Thursday, June 22, 2023

Book Review: Blood Country (The Raven #2) by Jonathan Janz

Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Page Count: 288 Pages
Publication Date/Year: 2022
Genre: Horror

I’ve been making my way through Jonathan Janz’s backlist over the last couple of years. About a year ago (June 2022), I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Raven, his take on the post-apocalyptic story, but with a very potent horror lacing throughout the story. Blood Country is the second novel in the series and the focus, as the title implies, is vampires.

Briefly, in the world of The Raven, a group of rogue scientists released a virus that transformed humanity into creatures out of our nightmares: werewolves, trolls, cannibals (the strength of the people they eat is added to their own), witches, and vampires. Dez McClane is a rarity, he was unaffected by the virus so he is a man without any added abilities. Since the first novel, he’s been searching for the woman he loves. The conclusion of that novel provided him with a direction to head: Blood Country, the land of the vampires. With the woman he saved (Iris), Dez sets out to find his girlfriend Susan and to hopefully right a wrong.

Reading The Raven is a must before diving into Blood Country as the two novels very much feel like two episodes of a larger story, and the story Janz is telling in these novels is an absolute blast. He puts us in Dez’s head, which allows Dez’s fears and doubts to be felt quite effectively. Before the events of the series, Dez lost his family and has blamed himself so his self-blame is only increased with the loss of Susan.

Dez, Iris and their other allies (Michael, a man who can control fire as a result of the changes to the world, a young boy named Levi, and a couple of other allies I won’t spoil) head to the heart of Blood Country, a high school which serves as the seat of power for the vampires, particularly the Vampire Queen. Once they arrive at the high school, the action gets more intense and the emotional twists and turns become more sharp.

The story is very brisk and works somewhat cinematically. I was able to visualize a lot of the action Janz was relaying the novel and felt myself turning the pages rather quickly as a result. In the relatively short space of the story (under 300 pages), Janz crafts a story that is equal parts breakneck plot and character. After having read a small sampling (4 novels at this point) of Janz’s work, I’ve found my reading sensibilities really sync up with the stories he writes. When I was younger, one of my favorite RPGs was Gamma World. I think what appealed to me about that game is something Janz nails so well, even if Gamma World leans more towards fantasy-based monsters and Janz is firmly planted in horror.  The mix of “our world” and something fantastical and horrific is what both these things capture so well. Ultimately, Blood Country was just pure fun for me because I love an over-the-top apocalyptic tale, especially when there are monsters and/or mutants of some kind.

After two novels in The Raven series, I was very pleased to learn there will be at least one more novel. The conclusion most certainly left a very clear path where these characters need go and I cannot wait to catch up with Dez and his crew. The world and characters seem rather fertile for more stories and the length of the two novels so far lend themselves nicely to an episodic, long-form story that could lead to more than just one additional novel.

© 2023 Rob H. Bedford

Thursday, April 06, 2023

In Search of Darkness: 1980s Horror Documentary Trilogy

I’ve been a horror fan for years, I cut my reading teeth on Stephen King, just as many “children of the 80s” did, as well as early Dean Koontz and Robert R. McCammon. I sort of skipped all the Goosebumps and Christopher Pike books, I was already on King early in my middle-school years and maybe even before that.

From a TV perspective I remember the show Tales from the Darkside with great fondness, too and the fact that it isn’t available a streaming service like Shudder boggles my mind. As relates to this post, specifically, I also was a fan of the horror movies of the 1980s. Movies like An American Werewolf in London, Gremlins, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce were movies I often returned to during my formative years. I remember being drawn to the video cassette boxes at my local mom & pop video store, Video Unlimited in Linden, NJ for many rentals. In those days, there was no Blockbuster Video, just mom and pop stores capitalizing on the home video craze.

Fast-forward a few decades and I learn of the documentary, In Search of Darkness and I’m intrigued. When I learned that the horror streaming service Shudder had rights to air it on their service, I signed up for the service. I’d wanted to sign up for Shudder for a while, but for whatever reason, the app wasn’t available in my smart TV and was eventually made available through Prime Video via amc+. This was January/February 2021 and I was recovering from shoulder surgery so there wasn’t much I could do except sit up straight. The first installment of the In Search of Darkness was an absolute delight. This documentary, like the best of them, was clearly a passion project for the creators. It was so much fun reliving some of those classic movies that are now much more readily available thanks to streaming services. It was wonderful to get both insider perspective on the movies from the people behind the scenes (actors like Hellraiser’s Doug Bradley, directors John Carpenter and Joe Dante, 1980s Scream Queen Barbara Crampton) as well as fans/media personalities like Phil Nobile, Jr. (Fangoria’s Editor-in-Chief Cinnemascre’s James Rolfe (f.k.a The Angry Video Game Nerd) and Daily Dead News’s managing editor Heather Wixson.

A few months later, the second installment of In Search of Darkness landed on Shudder after a successful crowd-funding campaign. The first installment shone its lens on the more well-known horror films like An American Werewolf in London, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Fright Night, and Pet Sematary that have entered the larger public consciousness with some smaller films like Dolls and Night of the Creeps thrown into demonstrate the breadth of the genre. 

In Search of Darkness Part II highlights some of the lesser-known films, or rather, the films that most horror-junkies know and might be considered cult classics. Movies like EvilSpeak, C.H.U.D., and Night of the Demons. If the first installment was something of a reminiscence and films to revisit, this second part was very much a “To Watch” list. As I said, with so many streaming services, many of these films can be found with a few clicks of the remote control. The creators also expanded some of the “panelists” / talking heads for this installment and more of the filmmakers including Nancy Allen (Carrie, Dressed to Kill), filmmaker Jackie Kong (Blood Diner), and one of my favorite professional wrestlers of all time, Chris Jericho!

Of course, a third installment would have to happen, right? Well, a crowd funding campaign through Kickstarter made sure that would happen. From past experience, I had a pretty strong feeling Shudder would eventually be airing the third installment, so I commenced a re-watch of the first two installments….all 9-ish hours of the first two volumes.

February 2023 rolls around and I'm finishing my re-watch of In Search of Darkness II and the third installment is about to release to Shudder. On Valentine’s Day, my wife gifted me something on a piece of paper… “Nothing says love like a nice cozy night or two or three or 666” along with an image of the three-disc set. She had the link to watch online, but I wanted to wait for the Blu-Ray to arrive. 

A big focus for the third installment was home video and some of the movies that were direct to video. While the first installment covered some of the "video nasties" elements of 1980s horror, there was more of a deep dive into people like Charles Band of Media Home EntertainmentEmpire Pictures (Ghoulies), and Full Moon Features (Puppet Master) and quite obscure movies like The Video Dead and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama. Some very obscure (to American audiences, at least) films were featured as well, like the Canadian film Things, Japan's Guinea Pig: The Devil's Experiment, and Italy's Hell of the Living Dead.

All told, the In Search of Darkness is a masterpiece, a piece of media lovingly created, meticulously detailed, and just pure fun. One hand hand, it is a lens to the past, on the other it can be seen as an elaborate curation of movies to watch. Seek it out if you are a horror fan, horror curious, or simply want to experience an exceptionally well-made documentary.

As for extras that came with the gift...

Not only did the Blue-Ray of In Search of Darkness III arrive, it came with the In Search of Darkness I and II and a nice slipcase for all three Blu-Rays, the three posters were part of the package. I got a sense that when they filmed the panelists for In Search of Darkness II the creators knew they were going to release a third installment. It is a common practice nowadays when film series are being made, so it shouldn't be a surprise, for example, when you see Chris Jericho in the same jacket and seat in both In Search of Darkness II and III

My wife also said for me to make sure that she’s awake when I watch the end credits.

You see, I acquired the nickname of ManBearPig a few years back and my wife wanted to make sure my name stuck out in the credits so she had them add me as Rob ManBearPig Bedford.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Book Review: Son of the Poison Rose by Jonathan Maberry

Page Count: 687 Pages (including appendix/glossary)
Publication Date/Year: January 2023
Genre: Epic Fantasy / Epic Horror / Grimdark

I was a big fan of Jonathan Maberry’s first foray into Epic Fantasy last year, Kagen the Damned; which was one of my favorite fantasy novels I read in 2022, so I was looking forward to diving into Son of the Poison Rose, the second installment of the Epic Horror-Fantasy.

I was not disappointed.

Son of the Poison Rose picks up almost immediately after the events of Kagen the Damned. Kagen is on the run, mentally, physically, and emotionally scarred as a result of the events of the first novel. He’s got a pair of trusted companions, Filia and Tuke, at the start of the novel with whom he is attempting to take down the Witch King who has conquered the Silver Kingdom, Kagen’s hope.

The first book is required reading before jumping into Son of the Poison Rose and there may be spoilers below.

Kagen is a great study in dealing with dread and post-traumatic stress … he witnessed his parents killed, his kingdom conquered, felt his gods abandon him, and learned the identity of the Witch King. He blames himself for many things that have befallen the world. A good chunk of the early narrative focused on Kagen’s self-doubt, fears, and not-so-positive coping mechanisms. He “recovers” and gains more focus. He comes to realize he was drugged so he couldn’t fulfill his duties of protecting the youngest children and heirs to the throne and also learns they were not actually killed.

I appreciated that Maberry devoted a significant amount of the narrative to the Witch King as he tries to cement his rule. That is proving quite difficult for the man once known as Herepath since his coronation was interrupted, thus throwing into question how powerful he truly is. His “children,” the aforementioned heirs of the empire twins Alleyn and Desalyn (whom the Witch King renamed Gavran and Foscor respectively, and has passed off as his own), are demonstrating a strength that is making it difficult for Herepath the Witch King to keep under his spell. Plus Herepath is obsessed with finding Kagen.

Maberry sets these two personalities at odds with each other along with the supporting characters for each. I’ve mentioned Tuke and Filia for Kagen already. Herepath has a mysterious, powerful, being with Lovecraftian roots join as advisor – The Prince of Games, who may be Nyarlathotep, but lists off other possible names he’s had in the past including Flagg (yes, Randall Flag, The Walkin Dude) and one very familiar to fans of Maberry’s Joe Ledger novels – Nicodemus. Remember, this book is set in “our world” but about 50,000 years in the future (A conceit I love) and fits in with how Maberry likes to link his stories together. The Prince of Games here comes across far more mischievous than I remember Nicodemus being in the Joe Ledger novels

Maberry also introduces readers to Kagen’s siblings, the twind Jheklan and Faulker , brings back Rissa from the first volume somewhat briefly, Mother Frey (another great character) as well as what I’d call a guest appearance from the vampire sorcerer Lady Maralina.

While Maberry established a fantastic, deep, mythology through smart world-building in The Sword of Kagen, more depth and richness is elaborated upon in Son of the Poison Rose. The Cthulhu/Lovecraftian elements become even more prominent and I loved it. I said about the first volume how well Maberry interwove horror elements into Epic Fantasy framework. That intermingling worked to an even greater degree in Son of the Poison Rose because he was enhancing and building upon a strong foundation with intriguing details.

The only criticism I can level at the novel is that there was a bit of a repetitive nature to some of Kagen’s self-doubt. It felt like he was going through the same conversations with himself more than a couple of times in maybe the first third of the novel. Granted, depression and self-doubt drive that kind of internal dialogue in reality. In the novel, it slowed the pacing just a bit for me. Thankfully, that is just a minor criticism because I was glued to the pages and loved how Maberry structured his chapters.

Son of the Poison Rose is a wonderful follow-up that sets things in motion for what I hope will be a thrilling conclusion in Dragons in Winter.

This series provides for a dark and intriguing take on the Epic Fantasy genre and will appeal to horror fans as well. Great stuff and Highly Recommended.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Completist: Duncan M. Hamilton's Dragonslayer Trilogy

I’ve decided to resurrect one of my old columns, at least for this particular post. The column in question: The Completist from the sadly closed SFSignal (still available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine). 

As I said almost a decade ago: I’ve read a lot of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror over the years and my aim with this feature is to examine those SFFH series which have concluded. In short, all books of the series are available to be read in some format, electronic or print, but ideally both. 

In this edition of The Completist, I’m taking a look at Duncan M. Hamilton’s Dragonslayer trilogy. I read and reviewed the first book for SFFWorld back at the end of 2019, this post will incorporate some elements of that review with my thoughts on book 2, Knight of the Silver Circle and book 3, Servant of the Crown as well as the series as a whole.

Hamilton began the series with Dragonslayer focusing on the protagonist of Guillot [Gill], a disgraced knight brought back from anonymity for that “one last fight." Exiled from the main kingdom of Mirabaya to his familial lands of Villerauvais, Gill’s days are occupied with minor squabbles of his demesne, but mostly drinking wine. He is woken from self-pity when an agent of the Prince tells him of a disturbance in the kingdom, small villages are reporting very unsettling things. The Dragons have been gone for hundreds of years…to the point few believe they ever existed. That is until what amounts to a royal dig accidentally wakens the Dragon Alpheratz. 

Much like Dragons being forgotten and thought to be mythical, magic has similarly disappeared and become scorned, and forbidden and those suspected of practicing magic are eliminated. A young woman in Gill’s village – Solène – is suspected of being a witch and is summarily set for execution. That is, until Gill steps in and saves her life. Those two characters provide much of the point of view for the story, but the other primary POV would be that of the woken Dragon, Alpharatz. We get a few views into Alpharatz’s head which provides a more “truthful” context of Dragons' once high place in this world. The Dragon makes for a very interesting character and while he is not evil, Alpharatz is very much an antagonist for this story and to humanity as a whole. 

Gill fits the trope of the grizzled veteran reluctant to return to the fray. Gill’s fears, anger, and self-pity help to give him a realistic bent. His character arc from when he is introduced as a drunk to his waking from that haze is a strength of the novel. Solène follows an equally rewarding character arc, as she comes to realize what her burgeoning powers of magic can mean. Her full background is somewhat of a mystery, but we’re introduced to her as a village loner, but she is far from a country bumpkin. Her smarts show through in how she navigates the treacherous pathways of court and how the world at large views those who wield magic. 

Set as the human antagonist is Prince Bishop Amaury del Richeau, a man who has sidled himself up close to the royalty. Amaury also has a rather dotted history with Gill, the two were combatants in the past and Gill struck a very potent blow on Amaury. 

Dragonslayer lays the foundation for a fairly familiar fantasy world and plays with the most iconic of fantasy creatures in a fun, familiar, and refreshing fashion. The second installment, Knight of the Silver Circle picks up hot on the heels of the first volume. As it turns out, Alpheratz was not the only Dragon in the world, but his appearance has essentially changed the world. Prince Bishop Amaury uses the threat of Dragons as an opportunity to dig his fingers deeper into the power base. He manipulates the new King into shaping laws that fit his needs all while sending people to search for a magical, long-thought mythical cup that will confer Amaury with great, sorcerous powers. Amaury’s hatred for Gill becomes more of a driving force and along with his lust for power, manipulation of the King, and drive to “Make Mirabaya Great Again” fully carve out Amaury as the Big Bad of the trilogy. 

More importantly, it is revealed that Alpheratz was not the only Dragon in the world. We meet a new Dragon, Pharadon, who steps into a point of view role, which makes for a more interesting plotline for the Dragons in the novel and provides insight into the history of the creatures in this world. We also learn that Dragons are able to shape-shift into human form, which allows for the creature to interact with Gill and other humans. 

Meanwhile, Solène and Gill have gone their separate ways as she tries to gain a better understanding of her magic because it could be deadly if it goes unchecked. She reunites with an old friend after she leaves Gill the magic cup that provides him with the extra boost he needs when fighting Dragons. She returns to Amaury under the auspices if trying to help him find the cup (while also learning more about magic), but comes to realize what a despot he is. 

Amaury’s daughter, Ysabeau is his most trusted agent and provides additional insight into the villain and another layer of his despicableness. She’s an interesting character and isn’t quite the villain her father is, nor is she heroic, either. I feel like she could support a novel focusing on her exploits following the conclusion of the trilogy. 

A deepening of the characters, more angst around Gill and his guilt and pain around his wife and child’s death add depth to the reluctant hero. A deepening of what Dragons are and their relationship to the world at large was most welcome, too. There was a great big hint towards the end of the novel and I felt a nice bit of resonance with what we saw of Godzilla’s “lair” in Godzilla: King of Monsters. Although books 2 and 3 of this series sat on Mount ToBeRead for a couple of years, I was very, very happy that I had book 3, Servant of the Crown ready to read the minute I finished Knight of the Silver Circle

With the cliffhanger-ish ending of Knight of the Silver Circle, Hamilton picks up the events as if he was just turning the page to a new chapter with Servant of the Crown. With the King on the sidelines thanks to Amaury’s misunderstanding of the magic the cup conveys, Amaury is ruling as Regent of the kingdom with the King indisposed. As a result, Amaury is more unhinged. 

In the second book, Gill acquires a squire, a young man named Val and Hamilton shows some of the story from his point of view. He’s an admirable young man who only wants to train at the academy to follow Gil’s path to becoming a knight, or Banneret. We also get to see more of the King in the final volume, though more from Gill’s perspective. Gill, who was burned by the previous King (and father of the current King) has his own misgivings about whomever sits the throne. I enjoyed seeing Gill appreciate the kind of man the King had grown to be through the third installment. 

The emotional weight of the first two volumes comes to a largely satisfying conclusion in Servant of the Crown, even if there are a couple of points of execution that marred it only slightly. Gill’s journey was enjoyable, but I think the most rewarding was following Solène’s character arc through three volumes. I also appreciated that Hamilton is not afraid to kill his darlings, there isn’t as much “plot armor” as one might expect in these three books, not all the characters survive. Especially a few of the supporting characters Hamilton managed to imbue with real heart. 

Dragons are the creatures that most exemplifies the fantasy genre. Many writers have tackled the great winged beasts, shown various shades of what these kinds of creatures could be from monstrous to intelligent and everything in between. Duncan Hamilton follows very closely with perceived tradition of the genre as a whole and the iconic mascot of the genre and adds some spice of his own with the lore and history of the creatures in this world. 

Hamilton tells his story at a great pace that makes the three-hundred page installments for each volume in very consumable volumes. I managed to read the second two books in the series while sitting on the train for two days commuting into New York City, which made those train rides seem to go past rather quickly. Thankfully, those two days were a one time thing.

The Dragonslayer trilogy is a fun, entertaining character-driven story that tackles some interesting themes along the way. It is a throw-back series in some ways. By that I mean it is very much in the classic vein with knights, magic, and Dragons. Where much of fantasy in recent years has trended toward Grimdark and some moral ambiguity with its heroes/protagonists, Hamilton’s story (maybe with the exception of Ysabeau), clearly defines the heroes and villains. I found that somewhat refreshing. This was an extremely entertaining, gripping trilogy that is worth your time. The books are available in trade paperback and audible/audio. With the very consumable length of the first book (and all three, frankly), it is worth your time to give the first book, Dragonslayer your time.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock - Definitive Edition from Saga Press

Michael Moorcock is one of the towering giants of Speculative Fiction, he’s been writing and publishing stories and novels since the 1950s, both of his own creation and as an editor. His most famous creation, Elric of Melniboné first appeared in a story called “The Dreaming City” in 1961. Since then Elric has appeared across the course of 11 novels and many stories. Those novels have been reprinted several times in several single novel editions as well as collected/omnibus editions. 

I first discovered Elric through the artwork of legendary artist Michael Whelan and first read Elric of Melniboné in the Ace paperback published in 1987 with the Robert Gould cover art. Elric didn’t’ click with me initially, so I set the book aside until one of the many times I joined the Science Fiction Book Club and I got one of their omnibus editions. When White Wolf books reissued all of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion novels in omnibus editions - including two editions featuring Elric Song of the Black Sword and Stealer of Souls - I “got it” and enjoyed the stories immensely. Other publishes have put together omnibus editions since.

That is all preamble for the main subject of this post: the new, gorgeous editions of the Elric Saga from Saga Press. Three books contain the Elric stories in chronological order, in Moorcock’s preferred order and preferred text. 

These books are gorgeous and are worthy editions to showcase Moorcock’s iconic creation. The omnibus/collections feature gorgeous artwork from the likes Brom, Robert Gould, and John Picacio among others.

The maps on the endpapers by John Collier are full color and some black and white images are included throughout each omnibus. Each book contains a readers guide and as well as a a foreword/introduction by genre giants Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore.

In chronological order, the omnibus editions are: Elric of Melniboné with cover art by Brom, Stormbringer with Michael Whelan’s iconic original DAW Books Stormbringer cover being re-used, and The White Wolf sporting Robert Gould’s cover from The Dreamthief’s Daughter.

Joe Monte is the editorial director of Saga Press and this republication comes across like a passion project. There is clearly a great amount of care and attention to detail with these books, to say they are anything less than “the definitive editions” of the Elric stories is underselling these tomes.

These editions commemorate the sixtieth year since Elric was unleashed into the world from Moorcock’s mind. Along with the three omnibus editions from Saga Press, there’s an entirely new Elric novel, The Citadel of Forgotten Myths, which my SFFWorld colleaue Mark Yon has reviewed and heaped with high praise: "a glorious return to one of Fantasy’s greatest characters that I stayed up reading much more than I should have, It does not pander, yet enhances what has gone before, adding a technicolor vividness to the complex multiverse of Elric."

It has been over 20 years since I read Moorcock’s Elric novels so I’m due to revisit the last emperor of Melniboné. I’d been considering diving back into the world and now that I have these lavish, books-as-art on my shelves, I am far more inclined to revisit.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Book Review: HIDE by Kiersten White

: Hide
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Page Count: 256 Pages
Publication Date/Year: 2022
Genre: Horror

We all played Hide and Go Seek when we were kids, right? How many of us played in an amusement park, let alone an abandoned and closed amusement park? Probably very few people were afforded that opportunity. That’s the basic premise of Hide, Kiersten White’s first novel for adults. The added layer is that 14 people are chose to play in the “Olly Olly Oxen Free Hide and Seek Tournament” in an Amusement Park that has been abandoned since the mid-1970s. The winner is promised fame and $50,000. 

Our main sightline into this novel is Mackenzie Black, a young woman who is the lone survivor of her father snapping and killing her family. She’s out of work and essentially homeless, so it is difficult for her to say no. Especially since she has spent most of her life hiding…hiding from the spotlight, hiding in the house when her father murdered the family.

Other participants in the latest game are an “internet celebrity,” a CrossFit instructor, a person hiding from his own cultish family, a street artist, an actress, among others. White does a very good job of providing just enough background for these supporting characters to make them distinct and real.

Each night the contestants go out and hide, with two people always being “found.” How they are found, nobody knows. The “found” contestants simply don’t show up at the check in in the morning. As more of the contestants are found, the remaining contestants begin to form bonds in pairs. This is not something Mack planned on or even wanted when she entered the contest. Her journey as a character provides a great deal of the novel's emotional weight. 

I couldn’t help but find parallels between this novel and one of Stephen King’s early novels written as Richard Bachman, The Long WalkThe Long Walk is a gem of a novel and could be considered one of King’s best. White takes a similar premise and adds in some of her own flavors, particularly around the history of the amusement park and how the contestant pool shrinks every day. There’s some borderline folk-horror elements to the tale, but White grounds the events and characters with enough reality that those elements are just as believable.

I thought she brought Hide to a very satisfying conclusion that could have some room for more stories.

I’ve also got to give a big shout out to the design of this novel, the end papers are wonderful. Anybody who has visited some kind of amusement park knows there’s a map you can get that shows where the rides are. Well, the endpapers in Hide Elwira Pawlikowska are clever in their depiction of “The Amazement Park” where the novel is set.

Hide is a fun, dark, vicious novel I have to recommend.

Monday, January 09, 2023

2022 Reading Year in Review

Two years in a row with a Reading Year in Review, crazy right? Well, since I resurrected the blog earlier in the year, I’ve been much more consistent with posting my reading wrap-ups so of course that calls for a year in review, right? As I’ve done every year I've posted a Reading Year in Review, here are the previous years I’ve put up a reading year in review, 2021, 2018, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006).

As I've done every year for the past decade and a half, I've contributed to SFFWorld's Favorite of the Year lists: Fantasy/Horror, Science Fiction, and Film/TV. Where those book lists are focused only on 2022 releases, here at the reawakened old Blog o' Stuff, I don't limit the list to just 2022/current year releases because there are a lot of good books out there from previous years I haven’t read. A few stinkers, too, but I try to keep my focus on the positive here at the B.O.S. I'm still very actively reviewing for both SFFWorld.

For the first time that I can recall and since I’ve been tracking my reading trends over the last 20+ years, Fantasy was not the genre that featured the highest number of books read, in 2022 that distinction falls to horror and by a decent margin. Horror is in a great place right now, publishers are giving it serious attention, new imprints have been launched, and horror film is getting more attention than ever. That said, here are the full statistics of the 81 books I read in 2022, I finished #81 on 12/31:
  • 41 2022/current year releases plus 1 2023 release
  • 29 reviews posted to SFFWorld
  • 41 can be considered Horror
  • 34 can be considered Fantasy
  • 12 can be considered Science Fiction
  • 31 books by authors new to me 
  • 41 Books by women
  • 13 total debut
  • 17 audiobooks
  • 5 books I DNF'd
So, without further adieu, below are the books I enjoyed reading the most in 2022. I've listed the books alphabetically by author last name, outside of the first three on this post.  If I've reviewed the book, the title will link to the review either here at the blog or over at SFFWorld with an excerpt of that review below the cover image. If I haven't given the book a full review, then I've provided a brief summary/reaction to the book.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King
(My Favorite Overall Novel Published in 2022)


Fairy Tale is a book I’ve been anticipating since I heard about it in January of 2022. I immediately thought of The Eyes of the Dragon and The Talisman when the title was announced and there are some parallels to those King classics, but this one is its own story. Charlie Reade lives with his father, a recovering alcoholic because his mother was killed in a freak car accident when he was younger. Charlie managed to push through his challenges, becoming a star athlete. When he befriends a mysterious man who lives in the oldest house in the neighborhood, Charlie learns of another world filled with magic, strange creatures, and evil. He also befriends the neighbor’s dog, Radar. 

There are little shout outs to past King works, it is a novel that blends so many things King is good at doing; youthful protagonist, monsters, character, friendship between an older and younger character, and dogs. I suspect Molly, AKA the Thing of Evil may have helped in shaping who Radar was as a character. I suspect some Constant Readers will end up naming their dogs “Radar” in the future. 

As I finished the book and as I write this a few months since reading the book, I’d say that Fairy Tale is maybe top 10 King novel for me, out of the near 50 or so books I’ve read by Sai King. 

The Violence by Delilah S. Dawson
(My Favorite Horror Novel Published in 2022)
I’ve been enjoying Delilah Dawson’s writing for a few years now, she’s incredibly consistent, incredibly efficient, and an incredibly smart writer. This book is her best book, hands down and one that I think will stand the test of time.

Sometimes when you are reading a book, you know you’re getting into something special. This feeling usually happens in the early chapters, a growing sense that the book is the writer’s Opus. Recently, I felt that way when I read Chuck Wendig’s The Book of Accidents and Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame. I also felt that way while I was reading Delilah S. Dawson’s The Violence.
A few elements can truly make a novel like this feel so grounded and believable. First are the characters, all of whom are genuinely real, living and breathing people as I’ve noted. Other little details are “landmarks” I’ll call them, tiny details that add a layer of grit and realism to the world. Enter Big Fred’s Floors, a store that Chelsea and the other characters pass numerous times, with an outdated, misogynistic slogan.
But it almost seems like everything she’s written (at least those novels I’ve read) have prepared her for this outstanding gem. The Violence is a novel that will stand out for its intelligence, for its compassion, for its “un-put-down-able-ness,”
Engines of Empire by RS Ford
(My Favorite Fantasy Novel Published in 2022)

When matriarch and Guildmaster Rosamon sends her children, youngest son Fulren, daughter Tyreta, and eldest son Conall far away, the action R.S. Ford’s Engines of Empire begins. … Ford does many, many things very well in this novel, which launches The Age of Uprising trilogy. He’s nailed the character portion of the novel, each of the Hawkspur family members came across as believable and empathetic. One of Fulren’s driving forces was to see revenge against Lancelin Jagdor, the man he sees as murderer of his father. To be fair, Fulren’s father challenged Lancelin to a duel and lost, but the outcome was the same – Fulren’s father was killed. The death of their father also weighs on Connall, but he’s caught between devotion to his family and the duty placed upon him as military man. Tyretta finds herself embroiled in a conflict far from the borders of her home, but affected a great deal by her homeland.
Perhaps my favorite element of this novel is the world-building. The way the magic of the pyerstones powers the technology, like airships and engines, is borderline steampunk. In fact, I’ve seen the setting described as “aetherpunk,” a term I surprisingly (having been reading this stuff for a few decades) wasn’t aware of before reading this book, even if I was familiar with the definition. Anyway, it is a fun setting and “-punk” varietal. Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass comes to mind, as does Tad Williams’s War of the Flowers as standout novels that sort of fit in this descriptor.

For the remaining favorites, some of these books were published prior 2022

Senlin Ascends (Tower of Babel #1) by Josiah Bancroft 

What makes this novel so enchanting is how it is everything an Epic Fantasy novel should be, but has similarities to so very few Epic Fantasy novels I’ve read. The closest two novels that come to mind for me are Alastair Reynolds’s Terminal World and Gregory Frost’s Shadowbridge… Title character Thomas Senlin takes his wife Marya to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. The tower is an enormous, continuously growing structure with each vast level, or "ringdom," essentially a world unto itself… Bancroft’s prose is elegant, it lulls you in like a comforting blanket, but the stories it reveals over the course of Senlin’s journeys through four of the forty "ringdoms" are harrowing, enchanting, and often dark. The fourth and final novel published November 2021, so I may have to binge the three remaining books I’ve yet to read.


The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
This happens to snag the “Best Debut” of 2022 spot for me.


… expound upon the pleasures of Cañas’s writing and storytelling. I immediately felt as if I was inside Beatriz’s head, I was drawn to her character and her plight. The way Cañas conveys the hacienda through Beatriz’s eyes is a delight, I was transported me to the grounds of the estate alongside Beatriz. Cañas also flavors the atmosphere with a lingering paranoia that grows into a mounting sense of dread that made it difficult for me not “just read one more chapter.” … What impresses me most is that The Hacienda is Cañas’s first published novel. She has an enchanted pen when it comes to the prose, telling the story from Beatriz and Andrés points of view that was extremely inviting. Every story element meshed together wonderfully…


Ghost Eaters by Clay McLeod Chapman

This is the third novel I’ve read by Chapman and he’s a must buy at this point. The story of Ghost Eaters focus on Erin and her toxic ex-boyfriend Silas. She keeps trying to get away from him and his addictions, but she finds it difficult. He eventually turns up dead of an overdose. Erin can’t hold on, she always feared he may wind up dead, but it actually happened and she has difficulty dealing with it. Then she learns about the aforementioned drug called Ghost. There’s an escalating creep factor that sets it apart. Chapman’s characters seem genuine and are empathetic and not since Jeff VanderMeer have mushrooms been so very creepy.

Come Closer by Sara Gran

Possession. One of the more rife subjects explored in horror novels. Sara Gran’s Come Closer takes a powerful approach to examine how easily such a possession can destroy a person. … Gran tells the story in Amanda’s matter-of-fact first person voice. That, for me, might be the most terrifying element of the story, just how “normal” some of the deplorable behavior and events are delivered. I had to re-read some passages with an unspoken “WAIT WHAT?” in my brain. This was an utterly addictive read that I managed to plow through in a Sunday afternoon


Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison

Harrison – I read Harrison’s debut novel The Return earlier in the year and I was very impressed so I was excited to try her new (in 2022) novel which was about werewolves. Well, one werewolf in particular. Harrison tells the tale of Rory (short for Aurora) Morris, who returns to her hometown to be by the side of her twin sister Scarlett during the last weeks of her pregnancy. On the way there, Rory is bitten by a creature and she finds her body going through changes. She’s stronger and transforms during the full moon. Harrison does a fantastic job of paralleling the experiences of the twin sisters, and telling a compelling, addictive story. I read it over the course of two days.

With Such Sharp Teeth, Rachel Harrison has written an instant/modern classic werewolf novel.

The Siren and the Specter by Jonathan Janz

When his old friend Chris suggests he spend some time at Alexander House, allegedly the “Most Haunted House in Virginia” for his next book project, David acquiesces. Dave becomes friendly with his neighbor, Ralph Hooper and much to his chagrin, kids whose parents are absentee parents, all of whom reside on the banks of the Rappahannock River. He also hears and sees things in the house and the area surrounding it. …and like many haunted house stories, David is haunted by his past and brings ghosts of his own when he arrives at Alexander House. …. A couple of days into reading the book I had a nightmare. I’m not saying reading The Siren and The Specter caused the nightmare, but I’m not saying the book didn’t cause the nightmare. Correlation…the only two books I can directly say gave me nightmares are Stephen King’s The Shining and Dan Simmons Summer of Night and what caused those nightmare were what I previously called the “edge of your senses” creepiness. Janz, in The Siren and the Specter, excels at the “edge of your senses” horror, as I said.

Kagen the Damned
by Jonathan Maberry

I’m a fan of Maberry’s Joe Ledger Military SF/Horror thrillers and was excited to see him turn his pen to Epic Fantasy. This has some nice horror flourishes; too, with a Cthuhlu/Lovecraftian vibe lurking in the background. From my review: “I realize the plot seems fairly straight-forward, revenge, quest, evil king and all that, but damn if Maberry doesn’t make it feel fresh and exciting. A large part of what makes this novel, and the world, feel so fresh is how much horror, specifically cosmic horror, informs the world-building. Elder Ones like Hastur and Cthulhu are major elements of the world’s mythology with the R’lyehian language appearing in the text. There are some decidedly dark and horrific passages and allusions throughout the majority of the novel and the Lovecraftian flavor is very welcome in an Epic Fantasy setting. It is a seamless infusion, and an elegant one that simply works to the point that I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. I love that element of this novel and world because the delight in which Maberry reveled during the world-building emanates off the pages.

Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi

This one’s description grabbed me for its very superficial similarity to books like King’s IT and Dan Simmons’s Summer of Night - friends reunite in their hometown to take down a monster they thought was gone. Those similarities, as I noted, are just superficial. Malfi’s tale is a little more confined, in that there are fewer characters and much more despair surrounds the characters; protagonist Jamie Warren is an alcoholic struggling with his addiction; his mother is a junkie who killed herself, thus brining Jamie back to Sutton’s Quay, VA. His disabled brother was found wandering. Dennis’s other friends Mia and Clay have their own demons, but they were very close friends when they were kids, but haven’t seen each other in years, since an eerie man known only as the Magician touched their lives. Malfi excels with his characters and building a sense of creepiness, between the Magician and the haunted region of Black Mouth itself. … He tells the tale in intertwining chapters that focus on the present and past when Jamie and his crew initially encounter the Magician. Malfi has a very deliberate pace and that pace works perfectly in Black Mouth to build up empathy for all the characters, the horrific nature of the Magician, the unsettling nature of Black Mouth itself, and how the tension builds towards the conclusion.

Take Your Turn, Teddy by Haley Newlin and narrated/performed by Thomas Gloom

Newlin played with the “Creepy Kid” trope just about as good as any horror novel I’ve read. I thought Gloom’s narration of the story enhanced the novel a great deal, too.

This is a book I’ve seen good things about on the various horror blogs and instagrammers I follow. This book starts out as a sad tale of a young boy named Teddy whose father is extremely abusive to his mother and becomes a horror novel mixed with a serial killer police procedural. Some creepy scenes, nice character development with the cast of characters, and nods to the Stephen King. Newlin drove the story around some bendy turns that weren’t expected, but worked very nicely. Haley also reviews for Cemetery Dance magazine online.

Lamentation (Psalms of Isaak #1) by Ken Scholes

Lamentation is Ken’s debut and the launch of the Psalms of Isaak five book saga. Set in a world that has survived a few apocalyptic events, magic and science coexist, though not always quite comfortably. The inciting incident – the city of Windwir being destroyed, particularly its legendary library – was because a robot cast a spell. From there, the novel winds through a wonderful path of alliances, manipulation, romance, politics, and redemption. … The novel is more concerned with how the characters react to the destruction of Windwir than anything else, so there isn’t too much world-building on display but the hints (robots and magic coexisting, essentially) are quite intriguing. There are also hints of a deep history to the world, so I'm hoping subsequent volumes will reveal more…. I’m quite excited to see where this series goes over the course of those next four novels.

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

The Book of Cold Cases is the second book I’ve read by St. James and it is just as good as the first one, The Sun Down Motel. In this book, Shea Collins, a young divorced woman has a hobby looking into open murder cases and runs the Website “The Book of Cold Cases.” Her latest obsession is the socialite Beth Greer, who was suspected killing two men in 1977, shortly after her parents died. Shea, in 2017, is able to convince Beth to tell her the full story of the murders and her life. It is fascinating story, that has hints of a ghost story, murder, and great character development. St. James excels at telling parallel stories as we learn about Beth’s from Beth as Shea listens intently.

Wayward by Chuck Wendig

Wayward, the sequel to his epic apocalyptic Wanderers. Chuck picks up those threads and weaves a powerful, gripping story of how the survivors of a plague-apocalypse (White Mask) try to survive as humanity with the “help” of an extremely powerful and convincing AI (Black Swan) who helped to “hand pick” a select group of people and protect them from the plague as a last hope for humaity. Picking up about five years after the events of Wanderers, Chuck keeps the pace addictive over the course of the novels lengthy 800 pages. There’s a sense of anger in this novel that is completely believable, especially with the returning characters like Shana Stewart and “President” Ed Creel, though scientist Benji Ray and rocker Pete Corley balance out that anger with signs of hope

Wayward was a fantastic novel, I was consumed by it for the week-and-a-half I was reading it. Never did I want to leave, never did the novel drag, never did things happen in the novel that didn’t make sense even if what unfolded over the course of the novel was not what I expected. I was surprised by where the story went, and at times even scared by a lot of what the characters had to confront. Put simply, a fantastic novel.

Into the Narrowdark (The Last King of Osten Ard) by Tad Williams

This is the penultimate volume in the series that is a sequel to his landmark Memory, Sorrow and Thorn four-book trilogy, which holds the top #1 of #2 spot as my favorite fantasy trilogy. In this novel, Tad deftly balances multiple points of view as the world is on the precipice of another momentous change. He does a fantastic job of balancing the weigh of each character’s storylines and weaving in plot threads dangling from 30 years ago. As it turns out, there’s been about 30 years since Memory, Sorrow and Thorn concluded and that’s about the same time that has elapsed in Osten Ard. … The conclusion/finale of this novel…just…damn you Tad! It was so well executed and is as much of a cliff-hanger ending as you’d want but also hate to read. I can’t wait for The Navigator’s Children. My only real slight on the book – and this is no fault of Tad Williams – is that DAW books decided to drastically change the look/cover art of the book. The legendary, iconic Michael Whelan painted all the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn covers and the two earlier volumes in this series (as well as many of the covers for Tad’s novels).

That's a wrap on my 2022 reading. Like I said, some names are familiar to those of you who know me or the reviews I've written over the years while others are new to me.  

Hope you all have a great 2023, happy reading!