Review: “Tower Hill” By Sarah Pinborough (Novel)

Happy New Year everyone 🙂 After reading Sarah Pinborough’s “Torchwood: Long Time Dead” a few weeks ago, I decided to look online for other books by the author. And, to my absolute delight, I found that she’d written several horror novels… that were only published over in America during the mid-late 2000s by a publisher that went bust in 2010.

Given how this time period was something of a drought for horror publishing in general (with a few rare exceptions like Abbaddon Books’ “Tomes Of The Dead” series), given how the cover art and titles of these books reminded me a bit of the old 1970s/80s horror novels I used to find in charity shops during the early-mid 2000s and given that they were fairly cheap second-hand, I decided to get a couple of them.

And, although I’d originally planned to read Pinborough’s “Breeding Ground” (if only bcause the title was possibly a homage to this 1980s Shaun Hutson novel), I ended up choosing Pinborough’s 2008 novel “Tower Hill” instead because it didn’t seem to include any giant spiders.

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

This is the 2008 Leisure Books (US) paperback edition of “Tower Hill” that I read.

Set in America, the novel begins forty miles outside the sleepy Maine town of Tower Hill. A Catholic priest called Father O’Brien is driving towards the town, when he stops off at a burger restaurant in order to use the bathroom. However, someone dressed as a priest is waiting for him there. The fake priest, Jack, stabs O’Brien before taking his wallet and returning to the restaurant to see a swathe of dead bodies and his serial-killer friend Grey dousing the building with petrol. Jack and Grey make plans to meet up in Tower Hill before setting the building alight and going their separate ways.

A while later, a fresher called Steve Wharton arrives in Tower Hill ready for his first term at the idyllic town’s small university. When he arrives, he finds that he’s sharing a house with a cool woman called Angela and a slightly more shy woman called Liz, who has come from a sheltered religious background. Still, the three of them get along well and begin settling into university life.

Meanwhile, Jack poses as the town’s new priest and gets ready to use the local church for a different type of mass. Grey, on the other hand, poses as both a history professor and the head of the university’s paranormal investigation society…

One of the first things that I will say about “Tower Hill” is that it is a much better book than it initially appears to be. Seriously, don’t let the slower and more understated earlier parts of this novel put you off. This is a brilliantly creepy horror novel that is also like a really cool updated version of a classic 1980s horror novel. If you like classic horror authors like James Herbert, Shaun Hutson, Graham Masterton and maybe Stephen King, then you’ll probably enjoy “Tower Hill”. Just don’t judge it by the first 100-150 pages though.

I should probably start by talking about this novel’s horror elements, which are really creepy 🙂 This novel focuses heavily on both paranormal/religious horror and psychological horror, but also includes some well-placed moments of gory horror, claustrophobic horror, ominous horror, social horror, sexual horror, suspense, character-based horror and even a few hints of both the zombie and vampire genres too 🙂 Although this novel is probably more disturbing and unsettling than outright frightening, it is certainly a bit of a creeper.

One of the novel’s greatest horrors is the horror of conformity and this is handled absolutely brilliantly. The novel shows the “wholesome” town of Tower Hill gradually falling under an evil influence, which succeeds by cloaking itself in the guise of both old and new religions. Not only does this show how easily charisma and authority can turn good people evil, but it also adds a lot of nervous suspense in later parts of the story where only a few people remain untouched by the evil forces.

Interestingly, whilst this novel contains some amusingly cynical satire about religion, the novel is also something of a traditional “Good vs Evil” story with heavily religious undertones. This ambiguity not only keeps the novel unpredictable, but it also helps to add a surprising amount of nuance to the story – whilst still allowing the story’s conformity and religion-based scenes to remain seriously chilling.

Although the premise of “cosy small town turns evil” is nothing new in the horror genre, it is handled really well in this novel – with the story having a creeping sense of unease and claustrophobia that walks a fine line between both dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction. This, incidentally, is why you shouldn’t judge this novel by the first 100-150 pages or so. In order to show the gradual change from cosy idyll to diabolical dystopia, the early parts of this story will sometimes seem a bit saccharine, cheesy, drab or bland. This is only there to make the later parts more unsettling by contrast.

Earlier, I likened this novel to several classic 1980s horror authors and it is really cool how this novel clearly takes inspiration from them whilst also very much being it’s own thing too. It has the kind of setting that you’d expect from a Stephen King novel, the rural gloom and supernatural chills of one of James Herbert’s paranormal horror novels, the occult drama of Graham Masterton and a few hints of the apocalyptic claustrophobia and macabre spectacle of one of Shaun Hutson’s classic horror novels. Yet, as mentioned before, the novel is also it’s own thing too, with a unique atmosphere and a dramatic ending that wouldn’t look out of place in a late-night 1980s horror movie 🙂

And, yes, this novel is atmospheric 🙂 Even though the earlier parts of the story can be a bit slow and uneventful, the descriptions in these parts really help to make the town of Tower Hill feel like a very real and very old place (with perhaps a few hints of H.P Lovecraft and rural Britain too). Not only does this add extra drama to the subtle changes in the town throughout the novel, but it also means that the novel’s moments of horror have a bit of extra impact too.

In terms of the characters, this novel is also much better than it initially seems. In other words, there is actual character development in this novel. Although the “good” characters will seem a bit bland or boring at first, they gain a lot more depth as the story progresses and, by the end, are really compelling characters 🙂 In addition to this, the novel’s villains – Jack and Grey – remain chillingly fascinating throughout the story and, during the slower-paced earlier parts of the novel, really help to keep the story interesting too.

As for the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is fairly good. There’s a really good mixture between more atmospheric, descriptive narration and faster-paced “matter of fact” narration. In a lot of ways, this novel’s narration is like a slightly more informal and readable version of the narration you’d expect to see in a classic 1980s horror novel 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 320 pages in length, this story seems neither too short nor too long. The novel’s pacing also has a fairly good progression, with the story gradually becoming faster, more dramatic, atmospheric, suspenseful, creepy and compelling as it progresses. Even so, as mentioned earlier, this means that the earlier parts of the story might seem a bit slow, uneventful and/or bland at times. Still, these early parts are there to make the later parts of the story more compelling by contrast.

All in all, this is a really cool 1980s-influenced horror novel from the late 2000s 🙂 It’s chilling, atmospheric and compelling. Yes, it takes a while for the story to really become interesting, but it is well worth the wait 🙂 If you like classic ’80s horror authors like James Herbert, Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, Graham Masterton etc.. then this novel is well worth checking out 🙂

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

Review: “The First Days” By Rhiannon Frater (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I read a zombie novel. So, for the next novel in this month’s horror marathon, I thought that I’d take a look at Rhiannon Frater’s 2008 novel “The First Days”. This was a zombie novel that I found when I was looking online for second-hand horror novels and, after reading the first chapter, I just had to read the rest.

However, I should probably point out that this novel is the first in a series and doesn’t tell an entirely self-contained story. Even so, it still works reasonably well as a stand-alone novel.

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

This is the 2011 Tor (US) paperback edition of “The First Days” that I read.

The novel begins in an unnamed Texan city during a zombie apocalypse. After seeing her husband and sons turn into zombies, Jenni barely manages to escape her house before being rescued by a mysterious woman in a pick-up truck.

The two survivors, Jenni and Katie, decide to leave the city and head to the safety of the surrounding countryside. When they reach a petrol station, the attendant hasn’t heard about the zombies and mistakes them for thieves.

But, soon after they fill up the truck, the zombies begin to arrive at the station. Still shaken by everything that has happened, Jenni remembers that her stepson Jason is at summer camp in the nearby woods. So, they begin to plan a rescue…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a really gripping, atmospheric and innovative zombie novel with excellent characterisation 🙂 It’s a little bit like a cross between Jonathan Maberry’s “Dead Of Night“, Dana Fredsti’s “Plague Town” and Melissa Marr’s “The Arrivals“, whilst also being somewhat different in tone and style to pretty much every other zombie and/or post-apocalyptic novel I’ve read.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, it is filled with the kind of fast-paced gruesome horror that you’d expect from a zombie novel, but there is also quite a bit of emphasis on bleak post-apocalyptic horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror and some moments of character-based horror too. Although there are lots of horrific zombie encounters, this is more of a novel about the emotional toll that the zombie apocalypse takes on those who survive it.

One of the really innovative things about this novel is how the other survivors are presented. Traditionally, zombie novels/films tend to make the other survivors more of a threat to the main characters than the actual zombies are.

However, this novel takes a slightly more realistic approach to the topic – with most of the other survivors Jenni and Katie encounter being friendly and eager to work together to protect themselves against a common threat.

In a similar way to the computer game “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“, this is an anarchist story in the best sense of the word. Whilst it doesn’t gloss over the occasional arguments and problems between the survivors, it is a novel about a group of people organising themselves without outside authority. Yes, some characters do lead the survivors at times, but this leadership is based on competence and consensus rather than official authority. Seriously, I’m surprised that this doesn’t turn up in more zombie novels.

As for the actual zombies, the novel mostly uses modern-style fast moving zombies, who sometimes display limited forms of intelligence. This adds a lot of fast-paced drama and suspense to the story, especially during the earlier parts.

Although the zombies have some traditional elements (eg: a bite turns someone into a zombie, zombies can only be killed by destroying the brain etc…), the novel also does a couple of other innovative things. For example, many of the characters are reluctant to use guns because the noise attracts more zombies and, when a zombie isn’t chasing a person, it just kind of stands there and does nothing.

In terms of the characters, this novel is excellent 🙂 In addition to a lot of well-written characterisation, a lot of the novel’s drama focuses on how the characters handle the zombie apocalypse emotionally, in addition to dealing with their memories of the time before the apocalypse (eg: Jenni is still haunted by memories of her violent husband, Katie spends the novel mourning her wife etc..).

As I mentioned earlier, the relationships between the survivors that Jenni and Katie meet are surprisingly, and realistically, friendly – although there are still arguments and conflicts. Plus, this novel’s romantic elements are also realistically complicated in the way that you’d expect with a group of random strangers meeting each other after an apocalypse too. Seriously, the characters are one of this novel’s major strengths 🙂

In terms of the writing, it’s really good. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly fast-paced and “matter of fact” way, whilst also including plenty of descriptions and characterisation too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a mixed bag. At 331 pages, it is neither too long nor too short. But, although the earlier parts of the novel are a brilliantly fast-paced adrenaline rush, most of the rest of the story has a slightly more moderate pace (with more of an emphasis on drama and/or suspense). Even so, the whole novel is still very compelling. However, perhaps because of the fact that it is the first novel in a series, the ending/epilogue feels somewhat rushed and some plot threads are also left unresolved.

All in all, this is a really well-written and innovative zombie novel with excellent characterisation 🙂 Yes, the pacing was a bit different to what the earlier parts of the story had led me to expect, but this is a very small criticism of a brilliant novel.

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

Review: “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise” By S. D. Perry (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read an “Aliens” novel. And, since I wanted a fairly quick and relaxing novel, I decided to take a look at one of the second-hand “Aliens” novels that I bought several weeks earlier, namely S.D.Perry’s 2008 novel “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise”.

Interestingly, you can probably also enjoy this novel if you haven’t seen any of the “Alien” films. Although knowing a few basic things about the franchise’s famous monsters will probably make this novel slightly more enjoyable, they aren’t really the main focus of the story in the way that they are in most of the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read.

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

This is the 2008 Dark Horse (US) paperback edition of “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise” that I read.

The novel begins with a man called Tommy Chase awakening from cryo-sleep after dreaming about his unhappy childhood. Tommy is a professional pilot who has agreed to run one job for a group of drug smugglers in order to help out his delinquent brother, Pete, who has got into trouble with them. Whilst Pete awakens from cryo-sleep, two of the crew members, Lee and Moby, want Tommy to land the ship quickly.

The ship lands on Fantasia, an illegally-terraformed planet owned by a drug baron called Msomi and run by one of his lieutenants called Trace. The planet is mostly used as a manufacturing facility and somewhere for wanted members of the gang to hide out until the heat dies down. As an added security measure, all of the areas outside of the main facility are swarming with vicious alien creatures that Msomi has imported onto the planet.

Meanwhile, on the surface, a man called Ray is lying in wait with a team of henchmen. Ray and Trace have fallen out in the past, and he plans to get even by downing the next outgoing cargo ship with an EMP, stealing the contents and framing Trace for the theft.

Whilst all of this is going on, a ship owned by the Neo-Pharm corporation is lurking near Fantasia. Msomi’s operation has been skimming or diverting chemicals from them. So, a team of mercenaries, led by an ex-military ex-cop called Kaye are preparing for a combat raid on the planet….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the second half of it is better than the first half. In other words, whilst this novel does become really gripping, it takes a while to set everything up. Although this is a short novel, there are three plot threads and at least 10-20 characters. But, if you stick with this book during the earlier parts, then there is a really good payoff.

Interestingly, unlike several of the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read, this novel is more of a crime thriller novel than a sci-fi or horror novel. Although there is some sci-fi stuff here (eg: illegal terraforming, futuristic drugs, spaceships, EMP weapons etc..) and there are a few horror elements (eg: the alien monsters, some gory moments etc..), the emphasis is firmly on the story’s crime and thriller elements.

In other words, whilst the aliens are a threatening background detail (and something for the characters to fight or avoid sometimes), they aren’t really the main focus of this story. This is more of a story about what happens when two rival groups of criminals and a band of corporate mercenaries collide with each other. Still, this makes a refreshing change from the usual “evil scientists and their research projects” plots that turn up in quite a few of the “Aliens” novels.

And, as a thriller, this novel works reasonably well. Whilst I found that the novel only really started to get gripping a little under halfway through, there’s a good mixture of drama, suspense and fast-paced action scenes. Likewise, thanks to the fact that nothing quite goes to plan for any of the characters, there’s a real sense of tension about who will survive and who won’t.

This novel also uses the technique (which I’ve also seen in Jonathan Maberry’s “Fall Of Night) of adding impact to various scenes by showing the same events multiple times from the “perspective” of different characters. Surprisingly, this works really well and – since the novel uses a third-person perspective throughout – it doesn’t really get confusing or annoying either.

In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written. But, whilst several of the characters get a decent amount of backstory and/or characterisation and many of them have realistic motivations and flaws, one of the problems with this story is that there are too many characters. Although the story mostly focuses on a few characters, the time spent introducing all of the characters can slow down the earlier parts of the story slightly. Even so, many of the background characters are well-written enough to make you care about them.

As for the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is pretty standard gritty sci-fi thriller stuff. In other words, the narration uses a rather “matter of fact” style that is fairly readable. Although the narration in this novel doesn’t flow quite as quickly as it does in Perry’s awesome “Resident Evil” novels, it still works well.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At a gloriously efficient 222 pages in length, this story doesn’t feel too long. However, for a thriller novel, it takes quite a while to really get started. Yes, the earlier parts of the story build suspense and introduce both the premise and the large cast of characters, but the story doesn’t really turn into a truly gripping fast-paced action-packed thriller novel until a little under halfway through.

All in all, this is a fairly decent sci-fi crime thriller novel. Even though I found the second half of it to be more gripping than the first half, it is still a fairly enjoyable novel. But, if you’re looking for a thrilling “Aliens” novel with a bit more horror, then check out Perry’s “Aliens: The Labyrinth” instead.

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

Review: “Anno Mortis” By Rebecca Levene (Novel)

Shortly after I finished reading Rebecca Levene’s “Ghost Dance” a few weeks earlier, I looked online for other books by this author.

To my surprise, I learnt that Levene had written a book for Abaddon Books’ “Tomes Of The Dead” collection 🙂 This was a short-lived collection of zombie novels published during the late 2000s and they often used to be the highlight of bookshop horror shelves (anyone remember those?) back in the day 🙂

So, needless to say, I ended up finding a second-hand copy of Levene’s 2008 novel “Anno Mortis” and then… got distracted by other books. But, since I was going through slightly more of a horror fiction phase than usual, I thought that I’d take a look at it. And I’m so glad that I did 🙂

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

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I read the 2008 Abaddon Books (UK) paperback edition of this novel. However, I won’t include a scan of the book cover in this review, since part of it probably borders on being “Not Safe For Work”. Still, as a work of art, it is a really cool-looking cover that also uses both composition and visual storytelling in a way that hearkens back to novel covers of the 1980s (especially since, unlike a lot of modern book covers, it’s an actual painting too 🙂 )
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The novel begins in Ancient Rome, during the cruel reign of the Emperor Caligula. On a hot summer afternoon, an enslaved gladiator called Boda steps into the arena for the first time. Being a fierce Cimbri warrior from the north, Boda shows no mercy after besting her opponent. Whilst the crowd’s reaction to this is a little bit mixed, and Boda doesn’t exactly make any friends with the other gladiators, the senator Seneca is pleased since it means another dead body for his mysterious plot.

Caligula is also in attendance at the games and, after his uncle Claudius is accidentally humiliated, Caligula decides to rub salt into the wound by taking ownership of Claudius’ slave Narcissus. Narcissus is forced to work in the accounting offices of the palace, where he discovers some irregularities with the cargo manifests of one of Seneca’s ships and decides to investigate.

Meanwhile, a young man called Petronius incurs his father’s wrath after he is caught indulging in a moment of hedonism. Incensed by his son’s gluttony and debauchery, Petronius’ father orders him to spend his days studying rhetoric under the stern tutelege of Seneca. Although Petronius finds this dull at first, he happens to notice a fragment from the Egyptian book of the dead amongst Seneca’s scrolls. So, when Seneca leaves the house, Petronius decides to follow him…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is like heavy metal music in book form 🙂 Seriously, this gripping dark fantasy thriller novel is epic in almost every sense of the word 🙂 This is a novel about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Vikings (in all but name), gruesome zombies, evil cults meeting in dark catacombs, gladiatorial combat, epic mythology and lots of other dramatic stuff. Seriously, this is what fantasy fiction should be like 🙂

And, yes, you’ll notice that I said “fantasy” rather than “horror”. Whilst this novel does contain some really great horror elements, it is more of a fantasy novel than it initially appears to be. This mostly takes the form of magic, ancient mythology, Bangsian fantasy and supernatural creatures.

Although the novel’s fantasy elements do contain some small inconsistencies (eg: a character is suddenly shown to have the ability to use magical disguises, even though such an ability would have been much more useful during a chase scene several pages earlier), there is so much cool stuff here that these don’t really matter.

We’re talking about things like giant stone crocodiles, jackal-headed men, giant zombie elephants, mythical beasts, dark rituals, mysterious portals, evil scarab beetles, ancient gods/goddesses, the river Styx etc… But, all of this awesome heavy metal album cover stuff is also given a bit more depth than you would expect thanks to the characters and the plotting. Not only that, this novel has the kind of clever conclusion that is as capricious as an old saga and yet as emotionally powerful as one of Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics. Seriously, the epilogue left me in floods of tears, in the best way possible.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good. In addition to lots of nail-biting suspense, some tragic horror, some cruel horror, some gory horror, some occult/paranormal horror, some character-based horror and some psychological horror, this novel is also a surprisingly inventive take on the zombie apocalypse genre too.

The novel’s zombies are corpses whose skulls have been inhabited by possessed scarab beetles (and, yes, there is actually a good explanation for this). The more recently-deceased a zombie is, the more intelligent it is. Yet, even the most skeletal of zombies is still smart enough to do things like follow military strategies. But, at the same time, the zombies are also close enough to traditional horror movie zombies to still add a bit of classic-style zombie horror to the story 🙂

This novel is also an absolutely brilliant thriller novel too 🙂 In addition to all of the suspense that I’ve mentioned earlier, this novel contains some brilliantly dramatic fast-paced set pieces too. In addition to gladiatorial combat and several large and small scale zombie battles, this novel also includes a dramatic chariot chase through the streets of ancient Rome and other grippingly fast-paced things like this 🙂

The novel’s atmosphere and historical settings are really cool too 🙂 Whilst I haven’t studied the history enough to be able to say how accurate this novel is (then again, it has zombies in it), the Roman settings feel kind of like a cross between HBO’s “Rome” and “Spartacus: Blood And Sand” 🙂 This is also a novel that doesn’t shy away from the worst aspects of Roman society (eg: slavery, cruelty, poverty etc..) too. Likewise, there are also a couple of interesting historical cameos, such as the main characters meeting a young Emperor Nero.

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. The main characters are a really interesting and sympathetic group of misfits, all of whom have personalities, flaws and motivations. Plus, although the novel’s villains do seem a little bit cartoonish (especially the cruel Emperor Caligula, who veers into the realms of dark comedy at times) even they are shown to have just enough redeeming qualities for you to both care about them and relish their satisfyingly cathartic demises.

In terms of the writing, this novel is really good too 🙂 The third-person narration is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story flowing at a fast pace, whilst also including enough descriptions to lend the story some atmosphere and personality too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 356 pages, it is refreshingly lean and efficient when compared to the average tome-sized fantasy or thriller novel. Likewise, the novel’s pacing is handled really well too. Whilst the story remains consistently gripping and fast-paced, there’s a really good progression from the suspenseful drama of the early parts of the story to the more action-paced and epic later parts of the story 🙂

All in all, this novel was a hell of a lot of fun to read 🙂 It’s like heavy metal music in book form 🙂 It is a gloriously badass mixture of the thriller, fantasy, historical fiction and zombie genres 🙂 If you enjoy things like HBO’s “Rome”, “Spartacus: Blood And Sand”, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and the “Stargate” movies/TV shows but also wish there were zombies too, then read this book 🙂

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

Review: “Martin Misunderstood” By Karin Slaughter (Novella)

Well, thanks to the weather still being incredibly hot, I was in the mood for a short book. A novella, in fact. Of course, print novellas are as difficult to find as cyberpunk movies and other such awesome things are. I could probably go on for ages about how annoyingly uncommon this awesome book format is, but I should probably get on with the review.

Anyway, whilst visiting a charity shop in Portchester last July, I found a copy of Karin Slaughter’s 2008 dark comedy novella “Martin Misunderstood”. Interestingly, looking online, this novella apparently started life as an audiobook, of all things. So, it’s cool that there’s an actual print edition of it too 🙂

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

This is the 2008 Arrow Books (UK) paperback edition of “Martin Misunderstood” that I read.

The story begins in Georgia, with a thirtysomething man called Martin Reed. Martin has a miserable life. Not only is he living with his cantankerous mother but, when he got a job at Southern Toilet Supply, he found that most of his co-workers are the same people who bullied him when he was at school. Not only that, someone has scrawled an insult onto his car and the local mechanic isn’t exactly in a hurry to repaint the car.

Not only that, when he gets ready to go to work one morning, he finds blood on the bumper of his car. Not only that, the blood also gets onto his briefcase and when he tries to clean it off using one of Southern Toilet Supply’s many cleaning products, the fluid begins to dissolve the leather. Furious with his lot in life, he begins to smash up his briefcase when he is interrupted by his secretary, Unique.

However, before Martin can get any work done, the cops show up. Apparently, he is the prime suspect in a recent murder case…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novella is that it is absolutely hilarious. It’s a brilliantly cynical farce that, whilst not for the easily-shocked, is one of the best comedy stories I’ve read since I read Armistead Maupin’s “More Tales Of The City” a while ago. Not to mention that the fact that the story is a novella also means that it is wonderfully concise and focused too 🙂

The novella includes numerous types of comedy like dark comedy, meta-fiction, farce, slapstick, character-based humour, unlikely romance, moral ambiguity, social awkwardness, “shock value” humour, cynicism, sexual humour and humourous narration. Although some of the humour is slightly subtle, the novel includes quite a few laugh out loud moments too. The novel’s humour is also counterpointed by a few more “serious” and depressing scenes that help to make the comedy funnier by contrast too.

Most interestingly of all, this novella also seems to have taken a lot of influence from classic British comedy too 🙂 Everything from the downtrodden protagonist to the socially awkward situations to the graffiti on Martin’s car initially made me feel a bit puzzled about the fact that the novel was set in America.

The story’s detective elements are more of a background detail and they serve as a way to add some extra farce to the story, in addition to introducing one of the main characters (a fortysomething detective called An, who Martin finds himself attracted to). Even so, the mystery is resolved in an utterly hilarious way and the initial uncertainty about whether Martin is actually guilty or not also helps to keep the story compelling too. Likewise, since Martin is a fan of detective novels, the story also contains references to numerous detective and thriller authors too.

In terms of the characters, they’re the source of much of the story’s comedy. All of them get a decent amount of characterisation too, which really helps to add atmosphere and humanity to the story. And, being a comedy novel, some of the characters are fairly stylised too (although one character- Unique – may possibly be slightly stereotypical though).

As for the writing, like many of the best comedy stories, the novel’s third-person narrator is pretty much a character in their own right. This novel is written in a slightly informal (but also formal, if this makes sense) and observational style that also includes the occasional aside from the narrator, which also helps to add even more comedy to the story. The narration flows really well and helps to add a bit of atmosphere to the story too.

In terms of length and pacing, this novella is superb 🙂 At a wonderfully efficient 147 pages in length, it is always great to read a novella 🙂 Likewise, the story’s humour and farce-like plot also ensures that the story keeps moving at a reasonably decent pace too. Whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced thriller, this novel is the kind of compelling story that you’ll probably devour in a couple of hours at most.

All in all, I really enjoyed this novella 🙂 Although it isn’t for the easily shocked and the novel’s cynical sense of humour might not work for everyone, it is certainly one of the funniest novels that I’ve read in recent months. Not to mention that, in a world where books seem to keep getting longer, it is so refreshing to read a lean and efficient story too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about get a five.

Review: “Nightwalker” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’d originally planned to review “The Storm” by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown. But, due to various reasons, I ended up abandoning it after about forty pages. Since I didn’t want to fall out of the habit of reading regulary again, I wondered about what to read next. Luckily, since I read a lot during my teenage years and early twenties, I’m not exactly short of books.

So, digging around in the outer layer of one of my book piles, I found a novel from 2008 called “Nightwalker” by Jocelynn Drake that I’d forgotten that I owned. From the book’s condition and the publication date, I must have bought a new copy of this novel about 8-10 years ago. It was probably the coolest-looking paperback in the slender “horror” shelf of a Waterstones’ somewhere.

Although I somehow had no memory of reading “Nightwalker” before, the occasional dog-eared page and the pencil marks on a few pages (I always used to mark my place in a book with pencil, a habit I picked up when I was at school where some [expletives deleted] or other would think it was funny to remove the bookmark from whatever I was reading) showed me that I’d previously read about a third of this novel before abandoning it. Yet, I didn’t remember reading it. Eeerie!

Naturally, I was curious. So, let’s take a look at “Nightwalker”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2008 Eos (US) paperback edition of “Nightwalker” that I read.

“Nightwalker” begins in the American city of Savannah. Local vampire leader, Mira, has been stalking a mysterious vampire hunter called Danaus who entered the city a month earlier and has slowly been picking off the city’s vampire population. Finally, she decides that enough is enough and confronts him. Yet, although he’s a formidable foe, she notices that he tries not to use lethal force during their fight. In fact, he wants to talk to her.

To Mira’s surprise, Danaus produces an ancient dagger that could have only come from a member of a supernatural foe called the Naturi – faerie-like creatures who are a mortal threat to both humanity and vampires. Something that Mira knows all too well after suffering torture at the hands of the Naturi hundreds of years ago, before their banishment from the Earth via a vampiric ritual.

Since the ancient dagger belongs to Nerian – the Naturi’s head torturer – Mira decides to let Danaus live. A decision helped by the fact that he tells her that he has captured Nerian and is willing to let her get revenge.

After a brief, and bloody, conversation with Nerian, Mira realises that the Naturi are planning to return to Earth in force. Reluctantly teaming up with Danaus, she decides to investigate….

One of the first things that I will say about “Nightwalker” is that it’s one of the coolest novels I’ve read recently 🙂

The earlier parts of the novel pulse with the kind of richly gothic atmosphere, sensuous decadence and complex backstory of something like “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“. There are nightclubs, leather trenchcoats, vampire politics and all sorts of other cool stuff. And, as the novel progressed, it also reminded me a lot of an absolutely badass action/horror film called “Underworld” too. Needless to say, I’ve already ordered the next two books in the series…

Anyway, one of the really cool things about “Nightwalker” is how it blends the horror, thriller, fantasy and romance genres. A lot of the novel’s horror elements consist of both subtle background things (eg: flashbacks, nightmares, creepy characters, mournful tragedy, mentions of horrific events, menacing meetings etc..) and the kind of sharp, merciless, blood-drenched horror that you’d expect from a good vampire novel.

The novel’s action thriller events consist of some brilliantly badass fight scenes, culminating in a brilliantly epic battle later in the story. The novel’s fantasy elements help to set up the background of the story, and the story’s depiction of magic follows reasonably well-defined rules (that stop it from becoming silly). Finally, although the story contains relatively little in the way of overt romance, the story sizzles with seductive sensousness at almost every opportunity – which really helps to add to the gothic and vampiric atmosphere of the story.

The narration in this story is, in a word, perfect. The novel is narrated by Mira and this not only allows the reader to vicariously experience being an utterly badass and powerful vampire, but it also gives the story the level of intensity that it deserves. Every thought and sensation that Mira experiences is relayed to the reader in lush, vivid, immediate and intense prose. The story’s narration also deftly switches between the kind of rich, slow, descriptive and atmospheric narration that you would expect in a gothic novel and the kind of short, sharp, fast narration that you’d expect from a thriller novel.

The novel’s structure, settings and pacing are absolutely brilliant too. Although the novel begins as a slightly slower and more atmospheric gothic novel, the pace gradually gets quicker and quicker as the story builds in intensity. Not only that, the story has a classic three-act structure. It begins in Savannah, the middle takes place in Egypt and the dramatic conclusion happens in London and Stonehenge.

Needless to say, all of these settings are really interesting. Savannah is depicted in the kind of gloriously ultra-gothic way that you’d expect to find in a game like “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” or in a novel like “Lost Souls“. Egypt is shown to be a timeless land that holds great power, great mystery and great danger. And, since I’m British, I was quite amused to see part of the story set here (that also includes a vaguely non-London setting [Stonehenge] at one point too…).

Although I could nitpick about a few small details (eg: a British character calling Mira a “wanker” – this insult is traditionally only used to describe men), I really loved how the story depicts a gleefully stylised version of Britain filled with 1970s-style punks and ancient wizards/scholars who live in gloomy old buildings 🙂 Plus, extra bonus points for referring to London/Britain as “ultracivilised” too, which brought an ironic smile to my face.

However, I should mention that this novel is the first novel in a series. Although it fortunately doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger, and there is some sense of resolution at the end of the story, it is still very much the beginning of a longer story. Without spoiling the ending too much, it mostly resolves the main thread of the story, whilst also very clearly setting the reader up for the sequel and leaving some major underlying plot points unresolved.

The novel’s characters are absolutely brilliant too. Not only is Mira more of a complex protagonist than she initially appears to be, Danaus is also a wonderfully mysterious and handsome sidekick too. Likewise, Mira’s complex relationship with her handsome human bodyguards is also fairly interesting too. The novel’s vampires, werewolves, hunters and magicians are also shown to be complex characters too (with, for example, many hunters only hunting because they have false information about vampires). Likewise, the Naturi are an absolutely brilliant foe – since they’re this creepily chilling subversion of the “goodness” that people typically associate with faeries, nature spirits etc…

The novel’s depiction of vampirism is pretty interesting too. Although it follows some of the traditions of the genre (eg: vampires need to drink blood, they can’t enter churches, they’re allergic to sunlight etc..), it also adds a few interesting new things too. For example, vampires are shown to possess a type of extra-sensory perception that allows them to “scan” the nearby area for humans and other vampires (but not, unfortunately, Naturi).

All in all, this is an absolutely brilliant vampire thriller novel 🙂 If you love games like “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”, TV shows like “Angel” and movies like “Underworld”, then you’ll love this novel. It’s dark, gothic, sensuous, gripping, thrilling, atmospheric and bloody. Yes, it’s part of a larger series, but it’s still an utterly awesome novel in it’s own right. Seriously, there needs to be a film/videogame adaptation of this book!

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

Never Seen Before! My Old Comics From 2008-2009

2015 Artwork comics 2008 to 10 article sketch

Well, although I’m feeling artistically inspired again, I seem to have got writer’s block again when it comes to writing these daily articles.

So, for today, I thought that I’d show you a few badly-drawn comics I made in 2008-9 that have never been seen before…. probably for a good reason.

Although I didn’t make a huge number of comics back then, I made a few. Some of these took a bit of digging to find and this is just a fraction of the overall number of comics I made back then – many of the best ones are too introspective, too melodramatic and/or too weird to post here.

Since I drew many of these comics in hardback notebooks rather than in (easily-scanned) spiral-bound sketchbooks, the quality of these images won’t always be great. I’ve also edited a couple of these pictures digitally too (once for legibility reasons and three times for privacy reasons).

As usual, you can see a larger versions of any comic in this article if you click on it.

Anyway, let’s get started….

Deck Trouble

“Deck Trouble” was a webcomic that I’d planned to post online in 2009, but didn’t. It was meant to be a topical and fairly random comic, but it wasn’t really that good. Even so, here are three strips from it (with commentary).

I made this comic a while after I saw the first  J.J.Abrams "Star Trek" film at the cinema. Sorry about the poor image quality in this comic.

I made this comic a while after I saw the first J.J.Abrams “Star Trek” film at the cinema. Sorry about the poor image quality in this comic.

This comic is titled "Only The Good Die Young" and I made it in early-mid 2009 after reading that 3D Realms had closed down and that "Duke Nukem Forever" would never be released. Luckily, or unluckily, this didn't turn out to be the case for long....

This comic is titled “Only The Good Die Young” and I made it in early-mid 2009 after reading that 3D Realms had closed down and that “Duke Nukem Forever” would never be released. Luckily, or unluckily, this didn’t turn out to be the case for long….

This is a totally random "Deck Trouble" comic about Walt Whitman that I made after reading a news story about one of the Westboro Baptist Church's stupid protests in America. This comic is only really funny if you know that Walt Whitman apparently used the Calamus plant as a symbol for gay love in his poems.

This is a totally random “Deck Trouble” comic about Walt Whitman that I made after reading a news story about one of the Westboro Baptist Church’s stupid protests in America. This comic is only really funny if you know that Walt Whitman apparently used the Calamus plant as a symbol for gay love in his poems.

Trentport West

“Trentport West” was a sci-fi short story that I wrote in late 2008/early-mid 2009 (and planned in mid-2008). Anyway, I tried – and failed – to make a couple of comics based on it during this time….

This is probably the least badly-drawn page of the prequel comic I made in summer 2008.

This is probably the least badly-drawn page of the prequel comic I made in summer 2008.

I drew this sometime during Christmas 2008 and it was supposed to be the beginning of another prequel comic. But, I got writer's block very quickly, so this is pretty much all of it.

I drew this sometime during Christmas 2008 and it was supposed to be the beginning of another prequel comic. But, I got writer’s block very quickly, so this is pretty much all of it.

Writer’s Block comic

Finally, in very late 2009/very early 2010, I had a seriously terrible case of writer’s block. And, in an attempt to finish a short story I was writing at the time, I decided to make a badly-drawn three-page comic based on it. This is probably the least badly-drawn page from that comic:

And, yes, the guy on the cloud is supposed to be a literal representation of the terrible "deus ex machina" plotting in this story.

And, yes, the guy on the cloud is supposed to be a literal representation of the terrible “deus ex machina” plotting in this story.

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Anyway, I hope that this glimpse into my artistic past was interesting 🙂 Hopefully, I’ll think of an idea for a proper article for tomorrow…