vampires

The Dark Side of the Road

the-dark-side-of-the-roadThe Dark Side of the Road is the first novel in Simon R. Green’s Ishmael Jones series.  Simon R. Green is a well-known author hailing from England.  He is known for writing a number of series including the Deathstalker, Hawk & Fisher, Nightside, and Ghost Finders series.  The Dark Side of the Road was first published in 2015.

I own the Deathstalker series novels and I have read three Nightside novels. I generally find Green’s writing to be a wee bit darker and a little less enjoyable than comparable authors. I recall that some readers recommended the Nightside series to fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden series.  Something that I think is somewhat similar betwixt the two series is the lead characters in both are somewhat snarky, rather jaded, loners who seem to be the only experts in a field of interest comprised of one member.

To be honest, these types of characters are nearly archetypal categories in certain genres.  They are necessary elements in a specific novel. This feels both comfortable and also saddening.  I do not mind admitting that sometimes you want to read a novel that contains character-forms that are already familiar. Fantasy novels (particularly traditional epic fantasy novels) are rife with examples.  Let me give an example; the group of archetypal characters has a quest.  The group always consists of:  the comedy, the wizard, the brute, the knight, and the Everyman.  Some readers treat this negatively.  I admit that I sometimes find it horribly unoriginal and tiring, too.  However, on occasion it is just easily comfortable to know who the characters are before you open the cover.

So, when I say that Ishmael Jones is one of those characters who is a loner, drinks moodily at the pub, answers questions with questions/without giving any data, and prides himself on being without roots or hindrances – you know exactly the character I mean. Immediately the reader has to confront the name of the character. The first line of the novel is: “Call me Ishmael. Ishmael Jones.”

At this point, it can go one of two ways… A.) The reader can guffaw and snort with the author at the painfully obvious reference AND think this is a neat name for a character; B.) The reader can be disgusted by the over-the-top obnoxiousness of this line and name. Honestly, I was in the second group. I like sarcasm and and satire, but this is just too much.

Anyway, this story takes place at Christmastime in rural Cornwall.  Green sets the whole story (which is a total of three days) in the middle of a horrendous blizzard.  I read this book at the start of January and I recommend readers keep this one for December and January as well. It helps reading the thing if it is also wintertime.  This is no beach read and reading it at Myrtle or Clearwater will ruin the effect because the blizzard is providing the “locked-room” constraint to the novel.

Jones is invited to spend Christmas at a country manor house with the Colonel and the Colonel’s family.  Jones has known the Colonel for fifteen years, but their relationship has been solely work-focused. They work, of course, in a secret, underground, shadowy world. The Colonel’s invite to come to Cornwall, therefore leaves Jones agitated and worried. Jones is not the sort of person you invite anywhere unless there is serious business to be handled.

Throughout the first chunk of the novel, Green repetitively drops “hints” (if by hint we mean sledgehammer) about how Jones is abnormal. He is special. He is a little more skilled, robust, knowledgeable than he should be. He is well-trained and heavily experienced – at whatever shadowy and mysterious tasks he does.

And for the first half of the novel, the storyline is slow. After all the whole novel is only spanning three days of time. So, the first half spends a lot of time setting the scene and meeting the characters. Naturally, Jones is an aloof house guest who provides a sketch of each of the other members at the party.  Some of this is very info-dumpish and heavy-handed. Its not good writing – there is no nuance whatsoever. But it is vaguely interesting. Because the story feels a lot less like Nightside and a lot more like a mystery novel.

And go ahead and admit it with me….. a blizzard at Christmas in a rural Cornwall manor house with a mystery afoot…. is definitely something you want to read even if the writing is hack and weak.

The second half of the novel is where the action takes place. And events transpire quickly, once they get going. The novel is very much like Clue – but with some supernatural elements. And I need to share here that the events do get very gory at times. So, it is not a light and bright read.  There is some gore that will bother the best imaginations that read this story.

The ending opens the knowledge that this will be a series. But as a standalone, this is okay – it is a completed, closed unit in itself. Will I read the second? Oh sure, but not because it is  great novel. I will read on because it is such easy reading to find out what happens next to a character who, in his own way, is quite unique – even if a lot of tropes cover his landscape. The secret organization is actually the real hook Green got me with….

In some ways, this is a genre-mixing of a couple ideas. Tropes and archetypes abound. It is not nuanced or complex. But it is interesting, fast-reading, and entertaining.

3 stars

Save

Advertisements

Soulless

SoullessSoulless by Gail Carriger was published in 2009 by Orbit.  It is the first book of the “Parasol Protectorate” series starring, I assume, the character Alexia Tarabotti. My copy came with a small interview with the author and I went to her website.  Ms. Carriger is amusing and witty. Honestly, the novel itself is neither erudite or exceedingly intelligent, I feel like Carriger could easily write much more intelligent novels.  However, I’m not sure she really needs to. After all, I found this novel to be rather entertaining.

The basic idea of the novel is that since the “dark ages,” Europe (especially England) has come to terms with the existence of supernaturals – and the supernaturals have mostly integrated into the normal society.  The Crown has advisors who are supernaturals and help her to make national decisions.  Many of the upper crust of society contains both normals and supernaturals – including the supporting main character, Lord Macon, who is a werewolf.  Werewolves live in packs lead by alphas (Lord Macon is an alpha) and live in districts/counties.  Lord Macon also runs the BUR, which is a department which monitors supernatural activity in the district.

It has been said that this novel is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.  That is probably true.  This is basically a spoof of “Victorian ideals” and the current obsession with Vampires and Werewolves in mass media entertainment. Carriger writes a very funny spoof. It’s not entirely intended as a spoof, of course. However, it was amusing enough to read the interactions between Alexia and the “upper-crust” of society as well as the interactions between the servants of the vampire/werewolf community.

Alexia is a fun character because she is stubborn and outspoken. She doesn’t fit into the society like she should and she possesses a lot more bravery and knowledge than her peers.  This is what attracts her to Lord Macon – and he to her. The sex in the book is really comical, a bit too much of it for my tastes – even though it’s not entirely graphic.

I would like to read the next book in the series.  It probably will not be just more of the same, because the end of Soulless leaves Alexia in some interesting circumstances and I’d be interested in seeing what happens next.  It’s not something that I am really burning to read, but I suppose for a light read that would be fine. Carriger obviously has a well-developed sense of humor and can channel classic English novels into a light novel.

3 stars

being human: Season 1

being human 1

being human DVD season 1

I watched the first season of being human.  This is the BBC British version of the show.  It only consisted of 6 episodes.  However, a lot of storyline is completed in those six episodes, so I guess the writers did a good job.

After the first episode, I was a little unsure what to expect.  It was a lot darker than I thought it would be.  And it has, at times, this amateurish camera-work that seems to me to be what would happen if it was filmed by an amateur soap opera cameraman.  Not that it is bad, it is just very different from what I am used to watching.

Needless to say, the show is in British.  Yes, British.  Its that language that I think is like English, but is inflected all oddly and is, therefore, British.  I hate British. I hate it because try as hard as I can, I cannot understand it, so I get frustrated.  All the inflections seem all wrong.  Watching this show took a little bit of work from me because I had to concentrate at times and learn each character’s speech patterns in order to grasp the content of the dialogue.

There are three main characters with about three other supporting characters.  The three main characters are a vampire (Mitchell), a werewolf (George), and a ghost (Annie).  The supporting characters are a nurse (Nina), a vampire posing as a cop (Herrick), and the ex-boyfriend (Owen) of the ghost.  Overall, the characters are not entirely likeable, though you don’t really hate them. By the sixth episode, you care slightly about them.  There is a good deal of blood and nakedness, so not a show for the weak stomached.

Sometimes the show is boring – nothing happening, dialogue boring – and then suddenly, there are some really great funny moments. For example, in episode five, George and Annie have a moment that is so funny, I had to pause the DVD player so that I could laugh.  (Its the scene where they beat up the guy in the funeral home and George has a line about “ninjas.”)  Also, in this same episode, Annie wants to scare Owen and is practicing being “scary.”  Annie tries to make herself seem scary as she says: “Confesssssssssss!” —- and I think my household will be permanently saying this word the way she says it in this episode.

Bad things:  Annie is stuck in the same clothing. And I hate her outfit and am so sick of seeing it!  Also, some of the language is a bit much – even if it is said in British.  (In fact, one time a noun is used in such a way as I have never heard it used before. Baffling.)

Overall, I have to give this three stars because even if it doesn’t seem great, in a mere six episodes the writers succeeded more than in, say, 40 episodes of Criminal Minds, if we’re comparing. Also, being human seems like it could get even better as it develops.

3 stars

Dead Until Dark

Dead UNtil DarkI read this book over the weekend. (After being hit by lightning.) I had trouble sleeping and since I had already seen season one of the related TV show (True Blood), I decided to read this book. Its was short and I already knew the storyline. All in all, it was a very quick read. I feel there was too much sex. As I found in the TV series, the main character is daft.  The author refers to her as naive.  I think it was an interesting read because I suspect it is different from the plethora of “vampire” things being published in the last five years.

If I had to describe the writing style, I’d probably say Harris skirts the surface of the story. I mean, people die, and we are told that things are sad, but you don’t really empathize or anything. And if something odd happens, well, its odd, but you don’t feel any big surprises. Everything, including murders, are calmly taken in stride. I considered this, and honestly, I think that’s part of the charm of setting the story in Bon Temps, Louisiana. Things in the South are slower and people do not get “upset” in the same way. I mean, this same story in NY would be very different.

As it stands I am giving it three stars. Its the first in a series (always a difficult piece to write). I do not think it is Harris’ first novel, though. The book is interesting and Harris knew when the book was done and did not drag it out for no reason. I appreciate that. And I was fairly amused at the character Bubba.

3 stars