Girl Power!

2 May 2021 (23:30)

During ‘Indie April’ this year, I alighted on this debut novel by P.J.Sky, published in 2020. The book is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, which was a bold choice and chimed absolutely with the story that unfolds, though in some respects the author has clearly intended the book for a ‘YA’ readership. Of course, such genre labels are merely a guide and the presence of a main character capable of extreme violence (necessary for the plot) is only partially offset by the absence of ‘bad language’. In fact, I found the reliance on “Dag it” as the expletive of choice for the youthful characters rather euphemistic, but ironically this quaint touch may equally find favour with an older reader resentful of more colourful, but accurate language. In any event, I believe the book might be best described as an ‘adventure / thriller’. Certainly the presence of complex themes such as identity; loyalty; power; betrayal; revenge; and social order command broad appeal, whatever the age of the reader.

The novel centres on two female characters from very contrasting situations. Starla Corinth is the daughter of the political leader of the sole walled city. The elite population within the enclave enjoy high living standards, derived from monopolised resources and a culture ‘protected’ from those unfortunate enough to find themselves existing in the surrounding wastelands. Moreover, for the city dwellers, “ The ultimate penalty and punishment was exile,” from which there was no return. Such is the destiny of Ari, once a child of the city, but ejected with her parents for reasons unknown and now alone but well-versed in the ways of survival in the wilderness.

Still, when Starla finds herself mysteriously removed from her gilded cage, but hopelessly equipped for ‘freedom’ in the wastelands, Ari just might be her only ticket home. Of course the malevolent forces that conspired to make the leader’s only daughter disappear in the first place  cannot afford to see their skulduggery uncovered and thus the stage is set for the chronicling of the attempted ‘home run’.

Within the the plot I enjoyed very much the development of the titular character particularly . Ari has endured a tough life, which has conferred resilience, self-sufficiency and ruthlessness. She is a young woman of action, able to look after herself. Yet, her solitary existence has also created a hard shell through which Ari finds it difficult to trust anyone. By contrast, in the wastelands, Starla is immediately confronted by her vulnerability in such an alien environment, but she does have skills to bring, not least the ability to reach out, on a human level, to her companion.

In this exciting and compelling debut, P.J.Sky has created an interesting dystopian world, with contemporary echoes and two strong female characters with lots of mileage for further exploration. I look forward to the sequel (“Ari Goes to War”) with some relish.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Bastard Rebellion

3:39 PM 24 JUNE 2020

One of the benefits of building a world unfamiliar to the reader and characters that can live for hundreds of years, is the size of canvas, on which the author can construct his story. Certainly, in ‘Shadowless’, Randall McNally has developed a book exploiting those epic proportions, ranging across the ‘Northern Realms’, with a large cast of characters that perhaps befits such an ambitious undertaking. The fact that this is also a debut novel merely emphasises the congratulations due to the author, for such an absorbing read.

Amid echoes of Greek and Roman mythology, the Northern Realms is a world that cultivates curiosity and discomfort, wonder and horror in equal measure. The book also rather morphs into a novel, as the first half comprises a series of chapters, which read almost like short stories, or vignettes, introducing the respective ‘heroes’, with their inherited power and explaining how their differing local environments are formulated.

The malevolent ‘villains’ in the region are undoubtedly the cohort of powerful gods, who have survived a civil war among themselves, but in the process killed all of the goddesses. As a consequence, this exclusively macho group, using their ability to assume any form, satisfy their carnal desires among mortal women, the resulting offspring being born with supernatural traits, but without shadows. The ‘shadowless’ are thus born with innate advantage and yet are destined to be marked out and damned, neither mortal, nor god. The power bequeathed by their respective fathers may grow, if they can survive, but it can also be ‘harvested’ by the relevant god, in a cynical cull of their illegitimate children. Moreover, the Northern Realms are in the thrall of temples and mortal worshippers, who seek to enthusiastically appease the gods, by deploying a militia of ‘Shadow Watchers’, to identify and sacrifice the shadowless. Survival depends often on staying hidden from public view, in aristocratic isolation, forest, dungeon, or underground community. Only the mysterious Brother Amrodan, priest within a sole religious order committed to finding and helping the shadowless, appears to be on their side. Moreover, Amrodan is the lynchpin, mapping the whereabouts of the disparate individuals over centuries and devising the plan by which the gods might eventually be challenged. For me, he was a fleeting reminder of Nick Fury, meticulously assembling the ‘Avengers’, only Amrodan’s use of the dark arts involved a primeval pool and his kickass firepower came in the shape of a black dragon!

In a sense, the fact that these fascinating shadowless individuals seemed to struggle to gel as a group was hardly surprising. However, as prophesied, within the group is an especially powerful ‘shadowmancer’ who didn’t really fulfil his potential in this first outing. Coming up against a 25 feet tall monster with destruction on his mind may test the mettle of any leader, but it has left me with the impression that this book is the foundation of an ongoing story, the opening battle in a war, which I hope the author will continue. Interesting as they are, I did wonder at the sheer number of characters and the juggling required to keep them all in play, but if this does indeed culminate in further volumes, then returning to the canvas analogy, the author has acres of material to work with. Certainly the polish in some of those discrete early chapters bore the hallmarks of a talented wordsmith and I hope to return for Mr McNally’s next instalment soon. Incidentally, whilst the reader should rarely judge a book by its cover, the cover art, which did well in an online competition, on this occasion, is rather a good guide to the quality within.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Social Capital?

3:47 PM 13 JULY 2019

“City Crime” is another debut novel and I bought a copy at a talk by the author, Ian Richardson, at our local library. The title might give the impression of misdeeds in the affluent financial sector, but while the action is perpetrated in the hallowed square mile, the real novelty factor is the involvement of detectives from the City of London police, which seems akin to the unusual challenge of policing Beverly Hills. Still, DCI Gould and newly promoted DS Phillipa Cotterell preside over an investigation that is more well-versed than its setting, driven by familiar human frailties of jealousy, greed and lust. Family in-fighting, organised criminals, drug-dealing, blackmail and tainted money, are deftly woven within a plot that belies the veneer of affluent success and culminates in brutal murders and the exposure of baser instincts.


In essence the reader can find little sympathy for any of the cast of victims or the numerous suspects, nor for that matter the police officers. Notwithstanding the rather naïve ideals of Ms Cotterell, one gets the feeling the more tempered cynicism of her superior also has its place, when unpicking layers of deceit. In what seems destined to be a short-lived partnership, the clandestine coupling of the police officers outside of the investigation also appeared likely to heap pressure on their relationship, rather than support it, but in or out of work, their collaboration seems to have a limited shelf life. This may be disappointing if the reader is looking for the next ‘crime-fighting duo’, but the chemistry, á la Morse and Lewis; Poirot and Hastings; Holmes and Watson, has to be right in order to evolve, though such novels also need to be able to stand alone and this it does.


In truth, I found the plot more convincing and developed than the characters, but the twists and turns of the story were absorbing and as the introduction of a new voice in criminal fiction, this book was an enjoyable and promising light read. I hope the author continues to write into a well-earned retirement.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Blunt, Heads & Laughter in Gloomwood!

14:04, 8 November 2020

For Twitter followers of Ross Young (@InkDisregardit) it may be unsurprising to learn that his debut novel, “Dead Heads” is an irreverent comedy. Notwithstanding the contested nature of the afterlife, the author’s depiction of ‘Gloomwood’ (a city located somewhere beyond the living sphere) is a far cry from the common expectations of paradise. Yet, it is perhaps consistent with a realm overseen by the Grim Reaper – grey, depressing….grim.

Still, though populated by the dead, when members of the great and the good start being mysteriously decapitated, the city administrators look to the newly-arrived Detective Augustan Blunt to stop the carnage and unravel the strange ethereal events. Such a surreal premise might discourage some readers of contemporary urban fantasy, but the characters are well-drawn and the world constructed by the author is fascinating in all its detailed weirdness. However, it is the dialogue and crisp one-liners that give full rein to the author’s dry humour and the inventive nature of his story-telling. For example, I just love the idea of being collected from the ‘deathport’ by a reaper in a hoodie!

Ross Young is an unfamiliar indie writer to me, but this outing has fuelled my curiosity and this first Gloomwood novel is a promising platform for future stories and the further development of a funny cast of characters. Somehow this book just seemed to resonate with the surreality of our time and laughter born of dark humour may be our best antidote in the face of the COVID tragedy, at least for now.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The first of many…

3:48 PM 3 SEPTEMBER 2016


 

I am generally a fan of John Grisham, whose books can be relied upon to be well paced, and tap-in to a common curiosity about courtroom dramas. Grisham also seems to often offer a critique of the US legal system, which makes for interesting observations, albeit woven into storylines that frequently hinge on broad social themes, about which he also provides compelling commentary. In this instance the fault-lines between black and white Americans in the southern US forms the backdrop. It is also worth reflecting on the fact that this was Grisham’s first novel. By his own admission there are elements of autobiography here and it is possible to discern a certain rawness to his talent that perhaps becomes polished in the following 20+ books. In “A Time to Kill” though, there is a simmering exploration of justice weighed against an understandable and perhaps instinctive desire for revenge, which is ultimately tested before a jury of fellow citizens. By the end I’m sure most of us know which way we’d vote.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521153895

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First steps

12:43 PM 14 AUGUST 2016

The first novel by D H Lawrence seemed a good place to start in my Kindle edition of the complete works. Certainly the quality of the writing signposts to the books to come, but the plot in this instance, seemed to peter out. Still, the description of rural life in the period is authentic and the examination of the disparate relationships is really engaging. Looking forward to reading the later works.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521165084

Rating: 3 out of 5.