Review: Dark Wings Descending, by Lesley Davis

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A Good Beach Read, Although Not Much More than a Dark Urban Fantasy Police Procedural

One classic form of dark urban fantasy novel twists the typical police procedural story.   In the twisted form, the police detectives tend to form a special task force whose focus rests on solving crimes of a supernatural nature. The detectives in the unit generally often take on two types: the believer (who may possess some type of magical skill) and the skeptic put in the unit as a form of punishment. Generally, crime investigation revolves around a heinous serial killer, who represents the epitome of evil. What makes this rather formulaic sort of novel compelling rests in portrayal of evil/magic in a unique manner, the skill set of the investigators as dynamic, entertaining, or provocative, and that the plot takes the reader on an unexpected path, despite following a procedural formula.

Getting that teaser on the back cover or in the front synopsis about what may emerge, with all the potential fright, demons, and a glimpse into the psyche of the kick ass detective gives the reader the incentive, the thrill to not just pick up the book, but to dive in and get lost in the plot.   Dark Wings Descending, by Leslie Davis gave just that tease, the promise of an exciting journey into deviant, realms of evil. The lure of having a two female detectives, each with her own connection to the crime, and then, of course, their intersection with one another, made the book an instant grab for this reader.

However, shortly after starting Dark Wings Descending, the formulaic, procedural nature of the plot took control, offering nothing new to the genre.   Adhering to the stereotypical big city (Chicago) police department who has a Deviant Data Unit that investigates criminal behavior, speaks to the norm, rather than a twist. Having the lead inspector as a burn out, returning too early to work after an injury, thus vulnerable, as Det. Rafe Douglas does, has occurred in many other books; along with the standard serial killer who poses bodies. The book simply lacked inspiration, as well as finesse.   Dark Wings Descending offered the reader a plot that was hackneyed, in a genre that is quickly becoming passé because of the overwrought usage of such things.

If one seeks to get lost in a simple plot, procedural, and have a little fun with searching for evil serial killer, then the book will serve that purpose. A quick indulgence of Dark Urban Fantasy reading (because it is fun, isn’t it, to explore the psyche of the killer?), then pick up Dark Wings Descending, by Lesley Davis.   However, for something a bit more provocative, then maybe this may be a pass.

Mythology alive, modern, and transformative: D. Jordan Redhawk’s Freya’s Tears

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With a title like Freya’s Tears, anyone with some background in Norse mythology may raise an eyebrow. Will the goddess be woven into the tale at all, and if so, how so? For this reader, who possesses deep affinity for mythology, skepticism hovered above the novel prior to reading it.   “Surely, disappointment will once again reign as another favored myth becomes defiled by misuse,” I thought. With abundant joy, each page unfolded into an incredibly well crafted, unique, science fiction tale that was replete with an astonishing voice of the storytellers of the past.

D. Jordan Redhawk transfixed this reader with Freya’s Tears, a work at once unique and steeped in the beauty of mythology. Redhawk managed to maintain the myth of Freya, not merely by allusion or homage, but by intricately lacing it into a modern work of science fiction. In doing so, Redhawk transcends skill and reaches into the realm of the masterful.

Each facet of the book incorporates the myth: from the ship’s name, Freya’s Tears, wound into the main character Captain Elsibet Ulfarsdottir, the unfolding of the plot, Elsbet’s love, and more.

Apart from subtle, yet complete, weaving of mythology, Redhawk builds an intricate, believable world within a troubled space cargo ship that avoids the trappings of the mundane replication of space operatic formulaic writing. Freya’s Tear’s was my first D. Jordan Redhawk novel experience. If this book is an indication of Redhawk’s other works, I plan to relish the exploration of space, and any other worlds that she creates, by checking out the rest of her bibliography.

 

freya's tears painting

 

Marie Castle Revitalizes the Lesfic Dark Urban Fantasy Landscape

Marie Castle’s First Novel, Hell’s Belle: Book 1 of the Dark Mirror series

Revitalizes the Dark Urban Fantasy landscape

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Lately, the fantasy landscape, regardless of sub-genre, has become littered with perfunctory, now cliché, devices: the detective agency run by supernatural beings, an individual whose magic is extraordinary for her generation, a council put into place to enforce the laws of magic use, and trips to hell replete with demons.   In her novel, Hell’s Belle, Marie Castle indeed employs these ideas, however, she does so not only in an exceptionally clever manner, but she breaths new life into them.   Perhaps I was drawn to her ability to blend a depth of literary knowledge and re-package it in a non-alienating manner; thereby leaving no reader out of the story.   Blending depth of research into a very accessible story takes a deft hand, and Castle does that well. Yet, Hell’s Belle goes beyond simply having an intellectually disposed author (as most authors have such dispositions in some manner.)   Castle generates interest in the expected by adding to them, creating layers of gray, in a genre where evil is generally obvious and good may be as well.   The first idea that caught my attention was the detective agency, Dark Mirror.   Of course, for this reader, who truly enjoys looking through the glass darkly, the name caught my eye; yet Castle used the allusion delightfully well. She wove the allusion into the main character, Cate Delancey, into her identity, into her core witch. Whether that technique was intentional or not doesn’t matter, for the action sets forth a complexity in Cate Delaney.   The character never transcends her place in the magic-cum- human realm. Castle could easily have left Cate as simply a Guardian of humanity, hence “good” in character, yet she never truly is completely “good” in the traditional way.   Furthermore, Castle extends the notion into the conception of Hell. While Hell has it’s Dante-esque cast, Castle manipulates it such that it can be simultaneously frightening and, contrarily, sexy. There’s more to enjoy in Marie Castle’s debut novel.   Her ability to capture Southern culture is exemplary. While many Southerners fail to capture the nuances of language, disposition, and sensibilities; Castle embraces the essence of the culture without trivializing it, particularly in the familial relationships and interactions with others – politeness, often with a bite.   I enjoyed this book a good deal more than I expected to do, as I am becoming a tad jaded by the over usage of once good ideas. I recommend Hell’s Belle and happily anticipate the rest of the series.

Demon Hunter: The Silver Legacy Series, by Linda Kay Silva

 

Demon Hunter

The Dark Urban Realm has an excellent new series in the making with Linda Kay Silva’s new book,

Demon Hunter: The Silver Legacy Series, Book 1

Some creatures within the fantasy/paranormal realm, particularly those within the dark reaches, become stereotypes in a paradigmatic way.   A certain traditional characterization takes place, rendering these beings as trite. Demons tend to be among these stereotypes, unfortunately. Blissfully, in Demon Hunter, Linda Kay Silva immediately dismisses the trivialization wrought by the paradigm in her first paragraph.   She writes, “Demons are not what people think they are. There are seldom horns or spiked tails, no cloven hooves or red skin. They come in all shapes and sizes, and aren’t anything like Hollywood portrays them.” (pg.1).   With that opening, I became a fan of Linda Kay Silva. She dispelled the typical vernacular, appearance, and assumptions attached to the concept of demon and advanced the notion beyond the believable, but to the original intention: as cautionary tales about evil in this world.

Silva transcends the obvious portrayals of demon, evil, and of the demon hunter (with her main character, Denny Silver), and creates a psychologically compelling dark urban fantasy, with a frightening perspective on the inevitability of evil as simultaneously provocative and “real.”

Her characters are complex, innovative, and in some ways, terrifying. Silva’s use of journaling allows for the demon hunter, Denny, to have layered voices, which creates exceptional depth of character. Silva’s intuitive sense of legitimacy of the paranormal along with her ability to weave an intricate tale, made me a believer in demon hunters and a huge fan of Linda Kay Silva. She created an inroad to my Dark Urban Fantasy fiendish heart not only by writing a great book, but, by tantalizing me with another of my favorite things – a new series! Demon Hunter: the Silver Legacy Series, must exist on any Dark Urban Fantasy or Paranormal lovers “to-read” list.

 

 

Hands Down: the Best Historical Speculative Fiction Novel

wind and dreamHands down the best historical speculative fiction novel that I have read thus far. When I opened Wind and Dreams, I was immediately reminded of works akin Mary Renault and Marion Zimmer Bradley — that fantasy mythos blended with the astonishing attention to historical detail. Linda’s writing, simultaneously phenomenal, provocative, and thoughtful to culture, grabs the reader in with the first sentence and captivates her from beginning to end. If I were to categorize this novel further, I would add the possibility of Steampunk with its attributes of Victorian Age sensibilities beside the Egyptology phase in archaeology. Of course, the characters personalities, the realism that Linda creates in emotion, conversation, and the dream-real dichotomous thread all add to the beauty of this book. Linda’s writing is fantastic. I cannot say that I enjoyed Wind and Dreams more than I did her book, Deep Merge, since they are completely different genres, to my mind. Still speculative, still with incredible attention to detail and wonderful character development, but they follow paths so differently, that they are incomparable. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Interview with Linda North

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When I started the search for lesbian writers of fantasy/ science fiction, a significant number of readers, as well as author of the genre suggested Deep Merge, by Linda North.  With many positive recommendations, I had to check it out.  Instantly I fell in love.  How wonderful:  Deep Merge contained my favorite themes: dystopia, space travel, space-society, and time-travel.   Even better, the plot was lesbian focal.   Imagine my glee.

After reading Deep Merge, I felt compelled to review it, first on Amazon, then on this blog.  I passed the word in a host of FaceBook groups.   In short order, not only did I become a Linda North fan, we became friends, as well.

In the course of a few conversations, I asked Linda if she would be willing to answer a few questions about writing science fiction, as that is my main area of focus.   She agreed to do so.

The interview, by way of questionnaire, takes place below:

 

QR: Assume that the readers don’t know much about you and your works. What would you like to tell them? As a reader/writer, I prefer the non-publisher version of background information.   The non-publisher or promotional packet information seems more intrepid, approachable.   So, if you were to introduce yourself to someone at a party, how would that differ to your professional introduction?

LN: I’m retired since 2010. I worked for the state of Florida in various social work related fields. I have been writing since 2006. I started out writing Star Trek Voyager fan fiction under the name cygirl1. My main focus was pairing B’Elanna Torres with Seven of Nine. I also wrote two Janeway/Seven stories. Writing was a way for me to relax after a strenuous workday. It was never an ambition of mine to be an author. I’m an unabashed romantic and believe in happy endings. My Star Trek Voyager stories can be found here. http://janewayandseven4ever.com/

WIND AND DREAMS is a combination of a historical novel (1901-1902) combined with the fantasy of a secret kingdom deep in the Sahara Desert ruled by a female pharaoh. It also delves into reincarnation and the role the ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses play. Rose McLeod is very much an all American woman of that time period. Merytneit, the ruler, believes in the ancient Egyptian Gods and Destiny. Her culture is a reflection of ancient Egypt around the 4th century A.D. She rules supreme, her will is law, and she is arrogant and feels entitled. Cultures and beliefs clash. Each woman must push aside many of their cultural biases if love is to prevail.

DEEP MERGE takes place in this time period and involves an alien abduction of an Earth woman. Antonia Kaye Lorne (Toni) finds herself in a situation where she has to put aside her fears to assist an alien, Kaesah, in reaching her home world with vital information to prevent a possible extinction of her species and possible dire consequences for Earth. Kaesah doesn’t like humans, but to reach her home, she must form an amicable bond with Toni. This is not just a story about cultural differences and acceptance, but also about earning trust.

QR: Every writer has to be asked this question: who were your biggest literary influences?

LN: For science fiction there was Frank Herbert’s DUNE series, James Tiptree Jr., and Ray Bradbury. Also, Analog and Galaxy magazines. They contained stories by many well known science fiction writers.

 

QR: Did you read science fiction or fantasy as a kid? If so, who were your favorite authors? If not, when did you start reading this genre? As a kid I read thousands of comic books.

LN: As a kid I read thousands of comic books. Wonder Woman, Fantastic Four, Spider Man, Super Man, along with other heroes and heroines. I read all the SPACE CAT series written by Ruthven Todd. During my teen years, I started reading science fiction novels and short stories.

 

QR: What led you to science fiction? Was it real world events, like space travel, or something else?

LN: Science fiction opens up the imagination to “what ifs” and other possibilities, some outside the limits of nature and the natural order as we know it. What if Earth is invaded by aliens? What if someone invented a time machine and stopped Alexander the Great from invading Persia. What if we discovered faster than light travel.

 

QR: Science fiction, as a genre, is fraught with important, real world issues, like big government, war and imperialism, oppression (gender, class, race), exploration of sexuality, and possible futures, including that based on technology.   Your books explore these themes, undoubtedly. Do you do so purposely or unconsciously?   That is, do these ideas come out in your plots because such things are important to you already and thus, come onto the page, or do you have ideas that you wish to explore? Another way to put this would be: what moves you to write about such themes; perhaps as a reaction to society in its current state of affairs?

LN: Both purposely and unconsciously. In DEEP MERGE, I touch on homophobia, technology, religion, and to some degree, sexuality. This was necessary as the story deals with an alien culture and the culture of a segment of American society rooted in southern religious beliefs. My main characters are shaped by their culture, as are humans in general. When my characters discuss aspects of their cultures with each other, they let go of many beliefs they took for granted.

 

QR: Do you think that science fiction or fantasy is marginalized as genre? Why or why not?   Within that scope, do you think that women writers of the genre are ever more marginalized, relegated to “chick lit?”

LN: Truthfully, I’ve never delved into this subject with any great thought. I write what I want to read. I don’t worry about an audience for what my stories.

 

QR: Is writing in the sphere of les-fic particularly important to you?   Why so? Do you think that becomes a limiting factor in readership to your detriment in some way?

LN: I’m a lesbian and like to read stories about lesbians. Since I write what I want to read, and lesbians are the main characters, I think my stories would appeal mainly to lesbians. If that limits my audience to mainly lesbians, so be it. I think stories written by lesbians for lesbians and about lesbians are important to lesbians in general. To me as a reader a lesbian author shares an identity and experiences that I can relate to on a more personal level and this is often found in the lesbian stories they write.

 

QR: I think that your writing is deeply philosophical in a multitude of ways. If you were to think about that statement, how would you respond?

LN: My characters, in a lot of ways, have a little of reflections about myself at various stages in my life. Naturally, my stories contain some of my philosophy on life.

 

QR: Lighter question: what are you reading right now?

LN: THE VIKINGS. VOYAGERS OF DISCOVERY AND PLUNDER.

 

QR: Do you have a playlist that you go to while writing?

LN: Sometimes. I like classical and New Age instrumentals. Songs with vocals distract me.

 

QR: Anything that you would like to say in parting?

LN: To you who want to start writing, write from your heart and soul the stories that you want to read. Don’t worry about what is popular. Write for yourself.

Thanks for letting me participate.

QR: No, thank you!

 

 

Interviews with fantasy/sci-fi authors

 

space helmet chick

An excellent part of reviewing books is meeting the authors.   What’s even better, is when authors agree to participate in interviews — not as a means for book promotion, but as a means of helping out another writer with her research.  In the coming days, interviews will be posted by authors who have agreed to help me with my book on the genre of Fantasy, especially on the dark side of that spectrum.

To date, Linda North, author of Deep Merge  and SY Thompson, author of Fractured Futures and Destination Alara have agreed to participate.   The interviews, along with links to their books and reviews thereof, will be posted next week, beginning Monday, 7/14.2014 with an interview with Linda North.

 

 

 

If I Die Before I Wake, debut novel by Liz McMullen

 

 

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If I Die Before I Wake, debut novel by Liz McMullen

Rarely does a novel captivate me, grab my attention within the first few chapters, and keep me spellbound from beginning to end.   Liz McMullen’s novel,  If I Die Before I Wake,  did just that.   For a book to have the capacity to touch this writer on such a deeply personal level seems remarkable enough; however, given that the novel possesses a paranormal nature, makes that connection quite eerie.   Perhaps Liz McMullen has a touch of witchcraft in her writing.    Needless to say, before even reviewing the plot, I admit that I absolutely love the book.   It will be on my shelf to be reread, with a few other novels that strike a personal chord.

Certainly If I Die Before I Wake contains all the elements of a good paranormal horror novel: death of a beloved grandparent, an heirloom that bridges the real world and the world in-between, ghosts, witches, darkness. These elements are well crafted into a storyline that reaches beyond the standard paranormal horror tale, not just with the addition of an extremely sexy lesbian romance, but in how McMullen links the pieces together.   McMullen develops a highly symbolic tale beginning with the title, (the main line of a prayer that many children recite in order to ward off nightmares,) to the names of the characters, which symbolically connect to that prayer, as well as to the necessity for uttering such words.   In doing so, a magical sense of continuity evolves. In this writer’s opinion, the ability to create such a sense of connectivity, not as allusion, but in such a subtle manner that one wouldn’t even notice unless struck by it, goes beyond simply being good authorship, but wonderful story-telling.

While Liz McMullen may already have a great following in her blog, The Liz McMullen Show, she should continue writing novels. Her following will continue exponentially if she does so.   She definitely had a fan in me.

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Review: Surviving Reagan

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Just the title, Surviving Reagan, provoked emotion in this reader. Perhaps, my age set the stage for a host of thoughts about those extremely homophobic years, the ultra conservatism, and the growing apocalyptic view within a militaristic framework, not even touching upon the economic issues fraught within that administration. Certainly, this romance doesn’t precisely touch upon such things, per se, although the unsettled Middle East, a present day context of extreme misogyny and a war machine does work well as a setting to maintain my initial reactions.   Additionally, the events that occur to the protagonists, Chad and Reagan, bespeak of a world still battling with these issues.   However, Surviving Reagan is a romance tale, one that reaches readers on a variety of levels. If one seeks a well-written romance story filled with the emotional turmoil extant between lovers whose love has destiny wrapped around it, intrigue and adventure, then Isabella’s writing fills that bill.   Alternatively, if one seeks a novel that raises provocative issues, social issues that beset every lesbian, while cast within a love story, issues that are at once humorous and devastating, then this novel can serve that purpose as well.   Isabella delivers a deeply intense novel that is well written, filled with dynamic dialogue, compelling on a multitude of levels, and highly evocative.  

 

 

Review: Fractured Futures, by S.Y. Thompson

Fractured Futures Cover

As a hard-core Dark Urban Fantasy fan, it takes a clever plot to surprise me any more. More often than not, it seems as though every story harkens back to one prior, often as just shy of plagiarism, or as accidental homage. So, when I opened Fractured Futures, I was prepared to for disappointment. Happily, what I discovered was a strong dark urban fantasy, complete with intense female protagonists and romance that was rich, inviting, and sexy (oh, and between woman!) SY Thompson takes a futuristic landscape, reminiscent of a blending of Orwell and Ridley Scott, dark, centralized, and fraught with layers of discord and corruption, yet she reaches further into that realm, casting a glance at the oppression of women service workers via the near cyborg effect cast upon Ronan as a police officer, serves as tool both owned and employed by the state.  This reductionism becomes further enhanced by her connection to technology, especially intriguing as the technological component leads to an even darker and complex plot line. Further, Thompson explores sexuality, via intense dialogue and an inter-play of provocative themes of class — within both regime and intimacy. Additionally, as the plot revolves around serial killing, violence against women provides another important social element. It is the complexity of this interplay that ultimately strengthens the romantic relationship.

Certainly, I could easily say that I loved the book and call it a day. However, Thompson deserves recognition for how well she fused aspects of social justice into a police drama cum DUF cum lesbian fiction book. I highly recommend it. Hand down, this book will be re-read multiple times.