BOOK REVIEW: MEN OF THE OTHERWORLD- by Kelley Armstrong

BLURB: I don’t remember the first time I changed into a wolf. One night I passed out, and awoke to find my body covered in yellow fur. My brain was beyond reacting. It took this in its stride, as it had everything else in my new life. I got to my feet and went in search of food.

As a curious and independent six-year-old, Clayton didn’t resist the bite – he asked for it. But as a lone child werewolf his life is under constant threat. So when enigmatic Pack member Jeremy Danvers saves him, Clayton is determined to protect his adoptive father, no matter what the cost.

So begins this gripping collection of four tales chronicling the bloody feuds of the American Pack, and the coming of age of Clay Danvers, a very powerful – and very singular – werewolf.

REVIEW: In spite of my gripes with paranormal romance, I love Kelley Armstrong’s writing; she’s funny, descriptive, her action sequences are great and I love her sense of snark. Out of all the different supernaturals that occupy her Women Of The Otherworld series, the werewolves are my favorite creatures. So when I found out this book was all about the werewolves with (almost) no other supernatural creatures, and minimal romance, I was in. Men Of The Other World was everything I’d hoped it’d be. Or at least, the Clay novellas were. The stories surrounding Jeremy’s heritage were a disaster zone, but I’ll get to that.

The two longest, Savage and Ascension,  cover Clay’s upbringing and Jeremy’s rise to Alphadom.

Savage mainly covers Clay’s meeting with Jeremy and his attempts to fit in with the pack, while Ascension covers the pack politics surrounding the power struggle that emerged over who will succeed an aging Dominic as Alpha.

Even though I hated Clay’s relationship with Elena, as a character he was interesting. A man who was turned a wolf as a child ( a sort of modern Mowgli), his story was fascinating and one that begged to be told. And Savage does an excellent job of this.

His meeting with Jeremy is very emotional and shows the patience of the man. Although this story is being told retrospectively from the POV of adult Clay,its still done in a way which employs the thought processes of child Clay. As someone who became a wolf when he was four and left human society until he reached the age of seven, Clay had initially forgotten how to understand human speech and has become a feral, slowly starving in the world.

Even though there’s no dialogue (Clay had forgotten how to speak at this point), and Clay doesn’t understand what’s going on, the emotion is all there. Clay’s mindset is that of well, a cross between a frightened child and scared animal, whose mentality is purely fight or flight, not fully comprehending what’s going on and only coming to Jeremy for food. He sees Jeremy’s attempts to try and dress him as a ‘game’, and it takes a long time to build trust. Armstrong doesn’t rush this, and we have repeated incidents of Clay running away, causing trouble and making Jeremy’s life extremely difficult.

This really demonstrates the compassion of the character, and his patience. Another wonderful thing about this story is that we finally see the werewolves (other than our Italian businessmen) hold down a job. In Women Of The Otherworld, it always felt vague how they were managing to afford this huge property as neither Clay, Elena nor Jeremy’s jobs were shown having much impact on their lives. Here, we see Jeremy having to deal with managing accounts and the inheritance of Stonehaven on his own, and having to deal with translating work to keep the place afloat. This added a lot of authenticity to the book, and it was so wonderful seeing him having to deal with financial issues rather than living in the almost Disney Princess fantasy land where he can just get loads of money selling the odd painting because he’s just that super talented.

It was also great seeing a young Nick growing up with Clay, and their friendship and how his easy going nature clashed with Nick’s loner personality.The power struggle within the pack was fascinating and it was interesting seeing how the different power struggles clashed, although I don’t understand how Malcolm could have ever been a viable contender. Malcolm himself, was just a big, mean ball of macho bile; he doesn’t have a job, is continuously antagonistic to everyone. I honestly didn’t understand why a sensible Alpha like Dominic tolerated him, because he’s such a pantomime villain and a loose cannon. Sure, he’s a great fighter, but he’s nothing that couldn’t be replaced by a good shot gun. What did save him from cartoon villaindoom, however, was his fascination with Clay. I liked how they were both sort of different sides of the same coin, and Malcolm uses his wolf ideology to justify his cruelty, while Clay, allegedly more wolf than human, cannot understand this senseless cruelty.

One thing I did really hate was how quickly Clay went from being behind his peers due to being in the wild so long, to suddenly being extremely gifted and talented and ahead of everyone else. This happened in the space of a year or two. I’m sorry, but this is complete nonsense. There’s no way Clay could have caught up so quickly, and the only reason he does is because he’s meant to be this super special love interest. Clay is impulsive, irrational and lacks judgement and is extremely primal. He has shown absolutely no sign of having a brain for the entire series, there’s no way I buy him as this super special genius.

But all in all, I absolutely loved these novellas and enjoyed them more than a lot of Elena’s books in the main series.

Infusion and Kitsunegari

Now, with a heavy sigh I have to get to the disaster that is Jeremy’s Asian heritage. Oh my, why did she have to do this? You see, in this Jeremy is half kitsune on his mother’s side (which isn’t a spoiler- if a Japanese supernatural turns up in urban fantasy, it’s always a kitsune). So basically, a kitsune comes along, breeds with Malcolm in order to give Jeremy cool Asian mind powers and is killed conveniently when she’s completed her utility. Yeah, that sounds a bit cold but that’s basically all she is- an exotic baby maker that gives her son superpowers.

The problem is that this is the poster boy for badly used mixed race protagonists in urban fantasy, which is excellently deconstructed in this article here. The only reason that she’s Asian is so that Jeremy gets cool exotic powers, and of course after she’s done that, she’s of no further use so she’s done away with. Nothing of her heritage is passed on to Jeremy, she’s never treated as a person, and none of Jeremy’s heritage affects his life or him as a person- you’d think that growing up getting racially abused by his father and being the only mixed race Asian amongst a bunch of white men would have some affect on him. But no, it’s brought up so little in the series this feels like a bizarre ret con. This is even lazier Mixed Race writing than Zoey Redbird was in HoN, who at least acknowledged the existance of her heritage (even if it’s only to justify her super special spirit Pocohontus powers)- and if I’m saying an element is worse than anything in HoN, that’s the most damning criticism I can heap on something.

Worse still, in Infusion, the reason that the kitsune grandmother uses for choosing to throw her grandaughter at Malcolm is because their race is dying and they need ‘strong blood’. Yeah, POC wanting the ‘strong bloodline’ of white people is a racist trope that’s been around for centuries, and though I’m sure Armstrong didn’t purposefully write it that way because she’s not a white supremicist, it sounds so much like this it’s impossible to ignore. Also, having a Japanese woman throwing herself at a white man in the 40s… when the Americans were throwing Japanese Americans into internment camps? Man, that’s pretty bad.

It appears they do at least acknowledge the racism and the mother does say that she was playing on Jeremy’s Racist attitudes… but because she’s given no character it all feels played straight.

It gets even worse in Kitsunegari, as a gang of Kitsune attempt to seduce Jeremy away from Jaime in mangled English saying ‘I for you.’ So basically:

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Yes, we went there: we went full ‘me love you long time’, and it doesn’t even have the excuse Full Metal Jacket did of being written in the 80s. Or Southpark for being Southpark. These creatures are literal submissive sex objects, and apart from being desperate for Jeremy’s superior white- um, werewolf – semen, they’re given no agency, no will of their own compared with the other supernaturals of Armstrong’s world. They are literal sex objects throwing themselves to be used by the white male protagonists, and that is one of the most pernicious, nastiest racial stereotypes surrounding Asian women. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were more Asian characters, but Women Of The Otherworld is whiter than Donald Trump’s porch after a snowstorm. Hope Adams is the only non white narrator in the series, while Zoe Takano is the only asian character in the series… and she wasn’t exactly very competent in Broken.

I mean, why are the Kitsune dying out when the werewolves are doing just fine? Surely there were plenty of other supernatural creatures nearer home they could breed with? Why travel to a country they were on bad terms with for their supernatural sperm doner. Plus, kitsune and shape shifters in Japanese mythology typically try and breed with nobility, so the Danvers would be of low blood and beneath them.

It’s a shame we had to do this, to walk into so many unfortunate racial tropes for no other reason than to give Jeremy a bit of extra magic- which could have been done another way, as to my knowledge mind powers aren’t amongst the typical kitsune skill set anyway ; it was interesting delving into Malcolm’s twisted psyche, and Jaime was her usual awesome sassy self. Plus, it was nice seeing Jaime and Jeremy interacting as a normal couple, having to make time to see each other, working around each others schedules and responsibilities. Damnit, why did we have go there book? You were so brilliant otherwise!

VERDICT: Ignoring the tropey racial disaster zone that were Infusion and Kitsunegari, Men Of The Otherworld was an excellent collection that did everything a set of short stories about a main series should do: they told a story in their own right, and added a lot of depth to the series main characters.

RATING: 4 wolves out of a pack of 5

And on a final note, the English cover looks so much, and so much better than the alternative version. It’s good to know that at least Women Of The Other World is going equal ops on terrible torso pictures:

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The Secret of The Sailor and The Kraken

Everyone knew the story of  my grandad. 50 years ago, a Kraken had terrorized our town. Killed a lot of people, including my Uncle. That’s when Grandpa snapped; with only a hunting knife, he went out and killed the monster and became a hero.

But one of the strange things about him was that he always walked along the sea front alone, late at night.

I followed him one night. I watched as he stood by the ocean. Moonlight glittered on a shiny black tentacle.

He didn’t even look up, “I knew you’d find me, lad. I’d like you to meet Ella. The Kraken’s daughter.”

“But… why?”

The old man gave a heavy sigh.

“Ella here’s a herbivore.” He said slowly, “Tried to feed her some tuna but she wouldn’t even touch it.”

“Then…”

He put his hands deep in his pockets.

“I found out…” he said, “many years ago, my son was seeing another man. Your mother said some men found out and didn’t like it. Were gonna blackmail him. Don’t know who.Apparently the thought of me knowing was worse than death to him.”

He kicked a rock.

“I’ll never know what happened- if it was someone else who killed him, or he did it himself.” his voice choked “All I know is that people still go missing, my son’s gone, and killing that Kraken didn’t do a damned thing.”

He gave me a long, tired look.

“If you only remember one thing I’ve told you, remember this.” he said, “It’s easier to kill a monster than look in the damned mirror.”

Grandpa walked away into the night,not looking back.

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This is my 280 word submission for the flash fiction challenge, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. Each week we submit a story of approximately 100-175 words based on a photo which we use to center our short stories on. It’s really beyond the word length and is probably ineligible, but I had a good story and decided to share it here anyway. Hopefully it’ll be a good read anyway. For more information, click HERE.

GUILTY PLEASURES (ANITA BLAKE, VAMPIRE HUNTER BOOK 1)- by Laurel K Hamilton

Ah, before the series devolved into badly written polyamory reverse harem porn (while having little idea what polyamory really looks like), there  . Written in the early 90s, and taking strong  The Vampire Chronicles, and being highly reminiscent of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (which it preceded) Anita Blake is one of the grandparents of Urban Fantasy genre. Not only that, but it really stands up well today and is extremely enjoyable, offering one of the few urban fantasy novels that has a heroine take centre of her own adventure, which centers around action and not romance.

The story is a sort of a film noir paranormal fantasy where the supernatural is known to the world (which is quite refreshing). Anita, known as ‘The Executioner’ to vampires (because Hamilton couldn’t call her The Slayer- although this book predates the tv series but not the movie), has a licence to Slay and is the paranormal expert that works with the police. What’s cool is that Anita has a job (shockers) that relates to the supernatural, which is being paid to raise the dead for various reasons- like to settle disputes over wills. This in itself is a really interesting concept, and it’s really great seeing Anita live a daily life- with work, friendships, gym routines, bills to pay- that doesn’t just stop when supernatural problems come a knocking.

In this novel, her central objective is to track down a serial killer who’s targeting vampires, but lets face it, Anita Blake is no Sherlock. She is a really terrible investigator and one of the clues she only happened to find because a plot important event just coincidentally was taking place on the same night and the same time as Anita was investigating a nearby location. She wouldn’t have found out who killed the vampires basically announced themselves with an evil laugh and then did basically the urban fantasy version of leaving Anita dangling above a shark pit instead of shooting her with a sniper rifle. Yeah, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo this book is not, but fortunately it doesn’t matter. There are so many interesting things happening that the central mystery- who is the serial killer who targets vampires- was really the least interesting part of this book. This book was interesting for all its multiple sub plots that come together perfectly in the end (although there are a couple of threads that will remain unsolved for later books).

The vampire serial killer is really small potatoes compared with the menace that is Nikolaos, an insanely powerful immortal child vampire (Claudia expy), or this whole ‘human servant’ thing with Jean Claude (super sexy kind of pansexual french vampire? definately Lestat inspired). Now, she really is a fantastic big bad. She’s devastatingly powerful, and commands fear of everyone around her- including Anita herself and even Jean-Claude- who himself is insanely powerful. Nikolaos was brilliantly built up, and like Dominga and The Travaller to name a few, she stands out as one of the most compelling villains in the genre.

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This is one creepy child you don’t want to play with

I also like the way that the ‘discrimination’ against vampires is handled. At the beginning, having not read this book in a long time, I rolled my eyes when it went into vampire rights movement. As I mentioned in my list of top 7 gripes against the genre, I hate the way that discrimination against vampire is used as an analogy for homophobia or racism . But Guilty Pleasures avoids this. A vampire tries to use this logic against Anita, he tries to play the victim and claims that she treats his life as nothing, but she strikes back with ‘you killed 23 people’. Go Anita. It does not use this as any kind of analogy for existing prejudice, but treats it as its own unique issue. Dehumanizing them and treating vampires as vermin regardless of their actions is wrong (like hate group Humans Against Vampires did), but they are far from some helpless minority. I liked the way that HAV wasn’t a direct analogue to NOM or the KKK- they went too far in their venom, but because vampires are super powered monsters who seem to operate above the law, a lot of people have very legitimate reasons to hate them.

Of course, they’re still sentient creatures with free will, so it’s not as simple as them being evil hell beasts either. Anita’s Catholic background is also interestingly utilised in this as she hates the idea of vampirism because she believes in the Christian afterlife, and she doesn’t know if a vampire’s soul will go to heaven.

An speaking of Anita, as a protagonist, Anita Blake really is something terrific. At this point (before the Ardeur dragged this series to hell), she isn’t the chosen one and nor is she some super powerful Goddess. She mainly relies on her wits, ferocity and her ability with guns to get out of tough spots. She’s capable, but more so she’s not just ‘grrl power with attitude.’ Her dialogue’s snarky, sure, and I enjoy her remarks, but she’s also compassionate and struggles with moral dilemnas. She struggles with how black her soul is after killing, and she genuinely cares about protecting the lives of innocents, and when innocents are hurt she grieves them.

I also have to mention the side characters who were generally great. Edward – the hitman turned vampire hunter- called Death was a terrifying and brilliant lancer to Anita’s hero, and it’s fascinating how he also represents what Anita fears she’ll become. Then we have Jean Claude, sexy vampire love interest (although he’s so much more than this). We also have Anita’s best friend, Ronnie.

And thank God for Ronnie- Ronnie is Anita’s female friend ( a depressing rarity in this genre) and a private investigator who’s skilled in her own right. Though Anita will eventually become the exceptional woman- the One Strong Woman while all other women are are either weak or evil- Ronnie holds the line of defence against this trope in Guilty Pleasures. Strong, capable, and though still definitely one step behind Anita and her male allies,her role is primarily that of ally and partner instead of victim. I also liked Beverly Chin, an un trope laden Asian woman who’s an ordinary non action woman who was still able to step up and save Anita’s life . They both help to negate the characterization of Catherine, a girly girl who’s into weddings and partying, who only exists to be a victim and to show how uninterested in those feminine pursuits Anita is; and worse still Monica, a woman Anita hates before she’s even done anything contemptible, a girl who’s even sillier and girlier than Catherine and who’s evil and foolish.

It’s sadly rare for an urban fantasy heroine to have important friendships equal to or more important than their relationship to the main love interest, especially if that friend is a female, so seeing Ronnie and Anita hang out was a breath of fresh air.

Also, I liked the portrayal of Rafael, the  Rat King of Mexican ancestry. He doesn’t play a large role in this novel, but he is compelling enough. He commands authority, and although he helps Anita, he does so out of both his sense of right and wrong and in the interests of his own people, so he doesn’t fall into the ‘helpful minority’ role. And speaking of POC, Anita is half Latina- but really, all her Latina heritage does for her is give her cool gothic dark hair to go with her pale skin (it’s so conveniently when your non white mother only passes on the sexy  traits), so I really don’t think she counts.

VERDICT: Even though this book was written in the early 90s, it still holds up well today. Anita is a total badass, who kicks ass and is front and centre of her own story, which is not just a romance. The world is fun and enjoyable, the action sequences were great and it had a fun cast of characters that are definately ones you want to spend more time with.

SPOOKTACULAR BOOK REVIEW: COME CLOSER- by Sara Gran

The Halloween season is upon us, and what’s the best way to celebrate? Well, there’s getting stupidly drunk and sexifying a character that should never be sexified, but in second place there’s reading a creepy psychological novel about demonic possession!

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Why did something like this happen?

Come Closer tells the tale of a woman under demonic possession from the victim’s point of view. There’s no spinning heads or ‘I see dead people’ or earth shattering superpowers, but we a fascinating psychological descent into anarchy as our heroine sabotages her life in what could either be a straight up demonic possession or an analogy for a psychological break down.

It starts out subtle- with nothing worse than a few bitchy comments and some random tapping in the house- and it remains fairly mundane throughout- right until the end when it gets amped up with our protagonist’s actions becoming far more dangerous and her visions even more eerie.

It’s incredibly well written. I don’t get scared or creeped out by horror, especially the supernatural stuff ( the infamous Shining had no effect on me), but the end scenes were brutal, bleak, disturbing (yet never gratuitous), and as awful as the heroine had been throughout the novel, you genuinely felt for her desperate final struggle to hold on to her humanity. The end was completely fitting, and the final analysis- who Namaah was and how she fitted into the heroine’s story- was really good.

And it’s the psychological themes that raise this novel to the next level. Traditionally, demons have been portrayed as psychological tempters, so it makes sense that her actions should come from within her. There’s a whole lot about how the expectations of womanhood are constraining, and how some men can’t bear to see women as fully flawed and messy. Though even better, its not a simple ‘you go gurrrl’ case of ‘poor oppressed woman against big bad man’- it’s more complex than that. Her husband- the main other presence in this novel besides our narrator and the demon Namaah- comes across as a decent person. He really puts up with a lot and does try to help her. She also contradicts herself, telling us how reliable he is and then going crazy telling us how he’s always late, suggesting some of his ‘flaws’ are in her head and that she’s just using it as an excuse to justify lashing out at him when her real problems are her own repressed issues.

I got the impression that the real confining chains in her life didn’t come from any  man, but her own internalized expectations of what a woman should be that grows more suffocating each day. That’s some pretty nuanced stuff and a great use of the unreliable narrator.

Come Closer was so good, so well paced, so well written that it could have been the perfect novella. But there was one little problem… one slight, small, planet swallowing black hole of an issue that only consisted of a few sentences, but my God did it create an awful blight that tainted the whole novella. I am of course, for those of you who have already read it, referring to…

CASUAL HOMOPHOBIA!!

Yep, it just comes out and punches you in the face. I’m not talking about the usual patronizing  gay stereotypes or ‘that’s so gay’ being carelessly thrown around to describe anything that’s generally shit. No, this novel goes full f-bomb nucleur. In the very first chapter we have our protagonist writing a letter to her boss calling him the gay f-bomb. And not just in a generic ‘that’s just a word I use to insult people’ way, its perfectly clear that she’s degrading him by insinuating he’s one of dem icky gays by compounding it with a few other choice insults that make that perfectly clear. Sure, the letter writing incident was framed as nasty and something she did under demon control, but then our heroine emphatically agrees with the statement.

It was so jarring, so malicious and came so out of no where that I pondered for a while that whether it was meant to be the demon controlling her mind, or as a way of showing just how repugnant our heroine is. But, at that stage of the story Naamah hadn’t really begun to control our heroine’s thoughts yet. Later in the book she describes a young man as a ‘flaming queer’- not out of anger, not in a stage when she was implied to be under the demon’s  thrall, but casually as just as a generic description- like how you might describe someone’s dress. So yeah, clearly the author’s trying too hard to sound ‘edgy’ or she thinks homophobia is totes okay.

I really enjoyed this novel, but I just can’t really get down with a novel that throws around such blatant homophobia.

VERDICT: I don’t know. It’s a really well written story and explored fascinating themes of female agency with some great use of Judaic myth, but by God, did the pointless, virulent homophobia put a downer on the whole thing.

SPOOKTACULAR BOOK REVIEW: OKINAWA HAUNTINGS- by Ron L. Dutcher

Beware fellow readers, this is not your ordinary book of ghost stories: not only does this book contain a collection of genuine (or believed to be genuine) tales of hauntings from Japan, this book also contains a spell to summon a ghost. Apparently, if you sit in a darkened room with 14 large lit candles, snuff  one out after every chapter and, upon completion of the book, say ‘Au nowa wakari no hajimari’ before you put out the final candle, you’ll summon a ghost. Well, either that or set off the fire alarm- and since I live in accomodation where one fire alarm will cause the whole building to be evacuated, I decided to give the ghost summoning part a miss.

I admit initially I was a bit disappointed when I opened this; I thought it was going to be a collection of Japanese ghost stories, but instead I got a collection of paranormal sightings and the myths behind them from Okinawa Japan- and most of them pretty similar to sightings and ghost stories we find in the West.

In one story, a cab driver named Mr Miyagi- no, not that Mr Miyagi- comes across a ghostly passenger, who spooks him with her flashing eyes before disappearing into thin air- leaving a puddle of water behind; another is about the victim of an English sailor who drowned during a ship wreck in 1840 and whose screams can still be heard on a stormy night in August; another is about a marine on an American military base who still appears to people asking for a light. There’s 14 in all and they’re all in that vein.

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But wouldn’t that be awesome?

While I was disappointed by the lack of Kage Onna and the fascinating creatures found in The Hour Of Meeting Evil Spirits, it was pretty interesting for what it was (plus it had some Shisha statues in there, which cheered me up).  The ghost stories are recounted in a very unbiased, matter of fact way and each story comes with a picture of the location that where the tale took place.

According to the author, in the original version there were maps to the locations given which were removed, but given the photos and descriptions, its unlikely that any of these places will be hard to find if you go to Okinawa .

The tales themselves are not the only thing this book has going for it;  we also have some snippets from two ghost hunters- Jack Fletcher and Junko Yamaguchi- who went to visit some of the haunted locations at night.

Their part certainly adds some atmosphere and some creepy fun to the proceedings: they bring the place to life with their descriptions and their description of the Shah Bay resort is definitely enough to send chills up your spine. However, a google search told me the Shah Bay resort has been torn down, so it the ghosts there have been defeated by the power of industrialization.

Apparently they also heard strange voices in the other locations, which they caught on tape,  but since as of the time the book was written, they are using the footage as a bargaining tool for a television series, whether the footage is truthful or whether its a fake to make money is up to the reader to decide. The optimist in me who would love to believe in life after death hopes the former, but the realist in me suspects the latter.

VERDICT: Whether you’ll enjoy this depends on whether you’re interested in paranormal sightings and shows like ‘Britain’s Most Haunted’ interest you. If they do, then this is as good as it gets. This is a series of well researched, evenhandedly told collection of tales, which while resembling paranormal sightings from the West, do also offer a bit of an Eastern variety. If you’re going to write a ghost story set in Japan, these stories also provide a good authentic base to build upon.

TOP 7 VAMPIRE AND WEREWOLF TROPES THAT NEED TO BE STAKED TO DEATH

Vampires have changed a lot since their soulless bloodsucking days of Camilla, Dracula and Varney. No longer a shrivelled menace, but a sexy, sexy protagonist with a dark, brutal past .. washboard abs… and the pain of centuries of loss and denial and longing carried on their big, muscular hunky shoulders… (did I mention abs?) Yeah, goodbye evil demon and hello brooding sex God, vampires are totally teenage fap material now, while werewolves, though  less popular (the bestiality thing is kind of a boner killer), are the cool macho alternative; they can transform at will, are the natural rivals of vampires, and provide a caveman alternative to the metrosexual, refined seducers that are the vampires.

But while change is not bad (and as a woman I admit I actually love the sexy vampires and werewolves as action leads), there are some new annoying patterns that are beginning to emerge again and again. And there are some conventions that just need to be staked to death…

1) The ridiculous homophobia and racism analogies

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Damn those bigots and their intolerance against beings who frequently kill people!

There’s fantastic racism , but ever since the X-men became mainstream, comparing ‘discrimination’ against your supernatural creatures  to homophobia (while not actually including any actual gay people  as anything more than sassy comic relief or victims) has become the new trend to make a story more ‘edgy’ and ‘relevant’. But comparing the prejudice against a typically harmless minority to a justified fear against a supernatural  whose means of survival regularly ends in murder and torture is ridiculous.

Vampires  are feared  and hated because they’re extremely powerful with absurd wealth, often contacts in high position and have superpowers which they tend to use to kill people on a regular basis.

Fearing vampires/ witches/ werewolves isn’t discrimination- it’s is an entirely reasonable reaction to the threat they pose and the only reason it’s portrayed as prejudice is because vampires and wolves are super hot. If vampires looked less like David ‘putting the Buff in Buffy’ Boreanaz and more like Uncle Lurch, we would still be calling them monsters and no one would call it prejudice. And speaking of sexy vampires….

2) The  whining about the curse of being a super powered sparkly sex God

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Look at my monstrousness!

Ah, the trope that began with Louis, became mainstream with Angel and reached its horrifying pinacle with Edward Cullen: the vampire who is Just. So. Tortured. About being this super special immortal sex God…

Look, there is nothing terrible about being a modern vampire. Nothing.Sure, in the days of Dracula, when people were superstitious and vampires were actual monsters, becoming an evil hell beast would have been a serious downer. But not any more.

In pretty much every modern vampire series, vampires are the ultimate wish fulfillment. They’re eternally young, super sexy, super powered and in many versions they don’t even need to kill people to survive. When they do, there’s usually a way to only kill bad people- like Lestat’s mind reading in the vampire chronicles. Hell, half of them can even go out in the frickin’ sun.

Sure, you can’t have kids (well in some versions you can have little Dhampir babies), but that is pittance compared to all the benefits. There is no downside, and their plight is about as sympathetic as those characters from 90s who whined about how empty it was to have a great job and a nice car.

Lestat here sums up exactly how I feel whenever this trope comes up…

3) The Female Werewolf as the only one, an aberration or an anomaly

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Elena the lone female werewolf. Leah the only werewolf in Quilette history. Even in Wolf’s Rain, which has by far the best portrayal of wolves I’ve seen, SPOILER Blue the lone main female wolf in the series doesn’t count and can’t SPOILER enter paradise with the rest of the pack because of her  half dog status and is always the outsider in the pack.Female werewolves in the Mercy Thompson series are rare, and though Mercy herself is a skin walker (though I think that was retconned in later books), she is similar to this trope as she’s a rare canine shifter and is desirable to the males because she’s one of the only females whom they can breed with . And for that matter, the werecats in the shifter series operate on a similar basis. Female werewolves are always extremely rare and a HUGE emphasis is often placed on their fertility.

This makes NO sense. This makes no sense whatsoever. What kind of species operates like this? Not real wolves, which has a pretty even gender split. Moreover, in a wolf pack only the Alpha couple will breed, meaning that the fertility of the rest of the females aren’t a big issue.

It is an absolutely annoying trope which often reduces females to commodities to be fought over because of their gender, or treats them as a bizarre anomaly. And speaking of werewolves…

4) ‘Of course they’re like that- they’re werewolves’ as an excuse for the male lead’s douchey behaviour

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Paranormal Romance: making this guy look like the paragon of progressive gender roles

Clay Danvers. Adam Hauptmann. The literal alpha male. He’s  possessive and controlling. He makes decisions for our heroine ‘for her own good’.Not because he’s a co-dependent dick with no boundaries, oh no. It’s because he’s a werewolf, not a human, and of course they’re like that. Okaaayy now…

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First off, werewolves don’t exist and therefore  they don’t have to be anything. If they’re sexist dicks, then they’re sexist dicks because the writer chose to write them that way and that’s a really terrible thing to make your romantic lead. If vampires can stop being hideous chaotic evil monsters and go out in the sunlight sunbathing (which is wrong on so many levels), then werewolves can not be completely terrible too.

Second off, this has nothing to do with actual wolf behaviour. Compared with primates, wolves are fairly egalitarian, as they have an alpha couple, and a parallel rank structure for each gender- the males compete with the males while the females compete with the females. The curse of the werewolf should make men less patriarchal compared with humans if anything.

And finally, even if being a werewolf meant he had to be a controlling dick, for reasons, then there’s still no reason why any woman should put up with this. I don’t care if they’re mate bonded/ pinkie promised whatever  and he just can’t help himself- no.  That’s his problem and his responsibility. No heroine should have to put up with this.

There are plenty of human men out there, and If he wants to be with her that badly, because they’re SOULMATES, and IF SHE SAYS NO  it will cause A WHOLE PACK RIFT and HE CAN NEVER LOVE ANOTHER WOMAN AGAIN, then he needs to get his shit together. Just because he’s a werewolf doesn’t mean he’s not sentient and can’t control his actions- which are nothing like any real wolf. And if it does mean that, then he is a monster who needs a silver bullet not sympathy.

This trope is like Beauty and the Beast if Belle loved Beast BECAUSE of his shitty behavior and she didn’t make him change.Sounds fucked up? Well, welcome to paranormal romance.

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See this? This is Belle’s ‘I’m not impressed by your Alpha male shit’ face.

 

5) The Stupid Amount Of Money That’s Always Brushed Over

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This is more a trope I want to see explored rather than wiped out. Most vampires and often werewolves are insanely wealthy and it’s never really explained how. But it really should. How do they do that? I mean, when you can’t go out in daylight, can’t age and therefore can’t stay in the same job long enough to build a business empire.

I mean, think of the possibilities: maybe they gain money by offering the rich and powerful money in exchange for their business know how, creating a rather privilidged class of dangerous aristocrats (like Dracula). Or they could constantly have to make human contacts to look after their money? This trope is something that began with Dracula and continued with The Vampire Chronicles, and should really be something that’s explored.

6) The Generic Sexed Up Vampire Babe

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Vampires aren’t nearly as male dominated as werewolves, but when you think of all the prominent pop culture vampires: Dracula, Louis, Lestat, Jean Claude, Alucard, Blade, Angel, Spike, Bill, Damon, and many more, they’re all men. Honestly, the highest profile female vampires in pop culture I can think of are Marceline from Adventure Time, Claudia from Interview with the Vampire, those strippers from Dusk Till Dawn and that little girl whose name nobody remembers from let the right one in.

Vampires in fiction are very male dominated, And when females do appear? It’s usually not good. While male vampires can be heroes and villains, sexual and well rounded, vampire women are usually always evil and are relegated to the laziest of all female villain tropes: the evil sexy women. No ‘complex’ brooding for you, you are just evil and like sex, and use sex to get your way. And it is boring. These characters are comparatively shallower, less memorable than their male counterparts.

It’s a shame, because while Camille and Elizabeth Bathory provide some great precedents for cool female vampires, who are sexual but also powerful, Instead they seem to always use the overdone Bride of Dracula route with a bit of vampire queen Akasha from Queen of the Damned mixed in, as often vampires will have a female Queen or leader.

In short, we need more Francines and Claudias in our life, and less of these vampire succubus.(although Claudia is the mother of the creepy child female vampire trope which while enjoyable, is still a role that women get relegated to.)

7) The Ridiculously Old Vampire That Acts Like A 12 Year Old- and the Immortal Teenager

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Ever since The Vampire Chronicles introduces the ‘children of Millenia’ and the idea that a vampire’s strength increases with age, we’ve had a litany of vampires who are just stupidly old and it really has no bearing on their character. Especially the goddamned immortal teenagers.I mean, age just seems like a status symbol in vampire fiction, like a rolex watch.

Even if a vampire is old enough to have seen kingdoms rise and fall, or at least old enough to have seen the horrors of both world wars, their biggest priority is getting that 17 year old to go prom, or the decor or whatever childish problem they have…

It shouldn’t be that way. Having an ancient vampire that has lived through God knows how many tragedies should change the character and make them extremely different from the rest of us. Say what you will about Anne Rice and her purple prose, at least she made their immortality mean something, at least we felt the impact of the years on them and they felt different from everyone else around them. In many modern works, the immortality means nothing and doesn’t has lost so much of its impact.

 

Those were my top 7 biggest gripes with the werewolf and vampire mythologies, and if you have your own I’d love to hear about them.

 

BOOK REVIEW: STOLEN- by Kelley Armstrong

Blurb: When two desperate witches lure part-time journalist and full-time werewolf Elena Michaels into a carefully laid trap, she quickly learns that her perceptions about humanity are based on some fundamental flaws. In Kelley Armstrong’s supernatural thriller, Stolen, the world is populated with vampires, demons, half-demons, magical shamans and other supernatural races living anonymously among the human population–a concept that Elena has a hard time accepting, just as she struggled with her own lupine identity in Armstrong’s remarkable debut, Bitten.

But when Elena returns to her werewolf pack in upstate New York, pack leader Jeremy reveals that the threat people pose to the supernatural races should not be taken lightly. When Jeremy, Elena and her lover Clay decide to take action to protect their pack, Elena gets kidnapped on the orders of a power-crazed billionaire. While being held captive she learns that while some magical beings are good and some evil, none are capable of more outright cruelty and savage betrayal than ordinary, non-magical human beings.– amazon.

Review: Stolen is very much a transitional novel. While Bitten was stand alone and focused on the werewolves, this book  transforms the series into an ensemble piece with a dozen other magical creatures. Here, not only do we have the werewolves, we’re introduced to witches, half demons with different powers, shamans, sorcerers and vampires.

We get given an introduction to Paige and Savannah, who will go on to become protagonists for later books, as well as a host of other characters including Xavier, Leah, and Cassandra, who will be recurring characters in later books.

That’s quite a hefty task for one novel, and not only does it have to do all that, but it has to tell a decent story. Which it does well. While by far not my favorite in the series (that distinction goes to HauntedBitten and Industrial Magic), Stolen is far more than that boring middle book you’re stuck reading because it sets up the next book; It’s  a good story with a strong climax, and it introduces the new supernaturals in a way which feels natural and not like a big info dump.

Elena is captured by a big organisation experimenting on the supernatural. Her every movement is watched, and there are a whole host of enemies and dangerous characters whom you aren’t entirely clear whether they’re friend or foe. You know that Elena will make it out alive- when does the viewpoint character ever die?- but this novel makes painfully, uncomfortably clear that there’s a lot of other terrible things that could happen to her before then. Each botched escape attempt could result in serious repercussions; not only that, but the fate of the other people trapped in the institution is more uncertain- (and mild spoiler, not every one makes it out alive).

The reason I still read Women of the otherworld, a paranormal romance series, when I hate romance and I hate the ‘protective alpha male’ love interest (and by that I mean douchey stalker with no boundaries) , is because Armstrong is amazing at action sequences. The ending was great, and it had some real morally grey areas. Innocents had to suffer, and Stolen doesn’t sugarcoat the brutality of it.

Ty Winsloe is the main villain, and although he’s only human and not as compelling as say the super powered nasties that occupied Anita Blake‘s rogue gallery (before the series deteriorated into paint by numbers porn), he is still a realistic and unpleasant character you wouldn’t want to be trapped with. Xavier’s intriguingly untrustworthy, and … well, I won’t spoil it, but not only do we have wolves, but wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Paige and the all female witches were a breath of fresh air the series seriously needed. Too often in Urban Fantasy, we have a sassy, tomboyish heroine who’s the only strong female in the entire world who isn’t an evil slutty bitch who’s trying to steal the heroine’s man raaww.

Because of the insanely ridiculous ‘only female werewolf’ thing with Elena -which makes absolutely no sense but that’s a post for another time- this series was in danger of becoming this. I loved that Paige and Ruth love traditionally feminine things and it isn’t treated as inferior.

I loved it when Paige and Elena butt heads and Ruth casually freezes her and starts calmly telling them off for their lack of manners. I’m always a big fan of strong older woman and Ruth was great- reminding me of Grams from Charmed before the later series made her seem like kind of an asshole.

And now, with all the positive, we must get to the annoying element that blights all the Elena books: her taste in men.Fucking Clay- even reading about this man makes me feel suffocated and like I need space. Granted,  Elena is away from him most of the novel and so he’s less of an issue than, but their relationship still does manage to grate on my enjoyment. Here is a choice quote about their relationship:

I had to admit that since we’d been been back together, he really had been working at being less controlling, possessive, and over-protective. Not that he was giving me up and letting me live a semi-independent life. We kept separate bedrooms, but that was as far as it went.

Yes, Clay is needy, controlling, and imposes himself on her every second of the day. But of it isn’t because he’s a creepy, co-dependent douchebag. Oh no, it’s because he’s a werewolf and he can’t help it:

As part of my own relationship-saving efforts, I’d had to admit that this togetherness thing was part of Clay’s nature. Bitten as a child, he’d forgotten ever having been human […] He was more wolf than human. About the togetherness thing, Clay would argue that you’d never see a wolf telling its mate that it had to ‘get away for a while’ or needed ‘some personal space.’

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Yeah, that’s not how wolves work. If this were a real wolf pack, you wouldn’t get a mate and Elena (Alpha female by default) would start banging Jeremy, so I really wouldn’t pull the wolf card, Clayton. And of course, like with so many other stalking, douche-bag werewolf boyfriends (HAUPTMAN) , he blames it on being more wolf when this douchey behaviour has nothing to do with wolves- which I will go into on another post.

Second of all, as part of our relationship saving moves, Elena had to compromise and accept his stalking, possessive behavior as just how he is? Bullshit. This isn’t a compromise thing, this is HIS problem, HIS issue, HIS shit, not Elena’s, and there is no in between, HE needs to change- and agreeing to compromise is just enabling his behavior. Also, Elena’s making all the compromises. Throughout most of the series (I haven’t completed it, so I suppose it could change although I doubt it), he’s never less possessive, so Elena is just accepting it. Sure, she puts up a few token complaints because she’s a strong independent woman ™, but she never follows through, never forces him to change.

 I really can’t consider Elena as the strong heroine she’s marketed as when she puts up with this and their relationship- as much as I enjoy their snark and banter, their sexuality and rebelliousness, it really stops me from truly enjoying her books. I know I’ve railed on about this, and this is more a complaint about the series as a whole, but this unhealthy relationship dynamic really does ruin the Elena books for me. 

Thank God, the very nature of this plot meant that Clay and his co dependent behavior couldn’t ruin this book- although is it weird that a book where Elena is imprisoned by a pervert who can control her every move felt less suffocating than an average scene with her and her One True Love. But still, even if our heroine was kidnapped, at least she got to spend most of the novel trying to break out by herself without Clay breathing down her neck. And, once SPOILER she did escape, there was too much going on plot wise for Clay’s possessiveness to really cause any problems. 

The only other problem is that again, we have Elena doing incredibly  stupid and wreckless things. In the last book we had her running off alone to rescue Clay (actually running, instead of getting a bus or something- but fuck logic, WE NEED DRAMATIC TENSION!) This time we have her getting captured due to her own wreckless actions. We also have her HIGHLIGHT TO SHOW SPOILERS stopping in the middle of her own escape – still in the danger zone, after weeks of imprisonment and sexual abuse- to fuck her goddamed boyfriend.I mean, come on! A bunny in heat would exercise more control than this. It makes me doubt Elena when she says she earned her position as ‘voice of the alpha’, as I don’t think she’s shown to be responsible enough to babysit a pot plant, let alone… hell, let alone focus on her own escape!

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All the face palms  in the world can’t numb the pain

Gah, but in spite of all these frustrations what keeps me coming back to this series is the fact that Armstrong is an amazingly good writer. Her prose is elegant, descriptive and great at evoking scene and atmosphere while never slipping into any shade of purple.Her dialogue is natural and witty and her action sequences are always intense. If you can put up with the Alpha male douche love interest or *gasp* like paranormal romance, then I’d definitely check this series out, as this is definitely the best the genre has to offer.

Verdict: Stolen does a good job of transitioning women of the other world from a stand alone book about werewolves to an ensemble piece about multiple supernaturals. Not only that, but it’s a good story in its own right and definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed Bitten.

RATING:3 Kick ass she-wolves out of five

 

 

SHADOW HUNTERS RECAP, EPISODE 1: THE MORTAL CUP (IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST GLOWER)

The episode kicks off with the Shadow Hunters stalking a man who changes appearance.  while cool music plays in the background. If you’re undercover stalking demons, you’re going to look as cool and sexy as possible doing it.. Jace bumps into Clary and gives her the full Cullen treatment, glowering at her and being surprised a mundane (muggle) can see him.

Cut to an art audition. Clary is auditioning for an art college and they are unimpressed with her entries. They then see Metallica cover-art sketches all over her book, and because they’re obviously fans of 80s metal, they let her in.

She then has a conversation with her obviously lovestruck best geeky friend (we know he’s a geek because he has glasses). He starts saying ‘to think you could be in love with someone and they don’t realise it’, thus giving us a premonition about how much nuance the show will use when handling relationships.

Clary goes home to visit her mother’s shop and their assistant is acting weird. She goes upstairs and her mother Jocelyn gives her an ancient light saber. Now, we know we’re supposed to feel tension because they’re playing ominous music. Ominous music.

Her mum starts acting distressed all of a sudden. She tells her daughter that there’s something she desperately needs to tell her, but Clary blows her off to talk to her friends. I’m sure it’s okay though, because I’m sure Jocelyn isn’t going to reveal things at the most dramatic moment.I’m also sure Jocelyn is going to live a long and fruitful life…

‘I love you mum.’

OH MY GOD DON’T SAY THAT! YOU’VE JUST ENTERED A BLATANT TRAGIC FORESHADOWING SCENE, YOU AIR HEADED AMOEBA.

So that we’re not kept in any kind of actual suspense, we’re kindly given a flashback of when Clary is playing by a lake and HOLY CRAP WHAT WAS THAT? Jocelyn saves her from what can only be described as a terrible CGI Lock Ness monster.Instead of deciding that maybe it’s time to maybe start teaching Clary how to defend herself , the first thing she does is to rush to warlock Magnus Bane and ask him to wipe her memories.Because that decision always turns out so well.

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See? See how well this is going?

Meanwhile, Clary talks with  the world’s most sidelined black best friend (she’s stuck being Clary’s emotional sounding board and totally brushed aside by love interest in favor of the white lady? Here’s hoping she becomes a lesbian and gains magical powers or her life is gonna suuuck. Right Bo?) They have a Totally Subtle foreshadowing conversation about keeping secrets. ‘My mother is incapable of concealing anything from me.’ ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Your mother was obviously on edge and then she gave you a weird heirloom saying she had something to tell you – that  screams family secret! What more do you want, Clary?  Do you need a giant neon sign telling you whenever something’s going to happen?

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I hate you, Shadowhunters.

Team Zoolander (I’m calling the Shadowhunters that from now on) enter the club on a mission and we’re back at our starting point.Clary follows him in and we go to a curtained off area of the club (don’t VIP sections usually have security?) Then Izzy starts doing a dance… I’m really not sure why she’s dancing, as they start hacking their foes away two seconds later. Clary gets involved and uses the force to defeat one.

Clary is royally freaked out. She finally has a conversation about the Shadowhunters with Jocelyn at the most dramatic moment possible and learns about the existence of the supernatural. Jocelyn is tracked down by the Circle and refuses to give over the Mortal cup and sends Clary to safety in an unconvincing magical portal. Meanwhile, she traps herself in this green energy… stuff… so the Circle can’t interrogate her. Nice work Clary, you just had to set up that tragic foreshadowing, didn’t you?

Clary’s transported to Luke, but as he’s being questioned about her whereabouts, she does to get out of her way. A woman tells her about her mum before she turns into a weird chest hugger faced thing.

Jace rescues Clary from a monster and takes her into the Shadow Hunter HQ (at east that’s where I think they are). He takes her to the Shadow Hunter HQ and he and Alec have a lover’s tiff about bringing her there and Izzy suggests that he’s jealous because it’s the first time he’s shown interest in someone. Really? Did I miss something, because Jace looked like he was glaring and folding his arms. Is that how flirting works in Shadowhunter society?

Finally, the Big Bad reveals he wants to find the mortal cup and learns about Jocelyn’s daughtet. Now he’s determined to track her down to find the cup.

 

I’ll admit, this episode was a lot better than I expected- though that’s a really low bar to clear. This show wasn’t good. It really, really wasn’t. The acting is so, so bad- but then again, saying half of those lines with a straight face must be challenging enough, let alone making it sound like stuff that real human beings would say. Everyone sounds like they’re rushing through it and trying to skip through as many of the book’s events as possible.

But I wasn’t bored for a second. Harry Shum Jr was kinda badass and I’d like to see more of him. The cast are gorgeous to look at (especially Izzy and Alec- seriously, did the recruit Shadowhunters by sifting through CVs for Abercrombie and Fitch models?); hell,  they even took the time to show the unlucky-in-love geek best friend is ripped. It also helped it was unintentionally amusing. Some of the cliches and scenes were so ridiculous, so heavy handed, that it was funny to watch and I laughed my ass off.

Maybe as the series progresses it will develop its characters a bit more and spend more time building tension and not jump from pace to place so much. As someone who never read the books (but has a vague idea going in about the premise and who Clary, Jace, Alec and Magnus Bane are) I was a bit lost about who some of these people were and why there are so many face huggers. However, I’m hoping it will get clearer as the series goes on. But if Jace goes full Cullen, I’ll watch just for the pure comedy.

RATING: 2.5 Abercrombie and Fitch models/ 5

 

BOOK REVIEW: MOON CALLED (Mercy Thompson Book 1)- Patricia Briggs

Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will. Mercy’s next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy’s connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water.. 

Moon Called is the first in Briggs’ urban fantasy series featuring Mercy Thompson, a ‘walker’ (were-coyote) mechanic, who inhabits an alternate universe where super naturals live alongside humans. When she discovers that a mysterious organisation is experimenting on werewolves, she finds herself thrown deeper still into the dangerous world of supernatural politics.

In this novel, Briggs manages to craft a fantasy world that is both well executed and engaging. A problem that is prevalent in many other fantasy works is that the writer will bombard the reader with numerous supernatural races at once and then fail to develop them; the result is a story full of half formed, two dimensional species that are only distinguished by one or two different traits. This is a problem that Briggs manages to avoid; instead of overloading the reader with multiple races all at once, she introduces them one at a time and gives us details about their powers and their culture before moving on to the next one. The original lore of each species has clearly been well researched, and she combines this with her own invention to create a really unique take on the different species she introduces.

She has also created a decent heroine in Mercy Thompson. Mercy is a strong and likeable protagonist who can hold her own story and keep her head in a tense situation. Unlike with some writers who must resort to having their heroines constantly breaking down into soap operatic outbursts  in order to convey emotion, Briggs manages to express Mercy’s feelings with a great deal of sensitivity and subtlety.

The world and the characters are enjoyable enough to read about. The story moves forward at a steady pace that will keep the pages turning, though even towards the end the action never really heats up. The focus of the story is on the characters and the supernatural world rather than the main plotline. The action sequences are well done and entertaining, although Briggs never quite manages to create the kind of tension or suspense that will have you gripping the edge of your seat.

When the antagonist and their scheme were revealed I was left a little unconvinced, however. The extremes they went to seemed somewhat unnecessary for what they hoped to achieve. I could not help but think that there were numerous less convoluted methods they could have used to achieve the same goal.

Although this is not a tense novel by any standard, it is a quick and enjoyable read. I would recommend this for fans of urban fantasy that want a bit of light escapism.

RATING: 3.5 / 5

BOOK REVIEW: The Experience Machine- Jason Werbeloff

The skullcap sits to one side of the chair. Its snaking wires and sensors throw a Medusa shadow against the basement wall. I touch its plastic. Stroke its wiry hair.

The Machine gives me everything I want. Or the one thing I want. Life in a woman’s body, under the tangerine glow of the Spiral Arm Nebula. But nothing remains the same for long, not even in the timeless worlds of the Experience Machine.

Fantasy; obsession; impossible desire. The Experience Machine is a brilliant dark horror/ science fiction story about living in a world that’s so cold and stifling, that building a machine that allows you to live out any desire is the only way you can be yourself. The happiness found in the Experience Machine comes at a price, however, as our protagonist finds their life in the real world slowly unravelling and each jaunt in the machine taking a dangerous toll on his health.

I think we can all relate to (the unfortunately named) Manfred, as there’s been a time in everyone’s life where things have been so dreadful that you feel like the only escape is to the world of fiction. Manifred’s desire is even more desperate because s/he’s going through the worst struggle of all- feeling like s/he’s in the wrong body and attracted to men in a dysphoria where it seems like transgender/ genderfluid and gay community don’t exist.

I’m currently using male pronouns to describe Manifred/ Mascara because male pronouns that are used throughout the story (and in his cameo in Hedon). Manifred doesn’t use the words ‘trans’, and it is not pinned down whether our protagonist is trans or suffering from gender dysphoria. This makes sense, because the world of Manifred/ Mascara is populated by strawman bigots and Manifred/ Mascara is still young and living with their bigoted religious parents, so they probably lack the freedom and language to fully explore their identity.

Our protagonist’s voice is very well done. The writing and language is very simple, flowing and engaging. We find ourselves gripped by Manifred’s struggles, and by watching him try to straddle between his two worlds- the real world of coldness and bigotry, and the fantasy world of romance and acceptance. Like with a lot of Werbeloff’s other works, the religious people our protagonist has to contend with are presented as crude, strawman bigots who vomit  homophobic bile every time they open their mouths. I might object to this portrayal of homophobia as oversimplified, but sadly, as Werbeloff lives in America- the land of Donald Trump and televangelists- I can’t criticize the portrayal because there’s sadly too much truth in it.

The best part of this story  was its  twisted, brutal and glorious ending. When I started reading this, I was certain I knew how it was going to end, but I was glad to be proven wrong. The ending went full slasher as it devolved into a delicious bloodpath that was sick, graphic and yet refreshing and extremely funny. In his other short stories, Werbeloff often stumbles to make the dismount with his finales, but here he made his landing with Olympic-level form. I have no hesitation to recommend this to anyone who wants to read grizzly sci fi horror dripping with black humour.

RATING: 5 mad scientists/ 5