Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Double Feature Part 2: Darker Angels by M. L. N. Hanover

Well, I suppose I can only wait so long before I have to write the second part of my double feature out. To be honest I finished Darker Angles last friday, and I've been struggling with what to say about it. So I supposed I should start with a description.

Darker Angels is the second book in the Black Sun's Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover, preceeded by Unclean Spirits. The books are about Jayn`e Heller, a 23 year old woman with no intrinsic skills that can nonetheless do some interesting things when under stress. She has three male companions, all of which are in love with her but one (thank god, it was beginning to seem a bit self indulgent) and can all do much more than she can.

In this book, Jayn`e is still going through all of her rich dead uncles estates and gets a call from a woman named Karen Black, who is in New Orleans tracking down a killer who is possessed by a demon who uses its host to kill people its host becomes close to.  She knows who the victim will be and needs help, which Jayn`e and her friends are only too happy to help with.

The problem with Darker Angels is that I am so fresh off reading Unclean Spirits that the formula from the last book is still fresh in my mind. Jayn`e will kick something butt at one point but seem mostly inept for most of the book with no special qualities, she will get irritated, quietly, about people pronouncing her name wrong (honestly hon, just introduce yourself first instead of letting people guess), will sleep with someone she shouldn't...again, and try to take on the supernatural baddies too soon and get her butt handed to her. All of these were definitely qualities in the negative catagory, but then it came to me: what do you do when you know a formula by heart?

Well the answer, if you know anything about math, is that you start canceling everything out that you don't need, and plug in the new variables.

Unfortunately, by the time I finished thinking that way, Darker Angels stopped being this irritating story about a woman out of her depth with something supernaturally weird about her, and became a story about a woman doing little to nothing but talking about how weird it is to be rich with three men traveling with her and little to nothing else.

Don't get me wrong, having a rich girl tracking down the possessed isn't the riveting read that most Urban Fantasy novels come up with on the fly, but it does have its rich moments. Mostly I just feel like the guy who's seen a movie too many times in theater and is shouting up at the screen, "Don't go in there, you fool, the killer just went in there!". Because that's the feel that most of the book has. It's secret plot twists are so transparent that they might as well be saran wrap, and I have to wonder if Hanover thought it would be riveting to have everyone make comments about something vague and off topic and not have the reader go "well I'm sure that won't come up again in the next book!"

I could go on about how the characters are flawed individuals and that's what makes them unique and interesting to read about, but honestly there is so little about them given to the reader that I'd be lying. Not much information is given about each character, and that alone makes it hard to believe that they've been living and working together for so long. It's almost like saying you're friends with the bus driver because he comes by your apartment every day and getting upset when he changes routes.

It's hard for me to say bad things about a book, since I love reading so much, but the fact is that the Dark Sun's Daughter is kind of a bad book. I would only recomend it to people who don't have a lot of free time to read, but still want something to waste time while they are waiting for a doctors appointment or have nothing to do for an hour and a half. I certainly wouldn't want to read it for longer than that myself, had I the choice.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Double Feature Part 1: Unclean Spirits by M. L. N. Hanover

What is in a name? Is a pretentious name a funnier running gag when it is mispronounced over and over again? There were two things I realized about myself while reading Unclean Spirits by M. L. N. Hanover. The first is that if you have a pretentious name for your main character, it's not a funny running gag to have them inwardly cringe every time someone says it wrong. The second is that radical honesty in print isn't an interesting plot devise.

Unclean Spirits is the first book in the Black Sun's Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover, and trust me, it's no picnic saying his name like that. His name is actually a pen name for Daniel Abraham, a New Mexico author of some regard; best known for...well I don't quite know. I only looked up Abraham last year when I was looking for local authors to ask questions to about writing. Out of ten authors, only one actually responded, so I hold no grudge towards Abraham, but the fact remains that up until that point, I'd never heard of him, or any of his books.

Suffice to say, he's written over a dozen books, under different pen names, most, if not all, have been identified as being him. Most of the time, I have no opinion for people using pen names rather than their own, but in this case, I have to applaud Abraham. I certainly wouldn't want to have my name associated with this mindless drivel either.

The mark of a truly bad book is that you can actually finish it. You pick up a book, and usually within a chapter, you can find out that you don't like it and put it back. With Unclean Spirits, I had to read a few chapters in to realize just how bad it was, and by then, it was too late to put it down...mostly because I was in my car and there was nothing else to read for twelve hours. Therefore, I aimed to read it as fast as possible, finishing 373 pages in a twenty hours. And let me tell you, that was the longest day and a half of work I've ever had.

The main character, Jayn`e Heller, a 22 year old college drop-out, just out of a relationship, traveling to Denver to deal with the aspects of her uncle Eric's death. Eric and Jayn`e were the family black sheep, and her being the only person he actually liked after her father called him an abomination, she goes down to settle his estate. There, she finds out that he was ungodly in his wealth. He has homes all over the world, and enough money to buy and sell Apple at least twice, and it all goes to Jayn`e.

Not only does the money go to her, but all of Eric's extra-curricular activities of demon and monster hunting goes to her as well.

She, for I no longer wish to continually refer to her by her pretentious name, which I'll get into a little later, finds out that there is a world full of people being possessed by entities from an alternate dimension, and Eric was in the business of going out and killing them. In the course of his latest job, he took on more than he can chew, and gets killed. Together Jayn'e, and a Scooby group of professional demon hunters, go out to follow through on Eric's last job.

I've read two books in the Black Sun's Daughter series, and I can tell you there is a simple format to the books. Jayn`e will make several inner outbursts at how people keep mispronouncing her name, which could be fixed by saying it correctly when she introduces herself rather than just let people guess. She will make at least one comment about how she knew so little about her Uncle, other than that she thought he was gay. There will be some kind of hint about Jayn`e mysterious ability to not be noticed by riders (the things inside people who are possessed) and her tattoo she got when she was being rebellious as a teenager that she doesn't remember getting. She will kick something’s butt, even though she has no formal training in martial arts. She will try to take on something ungodly, but too soon for her to actually defeat it so that she and her Scooby gang can join together and fight it later. And at some point she will have sex with someone she shouldn't, only to realize she was foolish later.

Like I said, I've only read two books so far, but this seems to be the formula of Black Sun's Daughter. The secret plot point can be guessed by anyone with one good eye or who knows braille or a book on tape.

The only thing that was really good about the book is that the story is told entirely from her perspective, without including a bunch of different people who know more about everything than she does, so you get a clear view of her getting everything wrong right up close and personal.

The characters were diverse as well, which was interesting, but kind of a hodge-podge, because they weren't entirely sympathetic just because you know so dang LITTLE about them. Nobodies history is given outright with the exception of Jayn`e's which give a glimpse at just how little human interaction she has ever really had.

But why speak so highly of parts of this book when I have So many bad things to say about it, starting with the names.

Jayn`e's name is pronounced Zah-ney, which she is quick to say every time she meets someone, inwardly of course, because if you had a name this pretentious, you would get tired of correcting people every time you meet people, too. I'm sure that this seemed tortured and witty when it was witty, but there are only so many times you can read it before you want to put a pin on her shirt telling people how it's said, or wonder why she isn't walking around telling people, "Hi, my name is Zah-ney." and let that be the end of it. Yes, I know it's not very worldly to have a character named Jane, or Janey, but honestly, that's what it looks like, so just let it go.

When Jayn`e isn't obsessing over her name, she is de-emphasizing everyone else’s. One of the main characters introduces himself as Chogyi, an Asian-American ex drug user with a smile on his face ALL the time, and a very meditative nature. He tells her early on, his name is Chogyi, but to call him Jake. So what do they do? Do they honor his request? Do they ignore it altogether and call him Chogyi? No. They call him Chogyi Jake. And it isn't just in text, like: Chogyi Jake at a taco. They even call him that, like someone with two names like Sue-Ellen, or Joe-Bob. It really is one of those irritating things that gets old after the first chapter but continues through all the books. It actually surprises me more when they do only call him Jake.

The reverse is true for the character simply referred to as Ex. It's implied that it's either because his name is Xavier, or that he is an ex-priest, but it only gives me the feeling of Prince going to just being a symbol. Pretention abounds!

The other thing I didn't like was that Jayn`e has that diarrhea of the mouth that uncomfortably falls under the category of Radical Honesty. She has no problems saying whatever comes to her mind, telling the entirety of her young life by the time the second chapter ends to whoever asks, or sometimes just to hear herself speak out loud. It gets even older when she is constantly telling people how little she knew about her uncle Eric ("I thought he was gay") or that him and her father didn't get along.

I know, I've said it before, but I'm getting tired of religion getting the bad rap of being the ultimate evil, or just the view of intolerance. I'm not particularly religious, and I hate zealots as much as the next guy, but there are more people out there than the fanatics and intolerant.

All in all, I'm hopeful for The Black Sun's Daughter series. I keep reading the books, and I will be putting part two of this double feature up, Darker Angels, soon. I just keep wishing that people would just start calling her "Hey you" since she puts so much emphasis on correctness, and that they will stop hovering around the big "Secret" like children hopping around the lava tiles on a kitchen floor.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review: The Child Thief by Brom PART TWO

I walked into the world of The Child Thief with a lot of expectations. It might be that the cover art was fantastic, and the synopsis was intriguing; but the biggest part was the time between when I saw it and when I bought it.

It took me a long time to remember the name of the book (or even the name of the author) and even longer before I found a copy of it again. In the time between when I saw it for the first time, and when I finally found it, the book had become a sort of white whale for me. Of course, in the true sense of the Melville analogy, it only led to heartbreak.

The Child Thief has all of the workings of an excellent story with none of the hard work that actually goes into making a story something more than print on paper. I honestly felt myself taking more out of the pictures at the beginning of each chapter than the actual story itself. This is no big surprise as Brom is primarily an artist and this was, to my knowledge, his only available foray into writing. But even so, there are so many issues with the book, I hardly know where to begin.

As anyone who has read the first part of this review knows: The Child Thief is a revamped version of the Peter Pan mythos. Peter, a wild, immortal, and mostly immoral, perpetual child is gathering children to take back to Avalon, promising to take them away from the horrible lives in the real world. Once there, they are trained to be warriors to fight in Peter's war against Flesh-Eaters, who are explained to be Pilgrims who mistakenly landed on Avalon three-hundred years ago. Nick is Peter's newest lost-boy, and isn't falling for any of Peter's idealism and simply wants to return home.

To start, the biggest problem I have with The Child Thief, is the perspective shifts. I know I rant about it enough, but seriously, who cares about Ulfger, the snotty, cowardly Godling who is a minor antagonist through the story. I understand that he is supposed to be a counterpoint to Peter: Ulfger being the boy who had to grow up too fast. But honestly, half the time you see him you just want to read ahead because you know he's just going to do something to make you dislike him even more.

It's the same with the captain. The Captain in The Child Thief is not the pirate as portrayed in the original Peter Pan, but a simple captain of one of the pilgrim ships stranded in Avalon. His was a refreshing take, as mostly he's not a bad guy, just misinformed and powerless to the church who really rules the Flesh-Eaters. But even that takes away from the true driving forces of the book. The only real perspectives needed in the book might have been Nick and Peters'.

One other problem with the book is that it takes a few chapters to explain the origins of Peter and how he came to be the way he is. The only problem is that it stops way too soon and doesn't carry on the same theme for a good half of the book. Don't get me wrong, I love hearing how the original Wendy came to Avalon, and Peter's meeting the goddesses of Avalon was interesting, but there were just so many other stories I would have loved to hear that never got told, and those that did get retold by Peter had the classical embellished feel that Peter's stories always get, while the ones that gave actual flashbacks to had a raw, gritty feeling that made them so much more sympathetic.

I know I'm being picky on this part, but the part when the Flesh-Eaters, 300 year old Pilgrims, go to modern New York was humorous, but it was the same situation with the Goddesses of Avalon 1400 years ago insulting each other using the C word. One second they are inwardly marveling at the flame-less lights and towering structures, then actually using the word escalator, and then marveling at horseless carriages. Or how about 16 year old foul mouthed brats speaking eloquently one second and then saying the F word several times in a row. It just doesn't have a feeling of continuity and realism.

I just can't help thinking that there is a really excellent story here, waiting in the depths of The Child Thief. I was riveted at certain points, and I read it all the way through, but it was certainly missing a lot of excellent points that would have made it a lot more than a bargain book in a used book store. The ending in particular was enough to make it a book I'm sure I'll never re-read, or perhaps find a friend who doesn't know any better and hope he never returns it

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Writing: Magic after Adolescence

Do you ever wonder why Harry Potter didn’t continue after the 7th book with the exception of the epilogue at the end? When Voldemort was finally finished, and Harry Potter was alive and had his girlfriend and friends and compatriots who made it out alive, what the heck did Harry Potter do? Did he take a nice muggle job doing taxes at a high end branch of internal affairs in England? Did he start working for the Ministry of Magic?

There are bound to be a lot of grumblings about people wanting to see what happened in the years after Harry “graduated” (although considering he skipped his senior year, I think he should probably be held back a year, that would certainly get the smirk off his and Ron’s faces and knock Hermione down a peg). And I’m sure there are even more people wanting to see what’s going to happen at Hogwarts with the new generation (though there was a reason they didn’t show the year previous to The Sorcerer’s Stone…it would have been dull as toast without “The Boy Who Lived”.)

My own opinion is that I don’t want to know what happened to Harry in the intervening years. It’s not because I want to keep the mystery alive, or that it’s so much more interesting for me to imagine it all in my head.

No, the reason I don’t want to know what happened is because magic is just another one of those great cheat sheets for authors when their characters grow older.

I know I mentioned this in my second glance review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman, but anyone who can use magic after they grow older than twelve is bound to grow up skewed. I mean look at all of the adults in Harry Potter. With the exception of the teachers, and even they weren’t the exception to the rule, almost all of them were miserable human beings with an offset view of the world.

When you can do whatever you want with the wave of your hands and a few off-Latin words, you don’t really get an objective view of the world. The wizards and witches of the Harry Potter universe look down on “muggles”, non-magician folk, but they don’t actually have to do anything of purpose if they don’t want to. When they usually want to, you can really pick out the villains of the story, because they want to work so that they can get ahead.

I mean, look at this objectively: Harry has a lot of problems at Hogwarts throughout the stories, but he’s only given one grace period after his twelfth birthday in book two before book four where a character actually gets killed! It set the stage for the books prior to that to be full of darkness and war and oppression by other wizards in the community. The kids in school stop learning just magic tricks of the trade and actually start battening down and learning how to fight after that point.

Check out any fantasy book series (don’t worry; I’ll wait here till you find it). If there is a character of a certain age after twelve, I can guarantee that they have a skewed version of the world, or they are wrecking stuff up!

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is a perfect example of it. One of the characters, Alice, has parents who recreate ancient architecture in their house for fun, and the other studies fairy music that the daughter states is mostly bull and just something to tick off her dad.

The Sword of Truth novels by Terry Goodkind are the same thing. Almost anyone who is learning magic prior to puberty is happy and content to do so under the rules and guidelines set forth for them, but anyone over that age is either setting out to destroy the world or making plots to fix everything by any means necessary. The only real exception to that was Zed, the old First Wizard, and I think that’s mostly just because he’s a kook.

Magic in post adolescence is just an excuse and a cheat sheet for wanting a character to be able to do whatever he wants to do. It’s for writers on their way to literary manslaughter and Peter Pan characters who just never want to grow up and get a minimum wage job flipping burgers. We all have to pay our dues!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: The Child Thief by Brom PART ONE

When I first saw a copy of The Child Thief at Borders book store, oh so long ago, I was intrigued. I was a fan of the Peter Pan movies when I was a kid, but had long lost my childish enthusiasm for the stories. Peter Pan, I think, is one of those things you grow up loving, but as  you get older, perspectives begin to shift, and that's what The Child Thief is all about: a change of the Peter Pan perspective.

The story is about Peter, but everything about the classic tale has been given a new twist. Peter is a wild boy who steals children by becoming their best friends across the ages and takes them to Avalon (a shift from Neverland). There, he fights a constant war against Flesh Eaters, Pilgrims who entered Avalon when it shifted from Great Britain to the New World to escape the persecution of Christianity and their war against the devil and demons of the forests.

The story shifts in perspective between several different characters chapter to chapter, but sticks mostly between Peter, sharing his background and motivations, and a child named Nick from Brooklyn, New York, who escapes to Avalon to be free of the drug dealers living at his grandmothers place.

Peter has been revamped in the story, giving him a darker, twisted past. Aware from the moment of birth, Peter was mistaken for a changeling as he was able to speak from seven weeks old. His mother, convinced he was concieved by a forest spirit, is forced by the family to take him out into the woods to be killed. He is saved by an ogre, escapes to Avalon, and is made favorite by the Lady of the Lake. The story carries a lot of celtic themes, such as elves, the king Arthur myths, as well as numerous creatures from celtic mythology

I had a hard time with The Child Thief at first, mostly because of the grammar and the cursing. Cursing should always be used to make a point, but half the time the only point used is to point out that the characters are vulgar little guttershites who use it like they're parrots who have been taught a new word. Grammar, on the other hand, is never a suggestion: it's a must! When you have unintelligent drug dealers using bad grammar, it's expected, but when it's in the text itself, its just poor writing.

The other part is the word choices. There are flashback's of Peter in the world before certain curse words and very vulgar phrases were used as insults, and yet they are used with such regularity that it just doesn't seem time period appropriate. I don't expect a lot of "tis" and "thee"'s, thought they do get used by the flesh eaters from time to time. Having a goddess call another goddess around 600 AD the C word just seems kind of silly and pointless.

The overall theme of the book is about religious intolerance, which was strange for me since it's about Peter Pan, the child who never grew up. The book spotlights the fact that one of the gods of Avalon is referred to as The Horned One, and that he is mistaken by early Christians as their devil, and their followers as devil worshipers. The lost boys, now called the Devils, are even a play on the fact that they were children from families being mistaken as devil worshipers. Even the pilgrims are religious fanatics, turned into monsters by the magic of Avalon poisoning them.

Only half way through the book, I'm impressed by the story. Though it is rough and rowdy, it has a feeling that all Peter Pan stories had before, though there is a certain measure of childish wonder missing from it. The Child Thief is definitely worth a good look, if you can find it used, preferably.