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Friday, January 31, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Iron Night by M. L. Brennan & The Twelve Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

It’s that time again when I’m a bit behind on my TBR pile and since I am unable to fully review all the books, which I read. Hence I’m taking a page from Liviu's book reviews and will be doing two ‘mini-reviews’. The common factor uniting these titles is that they were both fantastic reads. The characterization was top-notch and both books will be strong contenders for my year end lists.

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Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Generation V 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After reading the immensely entertaining Generation V, I was impressed by M. L. Brennan and the direction, which she was taking her series. Iron Night is a book from which I had high expectations as also I rated Generation V quite high in my year-end debut lists. In spite of all my high anticipation, Iron Night managed to overcome all of it and gave me a bunch of surprises along the way.

At the end of Generation V, Fortitude had accepted what he was and what he wasn’t. He strengthened his familial bonds and is further along the path on transitioning into a full-fledged vampire. His love life might not be working but he has moved on from his vicious ex-girlfriend Beth. His new roommate, Gage is a good human being who does his best to be on time with the rent as well. Basically Fort’s star is on the rise and relations with his family and Suzume are going on smoothly as well. Things soon take a rather stark horrible turn as Gage is found murdered, and it falls upon to Fortitude and Suzume to figure who or what killed Gage. Along the way they discover more about who resides in Madeline Scot’s territory and what can also kill a vampire.

I happened to enjoy this book a lot and here’s why. Firstly this is an excellent sequel that actually builds up on its predecessor and manages to outshine it in almost every department. Kudos to the author for developing the story in this way and also furthering the characters via their inter-personal relationships. The author also does her best to twist reader perceptions and then surprises them in myriad ways. The author not only develops Fortitude but all the other characters such as Suzume, Chivalry, Prudence, Madeline and Matt as well. With Fortitude we get to see a quite different person than we have met before. He’s more confident and learning more about his innate skills, which are tested as well. The author also shines a strong light on the supernatural aspect of the world, and we get to see and hear a lot about who and what else reside in the Northeastern part of the US besides the vampire and kitsune clans.

What I also enjoyed was the fact that there are major revelations about vampire genealogy, plus Fortitude’s birth and the reason for his difference. I was absolutely thrilled to see the author give out these secrets and set up plot points that most UF authors would take 2-3  more books to set up. This move was what made this book a standout one and basically made me love this series even more. Another plus point of the story was the author’s strange and savage twist on one of fantasy's most beloved non-human races. If you are like me then you will love how effortlessly M. L. Brennan manages to entwine horror and urban fantasy strands smoothly. The author also utilizes an excellent murder mystery plot and then further weaves plot threads about family and lineage around it.

The biggest mystery about Fortitude's parents is revealed and it makes several obscure things clear. I loved how the author is cleverly re-inventing vampire mythology and at the same time further deepening the supernatural mythos of her world. The creatures in this book aren’t the simple fantasy kind and they do add to the horror quotient of the story. Also not to be left out are the Kitsunes and we get another interesting tidbit about Suzume and her family, this I believe will have major ramifications in the future stories. Lastly the author revealed certain juicy tidbits in an interview and based on the events of this book and what was hinted, I certainly can’t wait to read Tainted Blood (which in itself is a fantastic clue about the plot).

CONCLUSION: All in all, this is an exciting volume to a series that mixes horror, mythology and UF tropes to charm the readers and beguile them to wait for the next installment. If you are one of those readers who look down upon urban Fantasy, give this series a shot and see for yourself why I believe M.L. Brennan to be the next best proponent of the UF-Horror genres behind the King household.


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’ll admit I haven’t read any John Hornor Jacobs’ previous releases. I’ve heard about them being a varied lot and have some fine prose but I never got around to them. When I got an opportunity to review this title, I didn’t want to pass it based on the blurb and the very cool title, plus the excerpt which I read added to my decision.

The basic storyline is about Shreveport Justice Cannon, our fifteen year-old protagonist who calls himself Shreve. He’s one of the many residents of the state in Casimir Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Center for Boys. He has endured a hard life before his entry into the state system having to take care of his mother and his younger brother Ferrous Vigor Cannon (Vig) at the same time. Certain events that are described in the plot have led to his incarceration and that’s where he meets the eponymous character. Jack Graves is the shy kid with the bilateral Polydactyly condition with his hands and feet. That while being curious, does not even compare to Jack’s curiouser and curiouser silence and powers.

The boys meet as they are bunked up together and Shreve gets to know more about Jack and why a very creepy character called Mr. Quincrux from the Department of Health and Human Services is interested in him and his condition. Things soon take a turn for the worse as Shreve and Jack are forced to hatch a plan to escape from the clutches of the state and the Department of Health and Human Services. What happens next is where things get murky and we get to know more about the world visualized by the author.

What I loved about this story was the characterization and even though it is entirely told from the viewpoint of Shreve, it manages to stand out. The world described within the juvenile facility as well all the other characters, it's all very three-dimensional. Of course with any story focussing on life within prison, more often than not comparisons arise with “Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption”. With this being a YA story, it adds another layer of complexity to the story as the author has to describe the story at a different level and yet make it believable. This is where the author excels and given the pace at which the story expands. Most readers will be hard-pressed to not finish this story within a single setting.

Plus to add to the further awesomeness of the story, there are some significant paranormal threads to the story as the main character and his twelve-fingered friend discover that there are powers afoot both their own and those of Mr. Quincrux and his ilk. The how and what is what lies at the heart of this story along with superb characterization that will have you rooting for Shreve and Jack pretty much all the way. I enjoyed the main protagonist Shreve and kudos to the author for creating a believable teenager who is also incarcerated. The author creates this entire world within the  detention center and of course once the story progresses we are introduced to newer characters and situations.

Things that didn’t work so well within this book, would be that the bad guys with their all-out badness, seem to be a bit caricature-ish but I’m going to reserve judgment on that aspect simply because this is the first book in a trilogy. Of course I'm hoping that the author is able to bring the same depth to the antagonists as he has shown with the teenagers.  This was the only sour point for me about this story as everything else about the story was simply impressive. 

CONCLUSION: Why would you want to read The Twelve-Fingered Boy, well it could because most folks enjoy a tale well told or that you like read a story about two boys on the run from something sinister (à la Nathan's Run meets X-Men) or it could be that you love paranormal YA stories. Whatever be the reason, make sure that you don’t miss this fine effort from John Hornor Jacobs. The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a book that will make you believe in its awesomeness.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014

NOS4A2/NOS4R2 by Joe Hill (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Watch NOS4A2 Promo video

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Christmas was one of the best things about being a kid. There is nothing quite like the anticipation leading up to Christmas morning. And even now, having achieved geezerhood, I am still a complete sucker for the big day. Every year a real tree, the lights, sorting through and selecting from the decades and decades of collected ornaments, the gifts, and hopefully a tree skirt free of cat vomit. I put on It’s a Wonderful Life, wife by my side, hopefully at least one of my now-grown kids at hand, and keep the tissues handy. I find it completely heartwarming. One must wonder, however, how Christmas might have been celebrated in the King household. I suppose it is possible that Dad left his darker impulses by his keyboard. Did they share hot chocolate like the rest of us, or maybe add bits of human flesh instead of marshmallows. Hot toddy made with blood from a guy named Todd? Brownies made with under-age Girl Scouts? Did their whipped cream scream? Well, probably not, but one must wonder.

NOS4A2, the author’s latest tale from the dark side, takes a beloved annual celebration and gives it the special family treatment. If you like your Christmas trees decorated with sparkling abominations, your Santa more by way of an oversized, but underfed mortician, and your Santa’s special elf a rapist psycho-killer, then this is the book you will want to find frightening off the other packages under your tree next Christmas.

Joseph Hillstrom King, under the nom de scare Joe Hill, is a man who not only would be King, he already is one. He has been pretty busy the last few years, writing up a storm, 20th Century Ghosts, Heart-Shaped Box, and Horns, establishing himself as a respected, successful writer of horror fiction, picking up at least eleven literary awards to date. Although his career has been relatively brief, he has, with NOS4A2, grown up to a level where he can glare, eye-to-eye, with the best of contemporary horror writers, even that guy across the table at Christmas dinner.

NOS4A2 is a work of impressive creativity, and one that may give you many a sleepless night, so powerful are some of the images he has created. But the core of the book is Victoria McQueen, Vic, The Brat. And how fitting that a King makes his heroine a queen. Applying a familiar horror-tale trope, the young female hero, we are introduced to Vic as an eight-year-old. This kid loves her bike but then she has good reason to. It takes her where she needs to go, whether that happens to be around the block or across a magically bespoke bridge that takes her across geography, wormhole style. It comes in handy when she desperately wants to locate, say, a lost necklace that figures in her parents latest screaming match, opening for her a personal Shorter Way Bridge to take her to the proper destination. It takes her home again, of course. But it exacts a toll. And the journey through it can be harrowing.

Countering this adorable heroine is Charlie Manx. Not so adorable. This definitely not so goodtime Charlie abducts children to his special place, Christmasland, taking advantage of their unhappiness to seduce them with a King-family version of Neverland. What if it were Christmas every day? Charlie’s number one supporter is Bing Partridge. Bing’s latest accomplishment was the murder of his parents, but not before engaging in unspeakable behavior of another sort. He may be dreaming of Christmas but it is more likely to be fright than white, and there are fouler things than partridges in the trees he favors. He lives, fittingly on Bloch Lane, named, we suspect, for the author of Psycho. Once teamed up with Charlie, he makes use of his access to a particular sort of gas, sevoflurane, to subdue his victims. The stuff smells like gingerbread.

"Bing’s yard was full of tinfoil flowers, brightly colored and spinning in the morning sunlight. The house was a little pink cake of a place, with white trim and nodding lilies. It was a place where a kindly old woman would invite a child in for gingerbread cookies, lock him in a cage, fatten him for weeks, and finally stick him in the oven. It was the House of Sleep."

You won’t find Christmasland on any map, but it exists. Charlie drives a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. Not exactly a sleigh, but useful for transporting Charlie and his goodies here and there. Actually, it is more a case of him bringing the children to his dubious gifts than it is of the gifts being brought to the children. Charlie has been snatching children for a long time. So we have the goodie and we have the baddies.


Vic becomes that most horrifying of nightmares, an adolescent. And in a fit of rage against her divorced parents goes looking for trouble. Before you can say “Feliz Navidead,” the Brat finds herself riding into a Charlie lair, the cutely named “Sleigh House.” A bleak house indeed, as you might guess, and Vic has to resort to some extreme measures to make good her escape. Of course, once she does she earns a permanent place on Charlie’s naughty list. One positive that comes out of this ordeal is that when Vic is fleeing Charlie she is picked up on the highway by a passing biker, the large, leather-clad Lou Carmody. Classic meet-cute and oh, someone is trying to kill me.

It turns out that Vic and her nemesis are not the only ones with a certain gift. When Vic crosses her Shorter Way Bridge to the place of business of Maggie Leigh (second possible Psycho reference?) she meets another person with a special talent, one particularly suited to a librarian. It’s not heaven, though. It’s Iowa. Later Vic’s dad joins up and there is some help from beyond the grave as well. Team Charlie has a lot of young recruits, too. One might be forgiven at times for thinking that he might be giving new meaning to the term “cold calls” as he has his maybe-dead minions manning (would that be childing?) the phones to harass our hero.

 “Everyone lives in two worlds,” Maggie said, speaking in an absent-minded way while she studied her letters. “There’s the real world, with all its annoying facts and rules. In the real world there are things that are true and things that aren’t. Mostly the real world s-s-s-suh-sucks. But everyone also lives in the world inside their own head. An inscape, a world of thought. In a world made of thought—in an inscape–every idea is a fact. Emotions are as real as gravity. Dreams are as powerful as history. Creative people, like writers, and Henry Rollins, spend a lot of their time hanging out in their thoughtworld. S-s-strong creatives, though, can use a knife to cut the stitches between the two worlds, can bring them together. Your bike. My tiles. Those are our knives.”

The King family seems to have figured out how to make us care for their heroes, and Hill has done a nice job of that here. Vic is sympathetic, not just for her courage and determination, but for her failings as well. And there is plenty of failing to go around here, but also generous doses of redemption. And there is no shortage of action. It all builds to a very explosive climax. There are occasional bits of fun in here as well. Hill engages in a joke having to do with Checkhov’s gun that is sure to bring a smile and he takes a cutesy swipe at Henry Rollins.

There are some soft spots as well. Charlie is a pretty bad sort. Not enough attention is addressed to looking at how he came to be that way. It might have helped make him more understandable, if not sympathetic, which is always more interesting than the straight up boogie man. Bing is boogie man enough, despite his less than imposing façade, his child-like insecurity. And what is it that gives certain objects their magical properties? Never addressed. Hill takes on the somewhat softball difference in value between happiness and fun, which certainly has relevance to our consumer culture, but is far from novel.

CONCLUSION: Still and all, this is top notch horror, signaling not necessarily that a King is born, but that one has arrived and is ready to ascend to the throne. Happy Horrordays!

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog. 1938 Rolls Royce picture courtesy of ArtValue. Joe Hill picture courtesy of Shane Leonard & Underwire blog (Wired).
Monday, January 27, 2014

GUESTPOST: The Babbling Tower: Language, Immigration, and Complexity in Fantasy Fiction by Kameron Hurley


I’m sixteen years old, standing on a medieval street in a small Italian town, getting yelled at by an old woman who’s blocking my entrance to the public bathroom. She’s yelling at me in Italian, naturally, which I don’t speak. I can barely order a Coke in French, let alone converse in any other language besides English. The entrance fee for the bathroom isn’t posted. I’m holding up notes in various denominations. She keeps shaking her head.

I fear I’m going to wet my pants. Finally, she pulls a coin from her apron, holds it up to me, says something I still cannot understand, only louder this time.

A coin. She wants the entrance fee in coins, not paper notes.

I rummage through my purse for a coin and hand it over.

She scrunches up her face and nods sharply.

I’m allowed entrance.

Another language barrier negotiated.


I wrote a post recently about pet peeves in fantasy fiction. One of the ones on my list was “Everybody speaks “Common”/every country has a monolithic language.” I tend to see a lot of fantasy fiction fall into this trap (especially from US authors), even those with a dozen countries and eight magical races across half a planet. Somehow, everyone speaks the same language. Or they have a common tongue that everyone uses. And hey, this is fantasy! So I, as a writer, can do whatever I want, right?

I understand the utility of this. It makes writing faster. Untangling who speaks what can slow down the narrative. But this complexity can also add a lot of tension. And I find that when many writers construct fictional worlds, then tend to forget the incredible complexities of our own. I often see a lot of folks argue that we have a “universal” language in English, which makes me snicker a little, because I think they’re missing the boat, here. 

Even with languages like English – which has become one of a handful of our world’s go-to languages for travelers in this century – only became that way because England invaded so many other countries, and the U.S. wielded its own dominance, especially post-WWII. As the US and UK continue their slow decline, however, this has already started to change. English’s place among the “common” languages for business and travel is going to be seriously different in 50 years. Languages, empires, people, social mores, aren’t static. Having one “common” language for three thousand years is stretching it even in fantastic terms.

What’s glossed over even more in much fantasy fiction I read is how problematic it can be for foreigners to come into a new country and speak the language of the oppressors to the local population; your approach to language, and understanding of the history and nuances of using it, are important in any interaction. I remember being coached by my French teacher to never go around just assuming people in France knew English. It was rude. Start every conversation with, “Je ne parle pas francais bien” translated as: “I don’t speak French well.” Because then, at least, you’re making a fucking effort. Or ask, in French, if they speak English. Don’t assume. And it was true, as a teen running around France: I found that just nattering on in English often got me sour looks. It demonstrated an unintentional arrogance. So how do people view a character from a conquering country in a fantasy setting, swinging into their territory spouting off like everyone should understand her? 


What I also didn’t realize, back when I was first traveling as a teenager, was that even in Europe, outside of the big cities, you’re pretty much on your own. You may find yourself being yelled at in Italian, or French, or German, and have to extricate yourself with a lot of gestures and the one or two words you actually know in the native language. People in the U.S. tend to be especially unprepared for these kind of encounters. We live in a big country, and many go their whole lives without traveling any further than its borders. It often leads to a kind of myopia, where you know, intellectually, that things are different elsewhere, but emotionally, make assumptions based on crooked media and narrow lived experience. I’ll never forget getting on a train in Switzerland and going from – in less than an hour – a region that spoke primarily German to a region that spoke primarily French, all without leaving the country. If I’d grown up in Switzerland, I’d likely have learned three or four languages as a matter of course.

These are the sorts of scenes, in fantasy fiction, that can create both comedy gold and incredible tension. If a character can’t figure out what the guard’s asking for, or the vendor thinks they’re stealing something, language suddenly goes from an invisible assumption to a source of active tension and depth. When you get off the train and you don’t speak the language of the people around you, well. There will be some negotiating. And fear. And anxiety. But also, of course, great humor.

My French teacher liked to tell the story of when she was sitting in the back of a cab in France as a teenager, making out with a French boy, who kept telling her “Je t’adore, je t’adore,” which means “I love you.” She kept thinking he was saying, “Shut the door, shut the door,” and found herself looking around the cab, trying to figure out which door was open.

Folks who you might think would know a particular language (or two or four or six), may not always be as fluent as you assume, either. My grandmother was from France, and my father lived there the first seven years of his life, but I can’t do much more in French than ask where the bathroom is and request the restaurant bill. I can remember my grandmother singing in French as she cleaned the kitchen, but she didn’t actively seek to teach my siblings and me the language. It was incredibly important to her that we were American, that we fit in. She was self-conscious of her own accent; she had come to the States and taught herself English on her own. No online classes back then, no ESL, no friends to help. Just my grandmother pushing through, dealing with astonishing amounts of prejudice and annoyance from folks who found her accent “impossible” to understand.


I write a lot about immigrant families in my second book, Infidel, sequel to God’s War, and I had one reader express shock that somebody like me, who’d been born and raised in the U.S., could capture that type of experience. The truth is, I spent much of my childhood witnessing what it was like to be an immigrant through my grandmother’s experiences. She could “pass,” sure, until she opened her mouth, and then her accent became of intense interest to everyone. I could understand her just fine, of course, but living in a pretty small town at the time, a woman with a foreign accent was still considered a novelty. It also meant she hated to go to the doctor without someone else to translate in case the staff couldn’t understand her English, and that annoyance with doctors and their knee-jerk assumptions about her based on her accent only got worse as she got older, and led to increasing complications with her health. She paid particular care and attention to her appearance, as well, and had her hair done every week. In part, I suspect, she did this because she knew early on that as an immigrant housewife from a working class family, people were going to treat her better if they thought she had money. Even if it was all a show.

These are the types of details and experiences that I find missing from a lot of general fantasy fiction that pays inordinate amounts of attention to maps and geography and fighting styles but neglects a lot of potential depth, nuance, and tension by pretending everybody looks and sounds and thinks the same. Like, “all of race X worship X” and “all of country Y speak Z language.” I continue to see folks (mostly in the U.S., it’s true) argue that with instant communication comes an elimination of accents, but even in the U.S., where there are televisions and mobile devices in nearly every home that connect us, we have anywhere from 18-35 different types of accents. That means encountering words and regional slang pretty much any time one travels more than a few hours outside where they live (and sometimes less than that).

I challenge more writers to explore this kind of complexity in their fiction – and encourage readers to have greater expectation of it. What are the current fantasy authors you all think do this well? Did you find the multitudes of languages and cultures overwhelming, or did they add to the greater experience of the story?


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of God's War
Read Bastard Book's review of God's War
Read free short stories from Bel Dame Apocrypha series

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kameron Hurley was brought up in the state of Washington. She has led a nomadic lifestyle living in different places such as Alaska, South Africa and Illinois. She had been a participant of the Clarion West workshop in 2000 and received a BA at the University of Alaska in 2001, and also got her Master's Degree from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (South Africa) in 2003.

Kameron is the award-winning author of the Bel Dame Apocrypha seriesGod’s War, Infidel, and Rapture. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Lightspeed, EscapePod, and Strange Horizons, and anthologies such as The Lowest Heaven and Year’s Best SF 12. Visit her website for news of her upcoming projects.

NOTE: Tower Of Babel picture courtesy of HQ Wallpapers. author picture courtesy of the author herself.
Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly w/ bonus review of Roger Ascham And The King's Lost Girl (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Read an excerpt HERE 
Order The Tournament HERE (US & UK) 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Scarecrow Returns 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Matthew Reilly was born and brought up in Sydney, Australia. He studied law at the University of New South Wales and wrote his first two books while being a student. He self published his first book, which lead to his eventual publication by Pan Macmillan. He is a cricket aficionado as well as a movie memorabilia collector. One of his prize items is a DeLorean DMC-12 and other items from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises.

OFFICIAL BLURB: England, 1546. A young Princess Elizabeth is surrounded by uncertainty. She is not currently in line for the throne, but remains a threat to her older sister and brother.

In the midst of this fevered atmosphere comes an unprecedented invitation from the Sultan in Constantinople. He seeks to assemble the finest chess players from the whole civilized world and pit them against each other.

Roger Ascham, Elizabeth's teacher and mentor in the art of power and politics, is determined to keep her out of harm's way and resolves to take Elizabeth with him when he travels to the glittering Ottoman capital for the tournament.

But once there, the two find more danger than they left behind. There's a killer on the loose and a Catholic cardinal has already been found mutilated. Ascham is asked by the Sultan to investigate the crime. But as he and Elizabeth delve deeper, they find dark secrets, horrible crimes and unheard-of depravity. Things that mark the young princess for life and define the queen she will become.

FORMAT/INFO: The Tournament is 410 pages long, divided over six sections (titled after chess pieces) with a prologue and epilogue as well as forty-three chapters. Narration is in the first-person via Princess Elizabeth (Bess) and Gwinny Stubbes. There's also a postscript detailing the futures of all the important historical personae. A note is also included in which the author discusses his historical sources as well as a detailed author interview.

November 13, 2013 marked the UK hardback and e-book publication of The Tournament via Orion books.

ANALYSIS: Matthew Reilly is one of my favorite thriller writers; he's what one would refer to as brain candy. His books are filled with adorable, heroic characters, over-the-top & drawn-out action sequences and lastly memorable plots. His Shane Schofield series established his name and signature writing style. His second book "Temple" was a variant in his writing style that it featured a dual storyline and the second plotline was placed in the latter half of the sixteenth century. This was the only instance of Matthew Reilly ever writing a historical thriller until now that is.

With The Tournament, the author heads back to the sixteenth century however instead of the new world (in Temple), the story is set in continental Europe and the city of Istanbul. The protagonist for this remarkable story is none other Queen Elizabeth I however she is just a teenager and is guided by her remarkable tutor Roger Ascham. The story is told entirely from Elizabeth's POV except for the prologue and epilogue. The beauty of the plot is that it focuses on a chess tournament which is to be held in the city of Istanbul and is organized by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent. What starts out to be a simple chess tournament soon gets mired in conspiracy and murder as a catholic priest is found murdered brutally and Roger Ascham along with Bess (as Elizabeth is referred to) get embroiled in it. Following sixteen famed players and with quintessential Matthew Reilly plot twists, The Tournament is a book that will delight most of his fans and might win him some new ones as well.

What I liked about this book was that the author unabashedly sticks to his storytelling style and keeps the plot moving forward with an extremely rapid pace. The book has a multitude of famous characters and one doesn't need to be a European history expert to enjoy their interactions. Elizabeth as a character is rather subdued and often focuses on her mentor Roger Ascham who is presented with a strong Sherlockian vibe. He is a man of knowledge and rational behavior, often focusing on the details and science to formulate his answers and thoughts. He often steals the scenes as a worthy historical predecessor to Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary virtuoso. The author creates many situations that perhaps are his way of explaining how they molded Elizabeth's character and thought process thereby making her into the formidable monarch she eventually became.

The book’s main draw begins with the chess tournament when the famed sixteen players face-off against each other. To offset the tournament's excitement, there’s also the murder mystery, which is set among the court of the sultan. The author keeps the tension twisting with both story threads and the plot twists keep on coming ending in a solid climax that resolves both plot threads. While the story unfolds quite brutally, this book deals with some adult themes in regards to sexuality, sexual abuse and morality. I enjoyed this aspect of the story as previously the author has taken a PG-13 view with his stories. Lastly the author has also gives a major clue for a potential sequel story than can either be done in a short or longer form.

While this book was a runaway story with some clever twists to it, there are some points that might not make it an intellectual equal of "The Name Of The Rose". The author often injects modern twentieth and twenty-first century sensibilities into the characters and their views. While it was enjoyable to read the various fallacies about the Catholic Church and the Ottoman Empire. It's hardly believable that these characters would be able to formulate them. The author has indicated certain historical facts to substantiate his extrapolations and it will be up to the readers to decide how believable it all is. This point though doesn't detract anything from the story but is a sore point for all sticklers of historical accuracy especially when it comes to historical fiction dealing with famous real-life personalities. There’s also one character that seems to be set up for a horrendous fall and basically is included to make a point about why Elizabeth remained a virgin (allegedly). It will be up to the readers to see how this twist pans out. For me it was rather unsavory to say the least.

Overall I would say that this book is a typical Matthew Reilly thriller albeit set in the sixteenth century and in Constantinople (nee Istanbul) a city wherein the author hasn't set any of his previous stories. It also features various famous historical characters and it was quite fun to read their interactions as well as see their predilections. This book works wonderfully if read as a fun thriller with some interesting factoids about chess and historical characters/organizations. It is not a true account of history and therefore doesn't seek to adhere to standards of historical accuracy.

CONCLUSION: The Tournament is a fun book that is an excellent mix of historical thriller and murder mystery. While this book will certainly excite Matthew Reilly’s fans, for seasoned thriller and historical fiction readers, this book might fall flat entirely. This book should be taken for what it is, a fun thriller written by Matthew Reilly in his inimitable style. It entertains and makes the time fly.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Roger Ascham And The King’s Lost Girl is a prequel short story that is freely available on the author’s website. It’s about 34 pages long divided over seven small chapters. The protagonist of the story is the titular character and the story is set in Cambridge.

The events of the story occur about seven months prior to those of The Tournament and we find Roger Ascham being summoned by Henry VIII for some deed of his that the king frowns upon. The king while a bit flummoxed by Roger’s approach to Elizabeth’s education doesn’t necessarily chide him for it. He wants Roger to find out about Isabella, his favorite concubine in Cambridge who has recently gone missing. Also previously the person who was tasked with finding her has turned up dead and now it all has fallen upon Roger.

The story is a straightforward mystery short whose outcome is not at all hard to guess. Infact this story I believe, is simply set up to give the readers an inkling about Roger’s mental acumen and the type of person he is. This prequel short can be read either before or after reading The Tournament, but be warned that the inherent mystery is also revealed in the longer book. Since it’s a free story I would heartily recommend it for all Matthew Reilly fans and for those readers who enjoyed The Tournament. For all other folks, this is a fun free short and in that regard, it shouldn’t be missed.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells and Mini Q/A with the author (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order "Dirty Magic" HERE
Read an excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Red-Headed Stepchild
Read Revisionist History: a guest post by Jaye Wells

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. For more about Jaye’s books, please visit her website

OFFICIAL BLURB: The last thing patrol cop Kate Prospero expected to find on her nightly rounds was a werewolf covered in the blood of his latest victim. But then, she also didn't expect that shooting him would land her in the crosshairs of a Magic Enforcement Agency task force, who wants to know why she killed their lead snitch.

The more Prospero learns about the dangerous new potion the MEA is investigating, the more she's convinced that earning a spot on their task force is the career break she's been wanting. But getting the assignment proves much easier than solving the case. Especially once the investigation reveals their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier—on the same day she swore she'd never use dirty magic again.

Kate Prospero's about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should be never say never.

FORMAT/INFO: Dirty Magic is 381 pages long divided over thirty-six numbered chapters. Narration is in the first person via Kate Prospero only. Dirty Magic is the first volume in the Prospero's War series and the second volume Cursed Moon will be out in August 2014.

January 21, 2014 marked the Trade paperback and e-book publication of Dirty Magic via Orbit Books.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’m a virtual newcomer to Jaye Wells and her style of writing. I've read her debut “Red-Headed Stepchild” but haven’t read any other books of hers. So with this book, it felt as if I was re-introduced to her and with a completely new story and protagonist. The story drops into a world wherein magic has been present since quite a few decades but isn't all out accepted as well. The story is told through the eyes of Kate Prospero, a beat cop in the city of Babylon which is a decaying world set in the Rust Belt region of the USA. 

The story begins a bit startlingly as Kate in one of her patrols is assaulted by a man who has apparently turned into a werewolf. Not one to take things lying down, Kate manages to get the upper hand and kill the person. Things take a weird turn when the dead person is identified as a CI and now she finds herself attached to a Magic Enforcement Agency task force. That’s where the story starts to coalesce into a fine thread of mystery, discovery and magical thrills. Kate is a strong-willed person and also she has an innate ability to brew magical potions. This ability along with her family lineage got her into major trouble as a result of which she has become the person she is now.

Obdurate in regards to using magic and obstinate in her refusal to associate with any member of her family besides her younger brother. The familial problems also run deep as her uncle Abe is the person who was the coven head and is currently in maximum security. Kate has hidden her background however her new case will have her mixing with magic in its ugliest form as well as getting re-acquainted with John Volos who happens to Babylon’s newest savior and shares a strong magical connection to Kate’s Past.

The story is a proper procedural masked in urban fantasy clothing however that makes it a bit tough to rate. While I enjoyed the author’s world building in regards to magic’s introduction in the 1970s and how it has encapsulated human lives. Another freaky but cool aspect of the story was how the author showcased all the various magical addictions that can grow from the usage of potions. This was for me an absolute pluspoint as to how the author’s imagination amalgamated magic use and addiction issues fascinatingly to provide believable scenarios. The other pluspoint of the story since this is a first person narrative was Kate Prospero and her life story, which was interesting but not entirely as fascinating as the world-building.

Here’s what I liked about Kate, she is shown to be a survivor with some form of PTSD which has manifested in her hard-edged attitude about magic. Kate doesn't enjoy her feelings about magic but she can’t quite explain it to her younger brother who thirsts to know more about their mother, family and of course magic use (which is forbidden to him). The author also has an interesting character cast set up around Kate and it will be interesting to see how the author explores their lives and interactions with Kate. A particular fun character is called Baba who is an elderly specimen who babysits her brother and offers rough, inane advice to Kate whether she wants it or not.

With this book, there’ll be readers who either like/love it or dislike it or have a mixed bag of emotions. I found myself falling into the third category. Here are my reasons why; I liked the story set up and the imagination of the author as to how she went about setting up the world and the main character. The faltering aspect for me was the pace that was uneven throughout the story. Now I have to say that most procedurals aren't quite fast paced and infact the whole story is often about the journey towards the eventual climax. In this regard, the book’s journey is a good one as the reader is introduced to the seedy underbelly of the magic world. But the pace does slacken and this lead to a troubled read for me. The second factor that didn't work for me was the buildup for the possible love triangle that seems to be inherent for Kate and the two male characters with whom she interacts within this story. Usually it never bothers me but I’m hoping that if the author takes this route, she doesn't make it a whimsical one.

Lastly I must add that the plot twists were a bit predictable and the climax resolution while neat also gives us a strong hook for returning for book II “Cursed Moon”. Also this book quintessentially feels like the set-up for the series and while that might not be a bad thing, it might definitely irk some readers. I will be definitely waiting for it to see how the author develops the story but rest assured it will be  even more interesting if the author decides to deepen the focus on the magical side of things and explores that unique aspect of the world.

CONCLUSION: A story that reads a bit unevenly but is still strong enough to hold your interest till the end. Dirty Magic is a good start to a series that is perhaps ambitiously described as “The Wire with Wizards”. It’s a good tale which focuses on the seedy underbelly of the magic world. As a reader it’s always fascinating to see authors do different things in a crowded subgenre. Jaye Wells does that soundly with this fascinating opening volume.


Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. For someone who hasn’t read any of your titles, how would you describe your writing style? 

JW: Thanks for having me on! I write urban fantasy that leans toward gritty action and suspense with fantastical or horror elements. Some have described my work as snarky, but I prefer to think of it as irreverent.

Q] You have an upcoming series which you had described as “The Wire and Breaking Bad with wizards”. While that is a pretty terrific description, what would you say is its USP in differentiating itself from the crowded UF sub-genre? 

JW: I’m not sure what USP stands for? I’m certainly not the first UF author to combine fantasy with police procedurals, but what makes my books stand out is what makes all good writers of UF good—the world building is complex, innovative, and compelling, and the characters who inhabit that world are richly drawn and empathetic. By combining two genres—UF and police procedurals—I can elevate the best points of each as well as combine them in new ways. It was great fun to write, and, I hope, will be be as fun to read.

Q] I remember you having a conversation about how UF and PNR are separate entities on twitter. As a UF fan, I completely agree that it’s very annoying to see that mentality of them being one and the same but as a UF writer, I can only imagine what thoughts go through your head at this silly assumption. Your thoughts on this? 

JW: There’s a prevailing attitude among certain circles that any book written by a woman featuring a female protagonist must be romance. Buttressing this view is the attitude that romance in an inherently inferior genre (and therefore the women writing them are inferior writers). Both of these positions are, frankly, lazy and ignorant. That’s pretty much all I have to say on the matter.

Q] As with your previous series, Prospero’s War looks to feature an interesting cast of characters (Danny, Volos, Morales, Baba, Mez, etc.) How do you go about creating their personalities, and what is the key to successfully crafting such a believable, yet fantastical character cast? 

JW: Fantastical characters must always have relatable or empathetic human traits. They each are products of the worlds in which they live, so I use that to figure out what makes them tick. You create three-dimensional characters by giving each character a goal, motivation, and a conflict (internal and/or external). I also try to write dialogue that sounds like people actually talk, which helps them feel more alive on the page.

Q] In Dirty Magic, it isn't specified where exactly Babylon is. Would you care to reveal any clues about its location? 

JW: Babylon is located in Ohio, along Lake Erie. I used Cleveland as a template and then adjusted the geography and history by stealing from other Rust Belt towns (Cincinnati, Detroit, Gary, Indiana) or making things up to reflect a world influenced by magic.


Q] Dirty Magic is the first volume in a series. Could you offer any details about the sequel “Cursed Moon”, and how many books do you anticipate to write in this series? 

JW: Cursed Moon is about what happens in Babylon when a rare Blue Moon makes everyone’s magic go wonky. Kate and the gang also have their hands full tracking down a psycho who thinks he’s the reincarnation of the god Dionysus.

Right now, I’m contracted for three books, total. Whether there will be more depends on how well-received the first books are, I suppose. Ultimately, I’d like to write seven novels in the series, but I’m not a plotter, so please don’t hold me to that. The series is very much an organic thing to me.

Q] Prospero’s War sounds like an epic series title and could you elaborate how its genesis occurred. How long have you been working on it? 

JW: I began working on the series in 2012. It’s genesis was the result of finishing my Sabina Kane series and needing something new to work on. I knew I wanted to do something a little different—no vampires or were-creatures—and I wanted to play with crime fiction. It’s hard to pinpoint the moment that it coalesced into a fully fledged idea because there are so many influences that when into it. However, the title was easy to come up with. The name Prospero is a reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the war alluded to in the title is actually two wars: The war against dirty magic as well as Kate’s internal war against magic’s hold on her.

Q] One of the things that impresses me a lot about you as a writer, is your ability to produce good books at a regular, yearly rate. What’s your secret? 

JW: Ha! I didn't know I had a choice in the matter. At this point I’m writing two books a year, actually. Part of it is demands of the market, but the other is that I’m getting faster the longer I write. It also helps to write series because the further in you get the more you know the characters and the stories develop a sort of comfortable rhythm. The other secret is that writing is my full-time job.

Q] In closing, are there any final thoughts or comments that you'd like to share with your readers? 

JW: First, thanks for taking me on. Second, all of your readers should go buy DIRTY MAGIC. Like the potions it’s named after, it’s pretty addictive, but it probably won’t turn you into a slathering hellbeast.
Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Palace of Spies: Palace of Spies #1" by Sarah Zettel (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)





Visit the Official Website of Sarah Zettel Here

OVERVIEW: A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don't.

Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she's impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love...

History and mystery spark in this effervescent series debut.

FORMAT: Palace of Spies is the first novel in a proposed series which carries the same name. It is a YA historical fiction novel that contains mystery, espionage, gossip, drama, and adventure. Palace of Spies stands at 368 pages and was published by HMH Books for Young Readers on November 5, 2013.

ANALYSIS: Palace of Spies is a unique novel that combines historical facts, thrilling adventure, mystery, and of course – spies. Choosing a rather unique time period of 1778 (roughly), this entire novel documents that trials and tribulations of young Peggy.

Peggy, an orphan, is left in the care of her overbearing and strict uncle. The novel starts off with the announcement of Peggy's betrothal to a wild, obnoxious man whom Peggy has never met. Upon their first meeting, the young man assaults Peggy. Peggy is only freed from a worse fate by the appearance (and help) of a mysterious man – who offers her his assistance if the need should ever arise in the future.

When Peggy tells her uncle, he doesn't believe her and instead tosses her out of the house with nothing but the clothing on her back. Peggy is forced to turn to the help of the mysterious man from the previous evening. It turns out the man is a part of a partnership and they have need for a young woman to take the place of a lady of the court who has recently passed away under suspicious circumstances.

Peggy agrees to the job position and the rest of the novel is focused on her adventures. Peggy soon finds herself the center of attention in the court of Princess Caroline, Princess of Wales. She is thrown into all the petty fights, political games, and mystery that come with being a member of the court.

What Peggy does not expect is to find out that the young lady of the court she is replacing soon turns out to be what appears to be a spy and her death may not have been as natural as everyone is pretending it to be. Peggy works to uncover the mystery surrounding the lady of the court's death, while seeing who exactly she is working for as a spy.

Palace of Spies is a great novel for those that love historical fiction and are looking for something a little out of the norm when it comes to this type of genre. There is mystery, romance, and spy espionage. If none of this appeals to you, it probably is not a novel that would be for you as it doesn't really offer much else.

I found Palace of Spies to be mediocre. The beginning was extremely slow moving. Considering this is a first novel of a series, readers are treated to a lot of descriptions and forced to 'get to know' the characters in the novel.

Unfortunately, I found myself not really liking anyone in the novel. I was indifferent to Peggy; the ladies of the court were secondary characters and didn't play a huge role in the novel. I did enjoy Peggy's cousin, but she didn't really show up until the end of the novel. (She'll have a bigger part in other books).

I think a major part of why I did not like the characters is because of how the novel was written. It is written in the first person narrative of Peggy. Peggy's style is to talk about events, but put in little 'asides' to the reader. It wasn't a bad style to write in, it just did not make the main character appealing to me at all.

While I didn't really care for the characters, I did find the amount of historical detail – while maybe not 100% accurate – amazing and captivating. I also enjoyed the mystery element to the novel. I found myself wondering what side the previous lady of the court was playing, what her scheme was, and what happened to her. I really feel if there hadn't been such a mysterious element to it, I would have stopped reading after the first few chapters.

Palace of Spies is the first novel in a series. While the main plot of the mystery surrounding the lady of the court who died is solved, there are hundreds of other 'lose ends' left out there for readers. In fact, I walked away with more questions than I expected. If you do not like cliffhangers, this is not a book for you.

Overall, I found Palace of Spies to be 'alright'. I enjoyed it, as I love historical fantasy books about England and found the time period unique, but not really connecting with characters made it less than enjoyable. I will probably wait to see how the second book is in the series before deciding.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Golem And The Jinni by Helene Wecker (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Website
Order the Book HERE
Read an excerpt HERE
Watch Library Love Fest Interview with Helene Wecker
Watch author reading followed by Q&A via Susan Tunis

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I found The Golem and The Jinni to be a fun, magical fairy tale of a romance with a fair bit of excitement to it. But it is pretty clear that this is also a serious, literary work, raising meaningful philosophical questions, while using the folklore of two different cultures to inform the immigrant experience, offering a fascinating look at a place and time, and linking the experiences of the old and new worlds. These two takes seemed to call for different outlooks and so the result is two reviews in one.

REVIEW #1:

Everyone loves legends, lore, tales of long ago, filled with heroes and magical beings. They dilate our pupils, excite our imagination and provide the fodder for our dreams. Helene Wecker has written a very grown up fairy tale, bringing to life a pair of magical beings. In doing so she has transported old world legend to a place where and a time when vast numbers of more ordinary people were trying to create new dreams, new legends of their own, immigrant New York City at end of the 19th century.

The Golem is a clay creature constructed by a corrupt Kabalist near Danzig, at the behest of Otto Rotfeld, an unsuccessful, unattractive young man. But Rotfeld was not looking for a thuggish destroyer. He wanted his golem to be made in the form of a woman and imbued with curiosity, intelligence and a sense of propriety. On the passage to New York, Otto suffers a burst appendix and dies, but not before he speaks the words that bring his creation to life. Newborn and alone, but with an ability to perceive the wants of those around her, the Golem is set loose in New York. Wandering around, she is spotted for what she really is by a retired rabbi on the Lower East Side. He takes her in, tries to get her settled and struggles with how to deal with the fact that she is a creature usually built for the purpose of destruction.

Not too far away, in Little Syria, an Arab immigrant community near the southern tip of Manhattan, Boutros Arbeely, a tinsmith, is brought an unusually old copper flask. While attempting to repair it, he is confronted by a magical being of his own, a handsome arrogant, and unclothed jinni. Unfortunately for the jinni, despite having been freed of the flask, he remains trapped in the shape of a human, bound there by an iron cuff on his wrist. In this telling jinnis, despite excelling at metalwork, have no power over iron. He will have to cope as a human.

Both entities faces challenges. The Golem, named Chava (which means life) by the rabbi must cope with the flood of wishes that assail her consciousness from the thousands of people around her. She must learn to keep her identity secret. This includes coping with the fact that she does not sleep, and that it is not considered ok for a young woman to be seen walking the city streets at night, even if it her purpose is honorable. Like many immigrants before her, she is helped by prior arrivals. She learns to bake and gets a job in a bakery. Unable to go out at night she takes on sewing. How immigrant is that?

The jinni, taken in by the tinsmith, is given work in the shop, once it becomes apparent that he is a marvel with metal, able to heat and mold it with his bare hands. Boutros names him Ahmad. The jinni is also challenged to keep his true nature under cover. But a part of his nature is a lustful side. He is smitten with a young thing he encounters and one thing leads to another. Chava, while not much hot to trot herself, becomes an object of romantic interest to a very good young man.

Of course, in time, the two encounter each other, and that is where the story takes off. Not only is there magic in the interaction of these two friends, strangers in a strange land, they bring depth to their relationship, adding even more depth to this novel. Chava has content-rich discussions with her rabbi rescuer, on matters such as why people risk so much to have sex, or whether people need a concept of God to keep them from self-destructing. She and Ahmad discuss the stresses of free will vs the certainty of slavery. They talk about her interest in satisfying the wishes of those around her while Ahmad is mostly concerned with satisfying his desires of a moment. A great part of the magic in this fable is how the two begin at extreme ends and meet somewhere in the middle, growing and changing, but very much aware of their limitations.

The two embody, in a way, the immigrant experience. Coming to a new country, learning new ways, changing in order to fit in, coming to value what has been found, building a life. But character growth, consideration of serious moral subjects and a moving relationship are not all that this book has going on. There is danger afoot. Keeping the action moving, we get not only a look into the jinni’s ancient past, a fascinating and moving segment, but there is pursuit on those cobble-stoned streets. A person with evil intent is tracking the scent of magic and surviving this onslaught is the main motive. As we have come to care about both our primary characters their safety matters.

CONCLUSION: Not only has Wecker populated her fable with two wonderful leads, but her backup players are extremely rich. In fact this is one of the best supporting casts I have seen in a while. The Golem and the Jinni has love, parental and romantic, philosophical heft, a vibrant picture of a place and time, the equivalent of an action/adventure trial-by-danger and enough magic to shake a wand at. In short it is everything in a book that you could possibly wish for.


REVIEW #2:

It may not take you a thousand and one nights to read The Golem and The Jinni, but you may wish it did because you will hate to put it down. It is 1899 and in a town near Danzig, Otto Rotfeld is a failing Prussian Jewish businessman. He does not have much success with the ladies either. A leering and dismissive manner will do that. Determined to change his luck he opts to join the throng heading to that new Mecca, the USA. Figuring the female sorts there will find him as appealing as did those of the Old World, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Well, rather into the hands of a morally challenged Kabalist who is ok with crafting what Otto wants, a bespoke Golem, using the traditional clay, but made in the shape of a woman, and not the sort of towering, lumbering, bad-hair destroyer that usually pops to mind, thanks to early German cinema, or a more 20th century version


Gotta confess, I kept seeing Amanda Righetti (The Mentalist) in the role as I read. Hey, the guy's got needs. (This raises the wonderful theoretical possibility of a high-end retail business, Build-a-Golem. Schmul, more clay, hurry up.) Unwell in his steerage accommodation, Otto is looking for a little companionship and wakes his special friend. Just in time, as it turns out, as Otto, and his burst appendix, fail to make it to the particular new world he was hoping to reach. This leaves a rather bewildered, powerful and telepathic mythical creature heading for Ellis Island. She finds an unusual way to cope when asked for her papers, which I will not spoil, then, wandering around the city, is taken in by a retired rabbi who sees her for what she really is. (Yeah, he’s a lot older, but he really sees her) The Golem truly is a stranger in a strange land, but she is not the only oddity on shore.

In Little Syria, an immigrant community near the southern tip of Manhattan, a Maronite Catholic tinsmith, Boutros Arbeely, is brought a copper flask to repair. While beginning work on the piece with a soldering iron (no rubbing of the magic container this time) he is blasted across the room, and before you can say Robin Williams three times fast, there on his shop floor is a naked man. And it’s not even Halloween in the Village. Really, he is a creature made of fire and mist, but is confined by virtue of an iron bracelet into the form of a human. In this imagining, iron is something a jinni can’t do anything with, I guess like bad fashion sense. Sorry, no puff of smoke. But this magic man is a hottie. He is, of course, cut and handsome, but in addition, he is a natural metalworker. Boutros, despite the jinni’s arrogance, gives him a place to live and a job. He's never had a friend like him. I see in my tiny mind the steamy Colin O'Donoghue (currently Captain Hook on Once Upon a Time).

Ya think these two illegal immigrants might cross paths? Duh-uh. But it will take some time, as each has his and her own road to travel. If I had three wishes the first would be to be able to write as well as Helene Wecker. She manages to combine several layers to make a compelling whole. She compares a bit of folklore from two different cultures and looks at how they work in a new place. She offers philosophical consideration of deep human issues. She offers a wonderful view of a place and a time, and there is a motive force here that keeps the story moving, and presents our two leads with a mortal threat.

On one level this tale is a bit of a romance. Boy meets Gol. (permission to groan) Well, not exactly a boy, but a mythical fire being who was 200 years old when a wizard confined him, maybe 600 years prior to the now of the story. And this clay hulk is not just a soul-less destroyer, but has a definite tender side. I was reminded of Mary Shelley’s creation, the novel’s version, really trying to figure out his, or in this case, her place in the world, struggling to work out her relationship to god and to morality, and to the people around her. I could not help but think back to my Catholic school days and the Q and A of the Baltimore Catechism:

 Q – Why did God make you? 
 A – God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him

Sounds a little creepy in this context, doesn’t it? As a creature built to be a slave, but lacking a master, the golem must become her own master in a way, (a Ronin?) accepting guidance for sure, but facing real existential dilemmas. What happens when the guy in charge is no longer around? She engages in a discussion with the jinni about the messiness of free will versus the certainty of slavery to the will of another, raising up issues not only of actual slavery, but of blind allegiance, whether to a military cause, a political party, a religious persuasion. When is a person responsible for his or her actions and when does responsibility lie elsewhere?

The Golem has content-rich discussions with her rabbi rescuer, on matters such as why people risk so much to have sex, or whether people need a concept of God to keep them from self-destructing. She and Ahmad talk about her interest in satisfying the wishes of those around her while Ahmad is mostly concerned with satisfying his desires of a moment. A great part of the magic in this fable is how the two begin at extreme ends and meet somewhere in the middle, growing and changing, but very much aware of their limitations.

The jinni, while he may still have a trick or two up his sleeves, chief among which is the ability to mold metal with his bare hands, is still stuck in a human body and is forced to cope as a human. The Golem, named Chava, must constantly struggle to hide her real identity. She struggles as well to control her impulses, in a way, like Shelley’s creature, a child attempting to grow up. And she does pretty well, whether restraining herself from satisfying the flood of mental wants and needs that her telepathy picks up, or the occasional urge to pound some a-hole into bits. She is not the most outgoing sort, and is seen by many as a stick in the mud at times.

So, are these two crazy kids gonna get together or what? Yeah, yeah, we’ll get to that. Different paths, remember? The jinni happens to be hanging at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park when his attention alights on a young thing of a late-teen socialite, Sophia, kept on a leash (or is it in a lamp?) by her mother. Her entire life is planned out for her. Someone follows her home and things heat up. Chava, is not a slave to carnal whims, she may or may not even have carnal whims. But the rabbi has a mensch of a nephew, Michael. Sadly fallen from The Chosen, but a very nice young man who runs a hostel for new immigrants.

So, you may wonder, do jinnis or golems sleep? I’ll tell you. No. While not much for snoozing, the jinni has the ability to insert himself (what did I tell you about that? Stop it) into people’s dreams. At least in this story it is only into the dreams of females. Sorry, boys. I imagine that when she was writing these sections, Wecker had to struggle to keep images of Barbara Eden from inserting themselves into her consciousness and giggling until she choked.

What to do with those long nights? Walking of course. Well, for Mister Ahmad, anyway. It was not considered proper in that era for a young lady to be seen walking the streets alone late at night. It creates the wrong impression, and attracts the interest of unsavory sorts, like the police. As an illegal, and a non-human, that would not do. So Chava does what any young, energetic young lady in the turn of the century Lower East Side would do. She takes in sewing. In fact there is a lot in this book about the immigrant experience, legal and not, at the end of the 19th century. Two communities both nurture their new arrivals, struggle to get by, to make a better life, attempting to leave behind some of the problems of the Old World. The two embody, in a way, the immigrant experience. Coming to a new country, learning new ways, changing in order to fit in, coming to value what has been found, building a life. Receiving new names.

Free will permeates as a theme. A young New York socialite feels as imprisoned by the future that has been laid out for her as the golem does by her subservience to magical commands, as the jinni does to the metal cuff that denies him his true form, and as another young Bedouin lass feels back in the Old country. You will want to keep in mind notions of imprisonment and the difference between sand castles and other sorts, belonging, community, and note the odd angel motif.

But character growth, consideration of serious moral subjects and a moving relationship are not all that this book has going on. There is danger afoot. Keeping the action moving, we get not only a look into the jinni’s ancient past, a fascinating and moving segment, but there is pursuit on those cobble-stoned streets. A person with evil intent is tracking the scent of magic. Surviving this onslaught is the motive force. As we have come to care about both our primary characters their peril matters.

CONCLUSION: Not only has Wecker populated her fable with two wonderful leads, but her backup players are extremely rich. In fact this is one of the best supporting casts I have seen in a while. You will not need to endanger your community through the use of dark magic or possess a magic vessel to find your next great read. The Golem and the Jinni will be available far beyond the shtetls of Europe, the deserts of the Middle East, and the New York City limits. This modern Sheherezade has written a magical book and there is no rub. The Golem and the Jinni is all that you could possibly wish for.

NOTE: This review was originally posted here. German Cinema Golem image courtesy of The Bridge. Gort image courtesy of Carnegie-Mellon. Colin O'Donoghue pic courtesy of 24 Media. Amanda Righetti picture courtesy of Mentalist wiki. Washington Square (NYC) picture courtesy of Andre Kertesz and Higher Pictures.

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