3.29.2009

Unclean Spirits, by M.L.N. Hanover

Unclean Spirits
Unclean Spirits
I picked this book up a time or two at the bookstore, but I kept deciding against it--primarily because of the cover. I know, you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But who doesn't? That's what the covers are for, after all. Every time I go to the bookstore, I see new contemporary fantasies that feature a svelte heroine stuffed into leather pants or even latex cat suits. And I've learned that that is not a good sign, indicating that here be unoriginal plots and ideas. So, I stay away. But I kept picking up Unclean Spirits because the plot description on the back made it sound unique, leather-clad heroine notwithstanding.

Unclean Spirits introduces Jayné Heller, a young college dropout who gets plunked into a world of werewolves and magic and wizards after her uncle dies and leaves her everything, even his crew and a plan to take out an evil magician. Unlike a lot of contemporary fantasies, which seem to follow rules set up by the rest of the pack, the world of this book is very different. Vampires are not the sexy beasts you'd find in a Laurel Hamilton or a Charlaine Harris novel. Rather, creatures like vampires and werewolves are riders, that possess people and push out the human personality. Quite interesting, I thought, so I picked up at last. I found out that Hanover didn't decide on a particular species of vampire or werewolf, either. There's a lot of room here to introduce all kinds of legendary critters. This, along with the mystery of Jayné own magical abilities, has me looking forward to the next book in the series, which comes out this fall.

I rather enjoyed reading, too. Hanover made huge effort to do something different with Jayné's story. Because she doesn't really have anything to go back to, Jayné throws herself into this new world without a backward glance. To avenge her uncle, she gathers her uncle's crew--a cursed vampire, a parasitologist turned magician, an ex-Jesuit, and a Buddhist shaman--and goes after her uncle's enemys, Randolph Coin and the Invisible College. We learn about the world as Jayné does. And what's really interesting, Jayné still uses the resources of the ordinary world to go after Coin. In the end, Jayné creates a plan to take him down that is a blend of magical and druglord hit.

3.22.2009

Plague of the Dead, by Z.A. Recht

Plague of the Dead
Plague of the Dead
Can't believe I forgot to post about this one. I read Plague of the Dead, by Z.A. Recht, as part of my ongoing to quest to find book zombie novels. There's just something so visual about zombies, that I think it makes it hard to pull one off in a book. This one, though, succeeds admirably. I read it in less than twelve hours a couple of weekends ago and was hooked from the first page.

The Plague of the Dead is the first book in a (I think) trilogy. It documents the beginning of a world wide zombie outbreak. USAMRIID (the Army's version of the CDC) picks up on an emerging African disease that turns people into zombies. The government--or at least a Men in Black branch of the government--clamps down on the story to "keep people from panicking." By the time it becomes clear what's going on, it's much too late. An international coalition fails to quarantine Africa and the zombie bug spreads to the rest of the world.

The story follows four different major characters in three different plot threads that won't fully converge until later in the series. That's okay with me; I have no problem reading more from Recht. This book was totally addictive. The zombies are terrifying (because some of them can still run and jump). There's conflict between different groups of humans, mostly from Men in Black still on the loose. The characters, while not the most imaginative characters I've run across, are appealing and I worried about them during their many close calls.

This is the third book I've picked up from Permuted Press, small imprint focusing mostly on zombie horror. And I've enjoyed every single one that I've read. I only noticed them on the book scene recently, so I don't know too many details. But I think they're going after books that the more mainstream publishers are passing by. Not sure why, because when I talk books or movies with people, I usually find another zombie fan or two.

I need to order the next one and find out what happens next.

Gilgamesh, by Joan London

Sorry, readers. I've been bad about posting for the last, well, month or so. I've been re-reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels and because I don't have anything new to say about them, I didn't say anything about them. Since I misplaced the next book the series, and still have to go buy I new copy, I decided to read Gilgamesh, by Joan London.

Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh
When I read about this novel--about a young Australian woman who chases after her lost Armenian lover with their young son in tow--I was hooked. A nineteen year old girl looking for her lost lover in Soviet Armenia. It sounded fantastic, like it could be a rich story. But as I read it, it started to seem very anemic to me. When I read about this book, I got the impression that it was going to be as much about far away places as love. So I was expecting tons of details about Europe, the Orient Express, Istanbul, Armenia, Syria, and Australia--all the places Edith visits in the book. But except for a few scattered phrases of Armenian, and some mentions of World War II and the NKVD, this book could have taken place anywhere.

Once I figured out that this wasn't going to be a setting or a plot novel, I thought it must be a character novel. Nope, no such luck. The characters seemed flat and uninteresting to me. I sort of cared about Jim, the young son who travels around the world with his naive and slightly selfish mother, but that went away when he never seemed to develop a personality. I was hoping to bond with Edith, but I felt like I never really got a chance to know her. Sure there were glimpses, but I never really knew what any of the characters were thinking. By the end of the skimpy 256 pages in my trade copy, I was glad to see the last of them.

I am more that willing to admit that I didn't "get" this book. But I felt disappointed in it. I was expecting a lot more and, given the setting London chose, this story could have been utterly fantastic. When I picked it up, I wanted to immersed in Edith's world but it was flat and poorly described. The book claims to mirror the Epic of Gilgamesh, but I didn't really see that either. Okay, we have loss and we have long journeys, but were was the quest for immortality? Instead, it read more like 1) the characters coming to terms with death and 2) a search to find one's place in the world. If Leopold and Aram were stand ins for Gilgamesh and Enkidu, why did their story take place almost entirely off page? If Edith and Jim were the stand ins, why didn't one of them die? Also, where were their great adventures?

I hate it when I come across a book with such strong potential that just doesn't deliver.