Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Here we are again

I've mentioned before that Simon R. Green tends to go over the top more than an 80's era Sylvester Stallone action movie. However, with A Drood to a Kill, we're not nearly as silly as some of the other volumes in this series.

We start with Eddie Drood returning to Drood manor for a conversation with the new matriarch. Which involves breaking in, because of course it does. He's seeking information on why  the family won't give him resources for figuring out what happened to his parents after the end of Casino Infernale. Long story short, he winds up getting suckered into going on a mission for the family to figure out why things are leaking out of a spy station run by the British government. This takes up most of the first half of the book, and includes Jack the Armourer giving Eddie the tricked out Bentley. That tends to take shortcuts through other dimensions.

Which leads, or course to meeting Uncle James' former Elven lover in the shifting lands. Who sends Eddie home without explanation, until he finds out the real reason, Uncle Jack died.

Which leads to a Drood funeral and a wake. From which Eddie's fiance, Molly Metcalf disappears. Which leads to a search to figure out where the Powers That Be took her to play The Game, wherein killing off the other contestants also gets rid of any infernal or divine contracts one may have pending on one's soul.

When Eddie finally makes it to the game, about three quarters of the way through the book, he not only finds Molly, but his parents.

It's quite a ride, and the plotting is extremely non-linear. Not to mention Green takes more than a few chances to tie in Deathstalker to the world shared by his other series.

However, there are a few themes crossing through this narrative that give it a bit more depth than normal. Among other things, after an encounter at the Department of the Uncanny, Eddie decides he doesn't want to kill anymore, regardless of who's asking him to. This gets explored quite fully during The Game. The other, as evidenced with the death of Jack and a few others, is that of old players leaving the spy game. It's actually kind of depressing.

Fun read.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hopefully not the end.

While Kelly McCullough's Darkened Blade doesn't have a preview of the next book at the end, I can onl;y hope this isn't where the series ends. I've grown quite attached to his characters, and this one is quite a finale any way it goes.

We start not long after the end of Drawn Blades, with Siri, Faran, Aral, and Kelos in the city of Wall. We open on Aral dreaming/ visionquesting and meeting with Namara in a bar crowded with those he's killed over the years. While the goddess may be dead, a piece of her lies in Aral, and encourages him to continue the path he's been walking since the end of Book 1. Which means, at last, it's time to confront the strange Risen who currently heads the Church of Shan. Well, at least moreso than the occasion where Aral snuck in and cut the Son's face.

Anyway, a possible alliance with members of the church army fall apart as an army of Risen attacks the place where the meeting happens. The army of Risen actually act as a motivational device to get everyone to Jax's school and then on to the fallen Temple of Namara where they finally find a way to bind Namara's infused swords to their wielders, something that hasn't been done since Namara herself invested them with the Blades.

And then we journey into the Celestial city for the final confrontation, which pretty much takes up the last third of the book.

Along the way, we see Aral get appointed  First Blade by Siri, the students of Jax become full fledged Blades, and meet a few legends of the world in which this is set.

We also see Aral's final transformations into Campbell's Hero of 1000 Faces. Ultimately, by the end, Aral Kingslayer struggles with his desire to do justice without the deaths of millions in the Civil Wars to follow the death of the Son and his desire to become more than the tool of his mentor in Kelos' mad plan to upset the apple cart and create a new world without corrupt nobles and royalty.

It's really a fine book, although it feels a bit like the last chapters of a D&D campaign, with no real transition between plot points.

I do hope he writes more in this series, given the rather.... brief ending, but then I'm still hoping for another WbMage book which will probably never happen. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

A nice quiet cozy

Many years ago, a Fangoria magazine review of The Dead Hate The Living started off by mentioning that a Full Moon title without the words "Puppet" or  "Toys" in it was a good sign. Which is kind of how I felt about finding a new Simon R. Green without one of his usual series names underneath it. (Not that I don't like his other series fiction, but it's always nice seeing something new coming from someone who tends to write series.)

The Dark Side of the Road introduces a new character, a new series, and while I assume it's part of the shared world inhabited by Nightside, The Droods, and the Carnaki Institue, they aren't exactly mentioned in this text. While the cheekiness factor is there in these new characters, it's not nearly as plucky as Green's other series. Which does make for a very nice departure from everything else of his. (Then again, this is book one, so lord knows what sharks are going to get jumped further down the line.)

We start by meeting Ishmael Jones, who starts the narration by echoing Melville. Ishmael works for an organization so secret, he only knows of it as The Organization. His boss and only contact with The Organization, known to him as the Colonel, calls Ishmael and asks him to join him at his family estate for the Christmas holiday. Ishmael is a bit disturbed by this, as he and the Colonel are mostly business. Ishmael also spends his life trying very hard to avoid being noticed. Some of that has to do with his work for Black Heir, the British organization responsible for dealing with illegal extraterrestrials. Given that as near as he can sort of remember, Ishmael is an extraterrestrial, leaving Black Heir became important when the new director took on the attitude of "Let's kill and vivisect everything!"

So, Ishmael ends up driving through blizzard white out conditions to reach The Colonel's family estate, Belcourt Manor. Once there, he meets the Colonel's (now known to him as James)
 father, mother, step mother, and half sister, as well as their dates, escorts, and business partners.

All of whom have axes to grind with each other.

And a missing Colonel.

James shows up about a third of the way through the narrative, buried in a snowman and missing his head. About which time we find the blizzard has cut off the Manor from the outside world, and the murderer must be among the guests.

Oh hey! We have ourselves a little slice of English cozy here! I can live with this!

To be fair, by the time we find out what's going on, some of the Green we all know is back, since the murderer has their own hidden abilities, but honestly, it's kind of nice to read a nice murder mystery without valkyries riding on pterodactyls.

I'll be interested to see where this one goes, and how long before it goes off the rails.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

That's one Hell of a tale....

A few notes before we start this. First, the book I'm covering today and the mythology that surrounds it is very adult in nature. As this blog is normally "G" rated, be warned that adult concepts may appear. Second, due to the nature of the mythos, I'm using Wikipedia for background, which will take up the first few paragraphs.

So, let's start back in the year 1986, when Clive Barker first published The Hellbound Heart, a novella concerning Frank cotton, and his unusual nihilism and taste for the very exotic in the boudoir. Frank opens The Lament Configuration, a puzzle box that also serves as an interdimensional doorway. Promising pleasures unheard of, Frank instead winds up guests of the Cenobites, sort of extradimensional sadomasochists. Frank, as we find out, wasn't expecting that.  Anyway, Frank's brother, Rory, and his lovely wife Julia move into the house where Frank opened the box. And Rory bleeds on the spot where the Cenobites grabbed Frank. Frank comes back, he and Julia rekindle their... um... extracurricular activities. A friend of Rory's, Kirsty, who loves him, witnesses Julia bringing men home (to help Frank rebuild himself through murder), and goes into to confront the hussy. Long story short, Frank kills Rory, Kirsty opens the box, makes a deal, and everyone winds up dead but Kirsty, who not only gets to meet The Engineer, but also gets custody of the box. She sees Frank and Julia's reflection in the box, and wonders if another box would take her to whatever paradise Rory wound up in. Anyway, a year later, Barker adapted the novella into a movie. Kirsty becomes Rory's daughter, and we become acquainted with this guy:

Yes, that was supposed to hurt.

whom in the book and the movie is never really named. He did, however, pick up the moniker Pinhead from the special effects guys, who had to spend 4 hours making Doug Bradley look like that for what amounted to about 10 minutes or so of screen time. The movie series continued for 9ish movies, but only the second one had Barker's involvement. Then again, after the fourth one, they tended to shoehorn Cenobites into preexisting scripts just to use the Hellraiser franchise name. Also of note, despite the names, the dimension of the Cenobites was never really named as an Abrahamic place of torment. Later, Barker returned to his Cenobites in Comic Book form, and that set of stories (which I'm summarizing via wiki, since I never read them), involves Ol' Pinhead leading a revolt in Hell after Kirsty kills off the original appearing Cenobites. Somehow, by the end, Kirsty becomes Pinhead. (There was a bit in the second movie where we find out about the human origins of the Cenobites.)


Next up, we need to introduce Harry D'Amour.

Well, HELLO, Harry!
Harry first appeared in The Last Illusion (which evidently showed up first in Books of Blood, but I first ran across in a collection that also included Cabal, which was later turned into Nightbreed.) Harry is a paranormal Private Investigator, covered in protective sigil tattoos that let him know when trouble is coming. Harry shows up again at the end of The Great and Secret Show and becomes a major character in the follow up, Everville. (Harry evidently also becomes a Cenobite and leader of Hell's armies in the comic books.) 

Which finally brings us to Clive's new book, The Scarlet Gospels, which as you may have guessed, centers around Harry and Pinhead (or The Hell Priest, as he's generally referred to in the book. Pinhead is a derogatory nickname characters use to insult said Cenobite.) 

We open with a necromantic rite designed by the last Magicians of a secret order to raise Joseph Ragowski, former leader of said order, from the dead. Joseph isn't exactly happy about being woken up, and pretty much tells his raisers that it's kind of pointless, since a certain demon has pretty much killed off everyone in the order to get at the rarest magical tomes each hoarded away. We get graphic descriptions of how said demon dispatched folks, then ol' Hell Priest shows up in the flesh, so to speak. Let's see... all but one of the summoners dies, one after giving birth to Pinhead's baby. The survivor is to become HP's puppy. 

Cut to: Harry D'Amour is in New Orleans on a mission on behalf or Norma, a blind woman who sees and talks to dead folks. (Pretty sure Norma showed up briefly in Coldheart Canyon.) A dead gent who was quite the upstanding man in life had quite a secret life hidden away in New Orleans. Which means Harry's on payroll to go clean up his affairs post-mortem. Well, among some rather... um... explicit games the man had been playing with barely legal boys, Harry finds the Lament Configuration. Which does indeed open somewhat of its own accord, and Harry meets Hell Priest. Only there's no "I'll have what she's having" in this meeting. HP wants Harry to chronicle the undertaking he's working on, or else. HP uses large hooks on chains and his "puppy" to try to convince Harry to do so. HP doesn't really want to take "No" for an answer. Harry escapes, and winds up getting healed with a little help from Dale, who dreams the future. (Most of the healing comes from a Hoodoo woman, but she tries to kill Harry using a monster straight out of Dogma.) 

Anyway, Harry heads back to New York, which is about the time the book starts getting interesting. 

See, we get an idea of what HP is actually doing, as he is found in violation of his Order's rules of NO MAGIC. As such, he gets kicked out by the Cenobite's leader. So, like any good S/M demon, he uses his magic to kill off everyone else in the order. After doing so, HP and his "puppy" make a visit to New York, where they wind up kidnapping Norma, which winds up with Harry, Caz (Harry's tattoo artist), Dale (who dreamed of coming to NYC), and Lana (a stone cold woman who's probably buried in one of his other books) descending into Hell to rescue her.

What follows is a travelogue of Hell, as the Harrowers chase the Hell Priest on his quest to meet his maker. While the journey is fascinating, I can't go into great detail in here without spoiling some of the bigger surprises in the narrative. 

What I will say is that some of the plot threads reminded me of some of the bigger stories in Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels, and as I stated above, there's a scene early on where I half expected Silent Bob to show up with air freshener. Also, I think he raided some of his own comic work from the Pinhead series for some of the plot. Which doesn't really matter, since the narrative as a whole holds together, despite retconning the original source material to a large degree. Not that pretty much everything that came after The Hellbound Heart didn't change things to suit their need as well. The Hell Priest's motivations are a bit shaky, and his turn towards chaos seems a bit oddly defined after an eternity of ordering the Damned, but honestly, it seems more a case of demons being bound to the rule that affects humanity: there are things Man (and Demons) aren't meant to know.

I will also say Barker writing, as usual, is filled with a visual flair, his words paint such pictures in the mind. It's been one of his gifts from the beginning. I also love some of the droll references that slip in, like the largest city in Hell being built on 8 hills, just to outdo Rome. While this won't replace Imajica as my all time favorite Clive Barker novel, it is probably one of the best things he's written in a long time.