On first hearing the premise for Dave Rudden’s debut Knights Of The Borrowed Dark, one would be forgiven for uttering “Here we go again.”
Let’s face it, the coming-of-age fantasy has been meticulously mined in recent years. Can anyone actually come up with an original story entertaining enough to grab the imagination of readers without veering too far from the seemingly unbreakable rules of the genre?
Well, yes. Dave Rudden has managed just that. He’s taken a tired genre and injected into it new life with a gripping and hugely entertaining romp through supernatural Ireland. Knights Of The Borrowed Dark tells the tale of Denizen Hardwick, a young orphan who discovers he is part of a secret and ancient group tasked with protecting the unsuspecting public from shadowy demons.
The reason this book succeeds where many have failed recently though, is that it’s impeccably crafted. The prose is strong, yet without over-complication, the narrative bold and often boisterous. Rudden’s not afraid to go over the top for good and glory, and this refreshing attitude serves him very well. Interspersed with carefully placed snippets of humour, nostalgia and pop culture references, the story trundles along nicely, and the characters are quickly established and developed, building tension, intrigue and out-and-out mayhem, and while it sets the scene for the further adventures of the wonderfully named Denizen Hardwick, it thankfully doesn’t rely on a huge cliffhanger to twist the reader’s arm, and just relies on the fact that they’ve enjoyed both the writing and the story enough to invest in the further adventures of the Knights Of The Borrowed Dark.
Out now from Puffin.
Book 2, The Forever Court now available also.
I came across The Jakkattu Vector attracted at first by the striking cover, but once I got stuck in, I realised that there was much more to this, the first book in a continuing dystopian series from author P.K. Tyler than just fancy production values.
There are some really interesting elements at play here. The author has created a future where alien, human and hybrid grudgingly share a world, all with very different privileges. The story follows characters from all three, as each is faced with truths about not only their perceived enemies, but themselves also, in an action-packed story that rarely falters, and expertly sets the scene for future books in the series.
As with any series, the first has the daunting task of not only creating the world for the reader, but keeping them there, and The Jakkattu Vector does so very well. Taylor’s world building is complex, but well-planned and written so that the reader can very quickly become immersed in the story, providing just enough back story where needed, and always keeping the plot steaming forward at a good pace.
It’s definitely a bleak tale, with some shocking moments, but manages to keep its head above water long enough to keep the reader absorbed, and although there is an underlying tinge of hope that runs through the narrative, it remains to be seen whether the characters will harness it, or fall foul of their baser instincts.
The Jakkattu Vector is a well-crafted, compelling read, often provocative and thought-provoking without being overly preachy, and benefits from putting the story first, while still addressing many important issues in today’s society. More importantly, it’s also great sci-fi, and I look forward to reading more in this series.
When I first heard the premise for Ernie Howard’s The Pool, I have to admit I was a little skeptical. It’s hard to imagine a spooky story set in any type of hostelry not being influenced in some way by The Shining. That said, I had read several shorts by Ernie previously, and was impressed enough to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he could come up with.
The Pool sees a young family stop at a creepy motel in the middle of a road trip. It quickly becomes apparent that the father has piqued the interest of several dark forces occupying the ether and he must face not only these forces, but the truth about himself as he fights to save his family.
Howard manages to achieve a great deal with this ambitious tale, throwing off the shackles of King’s opus and while some of the themes may be similar, the execution is vastly different. Focusing instead on a more sentimental approach, we see the protagonist, Shawn struggle with his own demons, while others circle around him, some with good intentions, some not. As his experience intensifies, so does the tension, and this Twilight Zone-esque story begins to deliver much more than expected, with a finale that, even as a standalone would be satisfying, but as a series provides just the right amount of anticipation for the next episode. While Howard’s raw talent as a writer is very evident throughout, it’s also clear his skill as a storyteller has matured. I came into this story with preconceptions, but by the end, they had vanished completely, with this tale coming into its own. Rather than just being the sum of its parts, or a mishmash of classic tropes, The Pool manages to carve its own little niche into the genre, without appearing too derivative. Behind the macabre facade, and despite the sadness, there’s a lot of heart to this story, and it further strengthens Ernie Howard’s status as one of the most promising new writers on the indie scene.
And now for something completely different!
Sometimes it’s great to get out of your comfort zone and let a new author really take you by surprise. I spotted this on a free promo, and the cover impressed me. Once I started reading however, I was even more impressed.
When a logger discovers a strange woman while working in the Amazon, he becomes obsessed with her even though she disappears almost immediately. He finally meets her again, following her into the heart of the dangerous jungle, where he discovers a predestined fate, and a life he would never have even contemplated.
Whispers Of Pachamama, while a relatively simple fable, is a beautifully written one. As a fan of classical magical realism from authors such as Carlos Fuentes, I was instantly drawn to the narrative and style, and the lush landscapes coupled with elegant prose makes this an effortless, yet ultimately satisfying read.
The novella length suits the tale perfectly, telling a compact story without the over-embellishment often seen with new writers attempting this genre, and the author’s Latin American roots show a clear understanding and respect for this wonderful writing style and its origins.
Really looking forward to reading more from this author.
One of the most promising new talents I’ve come across in the last year has been British author Matthew Stott. His Tales From Between series was eerily entertaining and now Matthew has entered the realm of more serious adult horror with this new episodic series.
Set in the fictional Apoc Hill, dark forces centre around the inhabitants of an old house, where a young girl lives with a murderous father and brother, she herself now prone to murderous thoughts from the demons within, setting in motion a hideous chain of events.
Bill Reed is a writer, keeping busy in his daughter’s absence, who suddenly finds himself faced with terrifying behaviour from those around him.
Meanwhile as the mayhem begins, another young girl, Alice, waits patiently for her father in a car, quickly noticing that something bad is outside, and hoping for his return.
Although the title suggests apocalyptic goings-on, this is very much a horror apocalypse rather than the usual end-0f-world/post nuclear/zombie outbreak that has been flooding the market lately, and while there are still some elements of traditional stories in this vein, Stott’s solid horror credentials breathe new life into the genre with some genuinely creepy characters, and as macabre events unfold relentlessly, the reader is constantly in a state of flux, and wrenched from any comfort zone they may have had. The fear and confusion of the main characters seep silently into the subconscious, and Stott’s knack of taking an everyday location and transforming it into a seething hellhole is a rare talent.
The ending introduces the second part, while offering enough story to satisfy the reader, yet I predict few will be, as this page turner delivers on every level, and will drag you kicking and screaming back to the next instalment.
Sci-fi author Rhett C. Bruno impressed me with his debut novel, the space opera The Circuit: Executor Rising and the sequel Progeny Of Vale, so when he announced a new novel on the way, this time through Random House’s Hydra imprint, I was delighted to nab an ARC.
In the distant future, man has moved to the outer planets after a catastrophic meteor impact on Earth three hundred years previously. Many settled on Titan, with the new atmosphere and conditions gradually changing the settlers over time. Now known as Ringers, they eke out an existence on Titan, treated as second class citizens.
Malcolm Graves is a collector, a bounty hunter of sorts, paid to do the bidding of a large corporation, who finds himself embroiled in a bitter struggle when, while visiting Earth terrorists bomb a commemoration of M-Day, the day the meteorite struck.
Called back to duty and paired with a strange new partner, Zhaff, he must find answers, but is he ready for the real answers?
Titanborn is fast-paced, giving little time for dallying, save some back story concerning Malcolm’s estranged daughter and as the plot develops, we are given enough insight into his character to take his side, even though he may not be the most appropriate hero, given his past actions.
There’s an interesting dynamic between Zhaff and Malcolm, which although introduced fairly late in the story gives them just enough time together to fall short of being a typical “buddy” relationship, but there is plenty of interaction between them to keep the plot buoyant enough to reach the shocking conclusion.
The back drop is well crafted and believable, with Bruno once again displaying his considerable world building skills, and there are important themes explored throughout, making this not only an entertaining, but thought provoking read. There are noir-ish shades of some of Philip K. Dick’s works which add a lot of atmosphere and mystery, and enough tense action sequences to keep the reader hooked.
Finnish author Emmi Itaranta’s second novel came across my desk recently, and although I’ve become a little jaded with fantasy offerings of late, the gorgeous cover and interesting premise caught my attention.
The City Of Woven Streets is an elegant fantasy set in an intricately crafted world where dreams are outlawed and those without a craft are considered lessers, and left to fend for themselves. Eliana is a young weaver in the House of Webs, but has a shameful secret – she can dream. If her secret were to be revealed, she would be banished to the House of the Tainted, a prison from which there would be little chance of return.
When an mysterious woman is discovered with her tongue cut off and Eliana’s name tattooed on her skin, she is taken in by the House of Webs, and as Eliana tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her arrival, she discovers an invisible network of power behind the city’s facade, as the sea begins to slowly rise around them, threatening to drown the entire city.
Itaranta does a wonderful job of avoiding the usual tropes associated with the genre, keeping proceedings fresh with beautifully descriptive prose and immersive, richly textured landscapes. Her characterisations are detailed enough to engage without feeling too bloated or overdeveloped (a practice which seems to be rife in modern fantasy) and the character of Eliana herself is expertly understated initially, while at the same time, her predicament intrigues us enough to follow through, and observe her development into a much more complex individual as the narrative flows.
The City Of Woven streets is far more a work of literary fiction than just another mass-produced genre piece. There’s no setup to cash in on an epic series, just a single tale told expertly and eloquently, with compelling characters and a unique style, often thought-provoking and more importantly, entertaining.
Out now from Harper Collins
One of my favourite books from last year was Jason Anspach’s retro noir-ish spooky detective mystery ‘Til Death. It was a breath of fresh air, and a fun read, and now Jason’s back with a sequel.
Detective Sam Rockwell returns with his sassy fiance Amelia as they investigate more shady shenanigans, this time heading to San Francisco to track down a Return (a recently deceased ghost with unfinished business) who has outstayed it’s welcome.
As the investigation progresses, once again Sam finds himself mixed up in something far bigger than he could ever have expected, as he and Amelia are exposed to more danger than ever before.
Once again, Anspach does a commendable job of evoking the 50’s era, with wonderfully detailed descriptions and informed cultural references, as well as the snappy, movie-style banter between the various characters throughout, and the fact that it never takes itself too seriously is a big plus.
The Cold War backdrop, coupled with the vivid nostalgia balance each other nicely, and although there is the usual violence and mayhem involved with a murder mystery, and a ruthless villain to contend with, Anspach keeps proceedings as lighthearted and funny as possible, maintaining the all-important entertainment factor at all times.
Once again, M.S. Corley is on art duty, and his gorgeously retro cover is the icing on the cake.
If you haven’t checked out the original ‘Til Death, you can pick it up at a reduced price until April 29th as well as this sequel.
Witty, warm and decidedly old-school, this sequel delivers laughs and peril in equal measures with all the style and grace of an almost-forgotten era.
It’s easy to become jaded with the plethora of Dystopian fiction knocking about right now. It feels like everything’s been done before, and a lot of newer authors seem reluctant to break the mould.
Enter South African author Ronel Van Tonder. Her novel Compile:Quest came across my desk recently, and having been hugely impressed with recent efforts from her fellow South Africans Lauren Beukes and Charlie Human, I was tempted to give this one a go.
Set in the distant future, Compile:Quest introduces a dystopian world where large numbers of the remaining population live in domed cities, segregated from those outside, largely controlled and manipulated by advanced technology and social media, seamlessly linking each “denizen” to each other, as well as the network owned by the mysterious SUN corporation.
When Peppermint, a denizen of the dome is called for what seems to be a routine medical exam, she is quickly ripped from her everyday life and subjected to testing in a secret facility. As she learns the reasons why, she makes a discovery that changes her life and unveils SUN’s dark plans.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the dome in a harsh wasteland where solar flares have forced survivors to live in squalor underground, Jinx, a soldier in the Rooivaik embarks on a mission to find the truth about her parents, while engaging in negotiations with another dangerous militia group.
The strength of Compile:Quest is in Van Tonder’s prolific prose, each carefully constructed set piece expertly described in impressive detail. The technological elements are both believable and practical, and the narrative is gently peppered with South African colloquialisms, giving it an authentic voice and feel throughout, without being too obvious, and although there is a glossary provided at the end, most readers should be able to figure them out by the time they reach the conclusion.
Compile:Quest’s combination of great storyline, edgy attitude and strong characterisations make for a riveting read, and will have the reader reaching straight for the next book in the series.