Book Review: Awakenings by Edward Lazellari

Hey there!

Urban fantasy is one of my guilty pleasures these days. In a time where the modern world is full of fear, uncertainty, and doubt, it’s nice to believe, even just for a brief moment, that there’s a little more magic in the world and anything is truly possible. It doesn’t hurt that there have been some great new urban fantasy stories to read lately, such as Alex Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver.

In Awakenings, author Edward Lazellari introduces us to an unlikely group of heroes in a multiverse where a little magic still exists here on Earth. Cal MacDonnell, Seth Ramcrest, and Daniel Hauer live lives very different from one another. One is a cop. One is a photographer/pornographer. And one is a 14-year-old student. But one thing connects them all. Thirteen years ago they seemed to just wink into existence. None of them remembers anything before that night that haunts their dreams.

Now, thirteen years later, events are conspiring against them. Cal finds himself on patrol with his partner when they encounter a giant with a sword. Seth meets an unusual lady who leads him away from his apartment shortly before it explodes in a fireball. And Daniel can’t seem to get through a single day without incurring the wrath of his principal, his step-father, or bullies at his school.

Awakenings is the first book in a series and Lazellari’s fantasy debut. It mixes actual multidimensional theory (M-theory, an outgrowth of string theory in physics) and the idea of multiple universes separated by thin membranes with a story that interlinks the lives of people in two separate worlds for quite an intriguing setting. Obviously not all the secrets of the series are revealed in the first book, but I’m curious to see where Lazellari is taking things.

My only beef with the book is the fact that the ending defies fantasy series convention a bit. Usually each book in a series will take a few of the overall story threads and keep a few going from book to book but resolve a few in each book. This leaves you wanting to know more but satisfied that least a few things have been wrapped up. Lazellari ends Awakenings more like the season finale to a TV show where you’re left hanging until the next season starts back up. Regardless of whether it was intentional or accidental, I’m now on the hook to read the next book in the series.

That said, the writing itself is excellent. Early in the book he describes the lack of sensation as a character gets her head chopped off:

“She heard a creak behind her. Before she could turn, there was a swish, like the sound of a switch whipped through the air. Then silence. Not a drop of rain, not a squeak; someone had pulled the plug on the whole world…”

I’m definitely intrigued by the idea of a multiverse based on String theory where on the other side of one of the membranes from Earth is a world of magic locked in a medieval struggle. And the Odd Couple-vibe of Cal and Seth working together just adds to the intrigue.

Check out Awakenings on bookstore shelves today!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Book Review: Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll

Hello there!

Chicago has wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden. Denver has Kitty Norville, alpha wolf in a pack of werewolves. And now New York City has jewelry designer Garet James. One of these things is not like the others… A jewelry designer? How does that work?

It’s no secret that I am extremely enthusiastic about the latest surge in urban fantasy fiction being published. Sometimes my world seems far too antiseptic, purged of the everyday magic I wish was everywhere. To solve this problem, I retreat into fictional worlds where real magic exists on the streets of today’s urban jungle.

Lee Carroll is a pseudonym for the duo of Carol Goodman (Arcadia Falls, The Night Villa) and her husband – poet and hedge fund manager Lee Slonimsky. The couple live in New York and you can tell from the way they handle NYC as the setting for the book that they love where they live. NYC in the pages of Black Swan Rising comes to life in expected and completely unexpected ways.

Garet James doesn’t see herself as an artist. She takes signet rings, typically bearing the coat of arms of the family of the original wearer, and makes medallions out of them. As a result, she’s always on the lookout for new rings she can use in her own work.

One day she gets caught in a downpour in the city and stumbles into a strange antiques shop. The strange shopkeeper, John Dee, after revealing that he knows of her jewelry, asks if she would look at opening an old silver box. The box just happens to be sealed with a symbol of a swan exactly like the signet ring given to her by her mother before she died. She agrees to take it home to work on it and bring it home the next day. Unfortunately, like Pandora – once the box is open, her world changes dramatically…

Garet and her father own an art gallery that’s been down on its luck in recent years. When thieves break in to steal three paintings, the box, and shoot her father, it’s just the beginning of her troubles. A 400 year old vampires and the King of Faeries help her find her way to stopping the diabolical plans of John Dee before Garet’s beloved city and then the world suffer the consequences…

Black Swan Rising starts at a simmer and rises to a boil. If I have one complaint, it’s that as you move through the book picking up speed, the second half of the book is crammed to the gills with wall to wall action. But that’s a very minor complaint, considering that I hope the next book in the series will continue to tell the story of Garet, the vampire Will Hughes, and the tale of the declining world of the fae barely holding on in an industrialized world…

Throughout the book, I was impressed by the use of passages to describe difficult concepts such as auras and elemental transformation. The hand of the poet was definitely at work as the writing duo show how those with positive, healing or helping auras can affect those around them with a touch or simply by being in the same area…

After a nurse with a healthy green glow got on the train, she gave her seat to an angry man with a red aura… “I saw the angry red glow subside to a pale pink. The woman who’d given up her seat still had the green glow around her, but now it shone brighter and extended farther out around her. It touched the elderly woman with the headache, turning her mustard yellow into a clear daffodil gold. The girl who’d started out with the yellow aura sang a line from a song on her iPod, which made the old man with the gray aura laugh out loud. Colors rippled down the car, turning brighter and clearer, as if that one act – the woman in the scrubs touching the sick man’s arm and giving him her seat – was a pebble cast into the water radiating out into widening circles…”

It’s those scenes that ripple throughout this book and story from beginning to end.

If you’re a fan of urban fantasy or simply want to read a well-written story, check out Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll… It’s an enjoyable ride that left me wanting more.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great urban fantasy books at Barnes & Noble below!

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Movie Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Hey there…

Yes, I know that there are people who on principle skip anything Jerry Bruckheimer produces. And yes, I know that there are those people who try to miss anything Nicolas Cage appears in because they simply don’t like him. And there are probably a third group who believe that Fantasia is sacrosanct and must not ever be touched again by human hands… But I’m evidently not one of those.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical that it could be done. Who could possibly write a script for a two hour film that’s based on the short animated feature as part of 1940’s Fantasia from Walt Disney? How could you take Mickey Mouse and the dancing mops, brooms, and buckets and modernize it for today’s audiences?

Well, I think they actually managed to pull it off. We went as a family and all of us really enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Cage, Jay Baruchel, and Alfred Molina playing the lead roles. Hopefully it will make more money than it has so far so that we can continue to see the adventures of “Dave the Sorcerer”.

What is it about? It starts in medieval times with the saga of Merlin (James A. Stephens) and his three apprentices – Veronica (Monica Bellucci), Balthazar (Cage), and Horvath (Molina). When Horvath turns on his friends and master to join the evil wizardess Morgana (Alice Krige) in an attempt to take over the world and killing Merlin – Veronica sacrifices herself and binds Morgana’s soul within herself, and Balthazar captures them both in a Russian Doll magic item. That starts a war between the Merlinians, with Balthazar at the lead, and the Morganians seeking to free Morgana to take over the world.

Balthazar spends the next thousand years trying to find what Merlin called “the Prime Merlinian” – an individual with the potential to take Merlin’s place in the world. Along the way, he captures other evil wizards in the doll as they continue to try to release their queen.

When young Dave stumbles into Balthazar’s magic shop while on a field trip, it’s revealed that he is the Prime Merlinian Balthazar’s been looking for all this time… But through a series of mishaps, Dave unwittingly releases Horvath and a battle ensues that eventually finds the two ancient enemies locked away for 10 years. That gives Dave some time to get some therapy for what nobody believes he saw.

And that brings us to the present day, with Dave having become a physics geek working with electricity and plasma. I won’t spoil the rest, but suffice it to say that it’s a wild ride where Balthazar and Dave must work together to try and save the world from Horvath and Morgana.

Before I saw the film, I read a few reviews chastising the exposition at the beginning that sets the stage for the transition to the modern day. As such, I was a bit concerned. Turned out that I need not have been. Though director Jon Turteltaub might have chosen to “show, not tell” that section of the story, I think it would have added another 30+ minutes to the already two hour long film. As such, to keep it short enough to play frequently at most movie theaters I think it was a good choice to avoid the lengthier storytelling option.

It was obvious that Cage and Baruchel had a good time working together. The relationship between Balthazar and Dave seems genuine and the Master/Apprentice ties that bind them together lead to some touching moments. Molina simply ate up the screen as Horvath and cut a dashing figure in what looked like a late 18th century/early 19th century suit, hat, and cane. Even Teresa Palmer as Dave’s eventual girlfriend Becky played the “fish out of water” character well, even going so far as to play a pivotal role in the climax.

The only character I didn’t like was Toby Kebbel’s magician Drake Stone, the evil wizard who helps Horvath set Morgana free. Stone played a Criss Angel-type stage magician who was in it more for stroking his ego than for any perfection of his art. But I think we were supposed to dislike the slimy character – so if that was the case then bravo to Kebbel’s acting chops.

The special effects were spectacular. From the dragon in Chinatown to the car chases on the flip side of a mirror, the effects seamlessly transported me into a world where magic exists. I found myself watching, wide-eyed and enjoying every minute in that world – wishing there was a bit more magic day to day in our own.

For me, Bruckheimer has struck again as he did with films like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and National Treasure. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice offers escapism and a big budget popcorn movie where you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

If you don’t like Bruckheimer, Nick Cage, or the idea that a Mickey Mouse cartoon could be made into a big budget live action adventure movie, I’d recommend that you stay home. But I’m certainly glad I went to see it.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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