Wednesday, September 30, 2009

“The Child Thief”, (EOS Books), by Brom

“The Child Thief” is a haunting, almost sinister look at the darkness lurking beneath the fabled fairy tale of “Peter Pan”, the forever adventuring child of Neverland. Skillfully blending myths, legends and fairy tales, award winning artist Brom presents a starkly different Peter: egotistical, maniacal, sadistic, manipulative, half insane...and horribly alone. This golden eyed boy laughs loud, plays hard, and schemes endlessly for his own, demented good, recruiting lost children into an army destined to die horrible deaths, all so Peter can continue playing his twisted games.

When a fourteen year old runs afoul drug dealers and faces certain torture and most likely death, he's rescued by a strange red-haired boy with golden, sparkling eyes. He calls himself “Peter”, and he promises Nick there's a place where he'll never grow old; a wondrous place of adventure and challenges, with no adults looming over their shoulders, spoiling their fun. Nick thinks Peter is just a bit crazy...but fun and exciting, also. Something inside Nick yearns to be near this strange boy, so he follows Peter down to the docks, out into the mists...and into another world, filled with monsters, death, and evil.

Peter is no mischievous child; rather an immortally young commander recruiting lost, abused, and neglected children to wage a war against the black and twisted “Flesh-eaters”. Reeling, Nick encounters others just like him, though seemingly hand-plucked from different parts of human history: Abraham, the former African-American child slave; Sekeu, the mysterious, elegant yet dangerous Native American girl; and Redbone, a refugee of the seventies. They all worship Peter with a fanatical devotion that terrifies Nick, because he sees the truth behind the lies: it's all a game to Peter. All his loyal followers: merely pawns he's more than willing to throw away in pursuit of his mad obsessions.

“The Child Thief” is a dark delight sure to please lovers of legend and lore. Brom samples from just about every fairy tale here; borrowing bits and pieces from Arthurian legend, faerie lore, even throwing in bits of Greek mythology. And, it works well, almost as well as a Neil Gaiman myth-work, though perhaps not as refined. It may be a bit too long, with some late character development at the end, but on the whole it's an obsessively readable twist on an old, often taken for granted fairy tale.

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"Last Exit For the Lost", (Cemetery Dance), by Tim Lebbon

“Last Exit For the Lost” is a collection of dark, stirring tales from one of the most poetic writers working in the genre today, Tim Lebbon. Offering some of his best work to date, Lebbon weaves an entrancing tapestry of stories happening both near and far away; in locales mundane and fantastical, but one thing endures: his elegant style. He exhibits an almost casual mastery over his craft, moving in and out of genres and tropes fluidly, almost effortlessly. Even the hardest critic will be hard pressed to find a “weak link” in this collection. Some of the most powerful stories:

“Last Exit For the Lost” is a haunting story of a man drinking his life away, seeking to drown the pain of past failures. When strange, sectioned portraits begin arriving in the mail, however, he sees life through the eyes of the portraits' subjects...just before they die, leading him to face a darkness he'd thought locked away forever.

“Hell Came Down” is a hard slice of dark fantasy that feels like it belongs in Stephen King's fabled “Mid-World” (Dark Tower Saga), but it has a dark magic all its own, rendered in Lebbon's smooth prose. “Black”, quite simply, is a disturbing – yet fascinating – look into the mind of a serial killer as he stalks his next victim...but is his victim stalking him? “Kissing the Shadows” is a poignant, post-apocalyptic glimpse of a man's enduring love for his lost wife, while “The Stuff on the Stars, Leaking” tells an eerie tale of transformation that practically glows with Lovecraftian overtones. “The Horror of the Many Faces” also invokes a healthy dose of Lovecraft, but Lebbon's vehicle of choice is even more masterful: that of Dr. Watson and the venerable Sherlock Holmes.

Finally, “Making Sense” tells a twisted revenge story that takes a surprising turn, and “In Perpetuity” is another tale that will twist the hearts of all parents as a desperate father risks everything he has – even his own soul – so that his son can live. “A Ripple In the Veil” and “The Evolutionary” both herald the often foreboding power of nature, and the collection's closing novella, “Nothing Heavenly” is a thought-provoking, chilling rendition of the classic Battle of Armageddon.

“Last Exit For the Lost” is at the printer now, but pre-order today. With only 1,500 signed, limited edition hardcovers, this treasure won't last for long.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Faces in the Fire", (Thomas Nelson Books), by T. L. Hines

Serendipity. Fate. Providence. Destiny. Words that describe the unpredictable, circuitous path of life. On the surface chaos rules, but when individual stories are pasted together, a pattern emerges; sometimes subtle, other times astounding. Bad things happen everywhere, but just as often, destruction breeds creation. In T. L. Hines' latest, four novellas tell separate yet joined tales connected at the smallest turns. It's a dark world, true enough. Many novels portray that. “Faces in the Fire” shows how that darkness serves to make even small glimmers of light brighter.

Kurt Marlowe is a truck driver. He's quiet. Withdrawn. Humble, and a hard worker. Also, after several years of driving, he inexplicably discovered an artistic talent that allows him to work at his leisure. Life is okay, considering he has no memory of his former life before walking into truck driving school several years ago, and that dead people's clothes talk to him.

That's what makes him pick up a hitcher named Corrine; a pair of dead man's shoes that keeps flashing visions of a burning catfish at him – a catfish tattooed on Corrine's arm. Corrine - a computer hacker and spammer dieing of cancer – got her tattoo at a parlor named “GraceSpace”. Grace is a junkie who fled her husband and children years ago because of the Dead Blood in her veins. Then there's Stan, who can kill people by touch...until some strange junkie with Dead Blood in her veins touches him, canceling out his horrible gift with her blood.

In “Faces”, Hines has created something unique that's also well-written and finely crafted. Though nonlinear and open-ended, “Faces” is also highly structured, because even though Hines may not have tied each story off, all of them are intricately connected. Those who want simple answers may find this frustrating. Others, however, will appreciate and enjoy Hines' effort at “art imitating life”.

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