I’d never finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle when I was growing up. I’d somehow just never gotten around to it. Waiting for the final novel of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy got me in the mood to revisit this series–and hopefully finish it–as it was one of Rothfuss’s major influences when he began writing The Name of the Wind. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Le Guin’s capacity to blend minimalism with exquisite prose, crafting a streamlined narrative that never bogs itself down with minutiae and long-winded deviations from the main story. In that and her sheer imaginative quality, Le Guin remains an iconoclast in the realm of fantasy literature. We join Ged on his journey from childhood through young adulthood as he finds his place in the larger world of Earthsea. We experience his mistakes and misplaced pride as if they’re our own, and we feel both his terror and exultation as he travels to lands familiar and far distant in his quest to evade and subdue the shadow he set loose on the world. The narration provided by Rob Inglis made the audiobook a vastly different experience from simply reading the book decades ago, and I’m pleased to see that he continues as narrator for the subsequent volumes in this epic series.
Nikki Noir has an exceptional talent for blending supernatural elements with splatterpunk sensibilities. If you haven’t read the Black Planet installments–or the collection of the first four–you are seriously missing out on a writer who is easily one of the best emerging voices of indie horror. If, however, you want to avoid diving into a series, you’re in luck. Nikki has several stand-alone short stories like this fantastic tale. Jen is still an outsider at school, even after spending a year in the new town where her family moved. One of her only friends is a young boy named Dale, a special boy from an unhappy home. Jen met Dale hanging out near the river, and she began telling him stories. One of those stories Jen shared concerns the Japanese myth of the Kappa. Dale internalized that particular myth and began playacting as a Kappa near the water. But Dale has been missing for a couple of weeks. Heading home after a party where she’d gotten into an unpleasant verbal exchange with one of the popular girls, Jen is startled and pleased to discover Dale hanging out on one of the rocks near the river. She attempts to take him home, but he resists, insistent on playing a Kappa. Leaving him with the cucumber she’d carried with her–the favorite treat of one of those supernatural creatures–Jen races off to bring attention to Dale’s presence near the river. From there, Cucumbers & Comforters becomes a barrage of sex, sexual violence, unraveling mysteries, sinister family drama, and myths seemingly come to life. There may be no amount of childlike security found in carrying cucumbers or hiding beneath comforters that will save Jen from the awful repercussions of the events set in motion the night of the party…but you’ll have to read the story to find out for yourself. If you’re in the mood to read about glowing orbs brutally extracted from human anuses, taboo sexual trysts, and murder, you are in the right place. This is a voyage Nikki Noir is the perfect host to guide you on.
You can obtain your own copy of Cucumbers & Comforters from http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app on the mobile device of your choice. The link is below:
John Baltisberger takes everything great from Treif Magic and amplifies it with this sequel. As a result, Son of the Right Hand feels simultaneously more intimate and far more epic than the earlier installment in the story of Ze’ev. Months after the intense conclusion of Treif Magic, Son of the Right Hand picks up after Ze’ev has had time to recuperate. With remnants of the cult scattered into the wind at the end of Treif Magic, Ze’ev has been hunting them down and bringing them to justice. As we follow Ze’ev into what he believes to be the hideout of the final members of the cult, he discovers something far more hideous and terrible than simply a couple of cultists. Just when Ze’ev thinks he’s earned a well-deserved break from the darkness, an old friend reaches out with terrible news of a gruesome tragedy. Time is running out as another girl has gone missing, and Ze’ev doesn’t know if he can bear the weight of another failure. His struggle to do the right thing and bring his friend some closure brings him face-to-face with a monster from deep in the history of serial killer lore. If that’s not enough, the past isn’t through with Ze’ev, as his superiors present him with what might be the greatest challenge he’s faced so far. Sandy, the young woman he saved in the previous book–kicking off the events that nearly ended his life–is to be taken into his care. Her brief encounter with the darkness coexisting within our world has tainted her in the same way Ze’ev was tainted as a young man. Now, it’s up to him to teach her how to navigate the world as she now recognizes it. As everything collides in a tumultuous–and possibly fatal–climax, Ze’ev makes a deal that has consequences he may not be able to live with. Fans of John’s religious horror masterpiece, War of Dictates, will be pleased to see some crossover from characters in that epic poem as Ze’ev crosses the boundaries that separate our world from the worlds of the things that live in the shadows. That scene alone is worth the price of admission. If you haven’t already read the Splatterpunk Award-nominated War of Dictates, then you need to address that shortcoming post haste. Notable, within the narrative, we get to act as stand-in students as Ze’ev ruminates on what and how he will teach Sandy. This is brought to greater fruition as we experience her first lesson. The expositionary dialogue is fascinating and internally justified within the story, at no point detracting from the flow of the story. It’s a damn shame that the next book isn’t already out because this one absolutely leaves the reader wanting more, and impatient too.
This title is also available through http://www.godless.com or via the Godless app on your favorite Apple and Android platforms. I recommend checking Godless out at the earliest convenience. It’s the new home for indie horror. The link is below:
The Bleed: Rupture is the beginning of something great, for sure. If the combined efforts of Mark Tufo, Chris Philbrook, and the always fantastic David Moody maintain this same sort of quality moving forward, this series will be spectacular. The three authors involved in this project successfully combine body horror, fantasy, and science fiction into something greater than the sum of the individual components. The individual stories meld together, creating a sweeping, epic tale of a multiverse in jeopardy as a race of gods and their halfbreed offspring fight a battle of attrition on one world after another against an unstoppable, all-consuming enemy, The Bleed. We get to experience the disastrous consequences of two gods with conflicting goals in modern-day London as Jenny struggles to come to terms with her heritage. We join the members of a lunar colony as their settlement faces catastrophic collapse. The small handful of survivors learn that there are secrets on the moon no one could have expected. And finally, we follow Arridon and Thistle, two half-gods, as their world approaches a horrifying end at the hands of a monstrous force that seeks to devour everything living and dead in absolute domination. As the stories tie together at the end in the most unexpected ways, I couldn’t help but want to move immediately on to the second volume in the series. The narration provided by Scott Aiello for the audiobook edition is fantastic. He tackles the cast of characters and their various accents better than many audiobook narrators I’ve heard.
Volume One of Chuck’s Dinosaur Tinglers compiles three previously available stories; My Billionaire Triceratops Craves Gay Ass, Gay T-Rex Law Firm: Executive Boner, and Space Raptor Butt Invasion. If you’re unfamiliar with the brilliant Chuck Tingle and his plethora of tinglers, I’m not sure how you’re accessing this review from the space beneath the rock you’ve been living under for however long. In the first of these three tinglers, Jeremy receives a call out of the blue from Oliver, his former pet triceratops, now an exotic dancer who made billions from sports betting. An evening of expensive dinner instead becomes a gay, erotic encounter in Jeremy’s New York apartment. The second tale tells us of Donny’s first day at the T-Rex law firm, where he’d just gotten hired as a secretary. Seeking prestige and a better paycheck, Donny soon gets more than he signed up for as he learns just what sort of animals he’s working for when an indecent proposal crosses his desk. The final tale introduces us to Lance, an astronaut, just as he begins his solo, year-long mission on an alien planet undergoing terraforming to provide humans with a new home and salvation from a dying Earth. Little does he know that a velociraptor astronaut from Earth 2 is also on a similar mission. A friendship borne of mutual loneliness soon becomes a steamy affair, as Lance and Orion discover a new way to pass the time that has nothing to do with playing ping-pong. In true Tingle fashion, these three stories are short, sweet, and smutty. The erotic elements are graphic in detail and ridiculous in content, which is precisely what Dr. Chuck Tingle excels at bringing to the table. In his life’s mission of showing his readers and fans that love is real, he often goes to extremes that guarantee one will not soon forget the experience of joining him on a tingling journey.
This paperback edition was a Father’s Day present for me from my girlfriend in 2020. Additionally, I was gifted two more Tinglers in paperback at the same time. Only someone who knows me well would have considered these to be just the sort of things I would want in my library.
Gregor Eisenhorn, surrounded by a cast of characters both old and new, finds himself at the center of a vast conspiracy orchestrated, seemingly, by Cherubael. Following a devastating attack on Thracian Primaris, events are set in motion leading Inquisitor Eisenhorn to one of two fates. Either Eisenhorn is escorted to the prisons of the Inquisition, where he’ll be branded a heretic and executed, or he locates the puppetmaster pulling the strings of far more sinister and powerful forces than any he’s ever faced, where the future of the Empire will be decided. Dan Abnett seems to have skimmed over large sections of the narrative in this account of Eisenhorn’s legacy, sometimes going so far as to reference these other puzzle pieces without filling them in for us. Of course, upon reaching the climax of this tale, it makes perfect sense that a lot of those details are left out. There is, after all, a universe-spanning mystery to unravel, and providing the reader/listener with some of those other elements would give far too much away. It’s a shame, though, because it makes for a book that feels less evenly paced and complete than the previous installment of the series. Though the events of Malleus certainly seem to be far more epic in scope than those of Xenos, something about the way they’re documented in this book makes them feel more condensed. This isn’t a flaw, but it was a peculiar thing I happened to notice. The narration provided by Toby Longworth, as before, perfectly captures the grim, wry-humored tone of Gregor Eisenhorn in such a way that I can’t imagine him sounding otherwise. The voices provided for the additional characters are distinct enough–in most cases–to make the narrative flow smoothly.
Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Tower of Fools won’t necessarily appeal to fans of his far more popular The Witcher series. While elements of his distinctive writing style carry over to this first book of the Hussite Trilogy, the story itself is a major departure from what readers might expect. The Tower of Fools is more akin to Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver (the first book of The Baroque Cycle) or Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, in that it’s a dense fantasy tale firmly embedded within true European historical context. Whereas The Baroque Cycle transpired in a fictionalized version of the late 1600s to early 1700s, and Clarke’s novel took place in the 1800s, Sapkowski’s trilogy inserts itself into Eastern Europe of the 1400s. We are introduced to Reinmar of Bielawa, an unlikely and peculiar hero, as unwanted adventure is thrust upon him by virtue of Reinmar caught in the process of a different sort of thrusting–with the wife of a member of a wealthy and powerful family. On the run from vengeful aristocrats (and those working on their behalf), the inquisition (for being a magician and heretic), and sinister forces with unknown motives, Reinmar finds himself on a meandering scramble across the Eastern Europe of the late Middle Ages. Populated by an almost intimidating cast of additional characters, while not as bad as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow–a book I’ve never been able to finish–it becomes challenging at times to keep track of precisely who is who. Strange acquaintances along the way become friends, friends become enemies, and enemies become victims of the peculiar sort of charmed life Reinmar seems to live. With the familiar wit and subtle comedic writing Sapkowski brings to the narrative, we witness an extreme example of fortune favoring the fool. As Reinmar stumbles from one bit of trouble to another, dragging unfortunate allies with him as he careens from frying pan to fire and back again. Densely packed with historical events and figures of the Hussite Revolutionary period, The Tower of Fools is as much a history lesson as a tale of fantasy. Though Sapkowski’s novel incorporates elements of magic, witches/sorcerers, and supernatural beings aplenty, the narrative is so deeply fixed in a foundation of historical veracity that it all feels more textured and real than it might otherwise. Of course, those familiar with The Witcher are well aware that the author is capable of fleshing out a fictional world without the benefit of drawing the fine details from real-world history. It’s a nice touch, though, being able to explore a historical period many of us aren’t familiar with. The titular Tower of Fools–though referenced at numerous points throughout the story–makes an appearance in Chapter 26, at almost the end of the book. It could be argued that the wider world we witness in the book is the real Narrenturm, and the whole of Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire makes up the real Tower of Fools. Though the story is not one that I can praise in more than peculiarly specific ways, the narration provided by Petter Kenny is spectacular. This narrator is impressive, to put it mildly. He successfully tackles various accents, dozens of characters, as well as songs and chants performed in Latin and other languages, all with a clarity and quality that almost astounded me.
The newest book from Thomas R. Clark hits the ground running and never lets up. Beginning with a series of gruesome murders, The God Provides spins the reader a grimly beautiful tale rooted in old-world folklore and modern monster mythology. The blend of fantasy and horror is so perfectly combined as to produce something that transcends both categorizations. What you end up with is a narrative that feels like the modern-day retelling of a forgotten epic masterpiece. At the same time, Clark manages to craft a thrilling tale that feels like something fresh and new that only now sees the light of day. Delving into the McEntire family’s history–which isn’t at all what it might initially seem–we discover a community in rural upstate New York where ancient gods, witches, werewolves, fae, and other supernatural creatures thrive. All of this in plain view of any who might pass through the region…assuming they aren’t the sacrifices provided by the titular god. Take one part The Wicker Man (the original, not the god awful remake) and Midsommar, another part The Howling, and toss in some Macbeth and Beowulf for flavor, and you’ll have a recipe that might bring you within spitting distance of this story. You’ll also want to borrow a smidge of the considerable literary prowess Clark brings to the table. If splatter-folk is a genre…this is the introduction to that world.
From a literary standpoint, Rule of Cool is certainly not the best example of the LitRPG genre…but it is far from the worst. I don’t expect epic fantasy literary prowess from LitRPG novels–because I’m not a complete idiot–but there are plenty of books within the genre that successfully combine skilled storytelling, captivating characters, and ample humor. This one had a fair bit of humor, some slightly worthwhile characters, and a story that could have been assembled from a story-in-a-box plot development application. Personally, I prefer the stories where there’s some explanation–even a flimsy one–as to why we (and the characters) are exposed to stats, rolls, and other such RPG-oriented elements. Otherwise, it seems like a poor attempt to simply pad and shoehorn a story–decent or not–into a niche genre hoping to ride the coattails of those who came before. Combine all of that with a healthy dose of the fan service and the almost desperate geek appeal of Ready Player One, and you’ll have a good feel for Rule of Cool. A story focused on life within an RPG world from the perspective of a bitter, moody NPC has a lot of potential. Sadly, Matthew Siege couldn’t bring that potential to life the way the concept deserved. The world itself is nonsensical. Rule of Cool is centered on a starter town, Hallow, where prospective heroes begin their journey to obtain levels and make names for themselves. For some inexplicable reason, Hallow is filled with detritus from the real world for no apparent reason, except that it somehow slipped from our world into this fantasy realm through a rift that is never adequately explained nor explored. It struck me as a poorly conceived ploy to justify random pop culture references littering the narrative, much the same way that damaged electronics and toys from our world litter the realm where Hallow’s located. It’s not all bad. Don’t get me wrong. This is a fun, albeit generic zero-to-hero tale centered around a trio of gearblins (a hybrid of goblin and gremlin) struggling to take their home back from the heroes who have been grinding them into the muck for generations. There’s social commentary embedded in the plot that–while unsubtle–appeals to me in a Marxist workers’ revolt sense. The best aspect of Rule of Cool was that I listened to the audiobook edition. Felicia Day’s narration is fantastic, sufficiently so that it drags the story–kicking and screaming the whole way–to a higher level of quality than it would have had if I’d simply been reading the book. I can’t recommend reading this book, but I would recommend the audiobook because the superb narration makes other aspects of the story far more tolerable than they probably deserve to be.
The Dragon Reborn, I recalled quite correctly, was one of my favorite installments in what I’d previously read of The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This is the book in which we receive a much clearer glimpse of the effect Rand al’Thor has on the world and people around him, largely through the events witnessed by his friends rather than from Rand’s perspective. It was a daring move, shifting the focus of the third novel in a series away from the protagonist, allowing the bulk of the tale to be told from the perspectives of Perrin, Mat, and Egwene. Though Perrin is the only one who knowingly pursues Rand, Mat, Egwene, and the others are drawn by the gravity of Rand pulling at the weave. What we do witness of Rand’s journey to Tear–where he intends to prove himself and to embrace the prophecy that marks him as the Dragon Reborn–causes some small amount of concern that he is indeed going mad. While little attention is paid to the day-to-day travels as Rand journeys to take hold of his destiny, we are far from kept in the dark as to what he’s been doing as he manages to remain ahead of the pursuit from Perrin, Moiraine, Loial, and Lan. As we bounce from one location to another, we are provided with a much greater perspective of what is happening throughout the world. We discover that the Forsaken have escaped from their imprisonment and taken up positions of power throughout the world. We learn that the corruption of the Black Ajah has grown within the Aes Sedai in Tar Valon. We learn of darkhounds and the soulless. We also discover that the Aiel have left the wastes and ventured secretly into the world that fears them, in search of the answer to a prophecy of their own. The Dragon Reborn is a spectacular book, the best of the original trilogy, for sure. It is filled with intrigue, action, and suspense that marked Robert Jordan as a great storyteller. The narration of this book is no less spot-on than the previous two installments of the series.