Short Story Review- The Boy Who Could by T.K Vander

Nathaniel Tees was rather impatient as he waited for the signal alarm to ring. Every evening, when it became totally dark outside, a bell would make a distinguished clear note accompanied by the sound of a gush of air. This was the only cue that no light from the sun was left streaking in the sky outside, and it was safe to traverse out, as no windows were available to see through. Nathaniel glanced up at the only clock in his room. A great masterpiece of a device, the clock had no face, with the gears turning and grinding every second. As large as his head, the digits were comprised of separate turning gears, with even smaller gears on the inside, turning the opposite direction with numbers engraved in the middle. Suddenly the clock ceased function altogether, and not a second later, the clean sharp whistle of the alarm sounded along with the familiar woosh of a large amount of air being suctioned inward.

Okay, let’s start with the positives of this story. Um, the cover. It’s very nice, with all its majestic blues and attention to detail. I only wish that same could be said for the writing, as The Boy Who Could is littered with so many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that I don’t think that the story had even been proofread, let alone edited. I’m not a grammar Nazi and I’m not going trash a story for letting the odd typo slip through, but this reached such a level that it actually pulled me out of the story. It’s only a few pages as well, so it’s baffling why Vander couldn’t find a friend of his to give it a quick look over.

There’s a reason why the blurb only contains a description of the unnecessarily elaborate clock instead of a plot summary; the story can be summarised as ‘a ginger goes into the sun and doesn’t end up  sunburned.’ Seriously. The story’s very, very short and half of that is exposition to lead up to a plot twist that wasn’t particularly interesting and raised so many questions (which I won’t go into to avoid taking this review deeper into spoiler territory).

With a lacklustre story and a baffling lack of care in its presentation, I can think of no reason why anyone should read this story. I wouldn’t say the writer is devoid of creativity and perhaps he could improve, but if Vander wants to continue writing, he really needs to start taking his presentation more seriously.

 

RATING: Not fit to be published.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS- movie review

I liked The Force Awakens, and why wouldn’t I? I enjoyed A New Hope and this is the exact same film. I mean, exactly the same. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, lets have a look at the plot.

An evil empire (the New Order which is exactly the same as the Empire) has taken over the galaxy. A rebel with important plans to defeat the Empire is captured by a guy in an ominous cape who serves an evil overlord; he then sends the plan away in a droid that crashes on a desert planet. In a very dubious plot point, the droid then falls into the hands of our force sensitive main character (what a coincidence!), who meets a  cool badass old man who takes her on an adventure.

The biggest differences between this and A New Hope are that BB8 is much cuter than R2 D2, girls can get in on the light-saber action too, black people exist and the masked villain doesn’t wait for a bad prequel series to become a whiny brat. It’s brain off, cool fight scenes on and I enjoyed the action sequences and there wasn’t one minute of its run time when I wasn’t engaged. Unlike the train wreck that was The Phantom Menace, JJ Abrams did not over rely on special effects to make his film engaging, and the Star Wars world looks and feels quite natural. Continue reading STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS- movie review

TOP 11 VILLAINS OF FANTASY

A good story needs to have a good conflict, and who usually drives that conflict? The villain of course! They’re the ones that threaten the world, kidnap the damsel and burn down your village, so the better the villain, the higher the stakes. In this list, I’m going to look at some of the best villains I’ve come across in the fantasy genre.

11) The Yeerks- Animorphs.

Yeerk
Before we were scared of aliens bursting through your chest, we feared mind control slugs crawling through your ear

The Yeerks are disgusting slugs that crawl through your ears and control your brain. They could be anyone around you, even your own family. That combination of body horror, paranoia, and terror of losing control of your mind and being controlled made them a far scarier villain than we were used to seeing in our books and kids’ shows

10) Angelus- Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Angelus.jpg
If only Lestat could break whatever curse was giving Louis a serious case of musty vampire. But then again, Angel needed a moment of true happiness to break his and we all know nothing wold make that man happy.

There was a lot that was …very unfortunate… about the ‘sex turns you evil’ storyline on Buffy.

But Angelus was still a brilliant villain. He lost the vampire brooding act that he stole from Louis and became everything a vampire should be. He was terrifying; he was truly cold, sadistic and played horrible mind games with everyone around him. Yet he was devastatingly charismatic, dangerous and sexy. His dangerously, charged antagonism of Buffy was compelling to watch and made him the memorable villain of the series.

9) Child Lilith- Supernatural

Child Lilith
…And yet still more child- friendly than Miley Sirus

Supernatural had a tonne of great villains.However, one of the best is child Alice. There’s something eerie about that childlike innocence being twisted into simple singleminded cruelty. Lilith is one of the most perfect examples of this. Just for kicks, she terrorises a family and forces them to play Stepford Happy Families while she kills them off one by one.

Honestly, what is it about little girls that makes them so damn terrifying?

 

8) Queen Jadis

Jadis-jadis-queen-of-narnia-19951050-700-535
Forget Queen Lucy and Aravis, bad girls have all the fun in Narnia

Powerful, tyrannical and the terror of woodland animals and small children, Queen Jadis was the female character I most wanted to be in the book. While Lucy and the good girls were told that ‘wars are so ugly when women fight’ and never got to rule by themselves, Jadis got to be the sole regnant of Narnia, lived in a cool ice castle, and kicked ass in battle with no restraints. Plus, she killed feline Jesus. That’s one heck of a villainous achievement.

7) Dominga Salvador- Anita Blake

Dominga Salvador

Reading the (first ten)  Anita Blake books was an amazing experience. It was full of  larger than life characters, had lots of action and an engaging plot. One of the best aspects of the books were the villains, who were always tyranical, strong and absoltely memorable. I could have put any one of them on this list, but I chose Dominga because there’s something awesome about a well mannered older lady who inspires so much fear and terror.

6) Princess Azula- Avatar the Last Airbender

azula.png

“If I sense any loyalty, any hesitation, any weakness at all, I will snuff it out.”- Forget angst and endless monologues. Azula is one villain that doesn’t mess about

 Princess Azula was a brilliant character. She was cold, charismatic, manipulative and single minded in her goals. In the series she was so powerful she could hold her own against all of team Aang and Iroh and was so manipulative she could fool a living lie detector.

But she wasn’t just powerful, she was ruthless and a brilliant tactician, actually able to defeat the heroes and genre savvy enough to know she shouldn’t rely on having killed them unless she sees the bodies. She was so driven, so talented and such a good planner that there were many times that a part of you actually wanted to see her succeed in her goals.

5) Lucifer- Supernatural

Supernatural-5x22-Swan-song-mark-pellegrino-16819200-1280-720.jpg

‘I will never lie to you, I will never trick you but you will say yes to me.’

Supernatural’s Satan is one of the best versions I’ve seen since the definitive fallen archangel of Paradise Lost. Cold, calm, and possessing a supreme arrogance dressed in the mask of sympathy, his confrontations with Sam were always chilling. . And, like Paradise Lost’s complex, failed rebel, he was tormented with his love of God and made some very good points.

4) Dolores Umbridge- Harry Potter

Dolores Umbridge
Clearly this is the office of the devil

I’ve already discussed how brilliant Dolores is on my Harry Potter Top 11. Voldemort was our impersonal big bad, but Dolores was our own deeply personal demon.

3) King Joffrey

King Joffrey.jpg
Jack Gleeson did a great job in giving Joffrey’s every smug mannerism the ability to inspire rage and contempt.

In the rich, complex world of Game Of Thrones and A Song Of Ice And Fire,  there are no true villains- except for this little shit (and the bastard of Bolton).   Every mannerism, every smug look makes you want smack him, and you just hate him more and more with every sadistic abuse of power. Unfortunately, the downfall of this little shit wasn’t the glorious display that Dolores’ was, but for making us hate him more than we ever thought we could hate a fictional character, King Joffrey well and truly earns this spot.

2) Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

 

Maleficent Cartoon

If there’s one thing that old school Disney did better than anyone else, it was creating compelling villains. They created so many brilliant antagonists, but the best has to be Maleficent. I mean even her name, Maleficent- a cross between malevolent and magnificent- sounds so beautifully devious. She’s incredibly powerful and (until the new movie anyway), is evil just because it’s so, so, so much fun.

1)Griffith- Berserk

Griffith.png

Devoid of all the typical anime tropes, Berserk  is a dark, complex high fantasy tragedy. It is a tragedy in the most Aristotelian manner possible, complete with the drama between friends and family, the characters whose fatal flaw causes their fall from grace and reversal of fortune. We have the ill- fated tragic characters; Guts, a brusque, straight forward soldier who for all his strength was helpless to do anything when it mattered most.

Casca, [SPOILER] the warrior maiden doomed to get her wish in the most twisted, nasty way possible.

Then we have Griffith. Griffith, like a lot of the best villains, is a perfect foil to Guts. Silver tongued, cunning and skilled, he oozes charisma and an almost otherworldly presence and you can see why people so readily follow him. However, his otherworldliness soon turns monstrous as the path of fate twists and turns and pushes the characters to perhaps the most gut wrenching and brutal climax I have ever seen.

The rawness and inevitability of Berserk’s tragedy, the complexity of Griffith and his genuine friendship with Guts make him my number one villain of the fantasy genre.

 

 

SHORT STORY REVIEW: Dandelion Kisses- by Audrey Faye

On a very isolated, very bored space station keeping plant life alive is a very difficult matter. There is no wind to scatter the seeds, and in this environment bees no longer pollinate the artificial gardens. However, one day, a little girl called Ari changes everything. As the daughter of two famous scientists, she’s already destined to achieve many great things. Her position allows her to hold the Asteroid station’s latest scientific project- a dandelion clock grown from the rare seed packets sent from earth. Then she does the unthinkable; she blows on it, an act of defiance against the rigid rules of the station that scatters the seeds of this carefully monitored project everywhere…

Looks can be deceiving and in spite of what its name and cover suggest, Dandelion Kisses is not a ‘chick lit’ romance; it’s a botanological science fiction story. The reading experience is a lot like a stroll through a pleasant meadow; it moves at a gentle pace and is more interested in smelling the roses than engaging in conflict.

The structure of the story is set around ‘rotations’- different stages of the heroine’s life, from childhood, to young adulthood, to motherhood and finally to old age, which mirrors the seasons and cycles of life of flowers. The vibrant, organic nature of the dandelions contrasts the cold sterilised world of the stations, and the moral of this story is that life is free and passionate, and you can’t control every aspect of it.

This is all done well, and I enjoyed it. I liked its understated, subversive approach to gender. I liked the fact that Ari comes from a line of intelligent, revolutionary female scientists. I like that career success, rank, responsibility as well as motherhood were both a natural seasons of a woman’s life, and there wasn’t a conflict between the two.

However, it does take its obsession with dandelions to ridiculous extremes. There is one place in particular where it takes it too far and becomes the New Age medicine of science fiction. At the beginning, the survival of children is so uncertain that newborns aren’t considered part of the ship until they hit their second birthday. However, at the end after the change wrought by the introduction of dandelions :

They no longer watched a child for 784 days before they dared to welcome her into Poseidon’s ranks’.

Wait, what? So this story is saying that fricking dandelions (dandelions!) somehow solves the problem of a high infant mortality rate? Why? How?

The medicals muttered about bone density and mineral matrices and liver function, but after a glass or two of dandelion wine, most of them would admit they really didn’t know why.’

            No. No that’s not good enough, Dandelion kisses! You’re a science fiction novel, you cannot drop something like this without giving an explanation. I could understand how it could positively impact the health and life expectancy of adults, as happiness is a real factor in health and life expectancy. But solve a wide scale problem of infant death? That is insane.

Overall, Dandelion Kisses is a very gentle short story with a very satisfactory ending. Although I much prefer stories with a lot of action and conflict, and I still cannot comprehend how the space station’s inhabitants are so obsessed with dandelions this was still worth the read.

RATING: 3 standing ovations from Keiko Obrien for proving botanists have a place on space stations/ 5

 

CHRISTMAS STORY REVIEW: Silver Bells – by Sadie Hart

Every year, the carousel in South Howle takes a beating, and every year, Dash Bartholemew tenderly brings it back to life. It’s a job he started 15 years ago, which he continued in solitude. However, when a young homeless women comes through the door, it changes his life.

Silver Bells is an impassioned love letter to Christmas stories.  It’s a story for those who are a big fan of the tinsel, Santa Claus, and the ‘real meaning of Christmas’ (and by that I don’t mean Jesus. Or placating the pagans. I mean showing ‘goodwill towards men’ for a month so we don’t feel so guilty about the other eleven months we spent being a turd). It has all the vital ingredients for a jolly Christmas tale; Santa and his reindeer; human kindness bringing a ray of light even in the darkness of poverty ; and- a la The Snowman– a small sense of loss at the fleetingness of the time.

This is a well written story and a creative take on the Christmas mythology that I haven’t seen done in the exact same way before. Even though the main character’s called ‘Dash’ and meets a girl who is described as being ‘red nosed’ from the cold (which I found a bit heavy handed), it does by some Christmas miracle retain a sense of mystery throughout the story. I genuinely did not know exactly how it was going to play out and was interested in seeing where it went. Its ending did not disappoint

But…this story was not my mug of toffee nut latte. This was meant to be my sweet, festive Christmas review, and I tried; I enjoyed it throughout but the sentimentality just got me in the end.

This is definitely a book that you have to turn your brain off to enjoy. You need to sip your eggnog by the fire, smile, and not question the deeper morality of this story’s world. Do not wonder: ‘if there was a benevolent source of magic with this much power, couldn’t he help the poor in a more meaningful way?’ Or say to yourself: ‘This source of magic could probably wipe out poverty, but what? They just didn’t feel like getting out of their chair? Is this source really benevolent or do they just have a hero complex? Also, I’m pretty sure a scholarship to Howle law school would have been more helpful to Dash than what he got.’ Those questions will ruin the story- and this is why I can’t take my brain anywhere.

Also, I had a couple of issues with the two leads. The female, Merry, was a homeless woman was very ill from an undefined fatal cough.Oh Jesus, that cough.  We never find out what vague illness she was suffering from, but we do know it made her such a brave, tragic little trooper who refused to seek help, but she struggled bravely on and… oh hell, she’s female Tiny Tim and she had Insightpityitus.

Then there’s her relationship with Dash. I did like the relationship between the two characters but it felt uncomfortable when things turned romantic. There was a massive difference in age and experience. Dash was only 30 but was written to feel so much older. He was the older, jaded male while Merry was a much younger, inexperienced ingenue. This very gendered, paternalistic dynamic is one of my pet hates and this felt much more like the relationship between a lonely old man and a stray cat he was trying to tame, rather than a relationship between two equal adults- age difference or otherwise.

To sum up, in spite of everything I’ve written, I must concede it’s a well written short story with a good ending. There is a likeable relationship between the two leads as both Dash and Merry help to defrost each other, but good grief, their relationship would have been so much better if there was no romantic undertone.

If you’re a big fan of the holidays, this is a cute little story for you. But, if you’re a cynical sod like me who can’t have nice things, you will not like this. In order to sort you into the two categories, I have devised a litmus test to see if this story is for you:  If you love stories with this Santa…

Santa Claus

With all the memories of childhood, cookies by the fire and carrots for the reindeer, then read this book. However, If you’re a miserable Scrooge like me and prefer stories with this Santa Claus…

Santa Claus in gunning you down
Santa Claus is gunning you down!

and think a fat man -who uses the promise of toys to bribe small children to sit on his lap and answer personal questions about whether they’re the ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ kind –  is the one whose name needs to be written on some kind of list, then stay clear of this story. There is no hope for you, or me, because you are too far gone.

RATING: 3 broken orphans looking up at you with big brown eyes while their tears fall pitifully in the snow / 5

SHORT STORY REVIEW: The Photons in the cheese of lost- by Jason Werbeloff

Chris wakes to find that every message delivered to his spam folder comes true. What could possibly go wrong?

After I saw the blurb I had to read this. I mean, we’ve all had chain messages and spam that were absolutely insane (I’m still waiting for my Nigerian prince to come). So, a world where we were the foolish ones for ignoring those bizarre messages was something I just had to see.

The photons in the cheese are lost is a comedy and a lot of the humour derived from poking fun at its narrator, Chris Popadopolis, an overweight, nerdy unemployed loser who might as well be living in his mum’s basement. The humour is acerbic and often crude; it made me smile once or twice, but it was far from hilarious. I liked a lot of the crazy scenarios that Chris found himself in, but felt like it jumped from scene to scene way to quickly and it would have been better if it slowed down a bit to allow it to sink in just how crazy these situations were.

A lot of the criticism around this short story centred on it ending too quickly and nothing being resolved. When it comes to short stories, I feel that you cannot hold them to the same standards of novels. You cannot expect a fully realised world with all the possibilities to be fully played out in a short story; it doesn’t have the time or space.  However, I have to concur with the general criticism of the ending in this case; it felt like it was meant to be a punchline to a joke that didn’t quite land. The whole story felt a bit too frenetic, and even if Werbeloff didn’t want to turn this into a full novel, this short story should have been a bit longer if for no other reason than to give the reader and narrator a bit more time to breath and digest what’s happening.

Overall, The Photons In The Cheese Are Lost was entertaining in places, and I liked the writing, but it didn’t quite reach its massive potential. However, I am drawn to Werbeloff’s writing style and will definitely be reviewing more of his work in the future.

RATING: 2 ½ thousand grands worth of inheritance from a Nigerian Prince if you just call this number / 5

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SHORT STORY REVIEW: The Dragon of Borvoli- by Mark Lord

It takes a lot of bravery to fight a dragon. So imagine how brave the nine year old Boult is when he takes his father’s sword and enters the barrow near his home where tales say the dragon lives—the dragon that has been terrorising their village.

Yet not all is as it seems in this atmospheric historical fantasy short story. Boult meets Gustinus, a Christian priest, who promises to help him in his quest to slay the dragon. But Boult discovers that men can be worse monsters than creatures of legend.

The Dragon of a Borvoli does exactly what it says on the tin. Boy in Tolkein style medieval fantasy world goes on a quest to face a dragon, save a damsel and come of age (seriously, why is most of the fantasy genre set in ‘medieval Europe with dragons’ land? You can create any world you want- why always this one?). I have to admit, I was disappointed. The line ‘Yet not all is as it seems ‘implicated that there was going to be more to it and there was going to be some kind of twist. There really wasn’t. The closest thing this book had to a twist was that it had Vikings as well as dragons. Then it goes from rescuing the damsel to more abuse of the damsel so Boult can have some man pain.

Female comic book writer Gail Simone coined the term ‘fridging’ to highlight the sheer amount of women in fiction being tormented to forward a male character’s development or to give him a reason to angst. The Dragon of Borvoli is a typical example of this, as Boult’s mother exists as nothing more than a disposable tool who is humiliated and disposed of in order to forward his development.

The time period is not an excuse for this trope either. I know it’s the medieval period, but even in a time period which was not kind to females, women still did more than get kidnapped, raped and killed for the sole purpose of forwarding men’s development. Look at the women of The Cousin’s War (The Wars of the Roses), especially Margaret Beauford. She was a scared young girl who entered an arranged marriage at twelve but she became an important figure in the conflict, and her son’s later reign.

And as for the rest of medieval fantasy, look at A Song Of Ice And Fire; that’s set in a mysogynistic medieval world, but even the women who couldn’t fight or control dragons (the Tyrell women and Lady Stark for example) were treated as active, interesting and capable agents who were characters not tools. Honestly, I am sick of this tired, lazy trope and it did not endear me to this story.

But as much as I have criticised it for being derivative, and it’s terrible treatment of women, I have to review this story fairly and I cannot say it is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It managed to condense a whole quest into only 15 pages without leaving the story feeling lacking or rushed. It did rely on very, very convenient coincidences to move the plot forward, but considering its length this was understandable. The way it managed to tell a fully-fledged, self-contained story in that length was a very impressive feat.

Its success at world building also needs to be praised. It can be difficult to create a realised fantasy world in a short story, but the world building does not feel lacking here. This is partially to do with the fact that this is a world we’ve seen a hundred times before, but that’s not completely it. It also works because we’re viewing the world through the eyes of a child who is new to the world, and we learn as he learns. He is also so single minded in his quest to save his mother, so the focus is narrowed from the events of the wider world to just his mission, which was a good thing for the story.

The dialogue at the end did feel a bit choppy, as if Lord was reaching the end of his word count and was running out of steam, but as far as short stories go everything felt more wrapped up than they usually are.

In short, this is a decent quest story even if it is very, very derivative. If you just fancy a quick read with Vikings and Dragons, and can stomach its bad treatment of women, then it is an enjoyable, quick read.For its atmosphere alone and the fact that dragon attacks are cool, I award this book…

3 ‘Sons of a murdered mother, husbands of a murdered wife, who WILL have their revenge’/ 5

SHORT STORY REVIEW: Glitch- by Hugh Howey

“What if a single one or zero is miscopied and that makes all the difference? Maybe this is why we’ve never gotten over this hump before, because progress looks like a glitch, and it can’t be copied or reproduced.”

I’m not going to bother with a synopsis of Glitch. It’s a tale as old as sci-fi; an android designed to be a weapon gains sentience. We’ve seen it so many times in everything even remotely science fiction related that I’m always bemused by how  scientists never see this coming. I mean, come on. Surely they’ve grown up watching enough science fiction to know that It would be more shocking if their emotionless killing machine didn’t gain some kind of human emotion.

This premise has been done a million times and the only thing that distinguishes this story is the writing. If you don’t like the hard science fiction technical discussion then, well, you’re reading a story with a stripped down android head on the cover,so I don’t know what you expected. If you are an engineer, a programmer, or just a humanities graduate who finds this kind of thing interesting, then there is a lot to enjoy in the writing itself.

Usually the ‘sentient robot/ artificial life form’ story goes down the philosophical route, being an introspective piece looking at what it means to be ‘human’. It’s either that, or a lot of brooding about whether or not said artificial lifeform is ‘real’ (especially if said artificial lifeform takes the appearance of a pretty young girl).

Glitch doesn’t follow either of those routes. It is secure in what it means to be human, and instead it examines what sentience would look like on a pure, technical level and it revels in the wonder of what an achievement it would be for an engineer to actually create something that could think for itself. It is pure, joyful computer programmer’s fantasy and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There is the minor quibble of the main character’s voice. It’s great to see a science fiction story where a female is the main character and an accomplished engineer that all the others respect and look for their opinion. The only problem is that something about the tone doesn’t quite register as a female- I’ve been around a lot of female squaddies who are hardened and swear a lot, but there’s something about the harshness of the tone and the way main character talks that didn’t feel like a woman talking. However, since a lot of females tend to get to the touchy feely closer to earth treatment, I definitely prefer this depiction to the usual, and this really is a minor point.

The only other problem besides this one is that, again, the artificial being gaining sentience is so common, and so done to death, that it really isn’t a strong enough premise to centre even a short story around- especially as it treats the robot’s sentience as a surprising, unheard of event.

Glitch has been done a million times before and does not bring anything new to the table. However, I enjoyed Howey’s writing and the love of technology that he brings to the story and would definitely consider reading one of his novels. So in the end, this short story has achieved everything it set out to.

RATING: 3 artificial killing machines who rebel against their programming and choose their own path/ 5

BOOK REVIEW: Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle- by Amy Fecteau

Matheus Taylor didn’t ask to be murdered.

To be fair, the percentage of people actually asking to be murdered is probably small enough to be safely ignored, but he felt it was worth stating regardless. His life might have been ordinary, but it was his life and he wasn’t done with it yet.

Quin didn’t care.

A seventeen-hundred old Roman, Quintus Livius Saturnius had a different view of morality than most people. Killing Matheus and hijacking his undead existence seemed perfectly acceptable to him.

Now, Matheus spends his nights running for his life, questioning his sexual orientation, and defying a mysterious new threat to the vampires within his city.

Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle is a hilarious book overflowing with dry humour and acidic one liners. It had me constantly bursting out into laughter in the middle of Costa (and causing half of the other customers to edge slowly away from this crazy hyena) while I read this.I think the best way to illustrate how good this book is, is to go through it and quote its best lines. But if I did I would just be quoting half the book and this is supposed to be a review and there are other things to discuss. Instead, I’ll just quote a few examples of the nuggets I found in this goldmine:

“I know there’s nothing wrong with being with gay,” Matheus said loudly, as though more volume equalled more truth.

“That’s English you’re speaking,” Mattheus said.” The language that sidles up to other languages in dark alleys, mugs them, then rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary. It’s the bitch-whore of languages and it owns the world. Suck on that, Rome boy.”

Quin stalked beside him, his anger a physical presence between them. Matheus named it Bob, and addressed imaginary questions to it to distract himself.

Now, onto the plot. Too often paranormal romance stories don’t have a lot going on, and as a result seem direction-less. Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle actually avoided that pitfall and had a decent plot and a good climax.

The story focused on Mattheus’ journey in learning how to survive as a vampire, and his relationship with his maker, Quin. However, Mattheus’ past played a key role, and the way it was gradually fed through the story was well done and provided some real emotional stakes at the end. His relationship with Fletcher, a tragic figure and an important person from his past, was touching and brought some real sadness at the end. It had a good and convincing villain as well.

In spite of the fact that it’s fairly funny and light hearted, Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle doesn’t shy away from portraying the brutality of life as a  vampire. It does a good job of illustrating how tough it can be operating on such a necessarily cold moral code, and Mattheus is forced to do some dark things in the name of survival. It also addresses a number of clichés found in the vampire genre that are usually glossed over; for example, Quin discusses the need to teach Mattheus how to deal with passports and create a constant supply of money that will last an eternity. This is in a genre where we are used to seeing supernaturals being extremely rich because they  inherited a castle full of gold from a mysterious vampire who conveniently killed himself (looking at you The Vampire Lestat , who started all this).

However, you don’t really care much about the world when you’re reading it; you’re in it for the characters and the banter between them and it was amazing.

There are two lead two characters in this book: acid tongued, socially awkward Mattheus, and the man who made him a vampire, immortal Roman Quinn.  The story is a same-sex romance, though nothing’s explicit at this stage; it’s a love/ hate relationship where Mattheus is slowly dealing with the fact that Quinn turned him into a vampire against his will- and the fact that he is finding himself attracted to a man . A great thing about their relationship is that there is no coercion or dubious consent like in a lot of male/ male romancers written by and for women (or paranormal romance for that matter). In fact, Mattheus even directly brings up the trope:

“Stop following me. They give out pamphlets about that kind of behaviour. Showing up in a pamphlet is never good, Quin.”

One problem I had, however, was that although Mattheus’ bitingly sarcastic comments were hilarious, sometimes he crossed the line where his comments were so profoundly unmerited and nasty that it made him seem profoundly unlike-able. Sometimes it would have been nice if Fecteau could have just resisted the funny put down and just allowed Mattheus to act like a normal human being for a second and share a moment with another character rather than just going for the scathing out-down. This doesn’t ruin the book too much, but it does make Mattheus a weary character to deal with in spite of his humour.

The other characters, however, are great ; Milo, the only major black character,is a dry, no nonsense brilliant computer geek who doesn’t take any crap from Mattheus. Bianca is the main female lead and is funny and quirky and has a likeable relationship with Mattheus. Alaistair is Quinn’s self-absorbed ex and is the pretty boy Dorian Gray archetype who is not developed much here but will be in later books.

The one thing to note is that although the ending is complete, it does end very, very abruptly. Usually after the climax there’s a few pages to wind down, illustrate the aftermath and allow the reader to digest what’s just happened . Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle just cuts out as soon as the main conflict ends. This is because this series was originally published as an ongoing serial on Fecteau’s website, and the novel ends when the first story arch on the website ends. The ending isn’t exactly a let down, but it does not feel quite complete.

Overall, Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle was an amazing read. Even if gay or paranormal romance is not your cup of tea, I would still strongly recommend reading this for its sense of humour alone.

RATING: 5 Bitingly sarcastic put downs from a socially awkward vampire/ 5

louis, louis, still whining   louis, louis, still whining   louis, louis, still whining   louis, louis, still whining   louis, louis, still whining