Saturday, January 5, 2013

Faustus Resurrectus, or, An Experiment

So I think I'm going to try rebooting this blog again. Third time's the charm, right? After my post the other day my mom pointed out that I don't have to talk about my writing woes or my process or anything from the writer side of the book biz. I can simply review the books I read and the films I watch. (Possibly also TV shows? We shall see.) I've posted reviews on this site before, after all, and it's certainly something I'm comfortable talking doing, considering it's part of my dayjob. And I read a lot of good books that we either don't stock at work or couldn't sell well enough to justify stocking them if I brought them in. I have to get people to read those books somehow, right?

Here's the deal, then. Whenever I read or watch something I think should get a wider audience or is just plain good, I'll write a review of it. I don't promise any of the following:

  • set times between posts
  • sticking to any genre, though science fiction and fantasy will dominate
  • the recency of the book (or film) — I read books published in the last couple years and books published hundreds of years ago
  • sticking to this review thing for any length of time, though of course the positive feedback of comments will help me keep going (hint hint)
  • reviewing everything I read or watch, because negative reviews aren't much fun to read or write and I have other things to do besides write long, though-out reviews

Fair enough? Good.

First book up is the first book I finished in 2013, though I started it shortly after Christmas. It's from a smaller press so hasn't gotten the same level of coverage as a book from one of the Big Six-Nearly-Five, and I found it gripping and refreshingly different from most of the urban fantasies I read.

Thomas Morrissey, Night Shade Books, 2012

Donovan Graham, recent M.A. in philosophy specializing in the occult, has built a pretty good life for himself. He bartends. He's all set to start his Ph.D. in the fall. He's close friends with his former thesis advisor. He's about to propose to the woman sharing his New York apartment. It's when he offers to help his advisor consult on a case with the NYPD that things start getting weird and dangerous. Satanic killer who may have the right rituals weird and dangerous.

This is certainly a much more horrific book than most of the urban fantasy I've read, even the series I'd point to as creepy. Morrissey doesn't shy away from blood, guts, human sacrifice, and madness. I actually had to put the book down a couple times because "ohgodohgod those poor people, that is urk"—note that mine is not a constitution suited to slasher films—but that's okay since I picked the book up again a couple minutes later to keep going. It's incredibly suspenseful—starts slow and builds, and when you think it's going to stop building, that we finally know what the bad guy's after, you look at the page count and realize that a) it's going to get even worse and b) you have no idea what's going to happen. Except that there's no chance of it being good. It's rare for a book to raise the stakes so much and so well that I genuinely doubt that anyone's getting out of the climax intact.

Donovan himself is another nice departure from the norm. He's entirely human and, while he's working with the police, he's not law enforcement per se. He's not broken like a lot of urban fantasy protagonists, either—you know, the ones who have addictions, dysfunctional relationships, PTSD, or are otherwise self-destructive. He's confident, driven, and knows what he wants from life. He can handle himself in a fight, sure, but his victories come from his brain, not his brawn. As a result of all that, I ended up rooting for Donovan a lot more than I've rooted for most urban fantasy protagonists, who generally have either more supernatural advantages or less to lose or both. (I rooted for a lot of the secondary characters too, including some of the less despicable bad guys. Everyone had fascinating dynamics with each other too, and felt realistic.)

The premise of the story, the villain and the goal he's working towards, are also fairly novel. There's urban fantasy about vampires, werewolves, demons, angels, fairies, ghosts, and the like all over the place these days, drawing from all kinds of traditions, but there isn't much that tackles Christianity in any aspect and this is the first book I've seen deal with the Faust legend at all. I think that factored into my need to keep reading, because I knew enough about the legend to kind of predict where the book was going, but not enough to really be certain. 

Of course, this is Morrissey's first novel and there are some moments where the writing is less good than others. I mean, the characterisation, description, scenes, plotting, etc. were all quality, but every so often there was a scene or a moment within a scene that was a little uneven, or a little too convenient re: keeping the plot moving. There were some things that I felt could've been shown better rather than told to the reader, too. None of that ruined the story for me or even particularly drew me out of the moment, though, and I have high hopes for the sequel. The world has potential, the characters are compelling, and I have absolutely no idea how Morrissey's going to match the level of suspense the next time round. Now I just need to keep my eyes open for a release date….


Frank Harding said...

I agree with you, for the most part, a solid first novel and a good read.

Frank Harding said...

I agree with you, for the most part, a solid first novel and a good read.