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Dead Roads by Robin Riopelle

They are,  perhaps, not your typical family- Lutie, her brothers Baz and Sol, their ghost-hiding mother and ghost-catching traiteur father. But when Lutie decides she wants to catch herself a ghost, just like her mother, and enlists her brother Baz who can sing so that both the living and the dead pay attention to help her, she shatters the casual strangeness of their lives.

Taken away from home by her mother, it takes many years and the death of their father for Lutie to run into her brothers again. An angry ghost stalks the rail yards of the west, drawing the attention of Sol who has taken up at least part of his father’s ghost-catching and settling trade. As stubborn as he is to try and fight it out alone, it will take all three siblings, who have grown into three independent and alienated adults, working together to settle this ghost and the demon riding its back.

Dead Roads is rich is bayou lore- it swelters with the south even when the story is staggering its way through cold Colorado nights. It is much more than a ghost story, and far richer than the usual far horror fantasy/fiction has to offer. Even as it is doing its best to make you jump at every little creek of your house in the night it rings with a respect for the dead- we don’t have casual ghost hunters here. Sol is a reluctant doctor to the dead, a wonderful parallel to his day job as an EMT. The family trade of traiteur is a duty, not a hobby, and the author communicates that well to the reader.

It took a little to get moving, and there was some disjointed movement from POV to POV as the book started, but that did not take from my interest in the story or my desire to see what was going to happen next. I think my biggest concern was the sheer amount of French worked into the dialog- not just a word here and there but oft times full sentences. It did add to the atmosphere, but at the cost of comprehension. As a reader it pulled me from the story as I struggled to work out what was being said.  Again, not enough to deter me from reading, but enough for me to notice and become frustrated now and again.

Overall, a fantastic, atmospheric read. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and watching them move through a wonderfully unique and delightfully creepy plot. Recommended.

Dominion by C.S. Friedman

I carried battered, loved copies of the Coldfire Trilogy with me through multiple moves and a seemingly endless progression of life changes. After a devastating flood they were some of the first books I worked to replace. The characters of the trilogy are like old friends- every now and then I get the urge to check in on them, revisit scenes and passages I particularly liked. Occasionally I take a weekend and reread the series, and every time I wish there was just a bit more for me to dig into. My love of the antihero started with Gerald Tarrant.

So it was with unabashed glee that I stumbled upon Dominion and tossed aside all that I had planned for the evening to read. I had not expected a new Tarrant story, had not known one was in the works, and as a result reading was one of the most wonderful evenings I have had in quite some time. For fans of the original trilogy, it takes place well before the trilogy proper, detailing when Tarrant first enters the Forest and how he makes it his own. It is dark and beautiful and frightening and perfect. Dominion is true to the trilogy I love, while adding more meat for me to chew on. It is a novella- so it is short, but makes every word count.

It is only a matter of time before I give in and give the trilogy another read.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Coldfire Trilogy, it is a horrifying and satisfying look at human emotion and ambition all tucked in a science fiction/fantasy setting that is unsettling and different than anything I have come across since. I highly recommend giving it a read.

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.

Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan

Led by prophecy, the directions of the witches that dwell beyond the Troll Wall, viking King Authun raids a monastery not for riches but for a boy child, a child stolen from the gods. Instead Authun find twins. He takes both, leaving one with the witches, taking the other to claim as his heir.

Vali is fostered away from Anthun, promised to wed another Viking King’s daughter, but has eyes only for a farmers’s daughter named Adisla. Feileg is raised in the wilds, more wolf than man, a far cry from his brother’s royal upbringing, and is shown a rare bit of sympathy and affection by Adisla when he is captured. Adisla is the thread that ties them together and drives them towards their fate. For they are pawns in the scheming of the gods, and the gods fight for keeps.

Wolfangel is thick with old world magic- shamans and witches, runes and drums and terrifying ritual. It’s fantasy elements seem perfectly rooted into the historical and are more mythological than fantastical. It keeps the book believable. Even as gods and witches are fighting it out in the background, the main story is one of love as both brothers work to save Adisla. It is a love story set against the backdrop of an ancient Norse society- harsh, often beautiful, and utterly enthralling in its ferocity. Eerie and atmospheric, albeit violent, it is not a book for the faint of heart. It takes the Norse warrior spirit into account and may characters are sent to feast in Valhalla.

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves by Sarah Monette

“On the landing, the roses of the Queen of Elfland, as clamorous as trumpets, continued to shout their glory to the uncomprehending house.” (‘Sarah Monette, Somewhere Beneath Those Waves, pg 185)

Like the Queen of Elfland’s roses, the stories contained in ‘Somewhere Beneath Those Waves’ will sing out their glory long after the reader had turned the final page. Contained within are captive figureheads and selkies, dragons and dreams and all the hopes and nightmares caught in between. The stories whisper of love and terror, and kept me up late into the night with a driving need to keep reading. The stories are all so very different, but are told in such a starkly elegant voice a reader cannot help but be compelled to pay attention.

For me, the stories that stood out most were ‘Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland’- a haunting story about love and lust and reasons humans are not meant to love faeries, ‘Katabasis: Seraphic Trains’- an atmospheric and elegant piece about inspiration and the darker corners of human motivation, ‘Amante Doree’- an almost historical piece with spies and issues of gender and acceptance, ‘Under the Beansidhe’s Pillow’- a short, gorgeous piece about the bits of culture and its spirits that immigrated to America, and both ‘A Night in Electric Squidland’ and ‘Imposters’- two stunning bits of urban fantasy with truly likable characters.

This collection should be on everyone’s shelf. It has a story for everyone, from fairy tale to horror and back again, each story unique and yet somehow still pulling the collection together as a whole.

Dragon Virus by Laura Anne Gilman

“They say the end is nigh. I think we’re living in the aftermath already (Dragon Virus, pg. 69).”

It looks like such a small book- unassuming, taking up so little shelf space. But it is a trick. As soon as you start to read it will spread through your brain, unavoidable as the spread of the virus the book tracks. It is a cascade in six parts, a staggering move through religion and science before settling firmly into a desperate dig at humanity itself.

There have been many looks at mutation, but there has been nothing ever written that hits like this. Ms. Gilman cuts through to the bare bones of what it is to be human, lays it there for all of us to examine and accept or reject as we see fit. No punches are pulled amidst her beautifully stark prose. Dragon Virus is a book that is saying something.

But the reader has to decide whether or not they are willing to listen.

It starts with the little uncomfortable things- visions of apocalypse, Raptures full of dragon wings. And then the dragons become all too real. It is an unexplained mutation, the Long gene, dragons come down to warp the basic recipe of humanity. Babies die, born with mutations that could not support life. No known cause. No treatment.

But then babies start to live, the mutations becoming viable, and the real problems start.

Dragon Virus is a stunning book, weaving words into image and emotion that will kick you in the gut and pull you through page after page- desperate to see just what sort of resolution will be reached. It is beautiful- the harsh beauty of everything grand and dangerous in nature. And just as enthralling.

Erekos by A.M. Tuomala

I can happily say I have never read a book quite like this. It unfolds as each page is turned, pulling you further in with every new paragraph. You aren’t introduced to people and places, you are immersed in them.

This is a fantasy for those who like their books with a more literary feel. This is not the classic epic story style, and part of the book’s elegance comes from this deviation. What first appears as meandering between people and places weaves together a  fascinating, horrifying world peopled with flawed, wonderful individuals. Gods walk amidst mortals, swamp witches raise the dead, and a war is pulling at the seams of civilization.

Achane has always taken care of her sister, and even after her sister’s death, is determined to make things right. She raises her sister from the dead, but the results were not as anticipated. And her actions catch the eye of a worn king who thinks he may have discovered the way to turn the tide of war in his favor…

This is an author who has a definite way with weaving lush, beautiful pictures with deceptively unhurried prose. I am looking forward to reading more in the future! If you are looking for something  wonderfully different to read, give Erekos a try.

Ventriloquism by Catherynne M. Valente

“But I am telling this story, and the honor of refracting the angle of the reader’s vision is mine and mine alone.” –Secret History of Mirrors, from Ventriloquism by Catherynne M. Valente.

It is Valente’s unique perspective that makes this book stand out. Each story sings with startling individuality and makes the reader take notice and really read.

Ventriloquism is an eerie and beautiful read, an effortless melding of the familiar and the strange into something that is alluring and horrifying and impossible to put down. It is an exultation of words and images- weaving stories with sensation and emotion, raising goosebumps and heart rates.

It would be impossible to pick out favorites, but the strongest pieces were the ones that crept up on the reader, revealing something familiar from the core of something strange and catching the reader breathless and surprised. Valente has a way of taking rather worn out fairy tales and images and coaxing from them something so new that the original is made stronger as a result. There are beautiful and horrifying relatives to Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White… Valente touches upon some of the most beautiful and quiet mythologies and breathes life into them.

If you find yourself reveling in the way a story sounds, tastes, and feels as you read, this is most definitely the book for you. The words aren’t just written to form the stories, they are the integral pieces of the puzzle and every one of them is carefully chosen and important.

PS Publishing

Subterranean Press

“Feed” By Mira Grant

I would like to say the zombies are what makes this book fantastic- after all, it does start with a guy poking a zombie with a stick- but what makes Feedso bloody amazing is the sheer scope of its humanity. The book takes human nature and tears it apart and shows you all the hidden bits you never wanted to know about. It will give you goosebumps. It will make you laugh. It will make you angry. It will make you cry. It is that well done.

It starts with an amazing world build. Humans cured cancer, they cured the common cold, and those two cures blended in just the wrong way and unleashed one nasty virus upon the world. The good news, humans survived the initial zombie event. The bad news? Humans all carry the zombie virus, in its dormant state, and it can be triggered. Add in the fact all mammals over 40 pounds can also ‘go zombie’ and trigger the virus out of dormancy in a human, and lets just say animal husbandry and pet ownership is not as common as it once was.

Now, lets move to the social aspect. Bloggers are the news now, and engage in bids for ratings that are fascinating to read about. The whole blogger/news infrastructure is beautifully done, and for someone who spends as much time communicating online as I do, it rang with enough possible truth that I found it enthralling.

The book revolves around a bloggers covering the presidential campaign in this environment, with enough plots and conspiracies and real nasty political maneuvering to keep the pages turning at a frantic speed. The usual novel format is broken in places by ‘posts’ from the main characters, adding to the urgency and strain of building events, and making the characters almost painfully real.

No punches are pulled in this one, and it is an absolutely amazing book as a result.

Book Depository