Review Summer — Week 9

Big batch this time … a Michaelbrent Collings double-feature, the Eternal Frankenstein anthology, and the latest from Adam Millard!

Title: Sword Chronicles I and II
Author: Michaelbrent Collings
Website: http://www.michaelbrentcollings.com

This time’s a twofer, because somehow I hadn’t gotten around to the first book yet by the time the second was done (I know a lot of obnoxiously fast writers!) However, in a way, it worked in my favor, because when I reached the end of the first book far too soon and was clamoring for more, the second was right there waiting for me.

The only downside to THAT being, well, when the same thing happened at the end of the second, the third wasn’t ready yet and here I was all spoiled and sulky and stuff. So, hurry it up!

And why had I not gotten around to the first for so long? I confess, it’s because I’ve become something of a persnickety snob, especially about fantasy. The main reason I was willing to give it a shot was because, hey, it’s Michaelbrent; he’s yet to turn out any sort of a dud. I figured I could trust him to at the very least produce a coherent, well-written story.

Then of course he has to go and blow my socks off. These books aren’t so much ‘fantasy’ as they are superheroes-in-a-fantasyesque-setting … they steer clear of many of the usual pitfalls (not overloaded with outrageously unpronounceable names, minimal info-dumps, ecology/economy/social systems that don’t implode under even the most cursory critical eye … oh I could go on and on.

Here, though, I don’t have to. Yeah, maybe there are occasional elements that got my squinty side-eye but all considered, remarkably few. And/or, the story and characters and writing were all so good, I mightn’t have been bothered even if there were.

The first book opens in the Kennels, where orphaned or unwanted slave-children are raised as Dogs, to pit-fight bare-handed in Packs for their very survival. There, we meet our then-nameless heroine, whose world changes the day someone tosses a knife into the pit.

Turns out, she’s one of the rare people gifted with unusual abilities. In her case, it’s a knack with melee weapons, and it’s enough to mark her as a Blessed One, the land’s most privileged and elite. But, like many gifts, there’s a catch. She – now known as Sword – and her fellow Blessed Ones are expected to serve as the Emperor’s personal private strike force.

Not a bad gig. She makes friends, she finds a family of sorts, it’s a new life beyond her wildest dreams. Until Sword begins to have doubts. Not all of the Blessed Ones seem so benign. And then there’s the so-called Cursed Ones, their opposite number, who aren’t just boogeymen out of childrens’ stories.

It all presents Sword with a pretty big problem. After all, as has been said, with great power, etcetera etcetera. Her decisions will ultimately affect far more than just herself. The fate of an entire Empire will hang in the balance, and I can hardly wait to see what happens next!

**

Title: Eternal Frankenstein
Editor: Ross E. Lockhart
Publisher: Word Horde
Website: http://www.WordHorde.com

I don’t know how I missed seeing the initial call for this one, but, even if I wasn’t able to get in on it myself, that just means I can happily review! And yes, happily, because here’s another smash hit from Word Horde … an entire book of new, diverse, wonderfully creepy takes on the classic original tale that launched basically an entire genre.

By a woman, no less, woop-woop sisterhood solidarity fist-bump, go on and tell us there’s no place here for ladies, go on, try it, I dare ya.

Which just makes it so fitting that fully half the stories in the book are by the alleged ‘gentler’ sex … but there’s not much in the way of fainting and vapors and delicate constitutions to be found. You’ll be reading about dismemberments, re-memberments, horror, murder, violence, darkness, and abuse.

You’ll get some up-close-and-personal spins on the feminine experience, especially courtesy of Betty Rocksteady (her “Postpartum” is wickedly uncomfortable; I love it!), Damien Angelica Walters (“Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice;” just try and see innocent little girls the same way after this), Amber-Rose Reed (“Torso, Heart, Head” brings all the pieces together), Autumn Christian (updating things with “Sewn Into Her Fingers”), and Tiffany Scandal (showing the tormented intersection of bullying and love in “They Call Me Monster.”)

The contributing gents are no slouches either. How could they be, when we’re talking stuff like Orrin Grey’s delightful “Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet” (yes, it lives up to the terrific title!) and Nathan Carson’s electrifying (I know I know couldn’t resist) “Wither on the Vine, or, Strickfadden’s Monster”?

Plus many more tales, too many to list … Creation and life, defiance of death, motherhood and monsterhood, all that and more can be found in these pages.

And I daresay the book’s concluding piece, “Mary Shelley’s Body” by David Templeton, is such a beautiful and compelling and empathic read that I don’t think anyone, guy or gal, could have done a better tribute to the spiritual ancestress of us all.

**

Title: Stuff That
Author: Adam Millard
Publisher: Crowded Quarantine Publications
Website: http://www.crowdedquarantine.co.uk

Several years ago, Dean Koontz did this charming coffee-table/children’s book called Oddkins, all about this kindly old toymaker and how, after his death, his charming magical creations go on a daring adventure-quest.

Stuff That is to Oddkins as Deadpool is to The Incredibles. The swearing, the violence, the sex, the fourth-wall-breaking, outrageous, offensive, wry, sly, crass, irreverent, tacky, and utterly hilarious.

I loved it. Now, I’ve been reading a lot of books this year, a lot of weird and wild books. But if I had to pick the one book that made me literally LOL the most, and not just laugh but whoop and cackle and do those embarrassing snort-laughs, it’d be this one. Like, from start to finish.

Especially at the part with the lady who thinks her barista has Tourette’s. Maybe that makes me a bad person, I don’t know; I was too busy trying not to injure myself laughing. Sides hurt, beverages a serious risk. What would I tell the paramedics or the emergency room?

Plotwise, there’s this taxidermist who defies an extortion attempt by some of the world’s most cliched mobsters. It goes badly for him. His animals witness it, and decide to avenge him – as well as a buffalo head, racist owl, poncy fox, two-headed arguing duck, and unicycling rat can hope to seek revenge. Meanwhile, the world’s most cliched 80’s buddy cop duo also get called in on the case.

I couldn’t read it at work because the residents and my fellow staff would’ve thought I was off my hinges. I could barely read it at home because whenever I’m at home, I invariably have a cat or two on me, and how are they supposed to nap when I’m making all this noise?

It is not something to read where anybody might ask you what you’re reading. Unless of course you’re with like-minded lunatics, in which case, hey, share excerpts aloud.

Clever, crazy, brilliant badwrongfun. I cannot recommend it enough, at least, to the seriously deranged. Nice, sensitive, gentle, easily upset readers might give this one a miss or risk being traumatized forever.

**

Tune in next week for reviews of The Terminal, Toenails, and Cotton Candy!

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