A bloodbath that should impress readers of the grimmest fantasy tales.

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CAYNEIAN

A MAN FROM BLOOD

From the Cayneian series , Vol. 1

This series opener sees a warrior determined to free an island from a Daemon’s grasp.

Dysart of clan Bloodhammer has lost his sloop and is now washed ashore on the island of Volgunther. He’s immediately set upon by savages, but thankfully a man named Talbot saves Dysart with his bow and arrows. At his nearby cabin, Talbot learns that his guest has no tongue. Then Dysart draws a rune in hog’s blood on his throat, which allows him to speak. He explains that his people, the Cayne, once inhabited the island. They also woke a Daemon called Salamandrus, making a pact with the entity for power that involved the ritual of Sang Daemanus. Later, they sealed the Daemon away, but “instead of ending their service to Salamandrus, they departed from this place, hoping to retain their power.” Dysart has come to end his people’s accord and make Volgunther a hospitable island once more. After obtaining an axe and other supplies from Talbot, he travels east toward a settlement. He saves a pyromancer named Randall from wolf men and drinks their blood to receive heightened senses and healing abilities. But Dysart concludes that his rune for speech will fade without the esper oil derived from a plant somewhere on the island. Randall joins him, and they head for Etmire Abbey, where they encounter the Order of the Cross. Dysart will need every ally he can find as he battles through monstrous hordes toward Salamandrus’ lair in Castle Golvundehr. Dennis (War and Glory, 2017, etc.) squeezes all the gore he can from his muscular imagination to enhance his novel, which recalls the viscera-strewn adventures of fantasy icons like Conan and Elric. Readers learn early on about Dysart’s magic: “Animal blood is effective, if weak. Human blood is potent, if unsavory...but Daemon’s blood makes us unstoppable.” This results in a marathon of grisly dispatches—encounters with frog men, murderous plants, zombies, and worse—that propel the hero but also fuel his addiction to power. While the plot is somewhat linear, the gruesome premise shines blackly throughout. Dysart not only needs blood, but he’s also traded his tongue, his testicles (“that we might not realize our own power as humans”), and his mind as an initiate of Sang Daemanus. Fighting at his side are characters like Pattius, a thief; Marcus, a knight; and Reman, a young orphan. The author often fleshes out these warriors just enough to draw from readers a meaningful wince as he sacrifices them to Dysart’s cause. A dreadful ambience hovers even in quieter moments, as in the line “Only darkened hills loomed in the distance. Everything else was flat grassland molded by gusts of wind.” The dialogue during combat scenes is appropriately maniacal (“Blast you, croakers! Fall to the wrath of Randall!”), yet Dysart is capable of speaking beautifully. In cautioning Talbot, whose family is dead, he says: “Hold their memory dearly, and do not rush to see them.” Though the violence grows monotonous, a finale bristling with invention redeems the work.

A bloodbath that should impress readers of the grimmest fantasy tales.

Pub Date: May 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5123-6985-4

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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