A mish-mash smattering of postings ranging from book reviews to mental wanderings to maybe even snippets of new material. More content is always being posted and added so check back often!
Hello dear, patient readers. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?
Where have I been, you ask? I’ll tell you!
Back in May 2015, I finally got the manuscript for She Will Become back from my editor. After some polishing and editing, I sent it off to a handful of beta readers who slogged their way through almost seven hundred pages of material to deliver some of the most valuable, insightful, educated feedback. The depths of my gratitude cannot be properly articulated.
As a result of this feedback, I sat back down with the manuscript and began to tear it apart, It was at this point that I realized there was quite a bit of work ahead of me in order to fix the issues brought to light. Fortunately, (or unfortunately depending on how you see it), I’d injured myself at work in June and ended up needing surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear. August came and I went out on leave from work to have the surgery. The following four months were full of healing, recovery, and physical therapy. They were also full of deep thinking, planning, and even deeper world-building. Scrivener helped tremendously with all of this.
Christmas rolled around and, having earned some Amazon credits through paid survey programs, I decided Scrivener wasn’t the sole solution and purchased a slew of resource books (K. M. Weiland’s books are stupendous and invaluable, as is Janice Hardy’s “Understanding Show, Don’t Tell: And Really Getting It!”). Finally, I had some technical answers and solutions to the problems my beta readers raised!
Excitement yet abounds!
As a result of educating myself on the finer, more technical points of writing a novel, I finally have a first chapter I’m ecstatically proud to share with the world. You can read the entirety below, or visit the Library as a permanent home/sample.
Thank you so much for your patience! Without further ado, Chapter One of She Will Become.
Only The Beginning
Of all the ways I never expected to arrive in a foreign world, plummeting straight out of the sky to splash land in a washing machine ocean had to be first. One moment I’d been sliding my hand into the silken red interior of a box containing a door to another world, the next I was careening out of the clouds with only a few seconds of darkness in between to mark the passage between universes.
Hurtling earthward, dropped from the clouds like some errant package without a rescuing parachute, the arctic-cold wind whipped past my face numbing it immediately. Ice crusted in my eyelashes, clogging my sinuses. I let loose a terrified scream and flailed my arms frantic for purchase. There was nothing to grab onto, nothing to arrest this dizzying uncontrollable plummet. The wind roared in my ears and tore at my clothes, numbed my flailing fingers and stealing every precious ounce of heat.
A great blue-black wall loomed ahead, growing larger and more threatening with every passing second. A storm swell of terror overtook my heart sending it into glitching horrified awareness.
Water! Waves! Ocean!
I hit the water with a sound like thunder crashing between my ears. Frigid water stole my breath and ability to move the instant it closed over my head. Years of childhood summers spent swimming in murky back-wood ponds and spring-fed lakes of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains had honed my aquatic skills, but nothing compared to the wild raging of these ocean waves. Weighted down by the jeans, t-shirt and thick zip-up hoodie I’d worn to protect against the early fall chill back home on Earth, I sank toward the horrifying dark of the depths with terrifying speed. Oh, the irony of my choice of attire! Pumping and churning the water with my arms and legs got me no closer to the surface. Panic set in as my lungs ached for oxygen too long denied.
The cold settled into my bones faster than I’d ever imagined possible. My eyeballs were ice cubes just barely able to discern a spot of bright sky far above, shrinking, receding. I couldn’t move my arms anymore; my legs hung like icicles from a frosty overhang. Ani was right; I’m an abomination. Divine forgiveness is off the table, was probably never even on offer. Perverts like me don’t deserve love or mercy. Just this abysmal, crushing, icy darkness. Here is where I die.
Surrendering came easy. I should have stuck to my original plan, ignored that damned abandoned mansion. Don’t they say bleeding out from sliced wrists feels warm, comforting? The aching, lethal cold squeezed out the last of my thinking narrowing my consciousness to pinpricks of light. Two tiny bubbles ascended lazily away from me before my eyelids came down for the last time. If the black depths of the ocean below had evoked a primal sense of terror, the inky blackness waiting to take me rendered the opposite. Finally, solace, the end of almost twenty years of misery. My body twitched only minutely as my soul tried to shake off its mortal dressings.
Then … something lighter than air brushed across my hands and face, tangled around my feet and ankles and tugged upward. I didn’t know what it was and didn’t care. It was too late. I was going and had no intention of ever coming back.
Consciousness came back to me slowly, rolling in and dragging me up from some unknown, unknowable depth. Where was my body or, rather, why did it feel as if it were a small distance away? Was this what death was – awakening to sensations that made absolutely no sense?
“Do ye know who she is?” A strange voice obliterated the illusion like a match struck to ward off the complete darkness.
That terrible freezing ocean hadn’t claimed me after all. The realization brought with it a welter of confused emotion. Rage at the denial of the peace I craved, elation at being spared. On the heels of this, I fought the onset of panic. If I wasn’t dead then why couldn’t I move, breathe, see? Why could I feel my body but not control it? I was a giant, bodiless brain tethered to a dead weight body cast adrift in a sea of unending darkness. Fear swelled, the necessary kick start, a key to wind the clockwork mechanism of my biology. Faintly, my heart began to beat.
“I d’know. Edrin said ‘e pulled ‘er up in ‘is nets. ‘E thought she were dead. Still, no need tae leave a poor drowned girl t’float, aye? But once ‘e got ‘er up ‘e saw she was still breathin’ sommat an’ brought ‘er ‘ere t’me. I ‘ave no idea, but she’s got a foreign look to ‘er, I say,” another voice answered the first. His thick accent added another layer of confusion to my addled waking.
“Oh, ayuh. The girl’s a might fairer than we Western lot. Mayhap she was tryin’ tae sail across from the Northern Tor, eh? She’s got their look. ‘Tis peaceful up there but who knows… people leave their folk sometimes. ”
“I’d say ayuh. I’m glad Edrin brought ‘er out o’ t’water but what’m I supposed to do wit’ ‘er? I dinna see any marks on ‘er – she’s not ‘urt, no bones broken, nothin’ like that. She joost lays there a’sleepin.”
The voices went back and forth, one deep and weathered, the other fair and almost singsong. I listened, thinking I should speak, or perhaps even open my eyes to see these apparent saviors. Trying, I discovered that while I still couldn’t move, I had more of a sense of things around me. Shivers wracked my body, the tremors coming to me as though traveling along a fine wire stretching several feet. Cocooned and connecting this feeling with the deeper-voiced speaker’s words, I concentrated and soon identified the unmistakable itch of rough wool against bare skin. Warm, slightly yielding solidity developed along the backs of my legs, butt, and upper body. The sound of waves gently lapping at the shore some distance away and, high above me, gulls screaming gave further clues to my whereabouts, but only just.
Heat returned slowly, absorbed from whatever was beneath me. Nerve endings tingled, quietly and then with the fierce itch of being swarmed by an army of flesh-eating ants. Each limb, full of agonized irritation at being brought back to life, became distinct entities connected to a larger whole. Within seconds, I could wiggle my fingers. Something tickled at the back of my throat, and I coughed. Immediately, my gorge rose. Hitching in a breath, I struggled to either sit up or roll to the side. My muscles screamed in weighted and painful protest, refusing to do my bidding. My soft yet urgent moaning elicited gasps; hands were quickly laid on me, rolling me onto my side. I gagged puking up seawater. Snorting and spitting the dregs of vomit from my sinuses left the bitter tastes of bile and grief lingering at the back of my throat.
Fully conscious now, I took a ragged inhalation and dragged my eyes open. The faces above me were blurred, clearly human and roughly masculine in shape to match the voices. Surprised concern slurred their speech. Unable to understand them, I croaked the first word that came to mind.
“Genevieve…” Meager energy expended, I closed my eyes and fell back into the dubious mercy of forgetful darkness.
“What updates does Ohjion deliver?” Awake again yet just as unable to move, this time, I could feel every inch of my body immediately yet had no strength to show it.
A woman’s voice, higher in pitch with educated inflections, asked the question. Unlike the men’s voices of earlier, this one was barren of accent save for intonations that rang distant chimes of home. It called me up from the depths of the blackest black. I was slow in rising to it.
“Nothin’ new, milady,” answered another, this one a woman whose voice betrayed older age and idle concern. “The chirurgeon couldna find anythin’ wrong wit’ her, but she’s nae got a native look. Ohjion said this could be a sickness from wherever she’s come.” There was a momentary pause. Someone tsk’d in thought.
“Do you remember when I came here, Chani? I was immobile. I could not even open my eyes or move or even speak for months.”
“Oh, ayuh, I remember. D’ye think she’s from -.” The first woman cut her off muted excitement giving her consonants a razor-edged rasp.
“Perhaps, but I’ll jump to no conclusion. There’s no denying the similarity of the situations, though. She doesn’t look a bit like anyone here – mayhap some of the Northern Tor folk like the fishermen guess. She’s either taken ill from one of their sicknesses or, of course, she may have come from the portal in the box, but I cannot allow myself the hope.” The last few words were cracked and full of strangled emotion.
The conversation dropped into a heavy silence. In the absence of the women’s lilting speech fragments of the younger woman’s interjection piqued my attention. Portal. Box. No denying the similarity. May have come from… The words, important somehow, pried at my fugue. If only I could just remember why.
Hazy, incongruent Images oozed into the gaps. A woman, screaming vitriol, the sounds of gagging. Night-darkened sky, a car idling on the street behind me. Wet grass in front and beneath me, the acidic stench of vomit wafting up from it. A meandering trail through the woods leading deeper to older forestry in mottled deep brown lichen stripes and gray bark. Ancient, sturdy pine, birch, aspen, and oak all unexpectedly giving way to ground littered with uprooted and overturned brick paving and chunks of cement stones. A driveway and crumbled walls dead-ending at a wide circle in front of a massive, sprawling wood and brick mansion whose last good days had been over a hundred years earlier.
The images-cum-memories poured in faster and faster as if someone was trying to fast forward through a lengthy film reel. Abandoned rooms filled with outdated furniture covered over and forgotten, left to rot under decades of dust and animal droppings. A parlor room in no better condition. Sumptuous decorations and plush upholstery dulled by age, and a huge fireplace commandeering most of one wall. A painting of a woman above the fireplace; a scrapbook filled with pages and pages of yellowed newspapers clippings and dozens of sepia-toned photographs all documenting the mysterious disappearance of a woman more than a century before I was born. A small box; touching, lifting, opening it. Inside, a note in looping handwritten script: “There is yet another world beyond the wood. If you have the true sight, look again and behold the choice before you.” Replacing the note, a vision: the vibrant blue of a morning sky and beyond that the mountainous expanse of an entirely different world.
A flood of tears cut tracks through the cement sealing my eyes shut. A whimper escaped my lips, so low only I heard it. With the sensation of sand falling away from my eyelids, I blinked rapidly and squinted straight up into the turned profile of a young woman with a pale mien, hair loose, long and curling past her shoulders in a mahogany tumble. I blinked again to clear away the tears, trying to focus. That hair looked familiar – the color, the texture, the profile of her face. Could it be?
“Genevieve?” I whispered, unable to say anything else. Elated amazement overcame me. I wasn’t crazy or dead, and neither was the woman in the portrait. I didn’t know how it was possible yet here she was, close enough I could have reached out and touched her.
“Milady! She’s opened her eyes! Look!” blurted the second speaker. The young woman above me sharply turned.
“You know my name?” Those emerald green eyes narrowed in shocked consternation, bounced back and forth between my face and the other woman.
“Oh ayuh, milady. Did no one tell ye? That’s why the fishermen brought her here instead o’ stayin’ in Cosco. The only word she spoke when they found her was yer name,” said the as yet disembodied voice. I blinked recalling the struggle to feel the rest of my body, the tingling heat and the sick convulsions of my stomach and lungs.
Genevieve looked away for a moment. Fright widened her eyes framing them with mahogany lashes. “How do you know my name? Where do you hail from?”
“Freedomsburg,” I croaked. My throat had gone tight with barely suppressed tears. I’d done it – solved the mystery! Genevieve was here, wherever here was.
Genevieve flinched and leaned even closer. “What did you say?”
“Freedomsburg,” I croaked again wishing my voice would cooperate. I had so much more to say.
“Freedomsburg? But how?” She drew back at my answer and exchanged a glance with her companion. “Chani, how?” Her voice wobbled with the question.
“I don’t know, child.”
As the older woman professed her ignorance, I thrust aside other memories that came bubbling up behind those that had led me here. I didn’t want to think about what and who I’d left behind, or why. I should have been celebrating surviving my plunge into the ocean. Instead, I had no choice but to lay here, half-mute and struck dumb by unfamiliarity.
Those snippets of memories came regardless, barreling past any objections. Freedomsburg was home and had been for almost all of my life. Freedomsburg was Mom, Dad, Jordan – family. Freedomsburg too was one failed relationship after another. First David, then Brian’s face went by, blurred at the edges in passing, both proof of sexual confusion, ambiguity at best. I’d never felt for them one iota what I’d felt for her. Ani. Sister from another mother, the other half of the diaper-duo, my boon companion through school and then some. How could I have been so stupid?
Oh God, what have I done?
“Who are you? How do you know this place – Freedomsburg?”
I almost lost the question in the tumultuous onslaught of memories.
“My name is Tristen Callayas. I know Freedomsburg because that’s… it’s where I came from – where we both come from.”
Genevieve paled and swayed in her seat. “It can’t be.” Her protest came from a mile away as she withdrew into herself. Seconds later she was back and staring down at me with a daunting intensity. “How is it that you came to be here?” She shook her head when I started to answer. “I don’t mean how you were brought here to the castle. How is it that you are here on Abiniam and not Earth?”
The older woman gasped as if she was late in comprehending the situation. I gaped up at Genevieve wishing I could do anything except lay here and bear the weight of her penetrating stare. A strange flush of shame warmed me.
“I found your house, the scrapbook, the box.” I stopped as a wave of fatigue rolled through me. Genevieve turned an unhealthy shade of pale and brought a hand to her forehead.
Wincing, she asked, “When? Pray, tell me, when did you find these things?”
“Milady?” The older woman raised a note of concern. Genevieve waved her off.
“No, Chani, I must know the answer to this question. Tristen, when did you find the box? What year?”
Gray mist encroached the edges of my vision. I was tempted to ignore Genevieve’s question and surrender to the darkness tugging at me, At least there I’d be safe from the pain clamping my heart in an ever-tightening vice. I certainly wouldn’t be looking up into the face of a woman whose very sanity inexplicably seemed to hinge on my answer to her question either.
“Two thousand twelve.”
Genevieve’s breath rattled as her remaining color drained away. Her eyes dropped and seemed to roll back into her head evoking worry she might faint. She clenched the blanket at my shoulder.
“A hundred and ten years! I don’t – I don’t understand!” she whispered harshly, turned away and covered her face with shaking hands. Instantly sorry I’d spoken the truth; I struggled to sit up. I’d had enough of laying down, of being spoken to like I was an invalid (even if I felt like one). I also wanted to see the other woman in the room.
My muscles were leaden. Why was I still so weak? What had I done to myself in sticking my hand in that stupid box? Or was this a result of my crash-landing in the ocean and the fight to survive?
Several seconds of struggling, I finally got my elbows beneath me. I propped myself up on the pillow and looked around. The other woman was much older than Genevieve or me. She sat on a stool close to the foot of the bed. Almost grandmotherly with gray hair pulled up into a tight bun on the crown of her head, her face was smooth except for the deep lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Bright sky blue eyes caught and met my gaze above a tight, strained smile. Most of her attention was on Genevieve.
“We were beginning tae think ye’d never wake, lass. I’m glad tae see you alert an’ speakin’, at last,” the woman murmured.
“How long have I been here?” I glanced at Genevieve sitting eerily silent and motionless on her stool, still covering her face with her hands.
“Wit’ travel time? Jus’ a tick past a mont’, lass. The fishermen who found ye said the only time ye ever came ’round was tae clean out the water ye’d swallowed and tae call out the Lady’s name. Tha’ was the day they found ye. Ye’ve been here since, sleepin’ and seemin’ like ye’d never move again.” Now she looked to Genevieve and frowned. “Milady, would ye like tae return tae yer chambers?”
Genevieve roused herself, responding as if she was returning from a distance greater than what lay between here and wherever home was.
“Yes, thank you, Chani. This news all been – well, it’s quite a shock. I’m sorry Tristen; I must go and collect myself. I will return later, or you may have Gwyneth, your handmaid, send word when you are ready to be up and about.” She went to the door just beyond the end of my bed. I fumbled for something to say and fell short.
“I’m sorry Genevieve. I didn’t mean to cause you any pain by coming here,” I murmured thinking, I came here to get away from pain, not bring it with me. She glanced back as Chani opened the door for her, a dismal sadness in her eyes.
“None of us means the harm we inflict,” she imparted softly. “Rest well now, we’ll speak again soon. Chani will send Gwyneth to attend you.” Both women slipped through the open door and were gone leaving me awake and alone in this strange new world for the first time.
Frazzled, I flopped back to the pillow. The silence that followed the women’s departure left me too much space to think and remember things that should have stayed buried in the darkness. Genevieve had asked how I’d gotten here, but not the why. What would I have said if she had?
Struggling against latent bonds of grief, I scrubbed my face with my hands. On the other side of my fingers, the door opened and closed with a quiet snick. It was a little easier to sit up this time, and I gasped at the unexpected sight that greeted me. A young woman stood at the end of the bed. Near in age to me, she was about my height and slender with perfect curves beneath a plain blue dress. A tumble of raven curls framed her face and disappeared over her shoulders. Her face was stunningly beautiful – narrow, with sharp cheekbones and chin; a petite nose and the warmest, most expressive green eyes I’d ever seen. Her eyelashes were thick and full, caressing her cheeks when she blinked, and her lips – oh God! Pink and luscious, slightly parted as she returned my stare; she licked them and cleared her throat. I couldn’t look away even if I’d wanted. This girl, whoever she was, resembled Ani almost exactly.
Note: I was provided a copy of this text by the author in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The author and reviewer have no prior knowledge of or interaction with one another beyond the review of this book.
Every so often you come across a book that comes at you from out of nowhere, jumps into your hands and demands to be read, the voice (or voices, it’s appropriate here) within so fresh and original you have no choice but to sit down and have at it. Polcastro’s Jane is one of those books.
Much akin to my shock and awe in reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, for his entirely original voice, impeccable character creation, expression, and navigation, as well as story flow, Jane caught me by surprise. Salem Oregon comes to life as only a geographical native can describe with all the familiar mixed feelings of hate and home, its kooky inhabitants painted in stark colors meant not to glorify the crazy but to illuminate a dark underbelly in all its realism.
Polcastro doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable in her work, instead embracing it for all its storytelling purposes and possibilities. Mental health, or lack thereof, is a clear and present theme throughout this book with Aunt Rose’s erratic, irrational behaviors setting the tone in the beginning. Jane has been fooled into the caretaking of her Aunt and through their re-acquaintance in Jane’s taking on the role, we’re introduced to the familial relationship stemming back to Jane’s childhood to explain her current almost blasé approach to her aunt’s antics. This introduction, in fact, opens the door for an exploration of a much deeper issue, one that leads Jane ever deeper into her pursuit of madness and walking the fine line between sanity and ‘bat-shit crazy’.
The human psyche is a complex maze that the author has seemingly mapped in exquisite detail, giving us a story that examines the ties that bind us and how we, as human beings, both fight those bonds and embrace them particularly those of family. Did Darla, Jane’s mother, create a self-fulfilling prophecy in telling Jane she’d someday end up institutionalized like her Aunt Rose? We wonder this as we watch Jane simultaneously retreat from her aunt’s madness yet descend into her own increasingly reckless and dangerous behaviors without or perhaps realizing the innate similarities and using them as subconscious fuel for the fire.
Again, like Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, there is more to Jane’s current situation and behavior than first suspected. Where does the crazy begin? Is it just Rose, or were there more family dynamics at play behind the scenes, possibly even stemming back through the years into Jane’s childhood? Whose version of old family stories is right? Where is the nugget of truth, if there’s one at all? How far back, and through how many perspectives do you need to go before you finally find the root of the problem?
Our adult lives are the culmination of all of the events of our childhood, and all of the programmings those events instilled within our developing brains. We are the products of our parents, and our parents are the products of their parents, and so the cycle continues looping backward and forward through time everlasting. Polcastro does an amazing job of illustrating this point, reaching back into the past for the pieces of the puzzle that at once give Jane’s elusive grasp on sanity a firm rooting in the present. However, what it will do toward the prospect of breaking said cycle is left up the reader to imagine in a drop off ending that left me speechless. However, I can’t imagine this book ending any other way except with an abrupt jerk that all too easily simulates real life’s unpredictability.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for the fresh writing, undaunted subject material, and audacity of storytelling. I rank Polcastro up there with Wally Lamb, another of my favorites, and I’ll be sure to catch up with any and everything else she’s written. 5 stars all around for this original work of fiction.
Classified as paranormal or supernatural horror, the Armageddon series is a terrifyingly excellent mash-up of Apocalyptic and Dystopian genres. Add in a hefty dose of occult horror and you have a recipe for not just one but two sleeper-stunners in what will eventually culminate in a trilogy.
Book 2 in the Armageddon series picks up seamlessly from where Book 1 ended and immediately propels readers directly back into the miasma of good vs. evil. This transitional pickup, without any attempts to back-fill a potential gap in reader memory, takes a little bit of adjustment. Dubrow doesn’t even allow the reader much time to breathe with his breakneck, suspenseful pacing, keeping up an almost unexpected roller coaster ride of thrills and chills. Instead of being off-putting, Dubrow’s distinctive style in delivering story leaves the reader gripping their e-reader in riveted need to know just what’s going to happen next. You can’t help but be sucked in by the catch-and-release-caught-again-haha-let’s-see-you-run mood that carries throughout the text.
What I love most about this series is the characters and Dubrow’s skillful development of their personas. While the whole storyline can be considered a parallel to the current state of the world, so too are the characters individuals who could and would feasibly exist in our reality. Hector, Siobhan, Roy, Ozzie, Kyle, Esperanza, Reyna all continue to develop as events unfold, but it’s not just that they develop. That’s intrinsic to a successful book. What I marvel at is how they develop, how they react to, for and against the forces pitted against them. They each have an undeniable humanity to them that this whole series wouldn’t work without. Positions and roles change as characters re-examine their perspectives and commitment to their chosen causes. Lines previously thought irrevocably and permanently drawn in the sand are blurred, reversed or completely obliterated as the realities of angels and demons come crashing down hard on our various survivors. Nothing is as it seems yet somehow each of these people comes ever closer to knowing for a certainty who they are, how they want to live their lives or afterlives as the case often threatens.
My second most appreciated aspect of this book (and series) is the masterful use of knowledge from the Book of Enoch (which I have not personally read … yet) as well as any other occult sources. I never once questioned the validity of Siobhan’s knowledge of the arcane, the travels through Yesod and other higher planes of existence, or any other details included therein. Dubrow writes with ease regarding these subjects but doesn’t go overboard in providing time and word consuming explanations. Neither does he make the reader feel stupid, instead confidently giving us deep character perspective, and interaction, using dialog to convey what information is necessary to enhance or clarify the hazy subject matter.
I also loved that there’s a no-holds-barred attitude in this story. Dubrow writes about the horrors of Hell with candid ease, making no efforts to candy coat the atrocities human souls can expect upon arrival. The pitfalls of Heaven winning the war aren’t treated with any less of a naked honesty, leading the reader to question (quite purposely, I’m sure since all of the characters face the same conundrum) which side is or isn’t the “greater evil.” Perhaps it’s the realization that human society has come to occupy its own sort of limbo, enjoying samplings of both Heaven and Hell and seemingly getting away with the casual traversals back and forth without any serious consequences. Too much of one or the other and this precarious existence we call life gets a whole lot more uncomfortable. Is any of us ready for the end of the world? None of Dubrow’s characters were, but are now forced to face it.
Readers should be prepared and forewarned. Attachments or affinities for certain characters developed in the reading for book 1 will be tested, strained and outright demolished in book 2. Dubrow, like G.R.R.M., isn’t afraid to kill off any of his main crew … or at least, make you think so. In as much as book one left us hanging by our fingertips from a perilous summit, so too does he drop us precipitously over yet another even more gut-wrenching cliff.
Another 5-star rating for David Dubrow’s work. I eagerly anticipate Book Three!
Curious about Book 1 in the Armageddon series? Check out my review of The Blessed Man and the Witch.
There aren’t too many books out there that I wait most (im)patiently for. A Dark So Deep was one of them. The sequel to The Madness Project, Bralick’s opening gambit in a fusion of fantasy and steampunk, this follow-up brings readers right back to the brink of war in Brinmark, the capital city of Cavnal. Prince Tarik aka the mage called Shade stands in the middle of an ever deepening political intrigue and resulting chasm between the government and its peoples. Is he meant to start or stop a war? The question looms large throughout the book.
I hadn’t realized just how Brinmark-starved I was until ADSD came out, nor just how much I missed Tarik, Hayli and the gang, the city, the magic, the steam and the mechanisms. Most of all I missed the language. Bralick’s mind is a genius, bringing world-building to a new imaginative high. The various accents and linguistic flourishes are all incredibly original, and invasive like a catchy commercial tune except I’m not singing some company’s jingle but falling into a vocal and mental syntax of another world entirely. It’s invasive in a good way, as a testament to Bralick’s storytelling and commitment to delivering a story that engages the brain wholly. Reading The Madness Project, and now A Dark So Deep, I was fully transported from reality to another world entirely as details most authors overlook have been well considered and worked into the storytelling and played upon with seemingly cunning ease.
The book opens with immediate action and stays in a keyed up, page-turning plot pace throughout, throwing us right back in amongst the street rats and mages as they take refuge at an abandoned smelter at the edge of town, their previous home at the Hole forfeited as a loss after being raided at the end of The Madness Project. Hayli is still being held captive by Dr. Kippler, her mind deviously being toyed with as a new threat on the anti-mage front rears its duplicitous head in the persons of Andon Vrey and Miss Farrady. Tarik, ever torn between self and duty (perceived or assigned by blood lineage, though Cavnal or Istian is still up for grabs) is determined to rescue Hayli while the rest of his crew is distrustful of the girl they believe betrayed them to the ministry/crown.
A good first chunk of the book is dedicated to Hayli’s rescue with Tarik continuing to explore his magic. However, the harder Tarik pushes the more his magic fractures causing him to eventually lose control over it entirely. He journeys deeper into the enigmas of what magic is to a mage just as Hayli’s brain is toyed with for the same purpose by forces that would understand such things for entirely different reasons. Bralick delivers a stunning work of mind-bending writing in giving us Hayli’s perspective as she endures lies and manipulation, so convincing that she had me guessing for a good long while, as unable to decipher between the truth and the lies as Hayli. That, for someone who prefers a high level of control in their mind, was a startlingly scary jaunt into what insanity must feel like.
Correspondingly, I thought Andon Vrey and Miss Farrady were some of the most dastardly villains I’ve read yet. Even now the character Andon, his history and purpose and true involvement in the ministry plots remains a mystery that lingers, ever piquing the interest, Miss Farrady close on his heels. Bralick doesn’t give us much about them beyond the periphery of what Hayli and/or Tarik knows about them which titillates for future books and possible explanations.
Even more, chock full of political intrigues, manipulations, revelations, and unexpected plot twists, A Dark So Deep not only follows The Madness Project, it gives us characters that have changed markedly over the course of the story, growing and developing as real people would if experiencing a serious set of dire, even lethal circumstances. Layers of delicious storytelling intertwine to weave a rich, intricate, continually expanding and deepening plot that is still beginning to unfold with a promise of at least three more books to follow in the series.
I want to wrap Brinmark and its inhabitants around me like an insulating blanket, adopt the city slang patois and go running around in the dark with people who can walk through walls, read minds, influence emotions, change faces, start fires, teleport, heal, and a score of other unnamed abilities. I want to fight the good fight alongside these brave souls who fight not for some world-changing cause, but for the right to be themselves, and use the gifts they were born with. Against needless oppression born of greed, of power lust, of malicious intolerance. In today’s world fraught with similar narrow-minded perceptions, it’s Bralick’s brand of fiction that dares to draw striking, thought-provoking parallels.
Fans of The Madness Project will not be disappointed with A Dark So Deep. I fell even more in love with this world and its peoples with this second volume in the series. My need for the third installment is as great as my anticipation of the next book in the Game of Thrones series, and that’s saying something.
Dancing on Rocks was a surprisingly engaging read. Focusing on the main character of Georgie Hydock, recently returned to her hometown of Chimney Rock Village at the base of the same-named gorge and famous landmark Dancing on Rocks takes you on a slow observation of southern mountain life in a small tourist town. Georgie has come back to town to help take care of her capricious mother after a nasty accident on her motorcycle leaves her wounded and temporarily physically disabled. Having trained as a nurse, Georgie is perfectly suited for the job. However, her return to her hometown raises up old ghosts like those of her lost and drowned younger sister, a father deceased six months, and a romance tragically ended too soon. All of which she expected but none of which she readily wants to engage in. The past is a place full of memories she’d rather not relive, rekindle or address. Yet small town life has a way of dredging up the most ancient of secrets, reminding us of unspoken bonds that only close physical proximity over dozens of generations can generate. Georgie has no choice but to face her past, confess certain truths, and hopefully find blessing and relief in doing so, not only for herself but for everyone involved.
Rose Senehi knows the people and culture she writes about. In the final pages of this book she discusses how the plot came to be, acknowledging several people upon whom she based certain characters. I appreciated this explanation. Sometimes these little tidbits take away from the overall shine of a story but in this case Senehi isn’t boastful, only illuminating the lengths to which she went in order to compose what turned out to be a historically rich, factually detailed and relevant story. Her characters stand up and off the page, reaching out to engage you, perhaps because they are modeled on real people. I rooted for Georgie and Ron, felt (nominally) sad about Mary, and enjoyed the familial relationships. The mystery surrounding the drowning of Georgie’s youngest sister Shelby plays an active subplot that works well as supporting foundation for the resolutions of many relationships Georgie’s teenage departure from the village cast asunder. This was a wonderful tale of reconciliation and healing set among familiar scenery that captured the imagination being as much a character as the human cast. Senehi’s writing evokes the Blue Ridge Mountains with adroit skill, reminding me of childhood vacations to the area (including a trip to Chimney Rock many, many years ago).
Notwithstanding a few minor editing misses (for instance, Georgie is at one point on the phone with her sister, slamming her fist down on the table next to the phone and then somehow miraculously ends up in the same room with this same sister having the conversation but no longer on the phone), I give Dancing On Rocks high marks. While not a stunner this book was an enjoyable read.
Dubrow delivers a novel that takes three seemingly disparate genres and smashes them all together like some author’s cruel joke on an unsuspecting literary Humpty Dumpty whose pieces were then somehow put back together in such a way as to make him Super Humpty. The resulting concoction turns out to be a suave story told from multiple points of view. Each perspective is unique as Dubrow unravels a mystery revolving around someone named The Blessed Man and how each of the characters is then connected. The laws of nature don’t seem to matter in world that hovers at the brink of Biblical Armageddon, each side garnering its warriors through what appear to be the natural courses of events. Angels appear and disappear at will, taking possession of bodies as they awaken the humans chosen to play major roles in the coming festivities.
I really enjoyed this unique fusion. Dubrow’s writing is sharp, giving us real pictures of people to whom some truly strange things happen. He adds a dose of realism to each person involved, writing them to vivid life through the myriad little details thrown in. I was engaged from the beginning, enjoying each perspective and caught up in the myriad connections to the central figure of The Blessed Man. The story bobs and weaves like a boxer swift on his feet, the pace driven but not forceful.
Despite an overall enjoyment of one crafty writer with a style and brain just genius enough to pull a mixed gamut like this story, I did have moments of pause throughout the reading. Early allusions regarding backstory are delivered a little too casually, inferring some necessary knowledge of events or characters from some previous story. I chalk it up to an author who knows his story and its universe so well he tells the story to others like he’s telling it to himself or someone whose been in on the ground floor with him for awhile now. This didn’t take much away from the reading since it kept me turning the pages anxious to find out what Heck’s fugue state was all about, why Siobhan gains the sudden ability to perform real magick and if Kyle Loubet had any more substance to him than simply living his life on camera as an internet streaming star.
This is paranormal urban fiction done right, in equal parts fantastic and real world. I’d definitely recommend this first book in what bodes well as being a trilogy fans of any of the three genres shouldn’t miss out on.
High ratings for The Blessed Man and the Witch. Dubrow is an author to keep an eye on!
Having read both Echoes from the Lost Ones and then the following A Silence Heard, I was excited to hear McDonagh had written a prequel. Whisper Gatherers takes us back to NotSoGreatAlbion but in the days prior to Deogol’s abduction. As much as EftLO and ASH were chock full of a world far different than the one we know, this book retains that sense of foreign futurism although with a familiarity to it that comes from the necessity of having read the first (or last?) two. We already know who Adara is and what she can do, and even what happens in the days following so there’s no surprise plot wise. What we don’t know is exactly how it all happened or what Adara’s life was like before Echoes dropped us into her head as she was roaming the forest outside Cityplace.
McDonagh introduces us to the heart of Adara’s personal development in this prequel. Living in a sterile environment that goes to extreme lengths to protect its citizens from germs, Cityplace ironically breeds what I call the “sheeple” virus. Adara stands out from this culture amid whispers about her name and what it means for a metropolis just beginning to feel the effects of the Agros severance of food supplies. Names are of particular importance in this dystopian saga; your name is who you are, as if to name your true essence or some inner attribute. Her name-sake ability of calling down the birds, those last forms of wild life containing edible meat on their bones, is either the promise of salvation or a dire threat to the power of the Agro overlords. An introvert by nature and generally shunned by her peers, this sudden exposure sets her on guard, leaving her feeling vulnerable. She covers this by a rough sort of bravado that, in the subsequent books, we see get worn down and eventually scoured away as events take their course.
Deogol’s story is expanded upon. We finally get to meet him in his natural habitat although by the time we do, he’s already deeper into the intrigue than anyone previously imagined. I do wish McDonagh had elaborated more on what Meeks really are or what sets them apart from others. It might have set Deogol’s supposed marked difference from the rest a little clearer if she had.
It was a real pleasure to see Adara’s relationship with Santy Breanna before any of the impending chaos breaks out. The maternal bonding with a woman who didn’t birth either of these children but took them in when it was needed of her and Adara’s adoration of her was refreshing. I don’t know if I missed it in previous books but the acronym S.A.N.T. finally gets a much appreciated explanation. GreatGramGram was a hoot, swinging back and forth between addled octogenarian and wily woman remembering her adventurous youth.
A few points to note on the downside: There were a few points in the writing that felt contrived, meant only to explain how Adara obtains all the items she ends up with on the trail. It’s not that these details are insignificant; it was simply in the way they were delivered. At one point Adara, when questioned by someone on how she got something whose details weren’t previously mentioned, says “Oh! I grabbed it when=…” A smoother deliverance would have kept my radar a little more fully engaged.
Strange, special attention seems to be given to Adara’s digestive tract and reproductive system, the details of her restroom visits overly descriptive. I wondered why they were included, feeling like empty space filler between scenes of character interaction or battle descriptions.
I don’t think I noticed it in the other two books but this text has a bad tendency to wander into passive voice. Adara speaks from a place of witnessing events as they happen but never gives secondary or tertiary characters any possession of their actions. This left me feeling like I wasn’t meant to connect with these people as anyone other than role-fillers and background chatters. In live role playing, they call these characters “non-playing characters” or “NPCs”. People you don’t pay attention to. This wouldn’t be so bad except that some of these NPCs were actually playing characters like Orva, the S.A.N.T. guard that sticks by Adara from beginning to end of the story.
Taking those negatives into account, Whisper Gatherers is great introduction to Adara’s story. It doesn’t have the same oomph for me that Echoes from the Lost Ones had where the world of NotSoGreatAlbion was still this dark territory waiting to be cast into light. However, what it does hold is a trove of beginnings, of glimpses into how the world disintegrated and sterile cities like Cityplace came to exist as sterile bastions against the threat of bacterial infection. It gives us a bigger picture to behold: the eternal battle between man and nature, and man’s determination to conquer it at all costs. For me it raised more questions than it was meant to answer so my question to McDonagh now is “will there be more?”
Written in what I consider classic fantasy style, Hunters’ Quest sticks true to the traditional archetypes of elves and halflings, dwarves, shape shifting men, gnomes, centaurs and fairies, just to name a few. A group of eight companions travel together on a quest to rescue an elven princess who also happens to be the key component to a forcefield/shield that protects the magical land of Reloria.
While not terribly written, I found this book to be slow and uninteresting. It picks up where the first book left off and gives only the most cursory background details concerning previous plot. Character development was negligible probably because the author assumes the reader will have read the first book. Since this reader did not, I felt a little lost on how the relationships in this second book came to be formed as well as their importance. For instance, why are the fairies bonded to the halflings? Why are the fairy names only modifications of the halflings’? How did the mountain man, Asher, end up with this unlikely group of heroes? This second book leaves too much up to intimate familiarity with the first book which isn’t necessary a bad thing so long as you do the required reading. Faithful readers who’ve been with the series since the beginning will likely find this to be a seamless transition from one book to the next.
Reading this reminded me of sampling from novels written by fledgling high schoolers with an abundant love for fantasy novels and an eagerness to lend their love to stories of their own. It’s clear that Beaumont takes her inspiration from other classic works from authors like Tolkien, Brooks, and Moorcock. It’s just unfortunate she couldn’t take more notes on character development, plot pacing, etc from notable authors like Rothfuss, Eddings, and Donaldson. I didn’t think there was too much in the way of original ideas put forth in this book, harkening back to high schoolers anxious to recycle the fantasy elements they love so well.
Not an awful read overall, this book just failed to capture my attention on a consistent basis. Far too easy to put down compared to other books in the same genre, I had to give Hunters’ Quest a low rating.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in the reading of Barbara Baker, a simply titled book about a seemingly innocuous woman with a secret past. The blurb provides a succinct synopsis – perhaps a little too succinct for the story that actually ends up taking place.
The book opens from Barbara Baker’s perspective, introducing us to a woman originally from Trinidad but immigrated to England some years back, who keeps to herself working as a nurse in a trauma center and trying to raise her young son as a single mother. Through a rather rambling conversation between Barbara and gregarious co-worker Becky Hugh illuminates us to current state of events in the British economy and culture, painting a picture of what Barbara, as a low-paid nurse, is up against. Hugh does this a great deal throughout the book: giving us heaps of information about current events, people, and relationships and so on via long patches of dialog that, while well written, tend to drag on. We actually know more about who the main character through other characters’ eyes and misconceptions than through her own voice and perspective which I found to be a curious method of storytelling. It’s almost like Barbara Baker really didn’t even want her story told, the ultimate wall flower in wanting to avoid any and all undue attention including any prospective readers.
One can understand why, to a degree, as the book comes to its tragic climax, although Hugh never really expounds on exactly what happened in Barbara’s past that sent her into Chelmsford, Essex, why someone would attack her and leave her in the boot (trunk) of her car for ten days. It’s clear in the writing that Ms. Baker does in fact want desperately to tell her story, to find connection and safety from a dark and haunting past, but abstains out of a desire not to burden others with her problems. It’s this abstention then that serves to deliver a most unexpected ending to the book.
At first glance and reading, this book might and does appear to be about nothing and no one of great interest. Who cares about an impoverished woman down on her luck, or the elder gay man who takes her and her son in out of the kindness of his heart? The wonderful thing about Stephen Hugh is that he cares, enough to tell their story in a curiously roundabout, meandering way so that the reader never anticipates the ending, and that the reader cannot help but be intrigued enough to continue turning the pages. However it’s this seemingly meandering style of delivering their story that gives us the innocuous yet powerful connections between the characters. Hugh shows us how family isn’t always just about blood, but about values and cherishing people for who they are without selfish ulterior motives. It’s hard to believe that people who would give selflessly of their homes actually exist, as Roy Sterling is so often judged, doubted and criticized for his warmth and generosity by the people closest to him, his uncle Harvey and sister Denise. And as he is so tragically mistaken by someone violent from Barbara’s past.
Hugh’s characters breathe from the pages, his lengthy stretches of dialog producing vivid sketches of people who live right next door or down the block, who suffer the same woes as the rest of us. Some of the rougher British accents are well demonstrated in the dialog, like Becky’s but because of the length of some of the passages those same accents became tedious and cumbersome. There were a few points in the reading where I was mentally whispering “oh come on, get to the point already!”
Overall, Barbara Baker is a novel that slides in under the radar, takes a while to warm up, but delivers some truly meaningful examinations of familial definitions and bonding. It makes you think without your awareness of that deep thinking, which makes up for the tendency to rely heavily upon dialog to establish pictures of the people living out the story. I wanted to give Barbara Baker a full five star rating couldn’t due to the already mentioned almost-negatives. Less dialog, more direct action, and further expounding on Ms. Baker’s past to substantiate the terrifying reappearance of her violent ex would have earned this book that extra star.
Hugh delivers another slow-burner in his second novel, Ian Pemberton. True to the blurb, Ian, a young Englishman, wakes up one morning fed up with his current state of life and yearns for a change. His wife, Madeleine, who seems to be the more practical of the two, is shocked and somewhat angered by his arbitrary decision to take the day off from work. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel.
That same day Ian comes across an advertisement for a housing developer in the south of Spain (the very same one that swindled Roy in Hugh’s first novel, Barbara Baker; loved the thread of connection there and the cameo appearances put in by Roy and Barbara toward the end) and receives a moment of inspiration. Over the next few weeks Ian convinces Madeleine to pull up roots and venture off to Spain with him and not just for vacation, but for the long haul. Ian wants to experiment in entrepreneurship and in a foreign country no less!
The rest of the book covers Ian and Madeleine’s misadventures in Spain as Ian, with Madeleine’s support and shop help, struggles to create, build and sustain his risky garden decoration business. It’s clear that Ian is at home in Spain, taking to the warmer temperatures and cultural differences with an ease that makes his wife’s stodgy insistence on sticking to all things English (all things familiar, if you will; she is a stranger in a strange land, you grok?). I enjoyed this distinction which made it easier to relate to these characters beyond the surface “oh right, I’m not too happy with my life right now. Why not fantasize about setting up shop in some other beautiful country?” Their marital relationship reminded me quite a bit of my own where I’m the easy going, stress-lazy, go with the flow half while my spouse is the practical (yet also still strangely loves to spend money like there’s a tree in my backyard sprouting twenties year round but don’t tell her I said that) one that does everything she can to support the idealistic dreamer in me. This distinction also highlights the strife between Spanish locals living in a foreigner-overrun area of their country which brought the setting into constant foreground. I especially appreciated the early reference to the British television show Top Gear in referencing how the locals drive. It provided the perfection image since I’ve caught a few episodes and know exactly what he means; those guys drive like maniacs! Kudos to Hugh for delivering ultra-relatable characters once again.
I’m under the impression that Hugh knows the area he writes about with intimate familiarity, or has at least done extensive research into his subject matter. There were points in the reading that were a little too “research-y” in that Ian’s travails in establishing his business are portrayed with often tedious detail. I wondered at the necessity of this until I realized this was one more way that Hugh snags your attention (although sometimes almost loses it) and plunges you directly into all of Pemberton’s frustrations. The eye gets as tired in reading all the intricate details of certificate achievements and where to get them as much as Ian’s brain goes on overload in dealing with it all. A little less detail might have sufficed and probably saved him a few thousand words but I also don’t think it’s Hugh’s style to move very far outward in a birds’ eye perspective. He wants you to not only know these characters but to live their lives with them, feeling their emotional highs and lows in the same moments that they do. That means getting right down in the dirt with them, mucking and grubbing about with as much grumbling and grousing as Madeleine produces (and probably rightly so; I’d be inclined to put up as much fuss if my husband hadn’t put much forethought into the future as would seem proper for such a gambit).
As always, Hugh’s writing is well practiced, and easy to read. Much to my pleasure, despite the majority of the characters being English, the long stretches of dialog noted in his Barbara Baker are nowhere to be found in this book. Neither are there interminable patches of dialectic patterns to stumble over in the reading. Being set in Spain the text is interspersed with dialog in the native language. While it’s not overwhelming, there wasn’t any substantial effort at translating this dialog either, so for someone who isn’t fluent in Spanish there was a lot of guess work and referring to Google Translate to get the gist of multilingual conversations.
The ending to the story was both expected but also somewhat surprising. The connection between Ian and his local friend, Julia, remains pretty well understated throughout the book and only starts to really develop toward the end, written as slyly and subtly as the actual culmination of an attraction no one, the characters included, anticipated.
There really weren’t too many negative detractors to this book. I would recommend revamping the blurb since there isn’t much in the way of hooking the potential reader and making them intensely curious to find out just what Ian Pemberton is all about. I’d also suggest a title revision on the same grounds. Lackluster title and blurb kills the possibility of attraction as quickly as a wad of spinach caught between the teeth of that hottie you’ve been eyeing up for the last three hours when you finally stir up the nerve to introduce yourself and they give you a beaming smile that makes you want those three hours back.
I give Ian Pemberton 3 stars for effort, unable to give it a full four star rating for the above mentioned reasons.