Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bennett & Scull reviewed at SFFWorld

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted about the reviews of mine that have gone live at SFFWorld. This week's review roundup includes one from me and one from Mark, as is typical. Mark has been chugging along with new reviews on a nearly basis, while I’ve been going about every other week.

Last year the best novel I read was The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett so I was very excited about reading his lastest/2013 release American Elsewhere, which is a stunning novel in its own right:

After some getting to know Mona before she makes her journey to Wink, and a very creepy prologue, Bennett’s narrative takes hold and allows readers a peek into the window of a nearly perfect Small Town, USA. Mona arrives in Wink as a funeral is being held, which is not the most welcoming event to a new visitor but which also sets the tone for the novel. Of course Wink is not really normal in any fashion other than the most superficial. Posited in a canyon which is overlooked by Coburn National Laboratory and Observatory, much of Wink’s population was a support town for the lab. 

Bennett raises a lot of questions in the novel and the answers the characters provide are discovered through a narrative that is, for the most part, taut and flavored with unsettling and creepy scenes. Two primary mysteries plague Mona (and the reader) throughout the narrative – who was Laura and what was the nature of Coburn’s research? Mona’s discovery of those two things and how they relate to each other is filled with dread and some otherworldly elements that would fit right at home in an H.P. Lovecraft story, a Stephen King novel, or something in one of Neil Gaiman’s various invented worlds.

Mark seems to be on a quest through the debut fantasies of late 2012 / early 2013. The latest novel to be on the path of this quest is The Grim Company, Luke Scull’s debut novel and the launch of his Age of Ruin series:

…this is not family-friendly Fantasy, nor does it try to be. Here Luke is clearly going for an Abercrombie vibe rather than, let’s say, a David Eddings. Some readers will welcome this and be unperturbed about the plethora of sexual and genitalia references, volatile swearing and bodily function references throughout. I can handle that as much as the next man (or woman), but for me, it was so often used that it began to feel unnecessarily obtrusive. The copious references to arses and what could be/would be/ should be done to them, for example, would make a proctologist proud, but ‘in the end’ became irritating (see what I did there?) Whilst it could be said that such matters are rather typical in today’s gritty novels, here at times it detracted from the rather important point of showing and telling me what important is going on.

It is perhaps the range of characters and what they have to do that propel this multi-threaded epic tale. There is a lot going on. It is a world where magic is in decline. Wild Magic can be mined in this world because it exists as crystalline residue left by dying Gods at the time of the Godswar. It is used by the Magelords as a resource that is used to create Augmentors, their elite bodyguards, whose numbers are in decline. The magic is also wanted by a group of Dorminian rebels, known as the Shard, who hope that their procurement will enable them to strike back at Dorminia’s oppressive Magelord, Salazar. The task is taken on by a motley crew.

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