By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I, Joseph Nassise, Harpoer, ISBN 0-06-204875-2, 345 pgs., $14.99

The Red Baron

The Red Baron (Photo credit: jarrodvk)

It’s 1917 and the Kaiser‘s scientist’s have stumbled on a new type of gas to be used in the trenches–one that turns the dead into zombies. They’ve also discovered that if they use it on a battlefield devoid of their own living then all of the reborn dead attack those who are living, primarily the enemy soldiers. But there’s an oddity as well, and that is that occasionally, one of the new-born dead remains conscious of thought. One of these is the Red Barron, who continues to fly and shoot down British planes even though he died in a crash. When veteran American Ace, Major Jack Freeman is downed behind enemy lines and taken captive, Captain Michael, Madman Burke is recruited to go in and get him back.  Burke, and his merry band of oddball madmen, have to work their way behind enemy lines, break into a prison camp, and then return with Freeman to the allied front.

Okay, so Zombies in World War One may be stretching the whole zombie experience a bit too far, but, hey, if it’s fun then it’s worth it.  Nassise does a credible job with taking what could be just a really silly premise and keeping it pretty straightforward.  A couple of the characters are pretty stereotypical but no more so than you would find in any war movie of the period.  Making the Red Barron one of the aware zombies is a bit of a stroke of positive intelligence as you get not only a known name villain but a pivot point for some of the action.

It’s an interesting book, entertaining, fairly tight in it’s plotting with decent characters.  There is one major error in the book however. At one point the allies have one of the bad guys tied to a chair in the prisoner of war camp and they are working him over for information.  One of the Americans says, “let’s shoot him.”  And then there’s a noise outside, they leave the room.  Never to return.  I assume the guy is still sitting there, tied to that chair.  Kind of a bone head error.  I assume the book was read at least 3 times for errors so it got through each time. I read that passage 5 times just because I was sure I was missing something, some word, some thought, that would make this behavior okay.  Nope, not in there.  Ah, well, I suppose when zombies are involved you have to expect the occasional brain error.

I’d recommend it but only conditionally. If you’re not a zombie fan then there’s not going to be much here for you.  Otherwise, it’s worth picking up.

And, to get your own copy, just click here: By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I

The Fall (The Strain Trilogy), Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, Harper, ISBN 9780061558252, $9.99

Master (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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This is the second book in Del Toro and Hogan’s trilogy retelling of the Dracula mythos. Eph Goodweather leads a ragged band out to destroy the vampires which have infected Manhattan–and the world. The Master, an aged vampire who has gone against centuries of vampire culture to make a play for world domination, has come to New York in order to put his plan in place. He’s going to get rid of the rest of the other old vampires and build things new again.
Humans don’t stand a chance since it seems that many of the weapons talked about in vampire lore don’t work. Even direct sunlight only made the master smolder and did not kill him. Now, Eph and a few others, are faced with a growing vampire population in the city that they have to work through to try to find and kill the master. If they succeed the world may survive, but only if they do it fast enough. If they don’t then everyone is doomed.

Del Toro and Hogan have taken Stoker‘s Dracula and revamped it, as it were, for the modern age. The book suffers a bit from middle book syndrome in that the pacing is a bit off, the story is in a flat period–the introduction is all finished and you know a third book is coming which contains the big finish so what is going to happen in this, the second book? And it’s a big book. They’ve also trapped themselves a bit by stretching this over three books. Certainly it is a big story but not big enough for three big books. Heck, Stoker did it in one medium sized book.
As for the story itself, it has all the implausibility of a movie script. But this should surprise no one since Del Toro is a director. I’m leaning heavily now on not letting movie directors write books. Sure the imagery is great, I mean, that’s what they do, but the plot is always full of holes because they are going for the pretty picture and not what makes sense for the characters to do.

I really liked parts of this book but I also yawned through big parts of it too. I thought the first book was very well done and I imagine the ending will be a big Hollywood finish, but getting there is going to be a bit tedious. There is a real lack of energy in this book. I found myself skimming page after page of description. The flashbacks did not move the story forward and the characters became uninteresting at times. This is very hard to do considering we’re talking vampires taking over Manhattan. But, if you remember, movie directors have done this in the past with the American Godzilla movie which was made to be tedious and illogical.

If you are a hard core vampire or Del Toro or Hogan fan then I guess you have no choice. Otherwise I think your time is better spent elsewhere.

The Strain Trilogy
* The Strain
* The Fall
* Eternal Night

To get your copy, click here: The Fall (The Strain Trilogy)

Bloodshot, Cherie Priest, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345-52060-9, 359 pgs., $15.00

Raylene Pendle is a vampire and a world-renowned thief. Go figure. She does not hang out with other vampires, until she does, because she is too busy stealing priceless art and rare jewels for clients. I guess because she has a lot of time on her

cherie_priest

Image by Cherie Priest via Flickr

hands, what with being immortal and not doing any hanging out.  And, while her heart does not beat, it is soft as she allows a couple of street urchins to inhabit the vacant warehouse she owns where she stores a lot of the stuff she steals. She’s also incredibly paranoid which explains why she has chosen a low exposure vocation like grand theft. In any case, one day the urchins who live in her warehouse notify her that there is a thief in the building. She investigates and just barely manages to

kill him. Seems the thief was a parcour aficionado and who knew that this skill was a vampire neutralizer. So, while investigating the thief and how the thief came to be in her building she also gets recruited by one Ian Stott, another vampire who asks her for help. Luckily for him, Raylene is not avoiding vampires on that day and agrees to help him retrieve missing government files related to secret biological research that was done on vampires. Before you know it, Raylene is involved with a cross dresser, hanging out in gay bars, trailing after power-hungry scientists, and trying to avoid all the government agents who, apparently, have no trouble locating her whenever they want, except when it’s not convenient to the plot.

Wait, I need to take a short break and find pry my tongue out from my cheek where it has become imbedded. There, now we can move forward.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is entertaining. It’s just got a few plot holes in it. If you can manage to ignore them then you’ll do fine. Otherwise it’s going to be a tough haul for you.

The writing is fine here. Cherie Priest does a good job of developing her character and creating an interesting story to set her in. The pacing is fairly fast and the dialogue flows in a natural way even if the character motivation is a bit suspect at times. And, unlike in the human race where people can do all kinds of things with little reason, logic or motivation when we read we expect these things to be there otherwise our ability to suspend disbelief cracks.

This is the first book of a series and it’s somewhat obvious in places that Priest is setting the stage for that to happen. Maybe you see that when you read it and maybe you don’t and maybe it bothers you and maybe it doesn’t. The bottom line here is that if you like vampires and you like female protagonists and you like urban fantasy and you like a bit of crime noir thrown in you will probably enjoy this book. I managed to get from page one to page end so that says something as nowadays I am likely to fling a book across the room after 40 or 50 pages of unsatisfying prose.

In the end you need to make these decisions on your own. You can still do that, right? Go, do, enjoy.

And, if you want to buy a copy you can use the link below.

Bloodshot

The Hollows Insider, Kim Harrison, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-197433-5, 301 pgs, $25.99

This Witch For Hire

Image by programwitch via Flickr

Kim Harrison is nine books in on her Hollows series. The books twist on Clint Eastwood movie titles and are best classified as urban supernatural fantasy since they involve witches, werewolves, vampires, pixies, elves, and other fantastical creatures living in an alternate version of Cincinnati. The series has generated a loyal following and, I have to admit, I have enjoyed the books myself, at least up to the one before the most recent (which I have not read yet). The writing is done skillfully, the characters are well developed and interesting, and the setting is uniquely enjoyable.

Now we have this book which contains new fiction, facts, maps and a plethora of tidbits large and small about the Hollows universe. You’ll find memos from the characters to each other, newspaper articles, spell recipes, cookie recipes, case files, inside dossiers, and much, much more. For those of you who just can’t get enough then this is the book for you. And there is plenty of book to be had here. It’s hefty, illustrated and chock full of stuff.

I’m always of two minds when it comes to books like these. On the one hand it’s an artifact of overindulgence. Do you really need to see memos from one character to another or fictional security reports? It’s a bit of unhealthy obsession. On the other hand it is interesting to see just how deeply authors develop their worlds and just how much material is created to put together a work of fiction.

In the end I find these more interesting than not. I don’t think I have ever read one from cover to cover but they are fine coffee table books and interesting to skim through, stopping here and there to absorb the brief tidbit of fictional fact. In the long run I find that I would rather be reading the next novel in the series though.

Definitely recommended. If you are a fan you positively, absolutely will not be able to do without this. If you are not yet a fan you might be more interested in picking up the first novel in the series. If you’d like to buy the book just click the link below.

The Hollows Insider: New fiction, facts, maps, murders, and more in the world of Rachel Morgan

Werewolf Smackdown, Mario Acevedo, Eos, ISBN 978-0-06156720-9, $7.99, 354 pgs.

;English:Vampire or Werewolf? ;Español: ¿Vampi...

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Felix Gomez is sent to Charleston, South Carolina to intervene in what could become an incredibly bloody war between two rival factions. But this is intervention with a difference. Gomez is a vampire, the group that’s sending him is the ultra secret Araneum, a cabal of master vampires dedicated to keeping the existence of supernaturals secret from human society, and the warring factions are werewolves.

Oh yeah, and Gomez is being stalked by not one but two beings from his past: a vampire who wants him dead and another vampire, an ex girlfriend, who may not want to kill him but doesn’t necessarily want him to be around any longer than necessary. All Gomez wants to do is get in and get out and settle things as quietly as possible. That’s not going to be easy, what with the way rival werewolves feel about each other and that pesky vampire who keeps trying to kill him, along with any number of additional problems that crop up and which seem to be all part of Gomez’s karma. He’ll stick with it though, for what choice does he have? Fail the Araneum and they’re just as likely to take you apart and use your skin to send messages (write the message on the skin in blood, seal it in a light-proof tube and be assured that once read and exposed to sunlight all traces are gone.

This is the fifth book in Acevedo’s series featuring Felix Gomez, vampire PI. Acevedo has done a great job with taking the vampire mythos that we all are familiar with and updating it, technologically speaking. This universe features all of the supernaturals we have come to know and love as well as a fair amount of acerbic wit and cynical insight. Gomez, as a main character is no pushover and yet has a heart, even if it doesn’t beat. Gomez is also one of the few Latino lead characters in SF and fantasy at this time which makes him extremely unusual as well.

I’ve really enjoyed all of the books in the series and think Acevedo does an excellent job with plotting and pacing. I also really like that he’s not tried to re-invent the whole vampire history just re-explain it in modern terms. All of the books in the series are fun to read, with Acevedo’s quick pacing presented through mostly short chapters and a lack of expository rambling. Of all the supernatural series out there today, and there are a lot of them, I would have to say that Acevedo’s Felix Gomez series is at the top. A sure-fire recommendation.

Kill the Dead, Richard Kadrey, Eos, ISBN 978-006-171431-3, 434 pgs., $22.99

 

Illustration of the devil, page 577. Legend ha...

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This is the second book in Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. Stark is back and trying to put the pieces together after escaping from hell, exacting a certain amount of bloody revenge, and saving the world in the process. He still has the animated head of a former peer living with him–part of that bloody revenge, and he’s still living above a video rental store in a sleazy section of Los Angeles. This time though Stark is offered a job being a body-guard for Satan, if offered is what you would call the demands of the Devil, and is trying to figure out how best to return to Hell and finish up on the revenge he started. Before he can get there though he meets a Czech pron star who turns out to be a zombie hunter, gets involved in trying to figure our why so many people attached to the families related to the supernatural side of LA are turning up dead, and where the sudden surge of zombies might be coming from. He gets help from many of the characters in the first book and from a few new ones as well. It seems the world, or at least LA, once more hangs in the balance and Stark is the only one who can stop it.

Kadrey writes with a raw energy that translates well to a protagonist from hell with an attitude to match. The action is violent and often messy and the language is strong and straight. Stark is an interesting anti-hero, struggling with a past that includes a lot of torture and serious personal loss. Kadrey adds emotional layers to Stark so that the character is both intriguing in terms of internal conflict and interesting in terms of attitude. There is a lot of dark humor here as well which helps to take the edge off what amounts to a lot of killing and dismemberment.

I really liked the first book in this series and so I had really high hopes for this book. I have to admit to be slightly disappointed, more so with the beginning of the novel which seemed to rehash old material in a way that was not as good as the original. Or perhaps it was just that Kadrey set the bar so high with the first book that there was no way he was going to match it with this one. As I read deeper I did find myself enjoying it more but it still seemed flat in places. I would still certainly recommend the book and if you have not read the first book, Sandman Slim, then you should definitely go out and get that one first. It’s hard to know whether this book reflects a mid-series slump, which often happens with the sequel novel, or a case where all the good stuff occurred in the first book and there’s no where else to go but down. I’m hoping for slump and will definitely read the next book in the series.

Brains: a Zombie Memoir, Robin Becker, Eos, ISBN 978-0-06197405-2, 183 pgs., $13.99.

Zombies as portrayed in the movie Night of the...

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Zombies seem to be the new vampires.  I mean that it seems like these shambling undead have taken the spotlight in the supernatural fiction genre away from the bloodsuckers.  Whether or not it will last remains to be seen.  Zombies seem, to me at least, a hard sell character wise.  But maybe Robin Becker has found a solution.  Her idea is that in any typical Zombie outbreak there are bound to be at least a few zombies who retain an ability to think.  Her choice for the book is one Jack Barnes, college professor.  So, not only do we get a zombie that retains some ability to think (this is assuming you believe academics retain that ability to begin with) as well as some ability to analyze and adapt to the change.  So, we have Jack Barnes, who is now zombie Barnes, trying to do three things: survive, find other zombie thinkers, and get to the guy who created all the zombie havoc in the first place, Howard Stein.  The problem is that Stein is in an entirely different part of the country than Barnes and, what with his deteriorating body, a cross-country trip is going to be problematic.  And that’s the basic idea of the book–following zombie Barnes as he tries to make his way to Howard Stein, the zombie God.

The basic problem with zombies is that they are dead things.  This means they decay.  And, depending on what sort of climate you are in, this decay can be rather rapid.  The more important point is that they don’t breath and you need breath to make sounds or to talk.  Becker gets around at least one of these issues by positing that there will be special zombies who retain some human skills. So, there is a nurse who remembers how to stitch (which comes in real handy when things start falling off) and a zombie who can run and another who retains a fast reaction time, and they all end up with Barnes, heading toward Chicago.

This book is all about balance.  Balance between the inherent problems of zombies and story; balance between the stuffiness of the main character and the need to have an intelligent main character who can also chronicle events; balance between a need for a quest and a need to trivialize alternatives to a cross-country trip.  For the most part the uniqueness of the idea keeps discrepancies to the side. I mean this may be the first zombie novel told from the perspective of the zombies.

Ultimately, though, this may simply be a one-off.  Zombies just aren’t very sympathetic as characters.  They eat babies, they chew through peoples faces, they fall apart at the most inopportune time, and they tend to be single-minded about who’s got the brains.  I liked that book overall. It’s short which works to its advantage, it’s fairly fast paced, and it’s novel as a novel.  Kudos to Becker for coming up with the idea and managing to actually put it into print.