Wizards and Wolves: Review of Fool Moon, Dresden Files Book #2

Title: Fool Moon (Dresden Files Book #2)

Author: Jim Butcher

Genre: Urban Fantasy/Detective

Where I Got It: Borrowed from my mother

Score: 5 out of 5

So, my mother’s been reading The Dresden Files for a few years (though she’s a few books behind now).  Back in 2007, when the tv show came out on Scifi Channel, I watched it, though I hadn’t read the books, and I really liked it.  I know some fans of the books don’t much like the tv show, but I really enjoyed it.  I like Paul Blackthorne, the stories were fun, and I was sad when it wasn’t renewed for a second season.  Still, I knew I needed to read the books eventually, and last winter break I FINALLY got around to reading the first book (which I did not write a review for, sorry).  Though I can tell you this, I like almost everything about the book better than the show (especially Karrin Murphy – I have no idea why they changed her so much in the tv show), EXCEPT for Bob.  I miss Bob from the tv show. *sigh*

Anyway, I finished book 2 almost two weeks ago (I know, I know, it took me long enough to get around to the review), and I thought I’d share my thoughts on it, though it is far from a new book for most everyone else.

For those who aren’t familiar, The Dresden Files series is about Harry Dresden, a real-life wizard who lives in Chicago and works as a private investigator of a sort.  He will find missing people and things, take care of hauntings, etc… but no, he will NOT do love potions.  Of course, most people think he’s a crackpot, but Detective Karrin Murphy of Police Special Investigations believes him just enough to often ask for his help on cases that just don’t make conventional sense.  There is also the problem of the White Council, a ruling body of wizards with very strict rules about how wizards should behave – who don’t like Harry much.  There’s way more, of course, but I won’t go into now.

So, we come to book 2, Fool Moon, which finds Harry helping Karrin to investigate a series of extremely vicious murders that he suspects may be the work of werewolves, while also trying to keep ahead of the FBI, who have come to take over the case, don’t trust Karrin because of her past dealings with Harry, and don’t like Harry much at all.  Things get extra complicated in this book, as Karrin and the rest of the police begin to suspect Harry might be behind the murders, at least three different people want Harry dead, and he realizes that there are at least FOUR different kinds of werewolves involved.

What I Liked:

This book is so fast-paced its just ridiculous! I mean, my God, good luck catching your breath on this one! (I’ve just started reading book #3, Grave Peril, and that one looks to be the same way.)  I’ve mainly been reading YA so far this summer, this reading a more mature, darker, more fast-paced urban fantasy has been a joy.  I love how smart and dark this series is as a whole.  Butcher balances the fantasy elements and the detective story elements very well – because The Dresden Files ARE as much detective story as they are fantasy, and it’s obvious that Jim Butcher has a great love for both (and you all should know by now that I love both as well).

This books throws a lot of information at you very quickly, and runs through some pretty intense action scenes very quickly as well, and respects the readers enough to assume you’re going to keep up without having to slow down too much or over explain (though I do actually think there are one or two points where Butcher does over-explain, they are few and not too intrusive).

I did find in the first book of The Dresden Files, Storm Front, that it was obviously a first book.  Not to say that Storm Front isn’t a good book, because it is, but it was still obviously a freshman effort, so to speak.  I also had to take some time to get used to the first-person narration.  While first-person is common in some detective novels, it’s not so common anymore in fantasy, so that threw me off in the first book.  However, it is obvious that Butcher’s writing is improving steadily as he dives into Book 2, and I was more prepared for the first-person narration this time around.  I suspect each book will be just a bit better than the last.

Of course, I adore the main character, Harry Dresden.  While the plot lines are exciting and fun, and all the magic trappings are interesting and well thought-out, the real appeal, the only real reason people continue to read these books, is because of Harry Dresden.  He is a fantastic character: intelligent, gritty, sarcastic, chivalrous, very self-aware.  He’s self-deprecating, but he also has at least a basic idea of his own worth and skills.  He’s often scared, but brave enough to work past it.  He’s powerful, but not so powerful that everything comes to easily for him.  He’s endearing and sweet, and a hilarious bungler with women.  He’s honorable to a fault, despite himself.  And all the smart-ass remarks he either says or thinks, are just plain funny.

But,  of course, the plot – fast-paced, complicated, filled with dark motives and crazy-strong magic – was awesome too, but it’s hard to talk about without giving too much away, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

What I Didn’t Like:

Actually, I can’t think of much.  Again, there are a couple points when I think the narration falls into over-explanation, but that only happens a couple times.  And I do think the “wrap-up” chapter at the end is a bit too fast and cut-and-dry and sort of like reading the summarized conclusions of a science paper (okay, that’s a bit mean, but you get my drift).  But other than that, this book was pretty damn fantastic.

I have no doubt that many of you are already on board the Dresden Files bandwagon – I was a bit late to this particular party.  But still, if you haven’t read any of these books yet, I definitely recommend them. They are an absolute BLAST.  Here’s the Goodreads page; and here’s the Amazon page. Have at it!

As I mentioned, I have started reading Book #3 now, but I’m reading 3 books at once right now, and I’m also going on a trip at the end of the week, so it might be awhile before I finish it.  I’ll post a review of it whenever I do, though, I promise.

You can expect a review of Disney’s Brave tomorrow or Wednesday.  Til then, Bye!

100th Post Celebration

Science/Fantasy Monday: 100th Post Celebration

This marks my 100th blog post since I began this blog last July! WOOHOO!

I admit that 100 posts doesn’t seem like enough in a little over a year.  But it took me awhile to get the hang of this blogging thing, to find a good rhythm, a routine, a flow I could work with consistently.  And I think I’m starting to get it down now.  But whether its less than it should be or not, 100 posts is still a pretty cool milestone, and I say it’s time to celebrate!

So again: WOOHOO!!!

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with Jensen Ackles. DANCING. Like Michael Jackson. Yeah.  ‘Nuff Said.

But just in case that’s not enough, I’ve also borrowed Annalise Green’s Dancing Calvin & Hobbes:

To further celebrate, I thought I would share one more little tidbit from my WIP Midnight’s Knife, because a few people at least showed some interest last week.  This is a short one, especially compared the first scene I posted a couple months ago.  But I think it’s a fun little scene.  Also, as my current WIP is an Urban Fantasy, I’m telling myself that this post still technically fits into my Science/Fantasy Monday theme.  (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)

This is a flashback scene.  Therefore, Gabrielle (the MC) who is 20 years old in the story, is younger in the scene.  Also, I am still undecided on how well this scene fits into the overall flow of the story.  I may decide this particular flashback is ultimately unnecessary, in which case, this may be the only time anyone ever sees it.  So, that’s kind of cool, yes?

Anyway, enjoy!

TRAINING SESSION:

Arm block, spin kick, punch to solar plexus, wrist caught by opponent, twist arm, duck under, turn into strangle hold, punch to kidney, grip on arm still tight, open-hand chop to side of neck, grip loosened, fall away, round-house kick to chin, spin kick again.

“Gabrielle!” Pearce yelled from across the room.  “What the hell are you doing?”

Gabrielle froze, and her sparring partner backed away a few steps with an amused smirk.  Looking down at her feet and shuffling nervously, she muttered, “I was just…”

“Don’t ‘I was just…’ me,” Pearce said sternly as he strode up to her.  “What do you call that dance routine?”

“Uh…”

Pearce looked down at her imperiously.  “This is not a martial arts movie.  Or an exhibition match.  This is not about clean fighting, or graceful fighting, or ‘look how cool I am’ fighting.  This is about life or death.”

Gabrielle nodded, embarrassed.  Her sparring partner stood a few feet away, trying not to laugh.  She threw a glare in his direction.  Then Pearce crossed his arms and claimed her attention again.

“How old are you now?” he asked, though he knew the answer.

“Thirteen…” she mumbled.

“In other words, too old for this nonsense.  You could be on the streets hunting demons as early as next year, Gabrielle.  Stop playing around and get your act together.  Get it?”

“Got it,” she said sullenly, her eyes fixed on her feet.

“Good.”  With that Pearce strode away again.

Gabrielle sighed glumly and pulled absent-mindedly at her braid hanging over her shoulder.  Her dark hair was getting long, down past her shoulder blades now, and it was starting to get in the way.  With a frustrated groan, she picked up the end of her braid and tossed it angrily over her shoulder.

“Well, I thought your dance moves were very pretty,” her sparring partner said with a laugh.

She turned to glare at him.  “Oh shut up, Patrick,” she said, and stuck her tongue out at him.

He laughed again.  “And if that braid is getting in the way, I’m sure we could find a pair of pruning shears and take care of that with one snip.”

“Can we get back to sparring now?” Gabrielle demanded.  Patrick grinned and dropped into his fighting stance.

“Of course.”

And just like that, they were back to business.  Patrick Arrow, Pearce’s nephew and the current Sword of the Arrow family, was five years older than Gabrielle and eight inches taller than her.  It was as mismatched a fight as Gabrielle could imagine.  But she was learning quickly.  And she found that with her long legs and quick reflexes she could hold her own against him for short amounts of time.  But eventually his longer arms and superior strength would get the best of her.  When Gabrielle finally end flat on her back with Patrick standing over her, he flashed her a thousand-watt smile, pushed his shaggy dark hair out of his darker eyes, and held a hand out to help her up again.

“You’re getting there,” he said warmly.  Then he added with a teasing grin: “but you’ll never be as good as me.”

There it is, folks.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Please feel free to chime in on the comments.  I can handle criticism, I promise.  And I’ll see you all back here on Bookworm Wednesday!

The Beginning, Middle, and End Blogfest

On her blog, Annalise Green decided to enter the Beginning, Middle, and End Blogfest hosted by Kate Larkindale, for which you post the first, middle, and last paragraphs of your WIP.  I’ve never heard of such a thing, but it sounded like so much fun I decided I had to do it too!

As some followers know, my current WIP is an urban fantasy called Midnight’s Knife, which is about a woman who works as a demon hunter for the Catholic Church.

So, First Paragraph:

Gabrielle was bored, and bored was not a safe place to be with Gabrielle.  It led to… messes.  “Pearce, I’m bored,” she whined.  Pearce looked up from his newspaper to give her a long-suffering look, a look that said clearly ‘oh lord, no.’  When Gabrielle made a mess Pearce was invariably the one stuck cleaning it up.

Middle Paragraph (or as close to it as I can figure):

“Care to tell me what the hell this is about?  ‘Cause I’ve got a manicure appointment in an hour,” Gabrielle jeered.  She sat at the wide wood table of an interrogation room, Detective Edwards seated opposite her with a triumphant expression on her face.  Gabrielle leaned back against the lightweight aluminum chair and crossed her arms over her chest.  Fury bubbled just beneath the surface of what she hoped was a calm-and-in-control exterior.  At this point she couldn’t be certain how believable her unconcerned expression was; Detective Edwards would have thought she was the devil even if she had wings and a halo floating over her head.

Last Paragraph:

Behind them, the demon stayed in the shadows, watching but not moving.  One last time, Gabrielle turned, her gray eyes piercing the veil of darkness and pinning him with her gaze.  Run, her hard gaze told him, run and hide, because I’ll be back on duty soon enough.  And the demon backed away, turned, and ran.

*

Yeah… this is a very LONG WIP.  I finished the first draft with 30 chapters and 165,755 words.  Which means you aren’t getting MUCH from these snippets.  However, I also posted one long scene from the first chapter a few months ago: here, that might give you an idea of the overall atmosphere of the novel.

Please tell me what you think! I’d love to hear any and all comments, critiques, whatever.  Obviously, it needs a lot of work, and I’m TRYING to find time to work on revisions in between classes.  But so far that hasn’t worked out too well.

In any case, hope you enjoyed this impromptu addition to my usual blogging schedule.  See you tomorrow for Free-For-All Friday!

Midnight’s Knife: Gabrielle Wrath

I’ve been thinking and thinking about whether or not I should post some excerpts of my WIP: Midnight’s Knife.  I’ve been ridiculously indecisive about the whole thing.  But, thanks to some enthusiasm on Twitter and here, I finally decided to just go ahead and put up at least one scene.  And here it is.   This scene is a bit long, but its one of my favorites and its a fairly complete entity.  This will probably be the opening of the first chapter, though I’m still debating if this the best way to introduce the main character, Gabrielle Wrath.  (For a summary, or two, of Midnight’s Knife, I direct you to Wednesday’s post.)

I would greatly appreciate any and all feedback.  I promise I can take criticism.  I’ve necessarily developed a pretty thick skin over the years.  I would like it best if you would be willing to give me some idea on what does work and what doesn’t (I’m hoping at least SOME of it actually works…).  Oh! And I should warn you now, there is some fairly graphic violence and a curse word or two.

And now, without further ado, a scene from Midnight’s Knife:

Gabrielle walked the streets of downtown, whistling, ignoring her surroundings, and swinging her keys in tight circles on the end of a lanyard.  It was ten o’clock at night, dark but for the street lamps and the occasional neon sign.  The soft soles of her flat brown boots rolled over the pavement without sound, and her brown leather jacket did not even whisper with her movements.  Her dark pixie-cut hair fluttered in the breeze, and her storm-gray eyes shimmered in the dim light.  There was little movement around her.  A couple men in business suits walking down the sidewalk on the other side of the street, probably on their way to a bar.  Or a strip club.  Cars going past her every few minutes, most of them trying to get out of downtown and home to their quiet suburbs.  To say she was bored would be laughable.  She had passed boredom days ago.  Weeks ago.  She was so far past boredom there were now several states between them.

She had arrived six months ago on a job.  She had finished the job in two months.  Then she’d spent a few weeks sight-seeing, relaxing, and walking through downtown at night looking for something to keep her busy.  But the charm of relaxing and sight-seeing had long since worn off.  Boredom did not even come close.

Her whistling stopped, and she put her keys back into her jean pocket.  She thought she heard something.  Something like breathing maybe.  But she shrugged to herself and kept walking.  Her face was unconcerned and incurious as she glanced around at buildings and street signs.  Looking oblivious of the danger a pretty young woman of twenty might come across on city streets at night.  Looking as if she had not a thought in her head.  One might therefore be excused for thinking that she, like any normal young woman, would be shocked and terrified to find two large arms lunging out from the dark of an alley to grasp her, one hand covering her mouth as the other clutched her around the waist.  The thing attached to the two arms expected her to scream and struggle.  Any normal young woman would have.

But Gabrielle was not any normal young woman.  She relaxed her body and allowed the arms to drag her backward into the alley.  Once out of the light of the street lamps, she dropped her body, twisted her hips, and let her assailant’s own momentum knock him off his feet.  Her assailant lay sprawled on his back, staring up at her in shock as she turned to look at him fully.  Her eyes could see him as clearly as if it were broad daylight, could see the dirty clothes, the yellow eyes, the elongated incisors.

“What the hell!” her attacker gasped, looking confused and stunned.

“You really should be more careful who you ambush,” she said conversationally.  She pulled a long knife from its hiding place in a carefully concealed pocket in her jacket and almost laughed when her attacker continued to gape at her.  This was hardly going to put a dent in her boredom, she thought bitterly.  Stupid clueless vampire.

“Who the hell are you!” the vampire demanded, half-fear, half-indignation.

“Who do you think, you idiot?” Gabrielle said scathing disgust.  “I’m a Sword.”  The vampire’s eyes widened in renewed terror as Gabrielle moved toward him in a blur of motion.  Just as she raised her arm to slide the knife through his neck, the vampire looked up and behind her.

“You lied to me!” he wailed, as Gabrielle sliced halfway through his neck with one stroke to the left, and finished the cut with the return stroke to the right.  Oh shit, she thought, as she began to spin on the ball of her foot.  And then it all happened at once: the vampire she had just decapitated burst apart with a flash of bloody-red light, leaving bits of bone, blood, and dust in his wake; Gabrielle found a second vampire standing behind her; the vampire wrenched the knife from her hand with a deep growl and dropped it the ground beside him.

So much for being bored.

The vampire gripped Gabrielle’s arm and swung her against the brick wall to her right.  Hard.  Gabrielle’s spine struck the brick and all the air rushed from her lungs, but she managed to wrest her arm from the vampire’s grip and stay on her feet.  For just a second they stood facing each other, sizing each other up as quickly as some people blink.  This second vampire wasn’t like the first.  He was clean and neatly dressed for one thing.  His eyes were red, which meant he was getting much more blood than the first had been.  And he had obviously used the first vampire as bait, which meant he was both smart and ruthless.

“Can I help you?” Gabrielle asked, unconcerned.  She stood on the balls of her feet, her knees bent, her hands loose and ready at her sides, prepared to move in a flash if needed.

“I’ve been watching you for a week now,” the vampire told her.  “But others keep beating me to the punch, so to speak.  There always seems to be some other demon to keep you occupied for the evening.”

“It just sucks to get cock-blocked, doesn’t it?” she asked with a smirk.  The vampire curled his lip in anger and without another word lunged forward.  She ducked his attempt to get his hands around her throat, and gave him a right hook to the jaw.  The punch barely made him stumble, but she quickly followed it up with a straight punch to the nose, then one to the solar plexus, and a finally a knee to the groin.  He was a vampire, but some sensitive areas never changed.  He grunted and stumbled backward as he bent at the waist.

“Bitch!” he growled.  But Gabrielle didn’t wait for him to continue.  She kicked him in the side of the head, and as he collided face-first with the brick wall, she dove for the knife he had wrenched from her earlier.  But before she could get her fingers around the hilt, the vampire was on top of her.  His fingers dug into her throat.  She rolled and slammed an elbow into his face, but he did not let go.  She tried to pry his fingers open, but his vice-grip did not loosen.  Her throat closed and her lungs screamed.  Brightly-colored spots danced in her eyes.  The vampire’s teeth gleamed as he grinned.

Gabrielle let go of the vampire’s hands and reached her own hands out to his throat.  He laughed at this, but she gripped his chin and maneuvered one hand behind his head.  With one quick motion she twisted hard and heard his neck snap with a satisfying crack.  His motor control temporarily impaired, the vampire let go and fell sideways off her.  Gabrielle climbed to her feet, swaying a little and coughing as her lungs tried to catch up.  She knew she needed to retrieve her knife before the vampire recovered, but spots still filled her sight and she could barely keep her footing.

Too soon, the vampire’s head twisted back to its normal position and he came to his feet as well.  Laughing.  “You stupid bitch,” the vampire sneered.  “Snapping my neck is hardly going to kill me.”

“I’m perfectly aware of that, thank you,” Gabrielle said, her voice just a little breathless now.  She glanced around for the knife.

“Looking for this?”

He held her knife tightly in his hand.  Damn.

“Now what?” he gloated.

Without responding, she tackled him, slamming him first into the brick wall and then into the ground.  The vampire did not have time to react as she shoved him face first into the pavement, twisting one of his arms behind his back.  He grunted and struggled, but for the moment at least, could not dislodge her.  Before he had a chance to try again, she raised one knee high and then brought her leg down with all the force she could muster, pounding her heel straight into the back of the vampire’s neck.  Every vertebra in his neck shattered and she could feel each tiny crackle and snap through her boot.  The vampire let out a gurgle that could have been a groan and could have been a giggle at the fact that even this would not kill him.  But Gabrielle knew that.

Pressing one knee between his shoulder blades, she knelt down to him.  “You seem to think I need that knife to kill you,” she said.  “It may be the fastest and easiest way, but I assure you, it’s not the only way.”  With that, she reached out both hands and grasped his head.  Her fingers kept an iron grip on his skull and she twisted hard, like twisting a stubborn lid off a jar.  His head snapped to the side but for a few moments moved no farther.  But she kept twisting and pulling, her knuckles going white and his eyes going wide.

The vampire let out another gurgle that might have been “no” and could have been “oh.”  Gabrielle continued to twist and pull.  There were several loud pops as the tendons in his neck tore.  The vampire screamed.  Gabrielle gritted her teeth, knowing this was about to get nasty.  The neck muscles resisted and her arms trembled with the effort.  Then suddenly, as if a dam had crumbled down, the vampire’s head turned a full three-sixty degrees plus a few degrees, and came free as the skin ripped in a surprisingly clean line.  Blood splattered Gabrielle’s hands, arms, face, leather jacket, and jeans, and quite a bit of the pavement around them.  Blood bubbled out of the torn arteries for a minute as the vampire’s undead heart slowly came to a halt.  Then, as Gabrielle still knelt over it, the body burst apart as the previous one had – showering her in bits of bone and dust.

Slowly, Gabrielle stood and tried to brush some of the bone and dust off, but it clung to the wet, sticky blood, coating her in a disgusting sticky, gritty, grisly mess.  She sighed heavily.  Her jeans were definitely ruined.  And she wasn’t too sure about the jacket either.  But at least that was two less vampires to worry about.  Only, now she was bored again.

And there you have it, folks.  Please, please, please leave a comment! I’m not above begging.  In fact, I’m begging right now.

Practice in the Art of Summaries and Log Lines

Let me begin with a confession: I seriously cannot summarize things to save my life.  I’m horrible at it.  I always feel like I’m either being way to vague or not giving nearly enough information.  I can’t find a happy medium.  This is just as true for my own work as it is for summarizing someone else’s work.  In my college courses, when I’m required to write short summaries and annotated bibliographies all I want to do is tear my own hair out from the frustration.  I know that for a novel summary, you need to introduce the main character, the antagonist, and main conflict.  I know it should be focused on the action.  However, this isn’t always as easy as it seems, especially when you have a few different conflicts all intertwined with each other, which is usually how my plots turn out.  You need to give the readers a good idea of the plot without getting caught up in the all the details, all the twists and turns.  It’s HARD, people!

That said, I know I have no choice but to write a summary and log line for Midnight’s Knife.  It’s simply a part of the process.  So I’ve been working on it for the last couple days.  And now I’d like to share some of what I’ve come up with, and get some opinions.  Please tell me what you think.  I need all the help I can get.

This is the first one I wrote:

Almost eight hundred years ago, a priest of a secret Catholic Order gathered thirty men and women and, using a mix of Christian and pagan magics, blessed them with special abilities and a Holy Calling to fight demons in the Name of God.  And he called them the Gladii Dei, the Swords of God.  The descendant lines of these men and women are called The Thirty Families.  At all times, one person from each family is Called to be a Sword, to continue the Holy War against the demons and protect humanity.

Gabrielle Wrath is a Sword — taken from her family to be trained at the age of ten, she has been hunting demons for ten years.  Filled with anger and eager for a fight, she goes to Chicago to investigate unusual demon activity, only to find things have suddenly become much more complicated.  Now, she must face an inexhaustible enemy and find a way to protect the magic that binds the Swords to their fate, or risk losing the power of the Swords forever and thus allow the demons to dominate the earth.

However, she has suddenly discovered something about herself she never thought could be possible.  And as she tries to deal with new-found feelings, feelings the Church deems a sin, she begins to wonder if the Swords are even worth saving.

I’ve decided I don’t like this one much at all.  Too much of it is focused on backstory, which the readers will get within the first few chapters.  Also, parts, I fear, give too much away, and other parts are far too vague.

My second, version is more concise, avoids too much of the backstory, and gives more useful detail about what the plot is actually about:

Gabrielle Wrath is a Sword of God, a hunter with a Holly Calling employed by the Catholic Church.  When she is sent on a routine mission to kill a demon in Houston, she expects a quick easy assignment that will barely relieve her boredom.  However, as a surge of demons begins to overtake the city, she realizes that there is something much larger at stake.  To make matters worse, fellow Sword and surrogate brother Patrick Arrow has gone missing, her new friend Tabitha has made her personal life a confusing mess, and her partner Pearce fears she may give in to sin.  Now, as everything Gabrielle believes is turned on it head, she must find a way to fight an inexhaustible enemy and protect the magic of the Swords or risk losing the power to prevent the demons from dominating the earth.  But there’s one more problem: she’s no longer sure she wants to.

That one, I think, is probably pretty close to what I want a paragraph summary to say.  It’s so difficult to find the balance of giving enough detail about the plot to get the reader’s interest without giving away too much.  I think I’m a little closer to that balance here.

Then, I have a short two-sentence summary:

When Gabrielle Wrath, a Sword of God, goes to Houston to deal with a demon problem, it all seems so routine.  But as an inexhaustible surge of demons begins to overtake the city, and a woman turns her personal life upside down, Gabrielle begins to realize that there may be a whole lot more at stake.

And a one-sentence, log line, which was harder to do than it had any right to be:

A demon hunter employed by the Catholic Church must face an inexhaustible enemy and her own beliefs  or risk allowing the demons to overrun the earth.

I’m not sure if this log line says enough.  I was unsure about using the phrase “demon hunter,” but at the same time if I said “Sword of God,” without the explanation that appears in the longer summary, no one will know what I’m talking about.

Obviously, writing short summaries and log lines is an art in and of itself, and its not one I have the talent for.  But I guess all I can do is keep trying until it comes out right.  And, of course, as I’m still in the drafting and revision stage, I’ve got plenty of time to agonize over it before I’ll need to have one ready to use.

Are any of you really good at this kind of thing?  If you are, how did you learn?  Any suggestions or sources you can send my way?  And, seriously, any opinions on my first attempts?

#ToBeReMo 2: On Dark Paths

As I mentioned last Friday, I was reading book #2 for #ToBeReMo and would likely have a review of it up for Wednesday.  As promised, below you will find a review of On Dark Paths by Andrew Kincaid.  But first, a couple quick updates and a few questions for my readers:

1) For those who missed my very hyper extra blog post on saturday night, I FINALLY finished the first draft of my current WIP, Midnight’s Knife.  For further ranting on that issue, I refer you to Saturday’s blog: “Time to Celebrate! I Finished Something!”

2) I am curious to know whether putting any excerpts from Midnight’s Knife would be of any interest to anyone, or if that would be (as Kristen Lamb has said on more than one occasion) essentially shooting myself in the foot.  Should I just wait until I have a finished product to sell to all you lovely folks?

3)  Anyone have any good suggestions for places to learn more about writing summaries/synopses and queries?  ‘Cause I know NOTHING on the subject.  I’ve never gotten far enough along to worry about it before.  I have Bob Mayer’s book The Novel Writer’s Toolkit, which I think has a chapter about such things, but other than that… I’m clueless.

4)  I was digging through some old files and came across fragments of a short story I started — a sort of magical realism kinda thing about a woman whose best friend has disappeared off the face of the earth without a trace, except for strange reports of sightings.  I think I might tackle that as well, in between revising Midnight’s Knife, so wish me luck.

And now, without further ado, my review of On Dark Paths:

On Dark Paths is a collection of horror short stories by Andrew Kincaid, available as an ebook on amazon.com.  These stories peer into the darkness that sits just beyond the edge of normal existence, and sometimes deep inside the self.  I would not call these stories frightening exactly, though I am as a rule very hard to scare so perhaps I’m not the best judge of such things.  However, they are certainly entertaining.

Of the short stories in this collection, I enjoyed “The Bite” because it does something somewhat unusual – speaking from the perspective of a zombie, rather than those running from the zombie.  “It Came At Midnight” and “The Thing That Smiles” both effectively play on some of the most common fears of children (fear that often stick, despite ourselves, into adulthood): the thing under your bed, and the creature outside your window.  For me it was never the monster under the bed or in the closet but the noise outside my window that gave me pause, so “The Thing That Smiles” hit a little closer to home than did “It Came At Midnight.”  I suspect, however, that most will find “It Came At Midnight” the creepier of the two.  I also enjoyed “Benton’s Station” as the creature in it appeared to me to be something of an homage to Lovecraft.

Some of the stories in this collection are problematic for a few reasons.  For one, I think some, most specifically “…And the Truth Shall Set You Free,” “Plop!”, and “Where the Darkest of Dark Things Dwell,” try too hard to be deep and philosophical, rather than relying on the strength of the story and allowing the readers to come to their own conclusions.  Also, sensory descriptions are sometimes rather lacking – it is obviously an attempt to try to leave things unsaid so that the readers may fill the image with whatever horrifying thing they can think of, but we are not always given enough to go on.  At other times the exposition is full of background information that is far too long and often unnecessary for the story.  This is especially true in “Benton’s Station: which would, I believe, be stronger without much of the first 8 pages (on the Kindle) and a few pages from the middle (out of a story that is 49 pages on the Kindle).

Lastly, some of the images and concepts start to feel a little repetitive and recycled.  There are several stories involving creatures that snatch people in order to eat them.  On several occasions the 1st person narrator declares something along the lines of “I don’t remember much after that.  I cam to hours later…” as if to avoid having to explain scenes in further detail or fill in the narrative.  And I saw descriptions of “maggot-white” hands and faces, and demonic cackling, in at least 3 or 4 different stories.

All that being said, many of the stories are still highly enjoyable.  I think my favorite might be “Pandemic Hysteria” because the monsters, at last, are not supernatural creatures from the underworld but merely humans being stupidly, horrifyingly human.  And that kind of story, in which the horror is entirely too believable, is the kind that has power to me.  So, while these stories are not exactly scary (at least not to me), if you enjoy thought-provoking tales with more than their fair share of twisted darkness, then you should enjoy On Dark Paths.  It is not a perfect work, but it is an admirable debut effort, and I believe that Andrew Kincaid is someone worth keeping your eye on.

I hope you’ll take a few moments to comment on my questions at the top.  See you all on Friday!

Recommended Reading: Forsaken by Shadow

Hello all! I’m currently in Delaware visiting one of my best friends.  I flew in on Monday morning.  Today and tomorrow (Tuesday and Wednesday) we’re planning a trip to the beach, and I don’t think I’m going to bother bringing my laptop with me, so I figured I should post my usual Wednesday blog this morning before we leave.  Because I’ve been so busy preparing for the trip, and then spending time with my friend once I got here, I don’t have anything earth-shattering to share with you all today.  However, I would like to offer another little reading recommendation.

image from kaitnolan.com

Forsaken by Shadow by Kait Nolan:

I bought this urban fantasy ebook novella on my Kindle, intending to read it during the flight from Houston to Delaware (despite the fact that my flight left at 7am, I woke up at 4:30am, and by all rights I should have slept the whole way).  It kept me entertained for about the first two hours of my flight, and I really enjoyed it.

Forsaken by Shadow is the first installment of what I assume will be a series of novellas (and perhaps novels?) about the Mirus – essentially a society made up of magical and mythical creatures and people, who live in secret among humans.  A few of these creatures include the usual vampires and werewolves or wolf-shifters, as they are called in the novella; they also include a few more exotic creatures like the Drakyn – who can shift with ease from human-form to dragon.  The Mirus also include the Shadow-Walkers, who have the ability to travel through shadows, which brings us to the two main characters of the novella.

Forsaken by Shadow opens with Cade Shepherd who awakens in a hotel room with burned hands and no memory of his life.  He has no idea who he is, how he got to a hotel in the middle of Las Vegas, or what he’s supposed to do.  Fast forward ten years later and despite never recovering his memories, Cade has made a life for himself as an Ultimate Fighting Champion, with a few friends and comfort, and an unabated to desire to know his past.

Enter Embry Hollister.  She knows who Cade really is.  Ten years ago Cade Shepherd was Gage Dempsey, a human taken in by Embry’s father, a Shadow-Walker, and taught the skills of the Shadow-Walkers despite laws against it.  His injured trying to protect Embry, and his memory stolen my magic.  Now Embry must return his memories in order to recruit his help as a Shadow-Walker to save her father.

This is a fun, entertaining, story with interesting likable characters.  The novella is just long enough to give the readers some time to invest in the characters and get a glimpse into the society of Mirus.  And the romantic scenes and action scenes are well-balanced.  It’s a nice way to spend a couple hours.  I’m planning to pick up the next novella in the series, Devil’s Eye.  However, I hope Kait Nolan decides to write a longer full-length novel or two in the series.  I prefer stories that build up slowly, give me time to really get into the characters, something I can sink my teeth into it, as it were.

For anyone who’s curious, here’s Kait Nolan’s website.

Has anyone around here read it already?  Or Kait Nolan’s other work?  Please add your opinions to the comments! The more the merrier.

The Alternate Universes and Gritty Side-streets of Fantasy

Let’s face it, there are so many sub-genres of fantasy, and so many varying opinions on what exactly make  up the difference between each sub-genre, that it is extremely difficult to keep them all straight.  Dark fantasy, high/epic fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy superhero fantasy, mythic fantasy, sword-and-sorcery.  I could go on.  But I’d like to focus on what I think of as two of the bigger sub-genres: high/epic fantasy and urban fantasy.

The most basic distinction made between high/epic and urban fantasy is that the former takes place in alternative or “secondary” worlds that are entirely fictional, while the latter takes place, more or less, in the real or “primary” world and in a contemporary time.  After that, the definitions start to get a little messy.

In my head, I tend to equate high/epic fantasy with most sword-and-sorcery, but this isn’t strictly accurate.  High/epic fantasy, while often set in medieval-ish landscapes and filled with sword-fighters and sorcerers, can just as easily take place in more modernized settings, as long as that setting is not our real world.  For instance, Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is generally considered high/epic fantasy despite the fact that the main setting is an alternate universe version of Victorian Oxford (with what might be considered steampunk influences).

Also, high/epic fantasy usually (maybe always, but I don’t like that word “always”…) contains suitably epic conflicts of good vs. evil that involve world-ending consequences.  On the other hand, sword-and-sorcery (according to the Wikipedia page), is generally filled to the brim with medieval-ish or barbaric settings (think Conan the Barbarian, one of the staple examples) and sword-wielding heroes, but also generally involves “smaller” more localized plots with conflicts that involve one person’s fate rather than the fate of whole worlds.

Knowing all that, I still tend to picture knights in shining armor when I think of high/epic fantasy because so many of the best examples contain all the elements of sword-and-sorcery as well as the epic plots and grand-scale stakes.  The ones that immediately come to mind are J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince series, just to name a few of my personal favorites.

Another common overlap problem is between high/epic fantasy and historical fantasy.  However, true historical fantasy should be set in actual real world historical settings such as ancient Rome or World War II, whereas high/epic fantasy should still be set in fictional worlds, though they made be inspired by historical settings.  Take, again, the example of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The first book, The Golden Compass, takes place in Oxford, but its not any Oxford the real world ever saw, and the details of the world are fantastical and entirely made-up by Pullman.

Urban fantasy runs into similar problems.  Everyone agrees that urban fantasy should be set not only in the real world but in a modern/contemporary time, but beyond that it gets confusing.  Someone in a NaNoWriMo thread discussing the differences between high and urban fantasy commented (mostly joking) that urban fantasy always entails a bad-ass woman in leather and high-heeled boots who fights monsters of some kind.  Someone else replied: no, that’s paranormal romance.  Then the question pops up: what exactly is the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and someone else added in magical realism.  All three take place more or less in the here and now, and all them contain some element of magic or the supernatural, but all three are still very different creatures.

First of all, magical realism, while it certainly takes elements from fantasy and could be argued as a sub-genre, is generally lumped in with the more literary/mainstream forms of fiction.  Magical realism springs from a literary movement in Latin America, though it has become a wide-spread popular form around the world (especially in Japan).  It is said to “draw upon cultural systems that are no less ‘real’ than those upon which traditional literary realism draws – often non-Western cultural systems that privilege mystery over empiricism, empathy over technology, tradition over innovation” (from Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community by Zamora and Faris).  And magical realism tends to be critical, political, ideological, and postmodern.  Magical realism aims for a message with more intent than most popular fantasy (which is generally focused more on story than on “meaning”).

With magical realism more or less out of the way, we turn our attention to urban fantasy and paranormal romance.  My general stance (and one that seems to concur with Wikipedia – if that matters…) is that paranormal romance is a sub-genre of romance that takes elements from fantasy and gothic fiction but retains is emphasis on women who are swept up in a relationship with a dashing and/or dangerous man who probably has some supernatural characteristics.  Urban fantasy, on the other hand, (while it can, like any genre, contain romantic subplots) remains focused on the fantastical characters and plots.

One person on the NaNoWriMo thread mentioned above commented that urban fantasy tends to be very gritty.  While this is, of course, a generalization that won’t always hold up, I agree with the overall image.  And unlike paranormal romance (and the comment about bad-ass women in leather and high-heels), urban fantasy does not always center on a female main character.  Sure, there’s Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, but there’s also Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files (which is completely awesome, by the way).  And just to complicate things further, there’s also Martin Millar’s The Good Fairies of New York (also awesome).

For further thoughts on the differences on urban fantasy and paranormal romance I direct you to a blog that specializes in Urban Fantasy and their post “Urban Fantasy vs Paranormal Romance.” It’s an older post, but useful.

Here is also an interesting guide from The YA Fantasy Guide: “Identifying Your Fantasy Novel’s Subgenre.”

Finally, some wikipedia pages, ’cause really, who doesn’t love wikipedia:

High Fantasy

Sword and Sorcery

Urban Fantasy

Paranormal Romance

And now, I really must go, before this post gets anymore ridiculously long than it already is.  But I’d love to hear any other thoughts on sub-genres.  Disagreements with my classifications, further suggestions on definitions and differences, etc?