Rot & Ruin
Simon and Schuster, 2010
At first glance it might be easy to peg Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin as just another zombie novel. However, doing so does this teen-centric title a huge disservice. Rot & Ruin for all its violence and actions manages to tell a fascinating and emotionally engaging story about life after the rise of the undead. The novel focuses on the life of young Benny Imura. Benny, about to turn 15, must find a job or have his rations cut by half. His utter dislike of his zombie hunting older brother Tom sees him trying to find somewhere, anywhere else, to work. Unfortunately for Benny (or so he thinks) circumstances force him to take an apprenticeship under his brother.
Ashes of the Earth
This review kicks of a trio of post-apocalyptic reviews. Sometimes I just get a craving for post-apocalyptic fiction. Unfortunately, and this no slight to two excellent novels, two of said post-apocalyptic novels are zombie novels. In truth I prefer my apocalypses zombie free but when beggers can’t always be choosers. Anyway the novel I’m about review isn’t at all zombie related. Ashes of the Earth by Eliot Pattison is subtitled a Post-Apocalyptic Mystery and it falls squarely into the mystery genre. Pattison previous authored two historical mysteries set in colonial America, Eye of the Raven and Bone Rattler, and I get the distinct impression that those to earlier novels certainly help inform Ashes of the Earth.
Ashes of the Earth takes place after war has left America (and presumable the rest of the planet) a husk of its former self and focuses on a struggling community called Carthage. The story follows the embittered and dissident founding father of Carthage, Hadrian Boone, as he attempts to solve the murder of his mentor. Nuclear and biological weapons employed in the past have left even later generations suffering and Carthage long ago exiled these unwanted to shantytown long ago and is amongst these exiles, and even further, that Hadrian’s journey takes him.
The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh
Steven S. Drachman
The American West is already imbued with a near mythological quality in the American imagination and thus the combination of the American West with elements of the fantastic is an infrequent occurrence. Given its infrequency I rather look forward to that special combination of familiar American mythology made strange by the mystical or the macabre. So when author Steven S. Drachman asked me to take a look at his novel The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh I was excited to once again delve into the magic of the American West.
The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh is part time travel tale, part ancient mystery, part romance, and part Western adventure. The title character, Watt O’Hugh III, is an orphan, turned cowboy turned Western Hero turned showman. As the novel opens he is living large as the star of his very own Western show funded by none other than J. P. Morgan. Of course things don’t go smoothly for O’Hugh and he soon finds himself embroiled in a scheme to rescue the love of his life, secure money stolen from J. P. Morgan, and stop the discovery of an ancient Chinese secret from destroying the world.
The time travel elements of The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh are subtle despite being prevalent. Drachman cleverly side-steps the typical difficulties of time travel stories by carefully setting out that Roamers can only observe and never change the outcome of past events. It is a nice touch and gives Watt O’Hugh to useful means to get a change in perspective. Of course there is an exception to this rule; a man who Watt eventually (and reluctantly) becomes an agent of. Bizarrely (and refreshingly) the titular Ghosts are never quite addressed completely. You learn where the Ghosts come from but our narrator (Watt himself) is hardly impartial and while his companions question their presence Watt himself (and thus the novel at whole) never does. I think this is a nice touch; it keeps the magic magical.
The heart of The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh is a love story. The novel opens up with Watt’s last brief, cherished encounter with Lucy Billings. Watt’s rose-tinted view of his last moments with Lucy are cut short by the New York Draft Riots and what follows is a hard-scrabble life that eventually leads to some fame and eventually back to Lucy. That reunion is well worth the journey and is one of the most touching scenes I’ve read in a long time. Lucy is the real impetus behind Watt’s actions and her presence, even when she isn’t physically in the novel, is palpable throughout.
The novel, narrated by a future incarnation of Watt, employs a deft tone of both loss and humor. The novel’s only real stumbling block (a well-documented pet peeve of mine) was a lengthy spat of exposition. Said exposition deals with the ancient Chinese secret which, even after all the exposition, I wasn’t too clear on (I suppose because it is still a secret). The pacing up until that point was pretty solid and it took me a minute or two switch gears. It really is a minor issue and Drachman does his best to break it up a little bit but it remains the only part of the novel that really did not work for me. Really that section was just Drachman tapping lightly on the brakes before smashing the gas pedal straight to the floor. The final chapters fly by and feature some of the funniest (Oscar Wilde’s cameo!) and most over-the-top ridiculous (holes in reality!) scenes of the novel.
The Ghosts of Watt O’Hughis one of the most exciting and original debuts I’ve read in years. While it’s being released independently I wouldn’t be surprised to see it picked up by a major publisher at some point in the future. Tragic, funny, thrilling and something completely different The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh is well worth a look for fans of westerns, fantasy, and adventure. This is only the beginning and I really look forward to seeing where Drachman takes Watt next. You can read a sample of the novel, and find out more about the book, at www.watt-ohugh.com.
A Dance with Dragons
George R. R. Martin
If I’m going to be completely honest. I think by this time I’m little weary of George R. R. Martin. This is no fault of the author, nor of his work, but rather of my own nigh obsessive attempt to make it through my reread of all the earlier volumes ofwith no breaks in between. In truth, I was probably in desperate need of a palate cleanser, some literary sherbet if you will, before starting A Dance with Dragons. The sense of fan entitlement regarding Martin’s work is well document (even in song) and the long wait between A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons seemed to drudge up the worst aspects of fandom. In truth when judging reader reactions to A Dance with Dragons it is a little difficult to differentiate between legitimate criticism and misplaced belief that fans are entitled to the product of an author’s creativity.
Hit the jump for a meandering and slightly messy musing on Martin’s latest work.
I apparently forgot to post about my vacation last week. Oops. Well, I’m back now and I’ve got a couple of reviews to work on. It was a fairly product vacation reading wise (I may have hoped for the sun and blue skies, but I will not complain too loudly about some rain) so expect to see reviews of these titles in the coming week or two:
So, today is MTV’s 30th birthday. Though the network is no longer the “rebel” it claimed to be there are still some fond memories to be had. Here are a handful of some of my favorite music videos from the past:
A slow month in the midst of several slow months. Packing all the George R. R. Martin books more-or-less back to back may not have been the most brilliant of ideas. I’m about a third of the way through A Dance With Dragons and will probably finish while I’m on vacation at the end of this week. I have a rather cumbersome stack of books on my desk but I’ll be browsing for some serendipitous finds before I leave. For a summer vacation I need at least one horror novel so I’ll see what I can dig up.
My obsession with all things SMod has stymied my audiobook listening. I’ve started a stopped listening to The Broken Sword, and Hexed (the latter was actually rather disappointing) but am maybe 25% through the latest Dresden Files book: Ghost Story. I did a nice little twitter shout out from Kevin Smith for my post about SModcast/SIR, which gave me a nice little geek high.