We Will All Go Down Together by Gemma Files

 

Gemma Files’ We Will All Go Down Together is a sprawling, multi-generational epic, stretching from Scottish Witch Trials, to modern day Toronto. It follows the rising and falling fortunes and deadly feuds among the Five-Family Coven—the Glouwers, Rusks, Devizes, Druirs, and Rokes. The novel is composed of 10 interconnected short stories some of which were previously published.

There is a sprawling cast of characters as generations of the families interact, sometimes across time. There are witches and magicians, psychics and changeling, and one demon-slaughtering nun. Carraclough Devize, a psychically scarred former child medium is the through line of the novel. After a childhood encounter with a terrible haunted house, Carra has spent her life desperately trying to recover, trying hedonistic black magic amongst other remedies. Now she spends her life in self-imposed exile in a mental hospital, emerging on occasion to help the very psychic research society that used her as a child. Carra’s fumbling, yet wise, emotional journey helps tie the various plotlines together.

Files has a gift for creating worlds and magic with a hint of wild and ancient dangers. There is a sense of depth in this novel that stretches even beyond the Jacobean Witch Trials that form the chronological starting point. Files has woven a tapestry of dark wonders and twisted magic out of folklore and fairy stories. There is little kindness in the world of wonders Files has created, nor should there be.

We Will All Go Down Together pulled me into its world almost immediately. This is an interconnected novel that requires the reader’s attention, and rewards it. It was an engrossing and enchanting read; nevertheless, the sheer number of characters and families was occasionally daunting. I’m looking forward to reading Gemma Files’ other novels.

 

**Received copy from the Author for Review

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A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

Garth Stein’s A Sudden Light is a multigenerational family saga, a ghost story, a historical novel, and ultimately the story of one boy’s attempt to fix his parents’ marriage. Fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell’s parents are separating and he finds himself with his father, returning to the family mansion outside Seattle. The name Riddell used to mean something in the Northwest, before family fortunes declined. Trevor’s father, Jones, has returned to sell the house, but finds that circumstances are far more complicsated than they seem. Trevor takes it upon himself to research the family history in a desperate attempt to bring his parents back together, and discovers there are many secrets lurking at the heart of Riddell House.

Stein’s novel breathes atmosphere. This is an off-kilter and beautifully strange world. Riddell House itself is a delightful creation—a house built of giant whole trees, beautiful but rotten. It is inhabited by the last of the Riddell line—Trevor’s Grandpa Samuel, seemingly lost to Alzheimers, and his manipulative Aunt Serena. This is a broken family, rich in secrets and history. Trevor’s father is equally lost, never quite able to escape his childhood at Riddell House, having been exiled at sixteen after his mother’s death. Trevor feels his way through these secrets and discovers ghosts and broken promises along the way.

Garth Stein has a gift for prose, drawing the reader into a world of his own devising filled with a brooding cast of eccentrics. For all the ghosts and buried secrets, it keeps a surprisingly human and emotionally real story at its core. A Sudden Light is an ambitious work that manages to not only reach, but sometimes even exceed its ambitions.

 

*Received a Copy from NetGalley for Review

Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler was a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of a number of series including Patternist, Xenogenesis, and Parable, as well as a many other stand alone novels and short stories. Unexpected Stories is a posthumous collection of two previously unpublished novellas—”A Necessary Being” and “Childfinder.”

“A Necessary Being” is the longer of the two works and creates a strange, yet recognizable, alien world after the fall of a great civilization. Tahneh is a Hao, whose greater height, strength and intelligence mark her and her kind apart, make them the natural and required leaders. Every clan and tribe must be ruled by a Hao, as a matter of survival and the Hao wields ultimate power in every matter save that of succession. Tahneh’s own father was taken by force and crippled, held prisoner and forced to rule. Now Tahneh, unable to produce an heir, is faced with a terrible choice. Another Hao has been seen, and she must decide whether or not to subject her kin to the same treatment her father received.

Butler uses this scenario to examine hierarchy and power dynamics, the nature of duty and loneliness. Tahneh is a lonely character, filled with secret bitterness, but an overriding belief in duty and in serving her people. Her predicament is interesting but never quite touching. It was interesting more than engaging, though that may simply be a result of the shorter novella length.

“Childfinder” although the shorter of the two, had a sharper more immediate bite. Set in the real world, it concerns a dissident group of telepaths and shows that, while telepathy and people with special powers are often used as metaphors for racism and class struggle, in reality telepaths are just as likely to be racists and subject to the same destructive cultural forces. It hints at a larger world, a larger conflict, but feels self-contained. The tragedies and self-destructive impulses are all present in the story. Barbara, an African American telepath with the ability to locate future telepaths has broken from an organization of predominately white telepaths, and even though she knows she is ultimately propagating the same mistakes, she cannot help but leave her students and fellow dissidents a legacy of bitterness, hatred, and revenge.

I had personally never read any of Octavia Butler’s previous work, but Unexpected Stories is a wonderful introduction to her voice and world.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

 

 

Acceptance: A Novel by Jeff VanderMeer

 

I previously reviewed the earlier novels in the trilogy: Annihilation and Authority.

Acceptance: A Novel is the third and final chapter in Jeff VanderMeer’s carefully and meticulously unfolded Southern Reach Trilogy. Having grappled with the mystery of Area X first through the narrow eyes of a failed expedition and then through the crumbling descent into madness of the organization meant to study it, Acceptance opens the story tying all the characters’ plots and arcs together.

The Southern Reach Trilogy was always an ambitious endeavor. The nature of Area X is its central mystery and one that by its very nature is not wholly definable. Indeed to explain Area X would in some way rob the trilogy of its otherworldly power. It is beyond true human understanding, and luckily VanderMeer remains committed to the wonder and pure Otherness. A few answers are forthcoming, but they remain nebulous and, crucially, not entirely substantiated. Area X remains almost as unknowable as it was in the beginning.

This is not just the story of Area X, however, it is the story of human interaction and response in the face of the otherworldly, the uncanny. The previous novels with their tight focus first on the biologist and then on Control, were unable to show the whole human picture and hinted at mysteries and threads that all come to fruition her.

Disliked and misunderstood by the biologist, Control spent much of the second novel under her shadow piecing together the ruins she left behind, the former Director’s lifelong relationship with Area X, her plans and desperate machinations, her hopes are finally revealed. As broken as the rest, she emerges as a tragic figure whose glimmer of understanding sets her apart and ultimately breaks her.

The emotional heart of the novel, however, is Saul Evans’s story—the lighthouse keeper. His slow inevitable transformation into the Crawler on the stairs writing the same phrase over and over is an exquisite piece of existential horror, and serves as an origin story for Area X as a whole.

Acceptance is a fitting and, for me at least, satisfying conclusion. Jeff VanderMeer has managed to tie up the lingering human mysteries and stories while maintaining the nightmarish, uncanny power at the heart of the story. A wonderfully strange and uncanny achievement.

Cosmocopia by Paul Di Filippo

Cosmocopia is a strange twisting journey through Paul Di Filippo’s fertile imagination. Originally published as a limited edition novella, Cosmocopia follows Frank Lazorg, an aging fantasy illustrator and painter who is recovering from a stroke and has lost the will and energy to paint. A mysterious package filled with a vibrant new paint and drug, reawakens Lazorg’s ambitions and jealousy and leads him on a violent, dangerous, surreal path into new and stranger dimensions.

As always, Di Filippo brings a great deal of depth and imagination to his subject. Lazorg’s twilight years—shunned by his muse, tended by indifferent caregivers, plagued by younger rivals and reporters—are intimately and poignantly rendered. Lazorg was never a kind or loving man, but in his bitterness he feels desperately real and that desperation leads him to a terrible act.

The second part is a masterpiece of world building. Lazorg finds himself in a new world, closer to the Conceptus—the beginning of the multiverse or cosmocopia. Here physics and concepts are different. There is no writing or painting, the very ideas are foreign. Crutchsump, the bone-scavenger who takes Lazorg in, however, is an instantly familiar character, for all her physical strangeness. In her own way she is as desperate and lonely as Lazorg was, and that desperation leads her to her own terrible and irreparable decisions. The choice to largely tell the story of a new world from the perspective of someone who has always lived there pays dividends. Lazorg becomes the monstrous alien thing, despite being the readers’ most familiar point.

The final section is the shortest and most metaphysical and surreal. The sense of character and world building that sustained the first two parts is largely dropped. This is a deliberately stripped down world, a grey desert void between realities, that ultimately results in a final confrontation. Unfortunately, Lazorg who was a strong presence in the first part and slightly less so in the second, becomes less a character than an observer in the final section, his motives and personality largely fading.

Cosmocopia is a delightfully surreal novella with a pair of lonely desperate characters at its heart, and a wealth of interesting concepts about the nature of the universe, and, indeed, art. The ending, however, feels rushed and half-formed, understandable in a novella, and Lazorg, while ostensibly the main character, looses focus over the three sections. Nevertheless, this was an engaging and fascinating read.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

 

Drabble “The Ogre Raid” Published on Speck Lit Today

The Ogre Raid was published on Specklit today. I probably shouldn’t say, but this is my favorite of the bunch. Superintendent Lemmens and his tongue-in-cheek fantasy world appeared fully formed in my mind, and we may see more of them in future…

This is the fourth and final drabble published on SpeckLit over the past few months. The Snickerdoodle War was published on July 21st, The Tourist on August 8th, and Waiting for the Bus on August 24th.

A Few Simple Instructions Regarding the Proper Methods of Weather Control Is Up On Mad Scientist Journal

Art by Shannon Legler

My story, A Few Simple Instructions Regarding the Proper Methods of Weather Control, is now available on Mad Scientist Journal as well as in the Summer 2014 quarterly and can be found here. This is a short tale of magic, weather control, woman’s rights, and academic snobbery.

I’ve had versions of this story, and especially its title, rattling around in my head for 5 or 6 years, so it’s nice to find it a home at last.


The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes

 

I have a weakness for amusingly loquacious titles and Drew Hayes’ The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant certainly qualifies. The novel follows the misadventures of Fredrick Frankford Fletcher, a timid twentysomething accountant who, as the title suggests, finds himself turned into a vampire.

Fred increasingly finds himself forced into strange and not at all unadventurous situations and makes a number of new friends including a zombie, a would-be-necromancer, a weresteed, and finally Krystal, an old friend from high school and an agent in a mysterious, unnamed agency that deals with the paranormal. The cast of characters is built slowly over each section and it is quite enjoyable to see the whole family assembled at the end.

The novel is structured into five more or less contained short stories that follow Fred as he’s dragged into his girlfriend’s agency business. It is fast paced, often highly amusing, but the plot is slender. The novel is mostly concerned with fun, and it is fun. There is a delightfully whimsical and satirical undertone to the stories. Drew Hayes clearly enjoyed writing the novel and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Humor and comedy is deceptively difficult to write, and while I never laughed out loud, The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant is quirky and highly entertaining. A quick, light read.

 

A Myth to the Night by Cora Choi

Cora Choi’s A Myth to the Night is a Young Adult fantasy novel set in an alternate history controlled by the secretive and exclusive Order. Four hundred years ago, Hugh Fogg was sent to Stauros Island to become a monk in the Order of the Crane. He spent his life studying and diligently recording myths and legends, until a rival order arrived and massacred the monks. Hugh has remained a phantom, the keeper of an old story and prophecy waiting for the Slayer of the Shadow of Fear. Meanwhile, the victorious Order of the Shrike has turned the island into a school and slowly spread their influence across the world.

Cora Choi has an easy to read style that draws the reader into this world of draconian school rules, ancient orders, phantoms, myths, and madness. Hugh and his compatriots are reasonably well drawn and the plot, while predictable, is fast moving and often engrossing. The world outside Stauros Island, however, is only vaguely depicted. For a secret order dabbling in dark powers, and successfully ruling most of the world, the Order of the Shrike is only partially sketched out, and its global influence is referred to but never truly felt.

A Myth to the Night skirts the edges of fascinating ideas, ideas society and the nature and role of stories but never quite engages with them. Cora Choi has a deft hand for prose and has gathered an intriguing mix of ideas and references, but for me this was ultimately a novel that never quite lived up to its promise.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

Doctor Who: Engines of War by George Mann

The trouble with the Time War is that it’s largely unfilmable and on some level simply undepictable. The grandiose epic sweep promised by phrases like the Gates of Elysium, the Fall of Arcadia, the Skaro Degredations, the Could’ve Been King with his Army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres gains much of its power and poetry from being unseen. Steven Moffat has already walked this tightrope in the Day of the Doctor, but George Mann has the unenviable task of wading straight into the front lines.

Doctor Who: Engines of War is explicitly a novel of the Time War starring the John Hurt Doctor, or the War Doctor. Mann builds an incarnation of the Time Lord Formerly (and Futurely) Known as the Doctor out of the tidbits of John Hurt’s performance. This is a fierce, war-weary Doctor full of righteous anger, moral doubts, and few twinkles. Given the scarcity of source material, Mann has done a good job of constructing a version of the character that feels distinct.

The companion for this novel is Cinder, a human resistance fighter who scratches out an existence simply trying to kill as many Daleks as she can before being exterminated. Her encounter with the Doctor shows her the possibility of another way and takes her from the ruins of her planet to the High Council of the Time Lords and finally before a secret order of Daleks.

As with the Doctor, Mann constructs a version of the Time War out of as many tidbits and continuity references as possible. Everything from the Skaro Degradations to the Death Zone of Gallifrey. I was half expecting Romana’s fate to be finally revealed. As a result the Time War becomes, a series of discussions. Time Lords in funny hats discussing the fate of the universe.

The plot is engaging and fast moving and the War Doctor is well-developed. Nevertheless, George Mann had an impossible task. He clearly knows and loves Doctor Who, which is both a strength and a weakness. Doctor Who: Engines of War is a valiant effort, but ultimately falls short of its lofty goals.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review