Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest is a modern day urban fantasy with deep roots going back to the time of the Civil War. That fact is interesting because Priest's latest work, Boneshaker, Dreadnought, and Clementine, are all set in an alternate history where the American Civil War continued well beyond its 4 years. That's more of an aside, however, as Four and Twenty Blackbirds does not take place in the same world as those other novels.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a ghost story. The lead character, Eden Moore, is haunted by three women who died under unknown circumstances. Eden suspects the three have something to do with her own mysterious origins, and so she sets out to discover where she comes from. The story is really that: Eden follows one clue after another, reacquainting herself with long lost relatives while staying ahead of an odd cousin who wants nothing more than to end her life.
I would classify the story as urban fantasy. Eden is a fairly typical, spunky heroine of the genre. Other characters are interesting and colorful. The ghosts are mysterious, but I would have liked to have seen more of them. Their own origin is not revealed until the climatic ending.
The term "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" is not new. Its origin seems to lie in the nursery rhyme, Sing a Song of Sixpence, which begins,
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
Both Mercedes Lackey and Neil Gaiman contributed works that bear the name. There's even a Brooklyn pie shop that uses the name.
Those facts aside, Four and Twenty Blackbirds was an enjoyable read, though it was lacking a certain oomph.
It's getting to the point where enough people are seeing my book reviews that I'm starting to receive a fair number of inquiries asking if I'd like to review their books. I'm OK with that. In fact, I welcome it. There's so much fiction out there that I know I'll never read it all let alone actually see it. So I love it when someone brings a new book to my attention. Longtime readers of this blog know I love a good ARC.
That said, I thought it would be a good idea to post up a list of general submission guidelines. What I'll review and what I won't and my preferred formats, in other words.
If you'd like for me to review a novel or short piece, read on.
If you're serious about getting the most out of a review and are interested in what kind of reach this blog gets, you can view my w3counter stats.
I'm primarily a reader of fantasy and science fiction (in that order). Those are also the genres I tend to focus on with this blog. It should come as no surprise then that those are the genres I will most readily accept for review. However, I also like a good horror novel, especially those with a Lovecraftian slant. If you have something which fits into one of these genre categories, you're good. If not, and you're not sure, send me an email.
I own a Kindle, so my preferred format (and one which hopefully makes it easy for submitters) is either MOBI (Kindle) or PDF. If you want to send a paper format book, no problem. Shoot me an email or contact me via Twitter and I'll provide my mailing address.
I don't discriminate between indie or traditional sources. In fact, I try to highlight Kindle authors, whether established or new. I must admit, though, that the majority of my reviews up to this point have been from traditional publishers. That can definitely change, so don't let the whole self-publishing/indie stigma keep you from requesting a review here or anywhere else.
Last, and possibly most important, expect objectivity with any review I write. If a novel needs work, then I'll say so. Ditto if the characters or story doesn't do it for me. I'm fair but honest in my book reviews, or at least I make my best effort towards those ends.
Joe Konrath of A Newbie's Guide to Publishing fame posted an offer giving away free ARC's of an upcoming horror eBook he and three other authors wrote in exchange for a review here and on Amazon.com. I've gotten a lot of good info from Joe's blog, so I figured I'd do him a favor, read the ARC, and give him a favorable review. So much for good intentions…
Draculas was written in record time (2 months?) as an experiment to see if an online only novel could reach Amazon's Top 100 in Kindle eBook sales supported solely by online reviews and marketing. The experiment worked. Draculas hit the Top 100 in its first week, if not sooner. The novel received a phenomenal number of 4 or 5 star reviews. From what I read, it's selling very well.
That's all great, and I wish the authors best of luck and mucho dinero. There's just one problem I had with this book: it just isn't that good.
The writing is fine. It's the soulless characters and superficial storyline that ultimately led me to abandon this novel after reading just 10% on my Kindle. It mostly reminded me of a bad Sci-Fi channel movie (you know, like Sharktopus). Amusing for brief moments as you're channel surfing, but not something you're going to stay tuned into for long.
Given the rushed quality of the novel, I have to wonder how many of those 4 or 5 star reviews on Amazon were put up as a favor to the authors. I know Joe helps a lot of people out with his blog (perhaps the other authors do as well; I don't know), but I can't in good conscious give Draculas anything more than 2 stars.
I was impressed enough with the first novel in the Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, that I immediately started reading this next novel. While The Drawing of the Three is indicative of King's excellent and unique writing style, ultimately it just didn't do it for me.
The novel picks up right where The Gunslinger left off. Roland has had his confrontation with The Man In Black, who planted in Roland's mind enough clues to the Dark Tower that our hero is even more determined than ever to find the Tower. There's just one problem: Roland is exhausted from his travels through the desert, he's dehydrated, and, as occurs almost immediately as we jump into this novel, he becomes crippled.
Right there is where King began to lose me. Roland is an indomitable character; nothing is going to stop him as long as he's got his six shooters at his side. We learned that from the first book. But what King does is change the game right from the get-go as Roland is severely wounded by a lobster-like creature (called 'lobstrosities'), thereby impairing his ability to use his weapons in quite the same fashion as he did in The Gunslinger.
It's fairly obvious what King is doing. The Man In Black told Roland he would need to draw three people from the other side (i.e., our world) to aid him in his quest. These three are then to become Roland's crutches. This might have worked if the Three were as strong as characters as Roland himself. But instead they are a druggie, a crazy black woman with a severe split personality disorder, and… well, I won't reveal the third. Suffice to say I couldn't get into the crutch characters. They become too much of the story and just weren't nearly as compelling as Roland himself.
While King shines through with his usual well-thought supporting characters, and the writing truly kept me engaged, I just don't like where this series is going. I read a review of the next book in the series, The Wastelands, and it didn't sound like it was much different. In fact, the reviewer said it was even more out there than this novel.
That being said, I don't think I'll be following Roland any further on his quest to find the Dark Tower. I am, however, looking forward to the Ron Howard directed movie adaptation. King has penned some amazing novels that have later been adapted to the big screen. I think Howard is going to come up with something superb with this material. The Drawing of the Three , however, was not good enough to compel me to want to continue reading the series.
The announcement that Stephen King's Dark Tower series was coming to both movies and television was all the impetus I needed to finally jump into reading this series. All told, the series encompasses seven novels, with the first having been written in the early 70's and the next not coming until almost a decade later. In the preface to The Gunslinger, King notes that it was upon reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings that the seed of the idea for his own epic fantasy was planted. But it wasn't until later viewing a certain western featuring one of America's greatest living actors (the movie being The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, starring Clint Eastwood) that the light bulb went off in King's head.
The Gunslinger is very much a melding of Tolkien's epic scope, Eastwood's gritty, gunslinger persona, and, without a doubt, King's own unique writing style. The plot is fairly straightforward: Roland, the last of the Gunslingers, is pursuing an ominous villain known only as The Man In Black. Roland follows in the latter's footsteps across a wasteland dotted only by the vestiges of our own modern society, for the world has "moved on." The modernisms we know so well have been swept away. By war, disease, or some other means, King never says, but the world depicted in this first novel is harsh, desolate, and unforgiving.
With only the occasional flashback into Roland's past, The Gunslinger follows a fairly straight course as Roland does whatever he needs to do to capture and kill The Man In Black. Even still, the glimpses into Roland's persona offer a glimpse into a very complex individual. He's a man driven by things we may not fully understand yet, but we see him as sympathetic nonetheless. We may not understand or condone his willingness to sacrifice anyone or anything to capture or kill his enemy, but we also realize that, hell or high water, he is going to do so.
King admits he didn't know what direction the series was going to take past The Gunslinger. He knew Roland was on a quest to find the Dark Tower, but King didn't know the why's of it or even if Roland would ever actually find it. Needless to say, the reader is left with more questions then answers, which might be the best way to leave the first novel in a series of seven.