnaughts in his own fleet. Meanwhile, Joruus C’baoth summons Luke to the planet Jomark to train him, with Mara Jade still trying to take him out. Leia and Chewbacca take their captive Noghri back to his planet, where it’s discovered that previously the Empire made promises to restore their ecosystem when in actuality they were keeping them oppressed to do their bidding. Leia seems a bit squicky about being referred to as “Lady Vader”, but she does have Vader’s scent due to her being his daughter and all. Luke then manages to escape and join up with Lando and Han with securing the Katana fleet, although Thrawn had captured all but 15 of the Dreadnaughts. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-thrawn-trilogy-3Book Three: The LAST COMMAND
Grand Admiral Thrawn has a bunch of Dreadnaughts now, and he launches his offensive against the New Republic. Along with the might of his newly commandeered fleet, he uses certain highly effective deception techniques that result in the capture of several planets back into the Imperial Empire. He then manages to immobilize Coruscant by cloaking a bunch of asteroids. Meanwhile, due to an Imperial raid on one of their meetings, the Smuggler Alliance decide to join in the fight against the remnant of the Empire, rather than stay on the sidelines. Mara Jade joins up with Leia and Han in stopping their twins from being kidnapped for Joruus C’baoth, who really wants to turn them to the Dark Side. Luke, Han, Lando, Chewie and Mara–along with some help from the Noghri and a couple of local alien races on Wayland–where they rig the cloning facility to go boom. They face off against C’baoth, who seems to have cloned his own Luke (going by the name of Luuke, because that extra “u” should help differentiate against the actual Luke, I guess) by using the hand that was lopped off of him in The Empire Strikes Back. That pesky thing. Mara kills Luuke, and thus fulfills the Emperor’s orders on a technicality. The Republic then organizes an assault on Thrawn, who nearly pulverizes the fleet, but then gets assassinated by the one Noghri he kept on board. All the Imperial forces retreat, and later Luke gives Mara Jade his first lightsaber (which came with the hand) and invites her to train as a Jedi.

Overall, I do remember a goodly portion of the Thrawn Trilogy from when I originally read them. They all were engaging, and managed to stick inside my brain for all this time. It is amazing that the popularity of Thrawn is such that Disney has added him to their own Star Wars canon within the show Star Wars Rebels. Even though the Thrawn Trilogy has been regulated to Legends status, it is a rather intriguing yarn, one that doesn’t feel as bloated as it could have been with three novels. Very much recommended.

Book Review: STAR WARS: The Bounty Hunter Wars

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K. W. Jeter
Bantam Spectra
1998/1999

Back in the magical year of 2001, I was in the midst of reading the vast array of Star Wars novels that my friend Nex had in his personal library. I was something of a Star Wars novice at the time, and he was picking out certain Expanded Universe stories that I would probably enjoy. This was long before Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, and consequently declared all of the Expanded Universe stories null and void. And since up to that time Boba Fett was essentially that character that said a few things, took Han Solo to Jaba, and then was swallowed by a giant sand pit creature, but for some reason was massively popular for many Star Wars fanatic. Which included Nex. So, in the course of a few days, I took the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy of novels and read them, taking in what was said was going to cement why Boba Fett was such a cool badass. Did it do as such? Let’s go through the three books and find out, shall we?

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-1Book One: The MANDALORIAN ARMOR
Book One in the Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy opens with Dengar (that one bounty hunter on Darth Vader’s super star destroyer in Empire Strikes Back, with the turban) sifting through the wreckage of Jabba the Hutt’s barge for something valuable, when he comes across a very dead-looking Sarlacc, and then a still-alive Boba Fett. Seems Fett was able to blast his way out of the Sarlacc, and he’s a bit worse for wear. So, Dengar takes Fett to a nearby cave to nurse him back to health. Then we have a flashback to about the time between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, where an independently-minded Fett gets the drop on a Bounty Hunters Guild assignment, and delivers it to an arachnid go-between that gave Fett the counter-assignment. Fett is then given his next contract: join the Bounty Hunters Guild and take it down from within. Meanwhile, in the present time, the head of an Imperial ship building yard wonders if Fett is really dead, while a lady suffering from a bit of amnesia really, really needs to talk with Fett. Then we flash back to Fett successfully joining the Guild, despite some objections by Bossk (the lizard guy in Empire Strikes Back…who also says “damn straight” a lot), and then there’s a meeting between the Emperor and Darth Vader with crime boss Prince Xizor, who apparently was the one who gave Fett the contract to take down the Guild by joining in a plot to trim the fat, as it were. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-2Book Two: SLAVE SHIP
Back in the present, the Imperial ship yard is experiencing a bit of a coup, while Bossk is stranded on Tatooine after Boba Fett plants a fake bomb on his ship and takes it, Dengar and that amnesiac lady along for the ride. To pass the time, Dengar tells the tale of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild split: seems after Bossk killed (and eaten) the head of the Bounty Hunter’s Guild (which happened to be his father), the Guild split into the True Guild, which comprised of the older members, and the Guild Reform Committee, which was made up of the younger bounty hunters, and headed up by Bossk. Meanwhile, the Empire allows the head of the Black Sun to continue weeding out the weaker bounty hunters and leaving the strong ones to be hired by the Empire, by way of a bounty on a former stormtrooper wanted for the slaughter of his entire ship’s crew. This leads Boba Fett to team up with Bossk and Zuckuss to help capture said stormtrooper, leading to Fett to double cross his temporary partners to keep the bounty all for himself. Because he’s Boba Fett, that’s why. Fett delivers the bounty to a giant galactic spider; meanwhile, one of the galactic spider’s minions is plotting against his master with the head of Black Sun. To be continued…

book-review_-star-wars_-the-bounty-hunter-wars-3Book Three: HARD MERCHANDISE
In the present time, bounty hunters Zuckuss and 4-LOM takes down a gambler that wages on battles being waged during the Galactic Civil War; Bossk sets up shop in Mos Eisley to pawn off the forged evidence against the head of the Black Sun. In another flashback, Fett arrives at the Giant Galactic Spider’s lair with his bounty to deliver, only to almost get killed by the mutinous minion’s trap. The bounty is delivered, Fett is spared, and the Giant Galactic Spider is blowed up but good. Back to present time, Fett has returned to the ruins of the Giant Galactic Spider, does a bit of techno-necromancy to get some answers, only to be ambushed by the minion again. Fett then heads out to the Kuat shipyards, which is under siege. Answers to the mysteries surrounding who was trying to kill Boba Fett and the amnesiac slave girl are…answered, I guess, and then things blow up. The End.

Overall, while reading them (and finding them entertaining enough), I got the sense that maybe, just maybe, instead of spreading things out in three novels, things could have been narrowed down to two books easily. There’s a lot of bouncing around between flashback and the present day narrative, and while things didn’t get confusing because of that, there could have been a way to keep the past tale contained in one book, then continue on with the present day in the second novel. But, instead we got three books, written by the guy who wrote the extended novel sequels to the Blade Runner movie.

The Bounty Hunter Wars utilizes a lot of exposition, with a bit of action thrown in. That may be the standard for, say, a Star Trek novel, but for Star Wars, a lot of the enjoyment rests on the action. Also, Bossk says “Damn skippy” a lot. Didn’t think that was a general catch phrase for a reptile humanoid. The Giant Galactic Spider was a neat concept, I would pay to see more with that guy introduced back into the Disney-era Star Wars Universe.

In the end, although I did enjoy reading the novels at the time, when they ended, I found myself forgetting a lot of what I just went through. I managed to make myself remember to get a proper review done (I read them at a time when I wasn’t doing book reviews at the time…that came years later). If I utilized the Five Star rating system, I would give it three out of five. That’s being generous, though.

Book Review: The DARK TOWER

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book-review_-dark-tower-viiStephen King
Grant
2004

“Death, but not for you, gunslinger. Never for you. You darkle. You tinct. May I be brutally frank? You go on.”

The seventh and final installment of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga is perhaps the most anticipated book in the author’s long career. King began this epic tale about the last gunslinger in the world more than 20 years ago; now he draws its suspenseful story to a close, snapping together the last pieces of his action puzzle and drawing Roland Deschain ever closer to his ultimate goal.

The final book (in theory) of the long-going Dark Tower series, and this one’s a doozy. Strap in, this is gonna be a bumpy ride.

So, picking up where the last book left off, Jake and Callahan sieges The Dixie Pig, which turns out to be a vampire lounge that specializes in roast human flesh and features doors leading to their worlds. Because nightmare fuel really brings out the subtle nuanced taste of the brisket. Callahan ultimately sacrifices himself to save Jake from the inevitable vampire attack. Meanwhile, in the world of Fedic, Mia (having been separated from Susannah) gives birth to a bouncing baby boy…that can turn into a spider, which it does and immediately feasts on his mother. Susannah manages to escape Fedic back into the Dixie Pig and meets up with Jake and Oy, Roland and Eddie recruit a guy named John Cullum in Maine, then they all make their way back to Fedic. Walter/Randall Flagg is killed by the rapidly maturing baby/spider (going by the name of Mordred), while Roland and the gang get involved with freeing a bunch of psychics that are being used to weaken and break the beams that support the Tower. Eddie is wounded and dies, then Roland, Jake and Oy jump back to our world Maine 1999 and save Stephen King from getting hit by a minivan, only to have Jake killed by said van in his place. Roland and Oy meet back up with Susannah in Fedic, get chanced by a monster, and continue on to The Dark Tower. They meet up with another vampire, a psychic one, that makes them laugh a bit too much, they free his captive that had once appeared in King’s 1994 novel Insomnia, who can make his drawings come to life, and so Susannah has him draw a door out of this world, because she knows that Roland needs to finish his quest without her. Then Mordred (suffering from a serious case of the trots) attacks, killing Oy (quite the body count we’re racking up, Sir Roland), but then gets killed by Roland. The remaining two finally arrive at the Dark Tower, only to find it already occupied by the Crimson King. No worries, though, because Roland’s remaining companion manages to just literally erase the Crimson King’s existence, allowing Roland to enter the Dark Tower finally. Then we get a glimpse of how Susannah turned out, and if you keep reading, you end up right at the beginning of the upcoming Dark Tower movie. The End.

I’m not kidding about that last part. It seems that the long-planned and finally coming out the year of this writing is officially a sequel to the book series, as a small bit of a reveal that I’m not going to spoil shows why it’s a sequel and not a straight adaptation of the books.

As far as The Dark Tower goes, this was epic. Both by the size of the book and the scope of the adventure itself. It’s quite a bit darker, as of course people close to Roland don’t get out unscathed. I understand that the majority of those I’ve talked with consider the final confrontation between Roland and the Crimson King to be a cop-out let down, but I actually get it; it’s in keeping with King’s voiced opinion that the big bad evil always seems bigger and scarier from far off, but when you finally confront it face to face, the “unstoppable evil” always turns out to be more bark than bite. That’s not to say that the Crimson King was a wuss; his evil influence has a far-reaching and devastating effect, felt in the books Black House and Insomnia (where a couple of characters first hail from), and is quite possibly the embodiment of Satan himself. Regardless, it was a rather out-of-the-box way that he was defeated. Also, the true ending to the tale…I found it satisfying. Then again, I am something of a geek when it comes to…endings like that. Also, giving the were-spider monstrosity explosive diarrhea was hilariously awesome.

Overall, though it clocks in at nearly 850 pages in length, being the longest book in the series, I was completely engrossed in the story from beginning to end. I think the all-encompassing tale of the Dark Tower is far from being over; however, this is a good ending to a larger arc in the tale.

Book Review: SONG OF SUSANNAH

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book-review_-dark-tower-viStephen King
Grant
2004

King looked back at Roland. “As The Man With No Name–a fantasy version of Clint Eastwood–you were okay. A lot of fun to partner up with.”

To give birth to her “chap,” demon-mother Mia has usurped the body of Susannah Dean and used the power of Black Thirteen to transport to New York City in the summer of 1999. The city is strange to Susannah…and terrifying to the “daughter of none,” who shares her body and mind. Saving the Tower depends not only on rescuing Susannah but also on securing the vacant lot Calvin Tower owns before he loses it to the Sombra Corporation. Enlisting the aid of Manni senders, the remaining katet climbs to the Doorway Cave…and discovers that magic has its own mind. It falls to the boy, the billy-bumbler, and the fallen priest to find Susannah-Mia, who, in a struggle to cope with each other and with an alien environment “go todash” to Castle Discordia on the border of End-World. In that forsaken place, Mia reveals her origins, her purpose, and her fierce desire to mother whatever creature the two of them have carried to term. Eddie and Roland, meanwhile, tumble into western Maine in the summer of 1977, a world that should be idyllic but isn’t. For one thing, it is real, and the bullets are flying.

Here we are, the penultimate edition in the overall Dark Tower series, and…things get wonky. I mean, things have gotten wonky in past books, yes; this is, after all, a fantasy epic, in the same vein as The Lord of the Rings, by way of Sergio Leone. But, where the previous novel had only a little bit of the ol’ time-and-dimensional hopping shenanigans, Song of Susannah goes entirely Masters Of The Universe: The Movie. You know, the live action He-Man movie that didn’t have the budget to set things in Eternia, so He-Man and the gang wind up in New York for most of the time? Yeah, this is the Dark Tower novel that’s set in our dimension, at different points in history. Specifically, 1977 and 1999. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, here.

So, after Susan got all possessed by her unborn demon child and escaped into the dimensional doorway into New York of 1999, closing said door and throwing away the proverbial key, Roland and the remaining Ka-tet members–Eddie, Jake, Oy, and including Father Callahan–manage to open up another magic door and go in…only, Jake, Oy and Father Callahan wind up in 1999 New York, where Susannah/Mia have shown up at, while Roland and Eddie are sent to 1977 Maine. Roland and Eddie manage to fend off enemies sent by the Crimson King and get the deed to the land that has the rose in New York, and then get all super-meta when they pay a visit to Stephen King. Mind you, it’s 1977 Stephen King, and is considered the conduit for which the story of the Dark Tower saga transmits itself. That, and the Gunslinger and Eddie’s presence in Maine causes reality in the town to go all wonky and “thin”, as it’s mentioned. And thus Roland encourages this “wordslinger” to continue with the writing of the Dark Tower saga. Meanwhile, in 1999 New York, Susannah/Mia are taken to a restaurant called the Dixie Pig and is preparing to give birth to that unholy spawn, attended to by the Crimson King’s men, as Jake, Oy and Father Callahan show up and prepare to storm the restaurant to rescue Susannah. Then we end things by discovering via journal entries that Stephen King the character died in 1999. Wacky.

Considering the shadows of our world showing up in Ronald’s world, and the fact that The Drawing of the Three spent a goodly chunk of time in (for lack of a better term) our real reality (albeit something of a slightly altered history version), the characters jumping to different points in time in our reality wasn’t something suddenly utilized to shake things up. Also, authors appearing in their own novels isn’t anything new, either. And in a way, Stephen King writing himself into this story actually fits in the narrative; the fact that he was rather self-depreciating when he did it, making him come off as a bit of an arsehole that got on Ronald’s nerves a nice way of downplaying what could have been a cheep ego boost.

Overall, while the twists and turns do tend to give you a bit of motion sickness, Song of Susannah nevertheless was rather engaging and entertaining.

Book Review: WOLVES OF THE CALLA

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book-review_-dark-tower-vStephen King
Grant
2003

It was the possibility of darkness that made the day seem so bright.

Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing southeast through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough….

After Wizard & Glass was published in 1997, there was a stretch where it seemed a possibility that we may never see (or read) of Roland finally arriving at his long-traveled destination of The Dark Tower. Or, if you wanted to be optimistic, there would be a conclusion to the epic, but it might not be Stephen King that would pen the last few stories. This was something that King himself actually mused about back in the 1980s, around the time when The Drawing of the Three was published. It makes sense, really, as The Dark Tower series was never really his main focus as a writer. But still, continuing a story is a thing us geeks tend to get antsy about.

Also, there was the little issue with King almost getting killed after being hit by a minivan while on one of his daily walks in 1999. It took him a while to recover, and during his readjusting period said he was going to retire from writing all together in 2002. Fortunately, whether he found a way to work through the discomfort, or if he just discovered that retirement sucks, he continued to write, and managed to get the fifth volume of The Dark Tower series out, Wolves of the Calla.

After leaving Topeka from the previous story, Roland and the gang find themselves enlisted in protecting a small farming village called Calla Bryn Sturgis from the Wolves of Thunderclap (again, great band name, there). Seems these Wolves come around every generation to take one child from each pair of twins from the village, and after a few months of being away, the child returns mentally handicapped and destined to grow really big and die young. Meanwhile, one of the citizens of Calla is one Father Callahan, who used originally used to be from a little town in Maine called ‘Salem’s Lot. You may have heard of it; bit of a vampire infestation and all. Turns out, things got all sorts of wacky for Father Callahan after he left ‘Salem’s Lot, and after dying in that reality wound up here in Roland’s world at the Way Station shortly after Roland met up with Jake there in The Gunslinger (gads, we’re starting to need a flow chart, aren’t we?), yadda yadda yadda, there’s a black scrying orb in a cave that can allow traveling via dream doorways. Or something like that. Eddie uses said object to travel back to New York circa 1977 to ensure a rose in an empty lot that is the manifestation of the Dark Tower in this dimension is not destroyed. Meanwhile, in the Calla, the Wolves show up, who turn out to be robots that look more like Doctor Doom that wield Star Wars-style light sabers and throw grenades designed to look like the snitches from the Harry Potter books. I am so not making that up. A battle ensues, the Wolves are defeated, and then Susanna gets possessed by the baby she got impregnated with by a demon back in The Waste Lands, and runs off back to New York Prime and closes the door behind her. The End.

Clearly, Wolves of the Calla is the Seven Samurai edition of the story arc. Or, if you will, The Magnificent Seven. Wherein our ragtag group of vagrant cowboys are called upon to help defend a village from a dark force that preys upon it because evil. Throw in some time-and-dimension hopping shenanigans, a crossover from another Stephen King book, some other blatant cribbing from other modern pop culture touchstones and a callback to one of the previous novels in the series, and boy howdy was this a wonderful and glorious mess. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either; the story had so many twists and turns, not to mention so many wacky surprises that it was just all kinds of fun to read. I mean, who wouldn’t want to make light sabers part of your fantasy play when you were a kid?

Overall, after sloshing through Wizard & Glass, I’m glad I kept going with Wolves of the Calla, as I was rewarded with a much more imaginative and kinetic continuation of the overall arc, as well as some geek moments that left me with a bit of a grin at times.

Book Review: The NIGHT CLASS

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book-review-the-night-classTom Piccirilli
Leisure Books
2002

The college winter break is over, and Caleb Prentiss faces yet another semester of higher education. Struggling with alcoholism and frustrated by his irrelevant classes, Cal seeks solace in the arms of his scholastic-conscious girlfriend and in somnambulistic conversation with a mystifying college radio DJ. But Cal’s ennui is shattered when he discovers evidence of a murder which occurred in his room over the Christmas recess. Obsessed with unearthing the particulars of this gruesome and haunting event, Cal wanders down the grotesque hallowed halls of a university gone mad. Run-ins with the two hard-nosed campus security guards, relationship hurdles with both friends and lovers, and enigmatic signals from the Dean’s icily eminent wife force Caleb to question his place in the bizarre night classes of higher education. Even as he gets ever closer to the truth, Caleb is plagued by the supernatural occurrence known as stigmata: his hands bleed in imitation of the wounds of Christ whenever someone close to him dies. And Cal’s hands are bleeding a lot these days.

Thomas Piccirilli was not an author I was familiar with back when I ran into the paperback edition of the book The Night Class while perusing the pittance that is the book section of the local Wal Mart back in 2002. It was the cover of this just-released mass market edition of the book that caught my eye, and the blurb on the back deepened my interest, so I bought it and gave this a shot.

As it turns out, The Night Class happens to be the only novel I’ve read of his. Out of respect for the dead (Piccirilli died of cancer at the age of 50 back in July of 2015), I’m not going to rag on him too much; and really, only reading one novel out of the rather prolific output he’s managed since 1990 isn’t the best way to judge likability. The Night Class, however, was his eighth published novel, so it’s not like I picked up his first attempt at writing to go off of.

The style of the story in The Night Class can be best described as “Noir Horror”. At its core is a murder mystery that has a dark surreal psychological underpinning that lends itself to some bending of reality, so to speak. When it works, it works, as the tone and atmosphere is nicely dark and dreadful. The first part of the novel builds up pretty well; it’s when we hit the mid-part is when things get a bit sluggish, especially when all the flashbacks start happening. At some points, I had to start over a section just to remember if I was reading the present or if we were once again in a flashback. The behavior of the characters, and some of the dialog spoken is supposed to invoke some surrealistic dread, but it was executed rather poorly, in that it instead invoked more than a few “huh?” moments. By the time I got to the end wrap-up, I’m afraid I didn’t react very strongly to the big twist.

I read The Night Class, and that was it. I haven’t looked up any further titles from the late Tom Piccirilli since then (I have run into a couple of his short stories in a couple of horror fiction anthologies). It’s not entirely bad, but not something I would recommend outright.

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