Review: “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Ever since I got several of Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St.Mary’s” novels for my birthday several weeks earlier, I’ve been carefully rationing them out.

So, since a little over a month has passed since I read the sixth novel in the series, I thought that I’d read the seventh – “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” (2016).

Although this novel is the seventh novel in a series, it contains a fair number of recaps near the beginning. However, you will get a lot more out of this novel if you’ve read the previous six books first.

So, let’s take a look at “Lies, Damned Lies, And History”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” that I read.

The story begins in the mid 21st century at the time-travelling historical research institute of St. Mary’s. Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short) has made a huge mistake and is in a hell of a lot of trouble. Not only that, so is St.Mary’s too.

The story then flashes back to sometime earlier. Since Max is pregnant, she’s been restricted to less hazardous time jumps (if such things even exist). And, after seeing the coronation of King George IV, she makes another time jump to Wales to examine a hill fort. Of course, this being St.Mary’s, it isn’t long before Max’s team find themselves hiding in the fort after a Saxon army begins to advance towards it.

Luckily, King Arthur shows up to save the day. Even so, things are fairly close. After Arthur wins, he presents the fort with a ceremonial sword – symbolising his protection- that is placed in a nearby cave. Realising that this could be a major archaeological discovery, Max and her team return to St. Mary’s and report the sword to the University Of Thirsk, who dig it up and get all of the glory.

However, one of the team members (Roberts) who has family near the cave starts telling Max about a sudden series of terrible events that have happened in the area after the sword was removed. Needless to say, it isn’t long before Max has secretly assembled a team and begun planning a sword heist….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the series is very much back on form 🙂 It never really left it, but this is another way of saying that book seven is better than book six. This is one of those awesome novels that feels like a giant, intricately-plotted epic storyline crammed into a small book 🙂

And, did I mention the heist? In addition to including elements from the sci-fi, comedy, drama and horror genres, this novel also includes the heist genre too 🙂 There is something absolutely hilarious about stories featuring “good” characters pulling off elaborate heists – and Max is in good company here, given that none other than Sherlock Holmes established this particular sub-genre of heist fiction (yes, the Holmes story was inspired by E.W. Hornung’s “Raffles” stories, but Raffles wasn’t exactly a “good” character).

Although I sort of mentioned this in yesterday’s article, one of the great things about this book is the sheer sense of progression. This is a novel that expertly jumps between genres and sub-plots so well and so often that it feels like a considerably deeper and larger story than you might expect 🙂

Plus, even though this novel tells a fairly self-contained story, it also manages to squeeze in a few elements of the series’s over-arching storyline in a way that felt slightly lacking in the sixth book.

Even though the novel’s time travel elements take a little bit of a back seat in this novel (there are lots of jumps, and even a battle, but most of them just involve fields and castles), the main focus of this story is on the drama taking place in St.Mary’s and, to my delight, the novel not only pulls this off well but also manages to make it really compelling. Whether it is Max’s fall from grace and her inevitable redemption or the battle of wits between Max and an obnoxious coffee-drinker called Halcombe who briefly takes over St. Mary’s, this novel is wonderfully dramatic, suspenseful and gripping.

Plus, the comedy in this novel is as great as usual too. Seriously, from a pet ringworm called Oscar to the mathematical formulae needed for cleaning products, this novel absolutely excels itself as a comedy novel. Although most of the story’s irreverent humour is as low-key and understated as usual, there were slightly more “laugh out loud” moments in this novel than I’d initially expected 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. Not only does Max have to deal with being pregnant, but she also has to find a way to make up for all of the trouble she has got St. Mary’s into during the earlier parts of the novel too.

The other characters are as well-written as usual, with the historical figures (eg: mostly various kings) also being portrayed in the series’ usual idiosyncratic and/or cynical way. Not only that, Halcombe is the kind of wonderfully cartoonish villian who you would absolutely love to see get his comeuppance too 🙂 Plus, talking of villains, long-running villain Clive Ronan makes a brief appearance in this novel and is actually a lot creepier and more evil than you’d expect too.

In terms of the writing, this is a St.Mary’s novel. So, it is excellent as ever 🙂 If you’ve never read a novel in this series, then the series’ gloriously informal and frequently irreverent first-person narration is a thing of beauty. I’ve probably described this series as punk literature before, but it’s a reasonably good description. This is a novel that has a lot of personality 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is stellar. The story’s 315 page length may initially feel slightly too long but, considering the amount of stuff that happens, it’s a miracle this novel is only 315 pages long. Needless to say, the pacing is really good too. There’s a brilliant mixture of slower and faster-paced scenes, not to mention that the clever segues between different genres (eg: suspense, time travel, drama, comedy, thriller, heist etc..) help to keep the story really compelling too 🙂

All in all, this is a really excellent instalment in the “St. Mary’s” series. If you like drama, comedy, sci-fi, history and thrills, then this novel is well worth reading 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

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Review: “Cabal” By Clive Barker (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d revisit an old favourite today 🙂 Ever since I got back into reading regularly again several months ago, I’ve meant to re-read this book again, but have always got distracted by other books. I am, of course talking about Clive Barker’s 1988 horror masterpiece “Cabal” 🙂

This book and I have a rather strange history. I first found this cool-looking book in a charity shop in Waterlooville when I was about fourteen or fifteen. However, shortly after I bought it, I found that the inside cover illustration terrified me so much that I didn’t dare to open the book again.

About three or four years later, I discovered Cradle Of Filth’s “Midian” album and learnt that it was inspired by “Cabal”. I then read the novel twice in about as many years. Not to mention that the tagline from the cover also appeared in a nightmare that I had about a decade ago too. So, I’m honestly surprised it has taken me this long to re-read it for a third time.

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Cabal”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1989 Fontana (UK) paperback edition of “Cabal” that I read.

The novel begins in Canada, with a mentally ill man called Boone meeting his psychiatrist, Decker. To Boone’s shock, Decker tells him that – under hypnosis – he has confessed to a series of grisly murders. Although Boone cannot remember the crimes, Decker seems to have evidence of them and inisists on talking more with Boone about them before he goes to the police.

Racked with guilt, Boone throws himself in front of a truck. However, he survives and wakes up in hospital. There is another man in the room with him, a strange man called Narcisse who has metal hooks attached to his thumbs. Narcisse tells Boone about a place called Midian, a fabled sanctuary for the strange and monstrous. Then, as Boone watches in horror, Narcisse removes own his face.

In the chaos and panic that follows, Boone slips out of the hospital and decides to search for Midian….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was even better than I remembered 🙂 If you like atmospheric, intelligent, well-written, subversive, timeless and fantastical horror fiction, then you need to read this book. Seriously, it’s the kind of book that lingers in your imagination and improves with every reading of it. It is the kind of book where, even if you know what is going to happen, you’ll still want to read it again and again.

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements, and what a feast of fear it is 🙂 This novel contains an exquisitely dark mixture of ultra-gruesome splatterpunk horror, suspenseful horror, gothic horror, paranormal horror, dark fantasy, body horror, slasher movie-style horror, psychological horror, social horror and character-based horror. But, interestingly, this is one of those novels that comforts as much as it horrifies.

In essence, it is a gleefully subversive story about misfits and mainstream society. Unlike more traditional horror stories, this is a story about a group of strange creatures trying to protect themselves from the cold evil of mainstream society and all of it’s authority figures. Although some of the creatures in this novel may be monstrous in appearance and/or deeds, the true monsters of this novel are all too human. In other words, this novel is a bit like “Blade Runner” (thematically, at least. It isn’t a sci-fi story) , but from the replicants’ perspective. And it is awesome 🙂

Like with Barker’s “Weaveworld“, this novel is a giant middle finger to the mundane and the mainstream. It is a furious critique of a narrow-minded mainstream society that hypocritically condemns what it considers to be “strange” without ever glancing inwards.

Nowhere is this better seen than in the novel’s main villain, Decker. Although he appears to be a respectable psychiatrist, it is revealed surprisingly early in the story that he is actually a serial killer (who is trying to frame Boone for his crimes). Not only is Decker an incredibly chilling character, but one of the most horrifying elements of the story is how easily he is able to blend into mainstream society and enlist the help of policemen etc.. to do his bidding.

This novel is also an incredibly well-written and atmospheric story too, with so many wonderfully evocative descriptions and intriguing locations that you’ll probably want to visit Midian again and again.

Seriously, although the novel’s third-person narration may appear a little bit formal or elaborate when read today, it flows really well and is an absolutely beautiful mixture of formal descriptions, impish irreverence and fast-paced matter-of-factness. Seriously, Clive Barker has an absolutely amazing narrative voice 🙂

Another cool thing about the older edition of “Cabal” that I read is that it also contains some illustrations by Barker himself. Although the front and inside cover art is by a different artist, the illustrations within the novel itself are these eerily symmetrical and surreal Rorschach ink blot type drawings in Barker’s unique art style. They’re illustrative enough to add atmosphere and personality to the book, but infrequent and mysterious enough to allow the reader to picture the story in their own way.

In terms of the characters, they are brilliant 🙂 This is one of those novels where the main characters (eg: Boone, his girlfriend Lori, Narcisse and the inhabitants of Midian) are intriguing, flawed, sympathetic, complicated characters who really feel real when you read about them.

They’re characters with histories, emotions, libidos, introspection and all of these wonderfully human qualities. This contrasts really well with the novel’s incredibly creepy villains, who are motivated by things like authority, sadism, conformity etc…

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really interesting. Usually, I praise books for being short. This novel is a very rare exception. At a slender 253 pages in length and with an intriguing open ending, this novel feels like a mere fragment of a much longer story.

It’s the kind of compelling, gripping story that will make you want to read more (and, despite the formal narration, this novel is a surprisingly quick read). So, you will probably feel a little bit disappointed that it ends when it does. Even so, by leaving the reader wanting more, “Cabal” is the kind of book that you’ll return to again and again.

In terms of how this thirty-one year old novel had aged, it has aged astonishingly well. Thanks to the novel’s fantastical elements, themes and character-based drama, it is pretty much timeless. Yes, it is written in a slightly formal (but beautiful) way, there are a couple of mildly dated moments and the story has a slightly “80s” atmosphere to it. But, the story, characters, atmosphere etc… are wonderfully timeless 🙂

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece 🙂 Seriously, the only real criticism I can make of it is that it is too short. If you love intelligent, atmospheric, beautifully-written and imaginative horror fiction, then you need to read this book 🙂 Or re-read it again.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five 🙂

Review: “Linesman” By S. K. Dunstall (Novel)

Well, I thought that I’d take a short break from horror fiction and read a sci-fi novel. And, after seeing an intriguing description of another S.K. Dunstall novel online (which made me nostalgic for the days when sci-fi TV shows were almost always set in space 🙂 ), I eventually ended up finding a second-hand copy of Dunstall’s earlier 2015 novel “Linesman” instead.

Although this novel is the first novel in a trilogy, it tells a story that feels reasonably satisfying on it’s own, but also obviously leaves a lot of room for further stories.

So, let’s take a look at “Linesman”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Ace (US) paperback edition of “Linesman” that I read.

The novel is set in a galaxy where spacecraft are controlled by ten “lines” (energy fields that are responsible for different aspects of how the spacecraft functions). These lines are maintained by people called linesmen who, through a combination of innate talent and formal training, can use their minds to manipulate these fields. However, almost all of the galaxy’s most talented linesmen have gathered around a mysterious interstellar phenomenon called “The Confluence” and refuse to leave.

Except for one. The scheming owner of the House Of Rigel has realised that, by keeping one of his high-level linesmen (an eccentric called Ean who doesn’t follow formal methods and likes to sing to the lines) away from the confluence, he can make an absolute fortune hiring him out to desperate starship captains. After all, with all of the other high-level linesmen at the confluence, where else can captains go for help?

But, after Ean returns from a long stint in space, he barely has time to rest before he is nearly killed by a visitor to the House Of Rigel who “tests” his abilities by pointing a line-based weapon at him and forcing him to disarm it within seconds. The visitor turns out to be Lady Lyan, a princess from the planet’s powerful royal family who wants to spite Rigel by taking the contract for his highest-earning linesman.

Still, Ean is glad to get away from Rigel. However, when he arrives on Lady Lyan’s ship, Ean soon learns that he has been hired to investigate a mysterious alien ship that has been found floating in space….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it takes a while to really get started, it is well worth the wait 🙂

Imagine the complex feudal politics of Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the sci-fi mysticism of “Star Wars”, the military-style sci-fi of “Babylon 5″/”Star Trek” and the spaceship-based drama of the modern remake of “Battlestar Galactica” and you’ll have a vague idea of what this novel is like 🙂

Seriously, whilst this novel is very much it’s own thing, there are so many parts of it that will also make you think of “Dune” or “Star Wars” or “Battlestar Galactica”, and this is really cool 🙂 Even so, don’t go into this novel expecting a fast-paced action-packed thriller.

Whilst there are some thrillingly fast-paced moments, most of this novel is more of a complex slow-burn of a story about political machinations and intrigue in outer space. Although this does become really compelling once you understand who all of the different factions, houses etc.. are, expect the earlier parts of the novel to be a bit slow-going whilst everyone and everything is introduced.

In other words, this is more of a character-based drama, a sci-fi mystery and a dialogue-heavy political thriller than a more conventional sci-fi thriller. But, once you get used to this, then the story becomes a lot more compelling. Seriously, this is one of those novels that I started reading a little bit reluctantly but almost held off from reading the last thirty pages because I didn’t want it to end.

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re pretty interesting. Like “Star Wars”, this novel is slightly more on the science fantasy side of things – but this is handled in a way that adds a sense of depth and mystery to the story. Plus, like with a good fantasy novel, all of the novel’s more “magical” elements (eg: Ean’s singing, his limited omniscience etc..) follow a clear set of rules that really helps them to feel like a solid part of the story. Likewise, this is a story that explains enough to let you understand what is happening, but keeps enough mysterious to evoke a feeling of awe and/or curiosity.

The main focus of the novel is more on the political ramifications of alien technology than the technology itself. And, the novel’s politics are really well-handled, with lots of dramatic arguments, devious machinations, clever stratagems, military posturing, awkward formal dinners, sneaky press manipulation etc… Basically, imagine something like “Game Of Thrones”, but without as much bloodshed, and this will give you an idea of what to expect.

As for the novel’s characters, they’re really brilliant. Although Ean receives the bulk of the novel’s characterisation, all of the many other characters feel like distinctive and realistic individuals with personalities and motivations. This is one of those novels that handles a large cast of characters (a couple of whom go by several names) well enough that you probably won’t feel too confused. Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this novel highly enough 🙂

Ean is an absolutely fascinating protagonist too. Although he is a bit of a “chosen one” character, he’s portrayed in a much more realistic, human, socially awkward, naive and vulnerable way than these types of characters usually are. Likewise, the fact that he’s had to figure a lot of stuff out on his own means that when he finally meets some of his fellow high-level linesmen, they all do things differently and consider him to be a bit of a freak. Seriously, this is a brilliant piece of characterisation.

In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly well-written. The novel’s third-person narration sits somewhere between descriptive formal narration and more informal “matter of fact” narration, and it includes the best elements of both. In short, this is one of those novels where the writing will often fade into the background because you’re more interested in the story and the characters.

Likewise, one interesting feature is that – like in G.R.R Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels, each chapter is labelled with the character that it focuses on. However, the novel keeps this a lot more streamlined by only really focusing on two characters – Ean and a rival linesman called Jordan Rossi. This works really well and it gives the third-person narration all of the advantages of multiple first-person narrators, but with absolutely none of the many downsides 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, appearances can be deceptive. Although this novel is a relatively lean 372 pages in length and has the words “fast-paced” printed on the cover, don’t expect it to be a quick read.

This is an epic saga of a novel that consists of lots of atmospheric, intrigue-filled slow-paced parts, punctuated by a small number of well-placed fast-paced segments. Even so, this novel is still really compelling once you have got used to the slower pacing. And, as mentioned earlier, it is one of those books that you’ll go into slightly reluctantly, but find that you miss it when the story is over.

All in all, this is a much better novel than I initially expected 🙂 Yes, it is slow to get started and it will often focus more on intergalactic politics than on swashbuckling spacefarers but, once you get used to this, you’re in for a real treat 🙂 Seriously, if you miss the days when space-based sci-fi shows (eg: “Star Trek”, “Babylon 5”, “Farscape” etc..) used to be on TV and also you want something a little bit more cerebral, then read this book.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and three-quarters.

Review: “Impact” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Linesman” by S. K. Dunstall), I thought that I’d take the chance to take a quick look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD.

So, after clicking the “random file” button on the /idgames Archive a couple of times, I ended up with a single-level WAD from 2017 called “Impact“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this level. However, since this is a “vanilla” level (eg: it only uses the standard textures, monsters etc..), it will probably work with pretty much any source port and/or mods that you want (although, obviously, I didn’t use mods in this review).

So, let’s take a look at “Impact”:

“Impact” is a short single-level WAD that, according to the accompanying text file, is both the mapper’s first map and an attempt to create an introductory level for new players that also follows John Romero’s design principles. And, when viewed with these things in mind, the level actually works reasonably well.

Needless to say, this is a very easy level. But, whilst experienced players will blaze through it in less than five minutes, the moderate number of low-level monsters will probably present a bit of an enjoyable challenge for inexperienced players.

It’s probably more challenging than the original “E1M1”, but reasonably easy compared to most other levels.

For an easy introductory level, this level actually has a fairly good monster progression, weapon progression and difficulty curve, since the level initially starts by throwing smaller groups of zombies and imps at the player, before a rather cool set-piece featuring a room lined with zombies (where the player is given a chaingun) and a short final segment that also includes a pink “demon” monster too.

If you’re a new player, then I imagine that this set piece will probably be a lot more intense/dramatic.

In terms of level design, this level is very short and very linear…. just like E1M1 from the original “Doom”, which seems to be one of it’s inspirations. There are a couple of very small side areas to explore at the beginning, but the level progresses along a single, focused path. Given that this is meant to be an easy level for new players, this is probably a good design choice.

Still, there are a good variety of areas here (including a cracked floor that reminded me a little of Romero’s modern WADs, like “Tech Gone Bad) that keep the level visually interesting and help to create a sense of progression.

This cracked floor looks really cool, plus the raised area is a tantalisingly visible part of a secret area too.

Likewise, one cool feature of this level is that several secret areas are clearly visible, but difficult to get to – which provides a little bit of extra challenge and/or replay value. Not only that, this sort of thing is also a cool homage to the level design of the original “Doom” too.

All in all, this level fulfils it’s goals really well – it is a forgivingly easy and short introductory level that is also a bit of a homage to the original “Doom” too. Yes, if you’re an experienced player, then this level will just be three minutes of mindlessly easy fun. But, I can imagine that it will probably be a lot more enjoyable and a bit more challenging for the novice players that it is aimed at.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get about a four.

Review: “The Unnoticeables” By Robert Brockway (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for horror fiction, so I thought that I’d check out a second-hand copy of Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables” that I ended up getting after I saw an intriguing description of the novel’s sequel (“The Empty Ones”, which is also on my to-read pile) on a list of recommended horror novels online.

So, let’s take a look at “The Unnoticeables”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Unnoticeables” that I read.

The novel begins with a bizarre description of an unknown man being shot by an angel. However, instead of dying from the bullet wound, he suddenly finds that strange things start happening to his mind.

The story then focuses on New York City in the summer of 1977. A punk dude called Carey is hanging out outside a nightclub with some of his friends, when he decides to meet up with a woman called Debbie who might have some drugs for him in a nearby alleyway. However, when he reaches her, she is being melted by a mysterious monster made out of tar and cog-wheels. Angered by this new development, Carey sets the monster on fire.

In Los Angeles in 2013, waitress and part-time stuntwoman Kaitlyn is having a bad day. Not only has she not had any stunt work for weeks, but she’s also just noticed a peeping tom outside her window. However, soon after she storms out of the house with a knife to confront the voyeur, an angel appears beside him and kills him….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a unique, bizarre and transgressive punk-themed horror thriller 🙂 Although it isn’t a perfect novel and it certainly isn’t for everyone, it has some really cool moments, an awesome atmosphere during some parts of the story and a brain-twistingly surreal plot that only really starts to make sense near the end of the book.

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. This novel contains a rather unsettling mixture of well-crafted paranormal horror, philosophical horror, gruesome horror, surreal horror/body horror, sexual horror, Lovecraftian cosmic horror, suspenseful horror and character-based horror. Whilst this novel isn’t outright scary, it contains quite a few uncomfortably disturbing scenes, ominous moments and creepy moments of intellectual dread.

The main source of this novel’s horror is the concept of inhuman, mechanical utilitarianism – and this brings me on to the novel’s satirical elements. The story’s scenes of people being reduced to “efficient” algorithms are an absolutely brilliant criticism of modern social media/ tech companies. Likewise, the fact that the novel’s “empty” villains can create hordes of soulless, unnoticeable followers is also a brilliantly scathing comment about social media, fame etc… too.

Not only that, one of the novel’s creepiest villains (a washed-up celebrity called Marco) is also used as an eerily prescient comment about all of the scandals in the US film industry during 2017/18. In fact, this novel is basically a giant middle finger to Hollywood and popular culture in general. All of this irreverent satire also fits in really well with the novel’s punk atmosphere and really helps to add depth to the novel too.

The novel’s thriller elements are interesting too. Whilst this novel isn’t an ultra-fast paced thriller novel, there are enough interesting mysteries and moments of suspenseful horror and drama to keep the story compelling. In classic thriller fashion, almost every chapter alternates between two story threads (set in 1977 and 2013). But, although these two storylines connect with each other in interesting ways, they can sometimes parallel each other a little bit too closely – which can make a few scenes feel a bit repetitive.

Still, one of the things I really loved about this novel was it’s atmosphere. The scenes set in 1977 really make you feel like you’re hanging out with an anarchic group of punks and I really wish that the whole novel had focused on these awesome story segments. By contrast, the more modern scenes set in 2013 feel a bit dull and “ordinary” by comparison.

In terms of the characters, they’re really interesting. One of the major themes of this novel is that it is our flaws, imperfections and “inefficiencies” that really make us human. So, the main characters are a really intriguing bunch of misfits 🙂 By contrast, the novel’s villains are a disturbing collection of soulless beings, creepy stalkers, hollow celebrities, fanatical cultists and/or bizarre monsters.

In terms of the writing, this novel is interesting. Although this novel uses the dreaded multiple first-person narrators, it thankfully clearly signposts which character is narrating each chapter – so this doesn’t get too confusing. Likewise, all of the narration in this novel uses a wonderfully informal and distinctive narrative voice which not only adds personality and humour to the story, but also helps to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag though. At a wonderfully efficient 283 pages in length, this novel doesn’t feel too long. However, whilst the beginning and ending of this story are really compelling, the middle parts didn’t really seem to be quite as gripping. Likewise, the occasional appearance of similar events in both of the novel’s storylines can feel a little bit repetitive at times.

All in all, this is an intriguingly weird punk-themed horror novel. Yes, it isn’t perfect and it probably isn’t for everyone, but this novel has an interestingly bizarre premise, a wonderful atmosphere (in the 1970s punk segments, at least) and some great narration.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Plague World” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, since I’ve read both the first and second parts of Dana Fredsti’s “Ashley Parker” trilogy, I thought that it was time to take a look at my second-hand copy of the third novel – “Plague World” (2013) today 🙂

Although this novel contains enough recaps to theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel, it pretty much picks up where “Plague Nation” left off. As such, you’ll get a lot more out of this novel (especially the later parts) if you read the previous two books in the trilogy first.

So, let’s take a look at “Plague World”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS for both this novel and “Plague Nation”.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague World” that I read.

After a short introductory scene showing the zombie virus spreading to London, the story moves back to San Francisco and picks up where “Plague Nation” left off. The elite “wild cards” team of zombie fighters is stranded in a zombie-infested medical facility and missing several members.

Once they find a way to safety, Ashley Parker has several things on her mind. Not only does she have to prepare for a daring rescue mission but she is also threatened by one of the team’s sleazier new recruits and also has to find a way to track down vital medication for Lil too….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, even if the novel’s main story takes a while to truly hit it’s stride.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good 🙂 In additional to the kind of splatterpunk-like ultra-gruesome zombie horror that you would expect, this novel also contains some brilliantly creepy moments of suspenseful horror, tragic horror, character-based horror, apocalyptic horror, disturbing horror, taboo-based horror etc.. too. Like in the previous two novels, this novel also includes at least a couple of brilliantly disturbing moments of story-based horror where the situation itself is the main source of horror.

One cool feature of this novel is that it also contains short chapters showing how the zombie virus affects different parts of the world. These segments contain a really good mixture of thrills, tragedy, irreverent dark comedy and/or cynical nihilism. And, although the main story improves as the novel progresses, these short side-stories remain consistently good throughout the novel and really help to keep the earlier parts compelling 🙂

In terms of the novel’s action-thriller elements, they’re especially good during the later parts of the novel 🙂 In short, whilst this is a fairly action-packed novel throughout, the early-middle parts of the main story tend to focus a bit more on things like character-based drama, heavy subject matter, small-scale suspense etc… which can detract from the story’s gripping action-thriller elements a little bit.

But, it is worth reading earlier parts of the story just to get to the awesome final segment. In addition to some brilliantly epic action scenes (involving explosions, a biker gang, a secret base etc..) there are also loads of dramatic plot twists, some brilliantly disturbing moments of horror, some excellent satire and a couple of wonderfully heartwarming moments. This is one of those novels where I was reading it very slightly reluctantly during the early parts, but was absolutely gripped during the later parts.

In terms of the characters, they’re pretty interesting. Although there is lots of character-based drama and characterisation, some of this can get in the way of the story a little bit. Even so, it adds depth to the story and also serves as a recap for new readers too.

Still, the best character-based moments appear in the later parts of the novel, where a couple of good and evil main characters turn out to be a bit more morally-ambiguous than previously thought. Plus, there is also a wonderfully heartwarming character-based scene in the last few pages of the novel that will probably make you cry with happiness 🙂

In terms of the writing, it is as good as ever 🙂 Like with previous novels in the series, this novel uses a combination of first and third-person narration. This is clearly signposted to the reader via both titles and italic text, which prevents the perspective changes from being confusing. The novel’s first-person segments are also written in the kind of gloriously informal, pop culture reference-filled way that you would expect and they are really fun to read 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At 308 pages, this novel never really feels too long. Plus, even though the later parts of the novel are more gripping than the earlier parts, the whole story is written in a reasonably fast-paced way. Even so, I wish that more of the novel was like the truly excellent later segments.

All in all, this is a good conclusion to a really good trilogy. Yes, I preferred the later parts of this novel to the early/middle parts of it, but the story is still a rather compelling and dramatic one. If you’ve read the previous two books, then this one is well worth reading for the scenes set around the world and the brilliantly gripping final parts of the main story.

If I had to give this novel a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Meddling Kids” By Edgar Cantero (Novel)

A few weeks before I wrote this book review, I ended up watching several episodes of “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated” and was amazed at how good this modern Saturday morning cartoon was.

A couple of weeks later, I was looking around online for second-hand horror novels and happened to find a modern novel from 2018 called “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero, which seemed to be a Lovecraftian dark comedy parody of “Scooby Doo” 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Meddling Kids”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2018 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Meddling Kids” that I read.

In 1977, the four young investigators of the Blyton Summer Detective Club (and their trusty dog Sean), solve the mystery of the Sleepy Lake monster. Far from being a giant salamander monster, it was actually a masked criminal called Thomas Wickley who would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.

Flash forward to 1990 and Wickley is up for parole. But, soon after he leaves prison, he is ambushed by Andrea “Andy” Rodriguez, a former member of the detective club who is determined to get the truth out of him. There were things in Sleepy Lake that were too strange to be part of an elaborate criminal scheme. Unexplainable, unworldly horrors that have haunted the nightmares of the club members ever since that fateful summer holiday.

As a result of that horrifying summer, Andy has ended up living a life of crime, nerdy redhead Kerri has ended up in a series of dead-end jobs and weedy, nervous Nate has found himself in a mental hospital (but, at least he has the ghost of tall, athletic Peter to keep him company). About the only club member who is vaguely ok is Tim, Sean’s canine descendent.

Rattled by the mysterious incantations that Wickley babbles after she questions him, Andy decides that the only thing to do is to get the club together again and return to Sleepy Lake……

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is WOW! It’s a funny, creepy, thrilling and mysterious mixture of dark comedy, Lovecraftian horror and retro nostalgia 🙂 In other words, this novel is kind of like a mixture of H.P. Lovecraft, “The Last Door“, “Blood“, “Twin Peaks”, “Supernatural”, “The X-Files”, “Scooby Doo” and some kind of alternative punk comic from the 1990s. So, yes, it’s pretty awesome 🙂

The novel’s horror elements are pretty interesting. As you would expect from a modern Lovecraftian horror story there’s a really good mixture of ominous horror, occult horror, monster horror, suspenseful horror, jump scares, psychological horror, implied horror, scientific horror, economic horror/ post-industrial decay, claustrophobic horror and gruesome horror. Although this novel isn’t likely to leave you frozen with fright, there is a wonderfully creepy and ominous atmosphere in many parts of the story 🙂

The novel’s comedy elements also work reasonably well. Although there were only a couple of moments that really made me laugh out loud, the novel has a wonderfully irreverent attitude, some moments of bizarre slapstick comedy, numerous retro pop culture references, a gleefully farcical denouement, lots of amusing dialogue and some brilliant dark comedy plot elements too.

The novel’s detective elements are fairly interesting too. Although the novel enters the realms of fantasy and science fiction, pretty much everything in the story has a logical scientific, practical and/or paranormal explanation. Even though fans of H.P. Lovecraft won’t be too surprised by the premise of the story, there are enough clever plot twists and intriguing clues, locations etc… to keep the story intriguingly gripping.

Interestingly, this novel starts out as a slower-paced mystery, psychological thriller and character-based drama novel. These elements all work surprisingly well and, although this means that the first two-thirds or so of this novel are relatively slow paced (but still really compelling), the novel then segues into this absolutely spectacular action-packed final act that occasionally reminded me a little bit of the classic computer game “Blood” (which, again, is never a bad thing 🙂 ).

The story’s atmosphere is really cool too. In addition to the kind of ominous atmosphere you would expect from a Lovecraftian horror story, this story also includes the cynical nihilism of the 1990s (in addition to some vague hints of that decade’s more famous optimism) and a brilliantly dark and twisted version of the fun atmosphere of “Scooby Doo” too 🙂

In terms of the characters, they are brilliant 🙂 Not only do all of the main characters come across as stylised, but realistic, people with a huge number of quirks, flaws and emotions but the novel’s characters are also both a brilliantly inventive parody of both “Scooby Doo” and Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” too. In short, the level of characterisation here is on par with Neil Gaiman’s amazing “Sandman” comics and Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” 🙂

The novel’s main characters also allow for the exploration of numerous themes such as mental illness, memory, non-conformity, friendship, love, trauma etc… too. Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this novel highly enough 🙂 They’re a glorious band of misfits who are so much fun to hang out with.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s (mostly) third-person narration is amazing. It is this wonderfully weird mixture of formal descriptive narration, highly informal narration and more experimental/avant-garde narration… and, somehow, it really works 🙂

In true punk fashion, this novel isn’t afraid to break the rules by doing things like using film script-like dialogue segments, breaking the fourth wall (usually subtly, but one instance of it – involving a chapter ending- is truly epic) and occasionally inventing new words just for the hell of it. The inventive, irreverent and unique writing style in this novel is an absolute joy to read 🙂 Still, if you’re used to more conventional writing styles, then you might not enjoy the narration as much.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is interesting. At 442 pages, this is one of those novels that will sometimes feel like reading a DVD boxset. However, although the first two-thirds of the story are relatively slow-paced, they remain really compelling thanks to the atmosphere, the characters, the writing style and the mysterious plot. These slower-paced segments also contrast really well with the brilliantly gripping and fast-paced final act too 🙂

All in all, this is a punk Lovecraftian horror dark comedy parody of “Scooby Doo” that is set in the 1990s 🙂 Need I say more?

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.