Posts Tagged fiction

Vengeance From Ashes — Compelling New MilSF

vengeance from ashesVengeance From Ashes is the first military science fiction book from author Sam Schall in the Honor and Duty series. It’s a solid piece of storytelling, and a compelling work of fiction that will be enjoyed by any fan of MilSF.

Ashlyn Shaw was a former Marine captain now incarcerated on fabricated charges and shunted off to the deepest, darkest hole they could find: the Tarsus Penal Colony. Condemned to five years of solitary confinement and practically left for dead, Shaw is surprised when she is suddenly transferred out of the penal colony and back planet side. FleetCom (the military) wants her, though she does not know why, and until she does, she will not trust anybody.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear to the former marine that there has a been a change in the government which had locked her up and made her disappear. A former admiral who had supported her even though she had been on trial was elected on the promise of clearing the charges the captain was under, as well as reforming the government as a whole. But while Shaw is being informed of all the happenings in the two years she has been “in the dark”, an attack by unknown perpetrators occurs in the capitol. Shaw, along with members of her former unit, the “Devil Dogs”, must try and protect a senator and repel the mysterious attackers.

Sometimes when you read a story, you seem to find yourself in the middle of something grand. You get to reading, eagerly awaiting the back story to propel the novel (as a whole) forward. The only problem I had with this book is that it seems like this it is the middle section and I missed the beginning. It’s not bad, per se. It just feels like I had missed something very, very important. Once I was able to break through that sensation (about 20 pages in or so) it was smooth sailing from there.

There is plenty of suspense in the novel, and enough background action to lay down the authenticity of the Devil Dogs and what they do. In the end, however, the story is about a Marine captain doing everything in her power to protect those who love her, and those who are loyal to her.

A positive read. A–.

–Reviewed by Jason

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“Open Wounds” by Brandon Ford — Dark, Twisted Fiction

CoverBF01It’s not very often that I get to compare classic books to their modern brethren (and enjoy them, I guess I should add), so when I received Open Wounds by Brandon Ford, I wasn’t expecting what I got. What I’d been promised was “horror” but what I got instead was something dark, twisted, without any sort of supernatural beings in it and seemed absolutely true.

Let me reiterate: it’s billed as horror, but it could be any teenage girl’s everyday life.

That’s scary. Really, really scary.

Kate Montgomery was your ordinary 14 year old girl when her parents divorced. Her father, who started drinking, became violent one day and hit his wife, Kate’s mother. Soon afterwards, Kate is forced to move cross-country with her mother, away from the only life she has ever known, and into the old haunts and streets of her mother’s childhood neighborhood in Philadelphia.

Jobless and without any sort of training, Kate’s mother is forced to find work at a dive bar. Meanwhile, Kate struggles at school and tries to fit in. But a dark specter looms over the family past as Kate becomes very nervous and uncomfortable around her grandfather, a sullen and quiet man. This all is depressing, true, but this is all nothing compared to the Hell that awaits her when her mother brings home a new boyfriend.

Without giving too much away, I can say that Kate’s mom’s new boyfriend is a very evil man. He drags Kate and her mom down into a dark, hellish pit of despair and hopelessness, one that Kate sees but cannot escape. Her life continues to get worse and worse as every imaginable horror is heaped upon her, crushing her spirit and her psyche. She becomes a “cutter” and begins to leaves angry scars on her legs and thighs.

When I read this, I was instantly reminded of the 1971 classic Go Ask Alice. However, Open Wounds leaves little to the imagination as the reader is assaulted with the pure agony of Kate’s life, her struggle to remain human, and her loss of faith and family. It’s gritty, realistic and terribly frightening… and, quite frankly, perfect. I mean, it’s a horrifying story, but I think that’s what makes it so damned good. I don’t know from what dark, personal hell Brandon Ford dug this from, but he needs to tap into this reservoir more often. This is, by far, the best thing of his I’ve ever read.

The pacing is rock solid, not too fast, and builds steadily towards a satisfying climax. The character of Kate is empathetic, endearing, and achingly sad, and it pains the reader to see her go through all that she has to. The secondary characters are complex and chilling, even Kate’s best friend. The setting (late 70s’-early 80’s Philadelphia) seems to straddle the fence between gritty reality and a product of the author’s mind.

In the end, the story triumphs over all else, and leaves the reader thoroughly satisfied with Kate and her story. This book is a definite must-buy for any fan of the teen genre, or anyone else who likes a chilling, dark novel.

How good is it, one asks? Well, I sat down to read just one chapter before I went to bed, and ended up reading the entire book in just one setting.

Buy it. Read it. See what I’m talking about.

Grade: A

–Review by Jason

 

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The Six-Gun Tarot — An Amazing and Insightful Debut Novel

The Six-Gun TarotVery rarely does a debut novel make a lasting impression upon the reader. Usually, the first novel is the author looking for their voice and haven’t mastered the delicate art of building up the suspense. R. S. Belcher’s debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, destroys those preconceived notions.

The book starts with the young Jim Negrey leading his horse Promise across a barren wasteland of desert in 1869. Near death and with little water, Jim is on the run from the law for a terrible crime. However, before the law can hang him, Jim has to survive the desert known as the 40-Mile. His hopes were to find a railroad job in a new city under a new name. But a shadow, something more than a crime he committed, lingers over the boy. Between dangerous animals stalking him and the desert, he is doubtful he will survive.

Before the desert takes him, though, Jim is found by a strange Indian named Mutt and an even stranger man named Clay. The two men hail from the town of Golgotha, which is the closest town to where Jim wants to go. He accepts their ride into town when they are attacked by the coyotes which had been stalking Jim. Clay kills two, though the coyotes seem to be mildly nervous around Mutt. Jim is taken into town and, for the time being, will live another day.

Or perhaps not. As he’s getting off the wagon, Mutt (who is the deputy sheriff in the town) gets a call for help. A deranged and drunken man has taken hostages inside the general store, and Mutt needs to stop him before he hurts anyone. He deputizes Jim, and they prepare to try and figure out how to stop the man from hurting anyone inside. Before they can do anything which might end up with some bodies, though, the town sheriff gets back to town. Jon defuses the situation with Mutt managing to save an innocent woman’s life, and the town settles down. Jim, uncertain what to do next, is officially deputized by Jon and taken to get some food and some rest. For the first time in a long time, Jim feels like he’s somewhere he belongs.

Intertwined in the story about the crazy town of Golgotha is a deeper story about an angel who, while not exactly defying the Host, begins to doubt nonetheless. Because of this, he is tasked to stand guard over the sleeping darkness. Biqa, annoyed and angry, obeys, though it is evident that he is not happy with his punishment. After a time, though, his watch begins to take on a deeper meaning. Biqa begins to understand the little beings who exist around him, and begins to feel for humanity.

This book… wow. Just wow. There is a blend of religion and folklore in the book that drags you in and makes the reader really think without lecturing. The pacing is fantastic (as evidenced by reading it, for the second time, in less that five hours) and the characters are all very well thought-out and believable. The setting of the town itself is magnificent, and seems to be a character all its own, a breath of life in what would normally be merely a static piece of scenery in any other work. The darker undercurrent of the book, which both drives the plot and lends a creepiness factor to some characters, is wonderfully done. The overall story arc is absolutely rock-solid.

This book is a must-buy. I’d give this to someone asking me if I had read anything good and new lately. The author has done a tremendous job, and I for one can’t wait for the next round.

–Reviewed by Jason

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Tiger Gray’s “No Deadly Thing” — An nonworking mish-mash of urban fantasy and military thriller

No Deadly ThingTiger Gray’s debut novel No Deadly Thing takes place roughly during the Iraq War (2004 edition) and stars Ashrinn Pinecroft as a military veteran who is severely injured during the war. During the battle in which he was wounded, he gets the feeling for the first time of a “higher calling” and charges recklessly into the fight. After being injured in said battle and discharged, he is recruited into a mystical organization called the Order. The Order fights against “the serpent”, which is the symbol for evil across the board, thought this is (again) not explained well initially. Because of his military experience, Ashrinn is tasked to train the Seattle-Tacoma area group of the Order, which is just getting off the ground there. Beset on all sides by lack of experience and equipment, he struggles to bring the (children, really) under his tutelage to be ready for combat against the ancient evil before it is too late.

Meanwhile, his home life is an unspoken mess. His son, who doesn’t quite grasp his father’s mental and emotional war within, is struggling to go about his everyday life now that his dad is back from the war. Ashrinn’s wife, on the other hand, is thrilled that he is home and that he has finally discovered the power within him that the esoteric society (the Order) recruited him for. However, there is a taint to her aura, and Ashrinn suddenly realizes that he does not trust her or her own side of the power.

Let me get this out in the open right now: this book could have been amazing. Instead, it falls flat and is merely average.

The idea behind it, the concept and breathtaking research that the author delves into to bring the powers inside both the protagonist and the antagonists is amazing. There is talk of the Morrigan (Celtic goddess), dryads, Mesopotamian gods intermingled with Zoroastrian belief, western civilization and the modern world.

Excellent research into esoteric and ancient religion aside, there really isn’t any smooth transition points in the story. You never get a feel of right about Ashrinn, and his movements are wooden and do nothing more than to try and move the plot forward. It’s hard to explain, but bear with me for a moment. When Ashrinn talks, it doesn’t come out as honest and appealing. He’s a very unlikable  protagonist, and yet he doesn’t fit into the mold of anti-heroes that one can root for. He’s just there, and this is a crime unto itself. The background that should have been around him is not there. There is no reason to cheer him on. The strange conflict he has between his wife and a new recruit early on does nothing to make me like him more, and actually detest his weakness. I’m not demanding that he be inhuman and unfeeling, but the inner conflict inside him should be a little more evident, make him more appealing to the reader. Here is where the author failed.

The plot is convoluted but there, and the pacing is fast (a little too fast at some points, but who am I to complain about a fast-paced novel?) and doable. The right elements for a tremendous book are there, but something is missing. My gut tells me that it’s the main character. Plus, it’s about a military veteran, but what? Not every infantryman can teach people to become soldiers instead of fighters, for example. I just didn’t get the feeling that, despite him using the military to escape his eccentric family beliefs, he really never seemed to “be” the Special Forces operative that the author portrays him to be.

A mildly decent read, nothing to shout to the heavens about however. I’d borrow this one from the library, or perhaps look for it on an e-reader at a discounted price.

–Reviewed by Jason

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Liberty 1784 — Excellent Alternate History

1784With the execution of George Washington in the Tower of London, the American rebellion has seemingly faded to nothing more than a few leftover stragglers. The Loyalists and British troops have control of nearly all of the Atlantic seaboard and the rebels have scattered westward, been imprisoned in Jamaica, or dead.

All hope is lost.

Or is it?

The spirit of rebellion and liberty lives on in Robert Conroy’s latest alternate history venture, Liberty: 1784. With a strong cast of characters from American history melded in with fictional leads, the novel sweeps you off your feet as you are uprooted from the traditional sense and slapped back into the harsh reality of a land of failed freedom.

Will Drake is a prisoner of war on board a derelict ship, the Suffolk, and is certain that he is to die soon. Half-starved, he and the few survivors on the grounded ship have been forced to hide the bodies of their deceased fellow prisoners in order to have enough food to simply survive. Will is the beneficiary for one thing, however. The British, while knowing that he was an officer in the Continental Army, do not realize that he was a spy. For that he is fortunate. He couldn’t even begin to imagine just how mush harsher his treatment would be if anyone knew the truth.

Just as he has given up all hope, however, the Suffolk begins to break apart and sink. Will is lucky and manages to grab a piece of driftwood as he makes his escape, managing to hide from any pursuers as he is swept away from the doomed derelict and further along the coast. He gets wind of a place where the spirit of the revolution lives on, a town called Liberty, and, with the help of a free man named Homer, begins to make his escape.

Meanwhile, our second intrepid hero (heroine, actually), Sarah Benton, is awaiting punishment for daring to say something negative about King George III. Locked in a jail cell with her cousin Faith, she is awaiting her punishment: a day in the stocks. However, the disgusting Sheriff Braxton (a man who would play a more villainous role in the book later) offers her a way out: pleasure him, and not be forced to spend the day in stocks. Sarah is horrified by the prospect, so Braxton taunts her more by showing her that her younger cousin is doing so in the other room with his three deputies. Sarah, a widow from the rebellion, says no again, so Braxton locks her in the stocks. Her uncle and aunt, with whom she lives with, decide that it is high-time to get out of Massachusetts and that they all need to escape to the land of the free: a mythical place called Liberty.

The pacing of the book is excellent, and the historical notes all hit perfectly. I’d read other works of the author and have generally been left wanting, but this time Conroy absolutely knocks it out of the park. I can’t recall any time when an alternate history author actually executes George Washington and forces the others of the American Revolution to the forefront. Conroy mixes a tremendous historical event and a fantastic fictional novel into one, and plays to his strengths, which are the relations between the characters. He hits hard with combat scenes, something that I was personally pleased by. Too often do I find that alt-history writers gloss over the horrors of combat so that they can write more about the potential “What If?”. Conroy tells the “What If?”, and also forces the reader to look at the ugly underbelly of the Revolution, and the other reasons which drove a bunch of colonial farmers into open rebellion against the greatest nation in the world.

I loved this book. I can’t really say anything more than that. This one hit all the right buttons for me, and I didn’t even find myself nit-picking historical details that the author missed (and I didn’t find any glaring mistakes). The writing was tight and concise, and there were very few scenes which seemed to drag. The book is available for pre-order now, with it officially going on sale March 4, 2014. If you like the works of Eric Flint or Harry Turtledove, then you will definitely enjoy Robert Conroy’s Liberty:1784.

A must buy.

Reviewed by Jason

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