Impact Winter is less of an audiobook than an homage to old-school radio dramas. Travis Beacham, along with a full cast of magnificent voice actors, a collection of sound technicians and foley artists, and a vast array of supporters (including the illustrious Robert Kirkman), brings to life a vampire tale that is both original and rooted in well-established mythology. When an asteroid impact devastates the world and plunges everything into darkness and storms, creatures that had hidden in the night are free to wreak havoc upon the human survivors. Hunted, and forced into hiding, sisters Darcy and Hope Dunraven find refuge with a band of refugees in an old military installation beneath a castle-turned-museum. As hopeless as humanity’s future might appear, a glimmer of salvation may be on the horizon. But what sacrifices will be required in pursuit of that new day? The story that unfolds through the twelve episodes of Impact Winter is a thrilling one populated by characters who defy generic templates and archetypes. It’s a shame that it has to end, though there’s more than enough left in the air for listeners to hope for a second season. The voice talent of performers like Holliday Grainger, Esme Creed-Miles, Himesh Patel, David Gyasi, Caroline Ford, Indira Varma, Bella Ramsey, and Liam Cunningham has a lot to do with the compelling and captivating nature of Impact Winter. An excellent script only goes so far, and it takes the talent of people like those involved with this project to elevate it to the next level.
Before Deadman’s Road, I’d only been acquainted with Reverend Jebidiah Mercer via one of the short stories contained within this volume, but the character stuck out as one with a great deal of potential for additional adventures. I’m pleased to discover that I was not wrong. Joe R. Lansdale populates his fictional version of the American Wild West with monsters, both human and inhuman, familiar and strange. All of this is filtered through the sardonic and rueful Reverend Mercer as he struggles to fulfill God’s will, a capricious and cruel thing. As he faces off against zombies, werewolves, goblins, and other monstrous entities, Mercer is joined by assorted men and women who frequently don’t survive the encounters with the same sort of adroitness the Reverend displays. Short-lived as his companions may be, they provide ample fodder for Mercer’s wit and derision in some of the most entertaining dialogue Lansdale’s written outside of the Hap and Leonard novels. The narration of the audiobook provided by Stefan Rudnicki perfectly suited the gruff and acerbic Reverend, as well as the other characters filling these tales. This was only my second encounter with Rudnicki as a narrator, and he was no less impressive this time around.
Skipp and Spector captured the zeitgeist of the late 1980s in an unflinchingly visceral and gritty tale of worlds colliding in a catastrophic and terrifying nightmare brought to life. Heavy metal, Christian fundamentalism, and the horrors of a war most people wanted to forget–though it was less than two decades in the rearview–combine to create a tense and dizzying descent into the depths of Hell. But Hell isn’t content to remain in the depths. The Scream is the fictional band the Christian right believed all heavy metal acts to be, sinister occultists using the devotion of their fans to bring Hell on Earth. Fronted by the beautiful and mysterious Tara, the band pushes the limits of technology, performance art, and irreligious symbolism. But there’s more going on than performative evil, and it all has something to do with a presence at work during the Vietnam war. Jake Hamer, Vietnam veteran and frontman of the Jacob Hamer Band, is no stranger to pushing limits and pushing buttons. He’s developed an extreme dislike for the brand of Christian fundamentalism promoted by the likes of Pastor Daniel Furniss, and that sentiment goes both ways. As conservative voices in the political world seek to stifle and curtail the free expression of artists like Jake Hamer, these two men find themselves on opposite sides of a battle neither of them knows is coming, with stakes that they couldn’t imagine. Skipp and Spector’s novel hits the ground running with a barrage of violence and insanity that sets the stage for the nightmares still to come. Packed with as much social commentary as violence, the authors force readers to confront some unpleasant truths, the most striking of those being the light shone on the performative nature of evangelical Christianity being not so different from the performative Satanism of heavy metal artists of the time.
Jonathan Maberry brings his fast-paced, high-intensity blend of grit, well-drawn characters, action, and wry humor to the realm of fantasy literature with one hell of a splash. Kagen the Damned is everything readers have loved about the Joe Ledger and Pine Deep novels but transferred to a world of swords and sorcery, complete with an homage to Chambers, Lovecraft, Bloch, and Derleth. Kagen Vale is a broken man, devastated and demoralized by his failure to protect the imperial family he’d been charged with protecting. Possibly the last surviving member of the Vale family, Kagen is driven solely by his need for revenge, forced to wander alone as the gods he’d worshipped have abandoned him. Walking a tightrope between drunkenness and violence, Kagen is hunted by those he hunts, and unless he can find some allies in his quest for vengeance, he’s doomed to fail. As long-forbidden magic and old gods return to the realm of the Silver Empire, the world Kagen was familiar with becomes increasingly strange and threatening, as an unexpected enemy with enigmatic and sinister plans seeks to take a throne that Kagen will die to defend. Fans of Richard K. Morgan and George R.R. Martin are sure to love Maberry’s foray into horror-tinged fantasy, but there’s nothing not to love about this introduction to a must-read trilogy. Ray Porter perfectly captures the character of Kagen in his narration, while bringing the cast of additional characters to life with a blend of accents that are at times both familiar and alien to the listener. Porter was quite likely the best possible choice for the audiobook narration of this novel, and I trust that he’s contracted to provide his services for the remaining two books as well.
It’s not uncommon to encounter political machinations and glimpses of the underlying bureaucratic structure of the world in fantasy novels. Along with the history of the realms and people in question, understanding something of the politics of those fictional worlds is an important element in making them feel like real places. Daniel Abraham has taken this world-building further than most authors by focusing a great deal of his storytelling attention on the facets of finance and trade within the world of The Dragon’s Path. What’s superbly surprising about Abraham’s novel is how interesting he manages to make the details of this commerce. Of course, it isn’t all banking and trade relations. Abraham has packed this first novel of The Dagger and the Coin series with conflict (both small and large scale), gods and myth, political intrigue, and plenty of witty dialogue. Cithrin is a half-breed orphan raised as a ward of the Medean banking house of Vanai, and she carefully studied under the tutelage of Magister Imaniel. As the armies of Antea approach the city walls, the only way to keep the resources of the bank safe from plunder is to send them away from the city. Cithrin is tasked with escorting the bank’s property to safety as part of a caravan headed by the tragic hero, Marcus Wester. As it happens, Cithrin isn’t the only member of Wester’s party who isn’t who they seem. Marcus has replaced some of his complement with a troupe of actors led by Master Kit, the performers playing the role of soldiers and guards. But Master Kit is more than he seems as well. A past he’d thought he escaped will come back to haunt him again before the tale concludes. In the middle of everything is Sir Geder Palliako, a bookish and weak man who finds himself tossed about by fate and the machinations of those above him in the royal court of Antea. Struggling against forces he only barely recognizes as nudging him along, Geder becomes the key to leading the world down a path from which there will be no turning back. Abrahamson packs this novel with a diverse cast of characters, both sympathetic and flawed in equal measure, and he sends them on a series of adventures as captivating as they are well-thought-out. It would be virtually impossible to reach the end of The Dragon’s Path without wanting to see where this tale will take us. Pete Bradbury’s narration spectacularly breathes life into the vast cast of characters populating this story, setting them apart from one another without any apparent difficulty. His voice propels the listener through the circuitous web of the narrative, leading us to the end far more quickly than we want to arrive.
Midnight Mass provides readers with an alternate history of our world. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, a scourge of vampires rapidly overwhelmed Europe and Asia before turning their sights on America. The population centers of the East Coast are the first to go dark, as those in positions of power are quickly turned by the calculating monsters who seek absolute dominion over the world. Everything seems hopeless as the remaining human beings are slaughtered or captured and treated as livestock, recruited as daytime enforcers for the undead, or driven into hiding as they await the inevitable end. This is where F. Paul Wilson’s novel begins. In a devastated town on the Jersey shore, a demoralized Rabbi desperately seeks the assistance of his best friend, a disgraced Catholic priest, to restore both the faith and resolve to his former congregation. A desecrated church awaits them, but with the power of the cross being one of the only weapons against the undead, Rabbi Zev Wolpin hopes this one priest can spark the fire that will cleanse the community of the evil that’s taken hold. But maybe Revelation 13:4 is right, in that it will take one like the monsters to make war against them. But it’ll take more than that. There’s a deadly secret that could turn the tide of this war between the living and the undead, and it’ll be up to Father Joe and his unlikely compatriots to uncover the truth and bring it to the light of day. Midnight Mass is an action-packed narrative that manages to provide a great deal of character study along the way. Father Joe’s transformation throughout the story is both heartbreaking and exhilarating at the same time. The characters populating Wilson’s novel are spectacularly well-developed and realistic. An anarchistic, lesbian atheist isn’t going to lose her skepticism and begin believing in God or the power of Christ simply because crosses have the power to harm the undead. A nun isn’t going to cast aside a lifetime of faith and assumptions regarding right and wrong solely because the world has become a dark place filled with creatures of the night. A faithful Rabbi is bound to suffer a crisis of faith when the holy symbols of the Christian faiths have a power that’s notably absent from those of other world religions. A lifetime of seeing the world a certain way isn’t something that can be flipped off like a switch. Wilson acknowledged that in this book. It influenced his characters to make them feel more three-dimensional than I’ve seen in other vampire fiction, where the old myths and folklore are relevant. Jamie Renell’s narration is excellent, especially the performance of Father Joe’s dialogue, nailing that gruff New England accent. The accents of the various European vampires are portrayed well enough that they don’t sound cartoonish or silly. Overall, the whole narrative flows well with Renell’s voice work, and I think this was a great pairing.
If you’ve been following my reviews at all, you know how much I adore Ash Ericmore’s writing and especially the sordid tales associated with the Smalls Family. To say I was pleased when Ericmore indicated there would be more to come after he’d concluded the stories of the seven Smalls brothers with Candyboy’s agricultural escapades would be an extreme understatement. With Valentine, we’re fully introduced to their cousin Marian. Babysitting Backy for Adam (Bliss) becomes quite the adventure when a group of Scottish criminals force their way into the house and leave with Valentine’s charge, hoping to take something of importance to Adam. Unfortunately for them, Valentine is no less prone to violence and impulsive behavior than the other Smalls we’ve met. Physical torture, superhero antics, excessive violence, a reptile ruckus, and a big rig brouhaha ensues as Valentine tracks down the twice-stolen baby, hoping to return him home before Adam is any the wiser. As with Ericmore’s other criminal capers, this story is non-stop, full-tilt excitement from the first line to the conclusion. You can’t be disappointed when you’re delving into the world of the Smalls clan, it’s simply not an option.
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Lushbutcher is back, and she’s back with a vengeance. After the slaughter of St. Practice Day, she’s set her sights on Chucky Knight, the man who organized the pub crawl that threatened the innocent victims of those drunks and degenerates. A sprawling estate patrolled by samurai, ninja, and martial artists of all stripes is all that stands between Lushbutcher and her conquest of the evil force behind so much drunken debauchery. Lesser people might turn away when faced with such seemingly insurmountable odds, but Lushbutcher has God on her side and the brilliant legs he led scientists and engineers to develop on her behalf. As Janey carves and slices her way through dozens of security personnel, leaving a trail of limbs and broken bodies behind her, it’s her confidence and unflinching faith in the righteousness of her cause that blind her to the threat she faces. Will this finally be Lushbutcher’s mission that ends the scourge of drunken revelers terrorizing her city? Or will this be the end of Lushbutcher’s vocation, as she finally meets her match? You’ll have to read it to find out. Excelsior!
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It should have been a better world. Adam Levine was dead. The oligarchy and patriarchy of the old world order were dismantled by revolutionaries. Direct democracy had replaced the corrupt justice system, allowing all citizens to participate as members of the jury of peers. Unfortunately, the future envisioned in Lucy Leitner’s Outrage Level 10 is not the utopia the people believe it to be. Alex Malone is a throwback, a former enforcer on the ice with a history of drug abuse and brain damage as mementos of the days when hockey was still a sport. As with all violent and destructive forms of competition, hockey is no more. Malone’s former career has become a ridiculed and maligned memory of the brutality and uncivilized nature of the world before the revolution. There aren’t many options available to someone with Malone’s history, so he becomes a cop, a member of another institution with a tainted history of violence and cruelty, extant in this future America as little more than glorified meter maids and health inspectors. When Malone’s psychiatrist injects him with a potential cure for his brain damage, Alex initially seems happier, and his memories appear to be returning. But are they his memories? What unfolds from there is a high-intensity mystery, as Alex and his unlikely partners in crime seek to unravel a sinister plot that strikes at the very heart of the nation and threatens to display the utopian society for the savage and superficial dystopia it is. Leitner does an excellent job of sharing this cautionary tale of a revolution compromised by not only the flawed and dangerous men guiding it but also by a society engrossed in social media and an unwillingness to recognize the lack of justice associated with the court of public opinion as a substitute for legitimate courtrooms. Differences of opinion are escalated to the point of being perceived as assaults, and “cancel culture” truly becomes a thing as citizens sentence one another to death for crimes against their fragile sensibilities. Reading Outrage Level 10 reminded me of the way Lenin–and later Stalin–essentially took the reigns of the revolution’s government apparatus and steered the force it gifted them toward their political opponents and enemies of the state who did nothing more than offer dissenting opinions. In all respects, it applies here in America just as effectively. There’s a worthwhile message to be found in these pages, that the revolution doesn’t end when the old structures are taken away. A constant state of vigilance is required to keep the new structures honest and focused on the goals of the revolutionaries.
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While Christopher Buehlman doesn’t add anything new to the heavily-tread mythology of the vampire, what he does provide us with is a fresh and captivating story with characters that come to life–or undeath–and a gritty 1970s New York that feels tangible, even if we do spend a significant amount of our time in the sewers and subway tunnels beneath the city itself. The admittedly unreliable narration of the tale from Joseph H. Peacock is both entertaining and, at times, depressingly bleak. A spoiled child from an affluent family in the early 20th century, Joey was accustomed to getting what he wanted, and when his mother insists that the cook who adores him has to go, Joey doesn’t take kindly to the replacement. A successfully implemented plan to remove the new cook from his household triggers the cascade of events that leads to Joey becoming a vampire at the young age of 14. Forty years later, Joey lives beneath Manhattan with an eclectic assortment of other vampires when he first sees the children mesmerizing their victims on the subway. Concerned with the hazard these child vampires pose, Joey’s undead family begins the hunt for these strange and unexpected creatures. Monstrous, cruel, and driven by a sort of nightmarish glee, the children represent a greater threat than any of the other vampires imagined. Buehlman weaves a fantastically disarming narrative filled with twists and turns that keep the reader reeling. Characters are developed only for the reader to discover that they have to dispel what they thought they knew. Minor details take on sinister connotations as new information gets revealed. As a narrator for his book, Buehlman displays a keen talent for accents and speech patterns, thoroughly gifting his characters with distinct personalities that come through the tone and inflection of his voice. I’ve heard lower-quality narration from numerous “professional” narrators and voice actors in the past.