Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Nemo Rising by C. Courtney Joyner

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Nemo Rising by C. Courtney Joyner is a continuation of the classic story begun by Jules Verne in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Nemo is rotting in prison while he awaits the carrying out of his death sentence for the ships he sunk and the lives he took as captain of the technologically advanced Nautilus. Meanwhile, the ships of all nations except the United States continue to be sunk, but by unknown parties. President Grant finds himself in a quandary as suspicions arise that no ships of his nation are falling prey to the mysterious attackers. The other nations of the world believe the United States is somehow using Nemo’s own technology against them in an attempt to seize ultimate power. Grant has no choice but to spare Nemo from the hangman’s noose and enlist his aid in solving the mystery of who is really behind the attacks. Once more, Nemo captains the infamous Nautilus, but this time in service to one of the warmongering nations Nemo hates the most.

So begins a very promising story that, unfortunately, is dragged to the depths of the deepest ocean by, amongst other things, the writing style of the novel’s author. The book cover alone for Nemo Rising is spectacular. Throw in the connection to the Jules Verne classic and Captain Nemo and who wouldn’t want to pick this book up? There’s a certain promise of quality I felt was understood between myself, the author, and the publisher. Granted, I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review, so the only investment I have in Nemo Rising is the time it took me to read it, but I still felt that when you slap such an incredibly awesome cover on a book, which is also a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, that you have to deliver. Nemo Rising, sadly, did not.

First, there’s the writing style. Based on his bio on Goodreads, Mr. Joyner is an accomplished screenwriter, with many movies to his credit. Unfortunately, writing a screenplay and writing a novel are two very different things. Looking back, and now knowing of Mr. Joyner’s background, the writing style of Nemo Rising actually makes sense (perhaps it’s the only thing that makes sense during this entire reading experience). It’s written with such matter-of-factness, such mechanical structure, with little to no description or background or even the smallest setup for a scene or other occurrence, that I had to go back many times to figure out how or what just happened. Too many times, ‘something’ happens, with no preamble or buildup. It’s jarring at times, confusing at others, and disappointing overall.

Moving on, there’s the characters, which fall flat time and time again. There are no character arcs, no character descriptions, no character anything except names and a bit of discussion about Nemo or some other person’s philosophies. It’s a shame, too, because the author could have made Nemo a sympathetic character, one who we may never forgive for the countless innocent lives he took, but at least one we might have some understanding of with respect to his motives. There’s references to his wife and child, both driving forces in his mad acts of the Vernes��� novel, but not once does the author delve into the implications of that event. Nemo is a very driven man, but we are never given a glimpse into his psyche. There are so many lost opportunities there that I cannot begin to even document them here.

I could go on, but it’s almost depressing to consider Nemo Rising in any more depth than I already have because of how great of a novel this could have been. I’m giving it one rocket because I just don’t see any reason for anyone to read this book.

Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom

Rating

Review

Krampus by Brom celebrates the mythology and folklore surrounding the pagan figure of Krampus, the Yule Lord, in a novel that is part fantasy, part horror, and part holiday treat. I went into this one with neither the highest expectations nor the foggiest idea what direction the story might take. Though the beginning is a tad shaky, as we are introduced to the main character Jesse, once the disparate pieces start falling into place I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide array of characters with rich personalities and motives and a story that portrays Krampus as everything one would expect: he is both good and terrible, with qualities that make him, in many cases, as human as you or I.

Though the legend of Krampus cuts across different cultures and takes many forms as a result, Brom selects a decidedly Norse leaning interpretation of the horned creature. Those familiar with Norse mythology will encounter many familiar personas (some directly and others by reference): there’s Odin, Loki, Hel, Geri, Freki, Huginn, Muninn, and others. Krampus’s acolytes are referred to as Belsnickels, which is not Norse in origin but German, brought over by early immigrants to America from that country. Then there’s the Christian influence, the followers of which instantly see Krampus as none other than Satan himself. Krampus is a seven foot tall demon with curved horns sprouting from his head, so can’t really blame them.

The story of Krampus is this: Santa Claus imprisoned Krampus hundreds of years ago and, as a result, Yule and its traditions have been forgotten. Krampus himself is wasted away, a sad shadow of his former self. But he still yearns to return to the world to spread his own particular form of holiday cheer. His Belsnickels, or servants, carry out his will, slowly setting the stage for the Yule Lord’s escape and the fruition of Krampus’s dream: to kill Santa Claus and to then remind the world that Krampus was here first.

While there are elements of horror in Krampus, this is not solely a horror novel. There are some gruesome deaths, but there are also many fantastical elements, such as Santa’s flying sled, reindeer, and his sack, which he stole from Krampus long ago and which can produce nearly anything one desires as long as the user is of Loki’s bloodline.

What struck me the most about Krampus is the characters. Jesse is a loser looking for his way in life while trying to win back his estranged wife and daughter (very cliché, I know, but he kind of grows on you). Some of the baddies, including the General and Chief Dillard, are mostly just bad with no motive other than that. But the Belsnickels and Krampus himself felt very real to me. Each Belsnickel was “recruited” at different times and under different circumstances. One is near a hundred years old (Belsnickels do not age since they have the blood of Krampus flowing through their veins) and another, Isabel, a girl of about twenty, has been that age for going on forty years. Wipi, Nipi, and Makwa want nothing more than to serve their lord. Vernon would prefer the Yule Lord keel over and die; he does little to hide these feelings, too, which presented some laugh out loud moments for me. Isabel, Krampus’s “little lion,” is the little sister archetype. She left behind a newborn child in her previous life and she longs to return to that life to undo some mistakes she made, but she’s also terrified of facing those failures and of being rejected by her now grown child. Even Krampus, who is both good and terrible, has his own inner struggles as he tries to cope with the fact that the world has moved on without him. It’s not until the end that Krampus rediscovers himself entirely:

Jesse had never seen this side of the Yule Lord, and it occurred to him that he was seeing the real Krampus, the Krampus of ancient times, the great and wild Yule spirit that galvanized mankind to brave the darkest primeval nights, kindled their will to survive the trials of the harshest winters. He could almost see the horned beast dancing this very jig within the communal houses of primitive man. Jesse saw the way the people fed on Krampus’s spirit, and how, in turn, Krampus fed on theirs. And understood now just why those shoes, with their small tribute of candies, meant so much to the Yule Lord. That what Krampus needed more than anything was a flock to shepherd, to protect and inspire.

Krampus is as much a story about the traditions of Christmas and Yule as it is a tale of discovery. Krampus steals the show in many scenes, but the supporting characters have stories of their own that I found intriguing and fun to follow along. Krampus is an alternate classic for the holidays which I could see myself reading again and again.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien is a charming collection of the letters Mr. Tolkien wrote to his children each year for Christmas as they were growing up. Each story is told from the perspective of Father Christmas himself, but there are other characters that sometimes take the spotlight and write to the children, including most notably a polar bear who seems to find himself in a bit of trouble with Father Christmas from time to time and has his own adventures worth sharing with Tolkien’s children.

The letters are actually meticulously crafted demonstrations of art and calligraphy. While the former seems intended for a young audience, with dancing bears and a variety of colors, the typography is something to behold all by itself. When one considers the same meticulousness that went into certain other works of the author, it’s no wonder he put such thought and care into the lettering of these whimsical narrations.

One recommendation: If you buy the Kindle edition of this book, do yourself a favor and read it on a color device such as a Fire tablet or iPad. A black and white, E Ink Kindle does not do the art, colors, and typography justice, and that’s what you’ll want to see most here. The stories told in each letter are charming in their own right, but they’re not the main attraction (though they do provide some amusement).

 

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien is a fun, almost nostalgic-like glimpse into the lives of the Tolkiens. It’s the sort of book one can share with the children each and every year much like Mr. Tolkien did with his own children. I’m giving it a solid three rockets and hope you enjoy it.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden is the second novel in the Winternight Trilogy. The first book in the series, The Bear and the Nightingale, earned a rare five rocket rating from us because it’s that good. Well, Ms. Arden has done it again: The Girl in the Tower continues the elegant storytelling and magnificent worldbuilding of the first book and earns another five rocket rating for the second installment in the Winternight Trilogy. In the interests of full disclosure, we received a copy of The Girl in the Tower from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The reader is drawn back into the story right where the first book ended. Vasya has left her home for fear of what might happen to her with her father gone and because her wild streak demands she set out to see more of the world than just her small corner of it. Though she sets out to see far distant corners, she doesn’t make it any further than the region surrounding Moscow when mysterious riders take an unexpected interest in her. With bandits burning villages indiscriminately and Vasya’s brother, Sasha, soon at hand, Vasya finds herself embroiled in Moscow’s plots and machinations, and the designs she’d had for her life fall by the wayside.

Morozko is back, as are many other beings taken from Russian folklore. As before, only Vasya can communicate with them. They are an integral part of the story, but not nearly as much as in the first book. There is a deeper mystery in this book, however, one which I won’t go into to any degree for fear of giving something away. I will say only that it has something to do with the title of the book.

Vasya remains a strong and brave character, but one who is extremely vulnerable if only because of the constraints put upon all women of that time period. She does achieve a certain amount of freedom beyond the norm, but only when she is on her own (or subsisting with Morozko’s help). The moment she steps back into society, she quickly finds herself shackled. Any other woman would accept such imprisonment, yet because of her resolve and willingness to sacrifice herself, Vasya breaks free of such constraints and ultimately achieves things that no other person can.

I think it’s important to close with a look at what the author is doing to make this such a great series so far. There’s the setting: Russia, set in a time period that has the flavor of the middle ages. There’s the mythology and folklore, which, despite the influence of Christianity, brings with it a great amount of superstition. Also, there’s the characters, which defy stereotypes in many respects. Last, there’s the writing, which is consistently good and always moving the story forward. Getting any one of these right is not that hard. But getting them all right? It’s not common.

The Girl in the Tower is another fantastic read from a true up and coming author. If you haven’t started reading these books, you need to start now. It’s rare a series this good comes along, so don’t miss it.

Mississippi Roll by George R.R. Martin (editor)

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Thanks to Tor Books I have a hardcover edition of Mississippi Roll to give away. Head over to the giveaway post on the Out of this World Reviews web site for more info.

Mississippi Roll is the latest installment in George R.R. Martin’s popular Wild Cards series of shared world anthologies. I generously received an advanced review copy of the novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. The series is very long; Mississippi Roll is the twenty-fourth book. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to have read the previous books in the series in order to enjoy this new one. This novel was, in fact, my indoctrination into the Wild Cards universe; I had absolutely no issues jumping in and immersing myself in the world. I did, however, spend a few minutes perusing the web to learn what the Wild Cards series was all about before I’d gotten too far with my reading. I’d recommend the official Wild Cards web site, called Wild Cards World, as well the unofficial one, Wild Cards Online. I found both sites very informative. In fact, straight from the latter site is this bit of background info (which is really all you need to know before reading):

An alien bomb is detonated above the planet, shedding an indiscriminate gene virus on an Earth barely recovered from the horrors of World War ll. The result: Wild Cards. ACES blessed with superhuman powers and JOKERS cursed with bizarre physical and mental disfigurements.

While the Wild Cards novels are edited by George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame, the stories themselves are written by a wide cast of authors. Mississippi Roll boasts the talent of Stephen Leigh, David D. Levine, John Jos. Miller, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Cherie Priest, and Carrie Vaughn. You may be asking yourself how Mississippi Roll can be classified as a novel with so many authors having taken part. Isn’t it by definition a collection of short stories? The answer is both yes and no. There is an overarching storyline that’s moved along via each individual story and a continuity that’s established by each author’s contribution picking up where the last story left off, though from a different character’s perspective. What binds all of the characters and their disparate, individual storylines together is the fact that they are all onboard the same steamboat, the Natchez, and they all cross paths with one central character: the Natchez’s captain, Wilbur Leathers.

It is the year 1951 when we are first introduced to Wilbur Leathers, a vibrant river captain who shares the steamboat he calls home with his wife, Eleanor. Tragedy strikes and Wilbur is changed into what he thinks is a ghost. Given that this is a Wild Card novel, though, chances are he’s actually become an Ace, Joker, or something in between. Regardless, this life change brings about a separation from Eleanor, who leaves the Natchez forever, and a seemingly eternal captivity for Wilbur, who finds he is unable to leave the boat at all. Years pass as the Natchez finds herself with new owners, captains, and guests. All the while, Wilbur Leathers “haunts” the steamboat, becoming something of an urban legend.

That’s the setup for Mississippi Roll. From there, the reader is introduced to a menagerie of colorful characters, their interactions while onboard the Natchez becoming the basis of each of the stories. Even though each tale is penned by a different author, I found the reading experience to be very level and smooth. This is the mark of a good editor; you can’t do much better than Mr. Martin. The characters are a mix of unchanged humans, Aces, and Jokers. The latter have talents that either get them into trouble or cause trouble, though all types of people alike are simply getting by in this world, some trying to make their mark more than others. There is no evil, per se, though there is certainly an alignment of better and worse as the stories progress and the central plot eventually comes to a head.

The writing is top notch all-around, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the list of contributors. That being said, no particular story stood out to me above any other in terms of quality, though I can’t say the opposite, either. Overall, it’s a well written set of stories with some imaginative plots and characters. Mississippi Roll is appropriate for all ages. The stories range from lighthearted to suspenseful with some violence mixed in here and there. Only one story has strong violence as one of its central themes, but that one also involves forbidden love (so of course things are going to get violent).

What really stands out in Mississippi Roll is the character and story of Captain Leathers. He binds all of the disparate stories together but also has one of the most interesting and intriguing storylines of them all. I felt for his situation and applauded his final fate, though it is not necessarily a good one. But he does find some peace, which is, I think, the best one could hope for given his situation.

Mississippi Roll is an entertaining jaunt onboard a steamboat of old. The stories flow together seamlessly (a credit to the editor) and the overall story is fun and engaging while fitting nicely into the Wild Cards world. I’m giving it four rockets and a recommendation to add it to your TBR list.