Book Review: The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Friedman

Hey there!

Urban fantasy has been my fiction “drug” of choice over much of the last 5-10 years. So I was excited to get a chance to read the new book from Michael Scott (author of The Alchemist, The Magician, and The Sorceress from the young adult series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) and playwright and screenwriter Collette Freedman who’s recently been named one of the Dramatist Guild’s “50 to Watch.”

But be warned. The Thirteen Hallows is not for the faint of heart. This is by far the most violent and bloody urban fantasy I have ever read. Sex, gang violence, and sadism are mixed with a deep background rooted in folkore, history, and magic for quite a powerful combination that drives this story through to the explosive conclusion.

So what exactly are these “Hallows”? Items imbued with magical power to keep a race of demons from invading our world. Each item has a “Keeper” who was given one of these items to look after decades ago and has been influenced subtly by them over the years. But now someone is brutally murdering the Keepers in London and stealing their precious Hallows.

Then take poor Sarah Miller, a 20-something living with her ungrateful family and working in a dead-end job. When she happens upon an old woman being assaulted by two punks, she could turn away and pretend it wasn’t happening like everybody else, or she could help. Something compels her to help the woman fight off her attackers and get her to safety. From that point on, her life is not her own and she’s on a journey down the proverbial rabbit hole.

It doesn’t take long before the police are after Miller, following a trail of bloody murders across the city. As her options diminish, she finds herself in the company of Owen, the nephew of the woman she saved. And the two rush to stay ahead of the police and save the Hallows before they’re used to let an unspeakable evil into our world.

The history on the back-end of this adventure is compelling. There are threads woven through Christianity, World War II, myths and legends that tie everything to some interesting characters in the present day. I don’t want to spoil the discovery process, but where the violence put me off a few times, the story kept pulling me back in.

I’ll be curious to see where Scott and Freedman take the story in the next book. If you’re a fan of darker urban fantasy, The Thirteen Hallows should be right up your alley. There’s definitely more in store for Sarah and Owen as they get further wrapped up in the saga of the Hallows!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Book Review: Krimson by Thomas Emson

Hi all…

Vampires. In popular media today, vampires are more about masquerading as human in a human world than ripping your throat out and guzzling blood directly from your jugular vein with no pretense of any remaining humanity. These days, the word “vampire” tends to evoke images of wan, whiny teenagers or Civil War-era Louisiana gentlemen more than “cold blooded killers.”

Author Thomas Emson is working to change that. First with Skarlet in 2009 and now with the follow-up Krimson, Emson is embracing the monster in the vampire myth and providing hooks to thousands of years of history. And like the majority of human history, not all the monsters are inhuman. Sometimes it takes power-mad humans to resurrect the past even if they don’t quite understand the consequences of their actions…

In Skarlet, we were introduced to a modern-day London, England on the brink of change. A small group of men and women with bloodlines stretching back thousands of years have brought a drug to London’s youth. Distributed at a dance club called Religion, those who take the drug die and are reborn as vampiric killing machines with an unquenchable thirst for blood. One man – Iraqi war vet Jake Lawton – working as a bouncer at the club is drawn into this nightmare nobody can accept and fights against the monsters with a few companions he gains along the way.

What I loved about the first book was the use of multiple story lines from different eras of history. Emson incorporates the conquering of Babylon by Alexander the Great and battles between the Ottoman Turks and the British army in the 1920s alongside the Iraq War we’re still trying to finish and the modern day. Weaving in an alternate history based on real events made this a much more tangible tale to dive into.

Now with Krimson, the second book in the Vampire Trinity series, the story picks up three years later after the events of Skarlet. Jake is still fighting the good fight, but he’s getting tired. You can only go so long without sleep. And those left alive in positions of power in England are hunting him day and night, so his paranoia isn’t just due to exhaustion. He and his warrior woman Aaliyah have done damage to the vampire cause, but it’s like putting fingers in a dam about to burst – it’s impossible to cover all the cracks.

And like Skarlet, Emson does an amazing job of working an alternate history into the mix. This time it’s ancient Babylon and the time of Dracula in the mid-1400s. And though I wasn’t as surprised by the Babylon links this time around, I was very intrigued in how the Dracula myths were brought in. Again, the history set the stage for the events in the present day and was seamlessly integrated into what started in that first book.

After reading Zombie Brittanica, I was a bit concerned that Emson had lost his touch. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The first half of Krimson sets the stage and offers enough background that readers new to the series should have no problems diving in. For me, the action really didn’t get going until about the half-way mark. At that point it was as though a switch was thrown and we were in free fall to the end. All the characters of the first book are back and we start to see their individual threads get resolved one by one…

I can hardly wait for Kardinal, the conclusion of the trilogy, to be released in another year or two. Can Jake and his friends survive? Only Emson himself knows until the book is released!

If you want a taste of the book, be sure to check out the first three chapters at Thomas Emson’s website. Unfortunately US rights haven’t yet been sold, but you can order via Amazon and other retailers through international wholesalers!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these books at Amazon below!

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Book Review: The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

Hi again…

Terrorism. Before 9/11 it was a word that barely registered with Americans at home. After 9/11, it gained a life of its own. But what is it really? It depends on who you talk to. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Dictionary.com defines it as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” For most of us, it’s the nagging fear that somewhere somebody who disagrees with your beliefs is unwilling to agree to disagree and will go to extremes to point out that his or her point of view is right and yours is wrong.

But what if it was all of that and something else? What if there were people in the world using terrorism as a tool to bilk money from millions of people, governments, and companies all over the world? Reducing the harsh realities of a world in which people are willing to blow themselves up for a cause down to a business decision. A financial strategy.

That’s damn scary to me. Welcome to the world of Jonathan Maberry‘s The King of Plagues.

Once again, Maberry gives us a glimpse into the world of the DMS – the Department of Military Services – through the eyes of Joe Ledger. Joe used to be a cop in Baltimore. In the last six months after joining the DMS he’s fought zombies and monsters. What’s next?

At the end of The Dragon Factory, Joe was suffering from the loss of his friend, coworker, and lover during an operation. She was murdered. He needed some time to recover. At the beginning of The King of Plagues, we learn he used some time off to hunt down her murderer and find some small bit of justice.

Though he wanted more time to grieve, the world moved on around him. Somebody blew up a hospital in London. And that act of violence claimed the lives if thousands of people. It was time to go back to work.

When Mr. Church, the leader of the DMS, calls you up and tells you to help the locals when the world goes to hell, you can’t really say no. And that sinks Joe back into the world of covert military action, detective work, and some villains that will sit back and watch the world burn if they like what they’re getting out of the deal. I was hooked from the beginning as Maberry writes about the explosion at the hospital and the emotional punch of watching 9/11 repeat itself…

“I turned to the people around me and saw expressions on their faces ranging from confusion, to disbelief, to shocked awareness. Each was processing the enormity of this at the speed their mind would allow. I could almost see how this was gouging wounds into the collective psyche of everyone here, and anyone who was watching a news feed. Each of them – each of us – would be marked by this forever.”

Through Joe Ledger, we experience five days of hell. Ebola. Plague. Assassins taking pleasure in systematically breaking victims psychologically as well as in their victims slow, agonizing deaths… He’s put through the ringer. And though he may be deadly with or without a weapon and be a hardened warrior, the “everyman” factor is there from beginning to end. He’s easy to identify with as he and his dog Ghost survive horrors with physical and emotional scars that may never heal.

I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy The Dragon Factory as much as the first Joe Ledger novel, Patient Zero. Though there were some interesting twists, turns, and technologies, it was a bit over the top for me and that’s saying something. I was hopeful that King of Plagues would return to the more powerful punch of the first book. And it did that in spades.

If you’re looking for a thriller to sink your teeth into, check out The King of Plagues. Maberry has hit one out of the park this time with nary a zombie in sight.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up all of these books at Barnes & Noble below!

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