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ChrisHepler

Class-Action Vampires

Author of "Civil Blood" (2018), contributor to numerous video games, infrequent blogger at www.christopherhepler.com. I like thrillers, urban fantasy, science fiction, and the occasional thematic point about human nature.

Mercy: Mystery Boxes to Be Revealed in Sequels

Mercy (The Guardians Series 1) - Wendy Saunders

"Mercy" is a pretty straightforward urban fantasy in the vein of... well, a lot of urban fantasies. It's got a witch with a tragic origin story that drives the plot, an occult serial killer, lots of references to Salem (just down the road from the town of the title), neopagan magic, a witchfinder from the 17th century popping up in the modern day a la "Warlock," and destined true love with lots of passionate smooching. It is also (very definitively) just the beginning of a series, so if you're expecting all of this to wrap up neatly... or at all... by the end, you're going to be disappointed.

 

There's also a few nitpicks I have with the POV (it jumps into different characters' heads quite a bit) a cameo by a powerful magical entity, and the novel's portrayal of mental hospitals (which in no universe let out a guy with knife wounds claiming to be from another time just because his family asks nicely, nor are they fooled by someone hiding a pill in their mouth). And if you think the 17th century guy is going to sound like he's from the 17th century... no. Frequent nods are made to things he doesn't understand, but he drops modern phrases like any contemporary fantasy heartthrob. I'd grade the book down to two stars, but it has some strengths that made the reading experience breeze by.

 

The pacing is pretty good; the characters form a fairly convincing small town and seem real to one another; the heroes suffer a bit and have to struggle against some fairly powerful forces; and rather importantly, the central mystery reveals that not all allies and enemies are as they first appear. If you've read a lot of urban fantasies in which the hero finds out their True Lineage (tm), you probably won't be surprised by much here, but it came at appropriately dramatic moments. Lastly, I booed the characters that I was supposed to boo and liked the characters I was supposed to like, and that isn't the easiest thing in the world to write. So props to all the work that went into the book.

3 out of 5.

Dread Nation: Started off loving it... ended up only liking it.

Dread Nation - Justina Ireland

I enjoyed and admired a lot of things about Dread Nation, but for some reason it didn't gel into a book that I would rave about the way all the positive professional reviews do. I found myself getting sidetracked with other books until I finally made up my mind to finish it, and when I did, I found the ending a little lacking. Strengths of the book include its core premise, backstory, setting, world-building, and protagonist. A Reconstruction-era, zombie-fighting, sickle-wielding WOC and her friends from combat school is an idea that I haven't seen before in any medium, and I was on board after the first few pages. Jane is fiery and clever and doesn't fit into the subservient little role that polite society wants ("society" being a long parade of authority figures). The antagonists are pretty convincing evil racists, who long for the "good old days" of slavery that are still in living memory and blaming the zombies on man's "mistake," the Civil War and emancipation. The humans are worse than the shamblers, and I'm still fine with that as a theme.

But when I got to the ending, it felt a little flat. Let me see if I can critique this without spoilers. The big emotional punch is a revelation about backstory. That's nice to tie together the ongoing correspondence we see that begins every chapter, but I feel like it's got to break some kind of writing rule. Why? I cared about what Jane was going to do in the present *because* of her backstory a lot more than new information about something she did long ago. On top of that, the protagonists get out of the mess they've been getting into in the last third of the book pretty easily, and within a few pages, shoop, there's setup for a sequel. I realize pretty much every genre fiction book these days sells with franchises in mind, no shame there, but I felt like it came at the expense of a satisfying climax. I might be interested in sequels, but unfortunately, it's a "might" for me instead of a "hoo-rah, yes." I hope the narratives of the series improve with the author's skill, because she's definitely got some, and I want to see where these characters and their world go. So... 3 out of 5.

Saga, Volume 1 - Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

A space fantasy if you don't need much space, Saga draws us into a story of forbidden lovers that is by turns funny, heartwarming, violent, and empathetic. I'm not in the mood to rehash the plot, so I'll just say the thing that stands out for me is the bizarro character design, which made me turn the pages just to see what WTFery would pop up next. The guiding principle seems to be "make every single character a little human and a lot not." Spider centauroids without arms, robots with TVs for heads, and a hairless cat that only speaks when it smells a lie. It's boldly imaginative, and breathes new life into the our-child-is-important-to-the-entire-universe trope with details clearly gleaned from grody firsthand parenting experiences. I'm 3 volumes in and ready for more... what else is there to say?