Let’s kick off with a warning before I start this review. Pat Luther’s Yellow Tape and Coffee is a big book, and I mean a really big book. The print version is 706 pages long, that’s not an easy undertaking for anybody, let alone the casual reader. I think that might put some people off and that’s a huge shame because this is a very good book.
Yellow Tape and Coffee follows a number of different but interwined stories, stories that bring to life four different people from various backgrounds all with their own agendas and ideals.
For four hundred years a secret society of werewolves has remained hidden in Portland, Oregon. Some people want nothing more than to reveal this society, while others will do anything to maintain the status quo. Intriguing right?
For the most part the book is chocked full of action and great character development. There are moments of dullness I have to say but that has to be expected in a book of such epic scale and vision.
The biggest difficulty for me in reading Yellow Tape and Coffee was getting over my initial prejudice about one of its main selling points, werewolves are just not my thing. I think they’re boring, tedious and over done.
I’m thankful to say though that I was wrong. Pat Luther has managed to breathe new life into this over-milked cow.
I have to give special mention to Luther’s writing talents. His work is filled to the brim with wonderful imagery and description while managing to remain concise and flowing. The novel is also well edited, for being 706 pages long there’s little to nothing I would be happy putting in the bin. Some of the dialogue felt a little over bloated sure but for the most I’d personally want nothing to change.
As for the multiple view points this is not really my cup of tea, I like a concise story where I can really get to know one character really well. At points I did dislike the jumping from one person to another but once I’d gotten used to it it was no problem at all. In fact I learnt to findthe mix of characters enthralling, each one was as vivid and intriguing as the last.
The female lead Veer needs special mention however, she is sharp, intelligent and a fierce investing reporter who is uniquely well written. A true example of female protagonist writing done well.
Overall Yellow Tape and Coffee is more than a solid debut, it’s a magnificent one and Pat Luther is certainly one to check out and keep an eye on. He has managed to balance suspense, humour, a little bit of terror and drama in a delightfully composed cocktail of literature.
I would love a sequel to this novel but whatever he writes next will certainly be on my list.
The Manningtree Witches takes the £10,000 first novel award
The author AK Blakemore has won the Desmond Elliott prize for best debut for her historical novel about the English witch trials in the 17th century. The Manningtree Witches was praised heavily by judges who called it a “stunning achievement”.
The novel follows the character of Rebecca West, a husbandless and fatherless woman who is only just tolerated by the villagers of Manningtree. The story showcases the fallout of events after a pious newcomer called Matthew Hopkins begins to ask villagers about the women on the margins of their society.
This is Blakemore’s first novel, although she does also have two published poetry collections under her belt.
“My dad lives in Manningtree so it was an area I knew quite well. The process of the writing began when I was in a fallow period of writing poetry. I was messing around with prose, just to have something to write, and the story just really sort of jumped out at me,” Blakemore said.
“I didn’t really have the intention of writing and completing a novel, it started as play. But coming at it from poetry, I had a decent sense in writing of aesthetics and a cinematic, graphic way of composing scenes in my mind. And something about having a story from history that already had a beginning, middle and end, was quite liberating in that sense.”
The Manningtree Witches beat other shortlisted novels such as little scratch by Rebecca Watson and The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams. Blakemore will take home the £10,000 prize.
A previous winner of the prize, Lisa McInerney, was one of this year’s judges and said that Blakemore’s tale “takes limited historical detail and, with what seems like effortless grace and imagination, crafts a breathing, complex world full of wrenchingly human characters, and tells us their stories in language that bears endless rereading, so clever and unexpected and pleasurable it is”.
The author herself said that she was “really, really thrilled” to win. “And honoured – the shortlist was just full of amazing books.”
During the silent but terrifying Cold War William Golding produced his masterpiece, Lord of the Flies. Not only is it a gripping tale about a group of schoolboys forced to survive on a deserted island after a plane crash, it is also a brilliant allegorical tale about the conflicts between civilization and primal savagery.
This simple and easy to understand symbolism has made Lord of the Flies on of the most popular and beloved books in the world. It is a memorable and chilling tale with characters portrayed with nuance and subtlety.
The novel focuses on a series of events that occur after a plane crash leaves a group of young schoolboys stuck on a deserted island at the height of a nuclear armageddon. It is at its heart a story of those boys shocking survival.
At the beginning the boys feel like their dreams have miraculously come true. They find themselves master of their own domain, without an annoying adult to be found. However, it doesn’t take long for them to realise they need a leader, someone to follow. The books main protagonist, a boy named Ralph, is quickly chosen to lead the group, thanks mostly in part to his popularity.
It isn’t long though before dissent begins to ferment. What appeared to be a dream situation at first quickly unravels and sinister moments quickly sprout up throughout the story.
The Lord of the Flies is a thought provoking and action-packed story of surviving against all the odds, but it’s also deeper than that.
William Golding uses his novel to explore three important aspects of human society. Human’s gravitate naturally towards social and political order, we want and need legislation and governments to have order in our society, hence the boys use of the conch and platform.
Secondly human’s are naturally inclined to being violent and savage if given the chance. This leads to a natural need for a military for defence, as shown by the boys who become hunters and then murderers.
Finally Lord of the Flies shows us that human society is naturally tuned to believe in divine interventions and supernatural beings, as shown in the sacrifices and dances the boys use to appease what they call the “beast”.
If you have never had the chance to read Lord of the Flies before now I heartily recommend you rectify that immediately.
The epic tradition represents a record of heroic actions that were once celebrated through song and folktale. Examples of epic stories that started out as folklore and were then written down are the epics of Gilgamesh and Beowulf.
The epic tradition includes key elements such as the epic hero and the form of an epic poem, which thus provides the rhythm which made it easily able to be sung. The epic tradition has influenced fiction over time, and certain elements can still be found in modern fiction today although altered as times have changed.
A key aspect of the Epic tradition as shown in both Gilgamesh and Beowulf is that of an Epic hero. An epic hero is ‘a brave and noble character in an epic poem, admired for great achievements or affected by grand events: Beowulf, an epic hero with extraordinary strength’ (dictionary.com).
The Epic hero has to be someone of high status, preferable a royal and they must have aspects of greatness and superhuman qualities, such as great strength and courage, and in the case of Gilgamesh, the epic hero has connections to the Gods, showing the hero to be above all others.
The epic hero also has to in some way achieve greatness within the story, Gilgamesh for example changes drastically from being a mean and uncaring king, to becoming great and compassionate by realizing the importance of love and loss and Beowulf begins as a highly regarded prince and by the end he has become legendary by his brilliant courage in defeating the evil of the world.
The epic hero features prominently in mythology, such as in the two Greek poems The Lliad and The Odyssey with the epic heroes, Achilles and Odysseus, both central figures in the Trojan War. These two are key examples of epic poetry in ancient literature.
Further aspects of the epic tradition is the fact that stories such as Gilgamesh and Beowulf weren’t written for the purpose of being a novel, but instead were simply a story or folk lore which was told and passed down through generations, and often recited to music until finally being written down. This means that the story has no determinable author and is told as a third person narrative. The story is also not set out as a novel but as more of an epic poem told in a refined manner. As the stories of the epic tradition were primarily for oral transmission they include long speeches and often the story is told through a series of flashbacks.
This means that the stories do lack description and imagery which are fundamental aspects of modern novels, and instead were written as more of a chronology of events and facts and was written as evidence of heroic actions.
The epic tradition has had great impact on modern literature. All novels have a hero, and although they are no longer what one would call epic, as they are not necessarily of high status or do not possess superhuman qualities they are still heroes.
In Shakespearean plays, there are tragic heroes, which contrast to the epic hero, as the tragic heroes usually start off great but through their own flaws they become tragic and fall from their heroic status. Although tragic heroes in Shakespeare’s plays are not exactly the same as the epic heroes, the epic narratives and heroes have greatly influenced the plays as they all centre around one hero, a hero that like that of the epic narratives, is of a high status.
Although the tragic heroes have flaws and at times do bad things, they are essentially good and essentially heroic in the outcome. The tragic hero of Hamlet although different from the epic hero of Beowulf, still achieves a form of greatness by exposing his murdering uncle.
The tragic hero is also represented in the novel of Frankenstein. The influence of the epic tradition on modern literature can also be seen in the story of Robinson Crusoe, as you see a man exert extraordinary courage and strength to survive in a hostile environment, much the same as the epic heroes of the past.
However in the case of Robinson Crusoe, the hero is a sailor and not someone of noble birth or high status. This represents the changes in society at the time the novels are written. In modern times an average man or ‘underdog’ achieving great things is considered more epic than someone of a privileged status. However although Gilgamesh was a noble who was two-thirds God he himself much like the tragic heroes had flaws which meant that he was not very liked and could even be viewed as a villain at the beginning of the story.
But whereas the tragic heroes begin as respected and then are brought down by their mistakes, Gilgamesh learns from his mistakes and after a heroic quest he becomes a hero worthy of the name. The way in which the heroes are represented and the journeys they take determine the differences between the epic hero and the tragic hero.
I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan, his Discworld collection is a majestic vision of a humorous, dangerous and quite absurd universe within which anything is possible. That being said some of those stories are better than others.
His first two books in the series, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, for instance are not exactly his best. They are certainly quite funny and take a parodic shots at many fantasy tropes, but because of that they don’t really have their own voice. Those two novels feel disjointed, like a bunch of jokes held together with the flimsiest bit of plot tape.
His third novel though, Equal Rites is definetly where Pratchett finds his own voice, now he has a real plot and some actual storytelling behind the wonderfully crafted jokes.
At its core Equal Rites is a tale about equality and the injustices of the Discworld, and it does a great job of exploring these themes while maintaining a witty tone. While I greatly enjoyed the first two books in the series it was really Equal Rites that first got me hooked onto Terry Pratchett.
This is a fun, humerous, and well crafted story about a young girl names Esk and her experiences of growing up in the world of magic. As the third in the series Pratchett doesn’t bother diving too much into the Discworld mythology, this allows him to progress the story much more easily, yet sadly this will leave big points of confusion for readers who may start their journey here.
The story is simple, there’s nothing ground-breaking here at all, yet it is well executed and the main character is remarkably charming, making for an all around fantastic read.
One criticism I would have though is the finale, the grand spectacular ending we were promised page after page is none existent, the great battle between witches and wizards is highjacked and ignored, possibly so as not to fundamentally change the social status of the Discworld, yet it feels like a copout all the same, and makes the entire journey seem almost pointless.
The biggest strength of Equal Rites is the wonderful character development we get to experience. Unlike the first two stories the character here feel more fleshed out, more real rather than simple one dimensional parodies of other, bigger, fantasy characters. These beings are charming, witty, likeable, but also hugely flawed, and it is their moments of self actualisation that are the most interesting to me. Throughout the novel these characters grow, change, evolve, they become better, or indeed worse, than they were when we first met them.
Characters are a huge part of Pratchett’s writing so it’s great to see that even early on in his career he was so adept at this skill.
Of course with Equal Rites being so early in his Discworld career there are some low points. He spends too long trying to explain Discworld’s magic and how it works, this is tedious and unnecessary and upsets the otherwise excellent flow of the novel.
The best thing about Equal Rites though is its ability to resonate with people, whether or not they are a fan of fantasy novels there is something to love about this book. The story of a young girl asking why women can’t be wizards transcends the genre, and while it’s not a masterpiece it is a strong and easy to read novel that explores those real world topics in a unique and brilliantly funny way.
Who’d have thought that Star Wars and Shakespeare go hand to hand perfectly?
Well it turns out that author Ian Doescher did and he hits it out the park with ‘Verily, A New Hope’ the first entry in his Star Wars/Shakespeare saga.
As it turns out, the story of Star Wars, with all of its drama, tragedy, romance, humour, and amazing characters fits brilliantly into Shakespeare literary world.
As a big Star Wars fan, and somewhat of a Shakespeare admirer I jumped at the chance to check this book out, and boy am I glad I did.
I love A New Hope, I know the story inside and out, but this was like experiencing it all over again for the first time. As soon as I opened the book and read a Shakespearian version of the famous opening scroll I knew I was in for one hell of an enjoyable experience.
For the most part the script here follows the events of A New Hope beat for beat. Every now and then though the author is able to take advantage of creative license and grants a character an aside or a soliloquy to convey their feelings to the audience, it’s very Shakespearian, and it’s very fun.
What is strange reading this book though is seeing how the art of storytelling has evolved over time.
Today writers are told to show don’t tell, they have to show a characters thoughts and motivations, simply telling the reader about them is too easy, too simple for a modern audience. Yet Shakespeare is filled with character soliloquies where we are told in no uncertain terms about their emotions, thoughts, and desires.
Even though the story being told here is only 40ish years old it felt like reading something from hundreds of years ago, it felt utterly foreign.
I loved it though, no matter how strange it felt to read. Where it would really shine though is on the stage, as all of the great Bard’s works do. This is made for the theatre and boy would that be a treat.
If you could go back in time and change the course of human history would you do it? Even if it meant sacrificing so much of your own life in the process?
Well that’s the premise of Stephen Kings 54th fiction book, 11.22.63.
King gives us a new protagonist in the form of Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls Maine, because of course he is. It doesn’t take long for King to uproot our heroes life and sent him hurting back through time to the world of 1958 small town America.
Gone are the cell phones and tablet computers, now Jake finds himself in a world filled with Elvis, Plymouth cars, a beautiful librarian called Sadie Dunhill, and of course a troubled loner called Lee Harvey Oswald, a man who slowly comes to dominate Jake’s life.
11.22.63 is Stephen King at something resembling his best. His prowess with weaving together political, social and popular culture into this version of baby-boom America is exquisite. The suspense is palpable across most of its many pages, not to mention its many trips through time.
King is best known for his out and out horror novels, and while this certainly isn’t a horror book it does have enough existential and psychological dread to keep the heart pounding and the mind racing.
The complexities and ethical dilemmas of time travel are well explored in 11.22.63, what will altering the past do to the future? What will it mean for Jake personally? Will he really be creating a better world or is that some naïve hope he must cling to to see his mission fulfilled?
Second novels are difficult. You have numerous expectations on your shoulders, both from fans of your first book and from your publishers. The fans of your first book want to also enjoy your second novel, and the publishers want you to also widen your audience, that’s a lot of pressure. It must have been a … Continue reading “Salem’s Lot by Stephen King Review”
You see no matter how long Jake spends in the past when he returns to his own time only two minutes will have elapsed, this allows him the chance to go back in time over and over again to the same point and keep trying to change the past and the future. If something doesn’t work out to his liking, and quite often it doesn’t, he can try again, but something, perhaps the past itself, really doesn’t like being changed. The closer Jake gets to his goal the more something out their in the universe wants him to fail.
While this was a good read, with many interesting questions to ponder, it does get bogged down a little during the middle section. Across many of the middle chapters the suspense and tension we had come to love waned slightly, never disappearing but certainly lessening its grip upon you. During this part King focuses on the romance between Jake and Sadie, which while interesting was certainly a good deal longer than it needed to be, about two hundred pages longer if I’m honest.
Once we get into the final third of the book though the action picks up once again and King does a good job at answering most of the questions he posed at the beginning. It’s a mostly satisfying conclusion which wasn’t quite worth the lengthy wait but rounded out the story nicely enough.
All in all this was a good read that I’d recommend for fans of King or time travel stories in general. Just be warned it is a long slog and the ending isn’t quite worth the time invested. King is great at creating his characters, and Jake is no exception, he’s a down on his luck teacher striving to find purpose in the mess that his life has become, he’s no larger than life hero, he’s simply a man doing what he believes is right. But not amount of interesting characters will improve the poor pacing on offer here.
Spellbreaker is the first book book in a brand new two book series written by bestselling author Charlie N. Holmberg. This series will be set in an alternate Victorian-era England where magic is common, and where those who can wield it are the powerful and wealthy elite.
The books heroine, Elsie Camden, is a lowly orphan who also happens to be an unregistered spellbreaker and member of the clandestine group, The Cowls, who undertake missions to protect the common people from the abuse of the magical elite.
During one of these, for lack of a better word, goodwill assignments, her spellbreaking abilities are discovered by another wizard, Bacchus Kelsey, and she must make a deal with him if she wants to escape prison.
As Elsie struggles under her various allegiances she becomes enraged and her true loyalties are tested like never before.
This is not your typical fantasy novel. It takes place in a small area of the overarching world and has a small cast of characters. This is a book about relationships more than anything else. There’s no high stakes end of the world stuff here, this is good old fashioned character development at the front and centre.
There’s not much to be found here though for fantasy readers who love a darker and gritter look at the magical worlds. There’s little challenging or unpredictable here, its quite simple and straightforward if truth be told.
Yet there are likeable characters that are well written and fleshed out to the point that I can recall their mannerisms and quirks long after I finished reading.
Elsie for instance is a charming and loveable heroine who takes on the Robin Hood mantle for this novel. She strikes back at the haughty elite in defence of the downtrodden.
She is overly naïve at points, and we as a reader are way ahead her for most of the story, which is frustrating to read, and we spend more time shouting at her to hurry up to her inevitable realisation, than we do enjoying the story.
The plot is convenient and simple, it never surprises or astounds you. Elsie is a simple but charming character who never does anything out of the ordinary, she is also predictable and boring. She is however, loveable, and willing to sacrifice everything for those around her, making her one of the most likeable protagonists I’ve met for a while.
On the face of it Hollow Road (The Maer Cycle Book 1) by Dan Fitzgerald sounds like a straightforward and very formulaic fantasy novel. Three characters, Sinnie, Carl, and Finn are sent off on an adventure by a wealthy benefactor, and of course each character has devoted their life to a different profession. Sinnie works … Continue reading “Hollow Road (Maer Cycle book 1) by Dan Fitzgerald Review”
But Elsie is not the only protagonist of this novel. Bacchus is a secondary hero who has his own point-of-view chapters. These chapters are great at launching his character and fleshing out his desires and objectives.
Bacchus is a wizard on the verge of attaining his mastery but he has sympathise for Elsie and her motives thanks to his own backstories. Bacchus struggles to fit into the English magical elite thanks to his lowdown status, giving him an innate connection with Elsie.
The romance between Elsie and Bacchus feels quite forced if I’m honest, its nice and the payoff is good but it doesn’t feel at all natural. There’s no chemistry between the two and the beginning of their relationship is filled with blackmail, distrust and resentment. There is little in the way of authentic evolution here to ever see them as genuine lovers.
Their relationship may feel satisfying on the face of it but when you think about it it’s a little shallow and disappointing.
The plot of the novel is simple and straightforward but it’s still satisfying to read and enjoy. The villain is easy to determine but the journey of our heroes to their realisation is satisfying regardless.
There are a number of plot threads left hanging for us to keep us intrigued for the next book, a book I myself will be looking out for, but one I don’t expect much from.
D.A. Butcher comes out swinging hard with this stunning debut novel. Eyes of Sleeping Children is a psychological thriller set in the 1930’s and takes place in a depression hit Kansas that is about to bare the brunt of a giant dust storm.
The focus of this story falls squarely upon the Lockhart family, and specifically upon the father Louis. As the storm begins to attack their small family farm the Lockhart’s seek shelter in their cellar.
Yet the storm is but the beginning of this families tragedies, after awakening from a troubled night of sleep Louis finds that his son, Jesse, is missing, yet there is neither a sign of forced entry or that the young boy has left the house.
Who, or possibly what, is to blame? While Louis looks for an answer within the reality he understands, his wife begins to break down and lay the blame squarely upon a figure from the realm of nightmares, The Sandman.
Louis must work quickly if he has any hope of ever seeing his son again, he sets out on a journey that will delve into the past, and into secrets long since lost to time.
But that’s enough about the book’s plot, I really would not want to ruin this one for you.
This is a daring, but well executed, debut novel that takes a number of different genres and themes and makes them all coalesce brilliantly as the story comes to its climax.
At times this feels like a locked room thriller, while at other times it delves wonderfully into some psychological twisted world that sends shivers racing up and down your spine. And yet through all of that it somehow manages to blend and balance it very nicely with a depression era set family and their day to day struggles and drama.
The story is told through the eyes and mind of Louis Lockhart, and for the most part he is an engaging and interesting character that we as outside readers can easily empathise with. And while there are a supporting cast of mostly interesting characters it is with Louis that we are firmly embedded, both narratively and emotionally.
As Louis frantically begins his hunt to find his missing son the book ratchets up a notch and becomes a zealous race to unravel the mysteries and discover the truth lurking in the shadows. Over time though it is Louis himself who begins to unravel and whose mind deteriorates, while this gives for some excellent character focus and really brings Louis alive and fleshes out his characterisations, it also slows down the pace of the book at points to little more than a crawl. While this is not a major issue it does make the book feel imbalanced.
However, as the story enters its final acts it rekindles the fire that had burned so brightly at its opening. In fact by the final pages this book had burnt not only itself out but me as well, there are some disturbing scenes throughout this novel that have stayed with me long after the final word has fluttered its way through my mind.
The twists and turns that lead up to the grand finale are mind bindingly well conceived and that climax, boy was that a treat to behold. Throughout most of the novel I thought I knew the truth, I thought I was an all knowing reader, but I was very much mistaken, Butcher had more than a few tricks up his sleeve to leave me feeling the fool.
Indeed so much of this book has stayed so vividly with me that while writing this review I feel like I have only just put it down when in reality I finished this book week ago, and have read many others since then.
Not only is the story well conceived it is also very well written, Butcher has the skills and talents of a much more seasoned writer.
There are a couple of negative points though, as with any book. I think there are a few pacing errors that make the book feel unbalanced, it almost feels like there are two books wearing the trench coat of one sometimes. The dialogue can at times feel a little stilted, and I would say there are a few too many metaphors and similes used which can slow down the pace of the book somewhat, but this is me being overly pedantic and attempting to find something to balance this review.
Overall this is easily one of the best debut novels I have ever read, indeed it is one of the best psychological thrillers I have ever read period, and I will no doubt be diving back into again soon, and I sincerely implore all of you to do the same.
Rating: 10 out of 10.
If you’d like to check out Eyes of Sleeping Children for yourself, and I highly recommend you do, you can find it over on Amazon.
On the face of it Hollow Road (The Maer Cycle Book 1) by Dan Fitzgerald sounds like a straightforward and very formulaic fantasy novel. Three characters, Sinnie, Carl, and Finn are sent off on an adventure by a wealthy benefactor, and of course each character has devoted their life to a different profession.
Sinnie works for a travelling circus and is a badass with a bow, Carl is an experienced soldier, and Finn is training as a mage.
The Hollow road opens with the three childhood friends undertaking a mission back to the village of Brocland where they all grew up, taking with them the body of another friend, the son of a wealthy man called Leavitt. Not everything is quite as it seems however and what sounds like an easy mission is anything but.
While the story of a group of friends going on an adventure with dubious motives sounds familiar, its the characters and their development that sets the Hollow Road apart and makes it a truly unique experience to behold.
Along the route of their journey the three friends evolve, becoming closer while exposing their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, but also showcasing their strengths and courage.
When you combine these heroes with the mythical race known as the Maer you have a truly enjoyable read that keeps you hooked from start to finish.
For me the Maer are the standout aspect of the novel, they are an interesting and well thought out unknown element throughout that provides mystery and intrigue, and yet the truth about them is never quite what you thought it would be. The only downside is that they come into the story too late I found, I wanted more of them, I wanted to learn more, to know more.
Dan has done a great job with the writing here, its descriptive but with a good balance of action that keeps the plot moving along at a fast pace. What stands out for me though is his prowess with writing dialogue. While many writers write stilted or cheesy dialogue Dan has managed to create very natural sounding conversations, which is not as easy as it sounds.
Nevada Noir by David Arrowsmith is a collection of three intriguing stories set in, of course, Nevada. These stories are not simply separate entities though, they are interlinked and connected throughout, they are connected through characters, plot, and the theme of death. Death is an ever-present figure throughout these stories, its dark fingers manipulating the … Continue reading “Nevada Noir by David Arrowsmith Review”
Sinnie, Carl, and Finn sound just like old friends would, they have an easy banter that really brings their decades old friendship to the forefront of the novel, their repartee is what hooks you into this story and you want nothing more than to experience their changing relationships and see what happens next.
And on that note I really cannot wait to see what Dan does next with these characters, there’s so much to see and do in this world he has created, and so many places for these characters to take us.
I highly recommend you check this book out.
Rating: 10 out of 10.
You can pre-order your copy of Hollow Road for yourself from Amazon, it is released on the 17th of September.
Let’s return and look at the novel where the legend began, Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Dracula isn’t just a book, not anymore anyway. Dracula is a brand, it is a sweeping, broad, stereotyping name that conjures up characters with countless components and interpretations. So after writing a rather in-depth essay on the changing sexualization of vampires I was compelled to return to the beginning of the vampires literary journey, I therefore dived right back into Bram Stoker’s masterpiece so I could once again see how this famous character began.
Going back to Dracula after the deluge of modern vampire iterations is quite fascinating. For instance Dracula does not suffer burning pain from the sunlight as most modern vampires do. This does make reading Dracula difficult though as we have to throw most of our modern beliefs about the mythical creature out of the window, if we do not do so it can be difficult to engage with the novel.
It is also sad that the books big events, which would have been dramatic plot twists to readers of Stoker’s era, are easily predictable in the modern age, which of course diminishes their impact.
Yet being a predictable and already well known story does give the novel a sense of dramatic irony and adds to the underlying themes of ignored prophesies and that of a predetermined fate.
If you’ve never read Dracula before the novel contains enough details and plot points you’ll be unaware of thanks to the modern day changes to his character and story, this allows a first time reader to predict but still enjoy the subtle differences of the novel. They may know what’s to come in Jonathan Harker’s dreary approach to the castle but there’s also enough new elements to keep some mystery alive.
But enough about why it’s still worth checking out the original novel even if you already know the story, let’s get on with discussing the book itself.
Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker making his journey through Transylvania to Count Dracula’s castle. He is warned by locals again and again to avoid the Count, to flee and return to his own life, but of course he pays them no heed.
The build up to the first meeting with Dracula is tense and harrowing, perhaps more so because the modern audience already knows that the seemingly amiable host is anything but pleasant.
The first part of the book is devoted to the exploration of dread, Jonathan slowly realises that his host is a creature of utter evil. This part of the book is brimming with paranoia and a feeling of the unknowable. It is told entirely through Harker’s journal entries, this adds a new level of dread as we get to witness first hand the cracking of Jonathan’s psyche as he connects more and more of the castles terrors with the Count. This method of storytelling makes the reader a more active participant in the fear and paranoia voiced by Harker.
While the first part of the novel is designated for this emotional torment this does mean it lacks the action heavy punch the modern reader may expect from the genre. Yet Dracula’s emotional and psychological hold over the reader ensures it rarely becomes as slow and tedious as other books of the time are prone to do.
There are times, particularly in the middle, where Dracula does flag a little however. Stoker spends a lot of time on correspondence between our two female heroes Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray. These correspondence talk a lot about everyday Victorian life, and while it is done in beautifully curated prose, it’s also tedious in comparison to the novel’s opening. While you’re thinking about Jonathan and his fate, you are left to read about the countryside and English weather. Thankfully though it isn’t long before the novel begins in earnest.
When reading Dracula again it was interesting to note the manner in which it is told, the use of journal entries and letters creates a ‘found-footage’ vibe akin to modern day horror films like the Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. This manner of narrative creates a unique form of foreboding and dread which makes Dracula an emotional and fearful read even for those already aware of the overarching plot-line.
Dracula’s use of letters and the personal words contained therein allow the reader to understand and empathise with characters more than traditional narrative devices would, we get to see and feel their inner thoughts as they struggle against this monster.
Each character in Dracula is well crafted and believable, they all have separate personalities and quirks which play out across the story in numerous ways.
Vampires have enjoyed something of a renaissance in modern literature and one of the main reasons for that is the sexual nature of what is otherwise a monster from the depths of mankind’s nightmares
As for the story itself, well its heartbreaking, it’s full of emotion as the characters deal with life, love, death, horror, all of which are beautifully realised with Stoker’s prose.
There are many themes explored within these pages, with love, religion, and death being just a few. This book opens your mind with new questions in every chapter, and it leaves you thinking about its numerous themes for days after it’s gone back on the shelf.
Dracula is one of the first books to explore and bring to life the vampire, and it has gone on to spawn many an imitation, but it is still the best novel in the genre and Dracula is still the King of the vampires.
This is a must read for anyone, if you’ve never read it before I’d recommend you change that immediately.
Controversy is abound in the science-fiction writing circle after Saudi Arabia bids to host the World Science Fiction Convention
More than 80 science-fiction and fantasy authors are currently protesting at the possibility that one of the ‘genres’ biggest conventions may be held in Saudi Arabia in 2022, they say that, “the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for.”
The group is led by fantasy author Anna Smith Spark and includes writers Charlies Stross, Stan Nicholls, Catriona Ward, and Juliet McKenna. They have all signed an open letter objecting to Jeddah’s bid to host the World Science Fiction Convention in two years’ time.
The authors point to the fact that homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, it’s crackdown on free speech, and the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. They argue that these issue make the country an unacceptable stage for an international event.
“On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law. We refuse to attend an event if those staffing it cannot have the same basic freedoms,” they say in the letter addressed to the board of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). “We express deep concern that many members of the SFF community would be excluded.”
While the writers acknowledge that holding the convention in Jeddah would, “open up a new world to fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to travel there, and show solidarity with creative communities within Saudi Arabia and other Arab states”, they state that “the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for”.
“We stand in solidarity with those who seek change in the country. And we write in protest but also in hope – that by raising awareness of the political situation in Saudi Arabia a WorldCon SA will one day be possible,” their statement reads.
One of the authors behind the Saudi bid, Yasser Bahjatt,released his own statement that says he was “deeply concerned” by the letter.
“We believe in their right to express concerns or even distaste for a WorldCon in Saudi Arabia, but demanding that we should not be allowed to even request hosting it is absurd and unhealthy for the WorldCon in the long run,” he said. “The WorldCon already is limited in its spread as it is mainly focused on western culture countries, and as long as it is the WorldCon, it must accept all of the world.”
“This does not mean that the community should not try to make the world a better place, but merely that there is a difference between advocating for change that you believe would make the world a better place, and demanding that the world adheres to your own moral code. When such a tone is used, it is no different than the radicals on the other side,” he added.
According to Smith Spark the WSFS has been dismissive of the authors’ concerns so far, she also says that the response from readers, writers and publishers though had been “astonishingly positive”.
Smith Spark also said she is shocked she had had to take a stand on the issue. “Our community has expressed deep solidarity with the people of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and disgust that the UK and US governments have such long and deep links with the regime. It’s the Saudi regime that is the antithesis of everything SFF should stand for, absolutely not Islam or Arabic culture to which both science and literature are hugely indebted,” she said. “Many in the community have also expressed outrage that a convention could be considered that would by default exclude many of the most exciting voices in the genre.”
The Hobbit is one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written.
Written for a younger audience The Hobbit is far shorter and less complex than it’s big brother The Lord of the Rings.
While the plot of The Hobbit is a lot weaker than that of the Lord of the Rings it still packs an exciting punch, and being much shorter the adventure never really stops, this is one continuous rollercoaster of action.
In The Hobbit we are introduced to a young Bilbo Baggins who is quite happy living a simple life in his Hobbit hole. In bursts the wizard Gandalf who, along with a gang of dwarves, whisks Bilbo off on an adventure to reclaim the lonely mountain – the former dwarven home – and the treasure held within.
We are told that the Dwarves dug deep and greedily, growing their treasure until it eventually caught the attention of the evil dragon Smaug. Smaug was a large and selfish beast and it did not take long for him to attack the lonely mountain and drive away the dwarves.
The Hobbit is filled with some iconic scenes, none more so than the trolls intent on kidnapping dwarves and making them into a stew. Even here Tolkein is able to mix heart pounding adventure with a little humour. This is a well crafted fantasy book that has you chuckling one second and worrying about death the next.
Tolkein takes us on an adventure across Middle Earth in The Hobbit, an adventure of a lifetime. Everyone should experience this book at least once. It may not reach the lofty heights of The Lord of the Rings but this is a very different book, intended for a very different purpose and reader.
When I tell you the name Mary Shelly what do you immediately think of?
If you are anything like me then the countless remakes of the much loved and brilliant Frankenstein will be paramount in your mind at the mere mention of her name. Which is why it’s little wonder that her other novels remain almost unknown.
Is it perhaps because her other books dont hold the same financial incentives? I’m sure it is yes. Is it because they aren’t quite so shocking and beautifully crafted, a little I think yes. Frankenstein will always be her pinnacle, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the rest, far from it.
Yet this is less a story and more of an essay, let’s just start out by clearing that up. As such it consists of a few stories that surround her argument, some like that of the Englishman or Italian are really compelling, while others feel more stifled and contrived.
Shelley’s overall exploration of ghosts and the ethereal is compelling at its base level and yet is elevated to another realm entirely thanks to her prowess with the rhetoric. This is an intriguing read even when it is at it’s most absurd, and it strays into that territory more than once.
This is not Shelley at her Frankenstein best, though it is not meant to be. This is not quite a fiction novel and not quite a non-fiction essay, it sits uncomfortably somewhere betwixt the two.
It is a interesting read but sadly not one to ever revisit.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
If you’d like to check out On Ghosts for yourself it’s available on Amazon.
The Amulet of Samarkand is a very unique novel, and one that bridges the gap between children’s and young adult fiction with great success.
This is the story of an ambitious but young magician and an ancient exasperated demon bound to do this childs bidding. For children this is a nice challenging read, and for adults it’s a witty, fast paced adventure tale with plenty of humour to keep you coming back for more.
As with all young apprentice magicians our young hero Nathaniel has no parents, they sold him to the government to give him s chance at power, after all in this world only magicians can run the country.
Nathaniel grows up without much love, only his masters wife shows him any sort of affection, and Nathaniel returns this with loyalty and love of his own, yet she must still stand by and watch as her husband bullies and berates Nathaniel at every turn.
While you would rightly expect the reader to feel sympathy for this lonely and downtrodden young boy you would also be wrong, hes not a particularly sympathetic character. He is naturally gifted and has an aptitude for magic far beyond that of his master, which leads him to study advanced magic without supervision and for wildly immoral, though understandable reasons. He is an egotistical jackass most of the time.
But forget about Nathaniel for a moment and let me introduce you to the books standout character, Bartimaeus. This ancient demon is a proud creature with a Nobel reputation. You can imagine his displeasure then at being summoned by an overly ambitious twelve year old and being ordered to undertake a dangerous mission. A mission that will open up a world of conspiracy and place both our heroes on a path to save the world.
The book is split into two halves, one half is a traditional story that follows a normal patter, while the second gives us Bartimaeus’ inner thoughts in the form of footnotes. And his inner thoughts are brilliantly witty and cynical, they are the standout moments within what is already a very good book.
The Amulet of Samarkand is highly recommended for both children and adults.