A Satan Carol by Alan Steven Kessler
Consider a Satan who is less of an incarnation of evil unto itself and more a victim of his situation. Satan was the favored one until Jesus came along, and he has never gotten over the change in his circumstance. Like any child who has been neglected, Satan has taken to…acting out. He has fathered a child to act as his prophet, but his child has no soul and Satan must manipulate within the rules of free will to lure a precious Golden Soul to his son.
I am generally not a fan of overtly religious works, but there was something utterly fascinating about Kessler’s take on Satan. Absentmindedly cruel and vulgar, yes. But it was a far cry from indiscriminate evil. There was a motivation behind Satan’s actions, a need to be noticed and recognized and appreciated that made him a more palatable character.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but it is well worth the effort as Kessler deftly pulls them all together. There are no loose ends leaving a reader dissatisfied-instead I was inclined to raise a glass in appreciation as characters I had forgotten about, or had simply written off as a one-time mention, came back into play in well thought out ways.
Satan is the great manipulator of the book, acting behind the scenes to play human off of human so as to be still working within the rules of free will to get the results he wants. It turned the book into a well thought out, oft times horrifying, look at human nature and motivation. It is not always a comfortable book, but it is an honest one.
Auraria by Tim Westover
Holtzclaw is a respectable man, trying to conduct respectable business and purchase properties in the valley of Auraria for his employer Shadburn. He does not know what Shadburn want’s the land for, but he has seen the man’s magic touch when it comes to turning purchases into profit. Unfortunately, Auraria is not a laid back lady ready to give up her land and citizens easily. It is an unruly valley, filled with fish that can be fished out of thick mist instead of water, moon maidens, ghosts, an ethereal princess, and gold. The entire valley is haunted by gold, the potential for the next big strike. Holtzclaw will need every trick in his book to convince landowners to sell, all the while trying to decide whether to hold onto what he knows is real and sane or to fall into the wonder that is Auraria.
Auraria is a bit of historical whimsy, facts folded so neatly into folklore that it is impossible to pry one from the other. I loved the almost off hand manner in which elements of the fantastic were described to the reader- they were presented as a fact of life for Auraria, nothing remarkable. And as a reader, that air became infectious. Even as Holtzclaw became accepting of ghosts and moderately sentient fruit, the reader is drawn along with him into the brilliant madness that is Auraria. It is a wonderful meld of history with folk culture, ghost stories, and tales told grandparent to grandchild on cold nights before a warm fire.
The story itself is a thoughtful move through conflicts of mundane and mystical, of belief and what drives us to do the things we do on a daily basis. It is about loyalty and love and the roots we have to our hometowns. For the historically minded, it is an original look at the tourism industry that drove resorts to pop up across the country like weeds. I spent much of my childhood in the Adirondacks, where my family has it’s roots, so reading Auraria was almost like visiting old neighbors. We didn’t have the drive for gold, but we had some of the same quirky characters and were in an area obsessed with attracting tourists.
Whether your are a fantasy reader, a fan of historical fiction, or just looking for something new and brilliantly unique to read, give Auraria a shot.
Auraria will be out in July from Q & W Publishers. You can sample the first chapter here.
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood wants to grow old drinking tea in his beloved city of Dhamsawaat. Unfortunately God has other ideas. For Adoulla is a ghul hunter, a servant of God against the Traitorous Angel, and something dark and dangerous is stalking Dhamsawaat. Accompanied by Raseed, a holy Dervish, and Zamia, a Badawi tribeswoman who has been gifted with the ability to take a lions shape, Adoulla will struggle through the rebellion and death that threaten his home.
I am exceedingly fond of Ahmed’s narrative style. The book flows like the best of the old tales, accessible and entertaining with a honed edge of danger that kept me turning pages. It stands out from much of the other fantasy I have read recently, it’s people and setting forming something atypical of the genre and it’s carriage a good part Arabian Nights.
Adoulla is a wonderful character- fond of luxury, sharp of tongue, and willing to do everything in his power to keep his people safe. Even Raseed, a rather pious and stilted fellow to begin with, flows and evolves with the story, growing on the reader. Zamia was the hardest for me to grow attached to- a bit too stubborn and set in what felt almost like an archetype of a girl as opposed to a living breathing entity, but that let up as I read on and she grew with the story.
Fast paced with scathing wit and monstrous danger, Throne of the Crescent Moon is a wonderful book, and I look forward to more by the author.
What Sweet Music They Make by Nerine Dorman
Terisa is a talented musician with the misfortune of having walked in on her boyfriend and best friend enjoying each other behind her back. She also has the misfortune of attracting the attention of some powerful vampire Lords due to her talent, a spark of potential that hovers around her.
Severin is ordered to play an engagement party by the vampire to whom he owes fealty, and in the process cunning manipulated into Terisa’s path. Their mutual enthrallment is immediate and inescapable, and Severin has to decide whether to abide by vampire politics or his own heart.
‘What Sweet Music They Make’ is a vampire story, but above and beyond that it is a praise of music. It revels in the way music can make your blood pump, your feet dance, and your spirit sing. Ms. Dorman’s appreciation for music shines through her writing, weaves through every scene. This is not another vampire novel riddled with the familiar tropes. It is an enthusiastic expedition into the lives and emotions of two individuals who cross paths and find themselves changed by the experience.
Ms. Dorman’s vampires are sleek and dangerous, a wonderful juxtaposition between human and predator and everything I could want from a vampire. ‘What Sweet Music They Make’ was a phenomenal read- I will definitely be seeking out more from this author.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
“My name is Sunny Nwazue and I confuse people (Akata Witch, pg 3).”
Sunny is a young girl who is a kaleidoscopic of impression and definition. She was born in America, though the rest of her family was born in Nigeria, where they relocated back to when she was nine. She has African features covered with an albino’s complexion. She loves soccer, but can only play at night with her brothers, her skin far too sensitive for the sun and other boys her age would not let her join in regardless.
Sunny sees the end of the world in a candle flame one evening, and soon her life is changing. She finds out she is a Leopard Person, a person gifted with abilities and part of an ancient society as a result. Soon she is living two lives, one of a normal girl her age with normal schooling and another involving learning the juju and culture of the Leopard People. In the background, a deadly killer stalks the bush, and it will be up to Sunny and her Leopard friends to stop him.
I was excited to read Akata Witch. A fantasy novel so rich with African culture is a rare treat and I loved every page. I read so much fantasy, most of it taken from European roots, Akata Witch serves to refresh the genre, adding something brilliantly unique to the mix. There are familiar themes of being the odd man out but they are taken in a brilliant new context- an albino in Africa, an American in Africa, a Leopard among Lambs. If you like your fantasy rich with culture, bright and alive within its setting, Akata Witch is not a book to miss.
Beyond that, the characters were endearing in their humanity. Never infallible, not always likable, but always human. Even with a juju knife in hand or calling their spirit face forward, each character sparkled with humanity. These are people I would like to meet, to chat with, to learn from.
Akata Witch, simply put, is a beautiful book and not to be missed. Young or old, this book has something for you.