Book Review: Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts

Ok, I’m a bit perplexed…

What is it about sexual hangups in more mature fantasy offerings these days? I’ve run across shame about homosexual feelings, marital infidelity, and spousal abuse in two recent novels from Robin Hobb (The Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven) and now I’ve hit the social and personal stigma of developing a lesbian relationship in J.A. Pitts’ debut fantasy novel – Black Blade Blues. I’d say it was just my imagination, but I don’t think so…

Anyway, Pitts’ novel is an urban fantasy set in the Northwest United States that centers on the life of Sarah Beauhall, a blacksmith by day and a movie props master by night with a love of medieval weapons and armor. As a collector of such forged materials, she has been known to prowl antique auctions offering swords, axes, knives, and such for sale and occasionally acquiring a piece for herself. One such piece is a beautiful black bladed sword.

When the sword is accidentally broken on the set of the latest movie Sarah is helping with, it begins a bizarre chain of events in her life. Offered help by an extra who claims to be a real live dwarf, Sarah is thrust into a world where dragons are real and magic exists. When she fixes the sword on her anvil, she becomes the central figure in a new cycle where myths and legends not only walk the Earth, but threaten the very lives of Sarah and her friends.

In recent years, beginning with Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods, the upcoming Thor movie from Marvel in 2011, and most recently with Jim Butcher‘s latest Dresden Files novel Changes, Norse gods such as Odin, Thor, Loki, and Sif have found their way into modern works of fantasy. And I have to admit that I absolutely love this trend. For far too long the gods of Asgard have remained dormant and it’s great to see them stalking the pages of fiction once more.

But back to the sexual revolution in modern fantasy for a moment… Sarah is estranged from her father, a devout believer in the Christian God and a misogynist who seems to believe that women should serve men and not get in their way. And she’s dealing with the new love she feels for her girlfriend Katie, a schoolteacher who knows who she is and what she wants – and that is Sarah. Sarah unfortunately isn’t so sure and struggles with feelings of shame brought on by her father’s intolerance for anything other than the union of a man and a woman…

I think I get it now that I’ve had time to consider it a bit. Finding yourself and your loves is a quest all of us is on throughout most of our lives. And weaving the storyline of self-discovery into the novel as Sarah goes from self-doubt about her relationship with Katie to somewhere nearing acceptance balances out the supernatural story elements surrounding the sword. It’s just interesting to see that these more modern relationships, unbounded by the “traditional” union of man and woman, are working their way into what I think of as mainstream fiction. Really it’s probably overdue.

Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this was a debut novel. The 400+ pages of Black Blade Blues went extremely quickly. As I learned more of how Pitts intertwined interpretations of Norse myths into a modern setting, it picked up speed and didn’t let me go. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Sarah Beauhall, Katie, and the rest of their friends as they deal with a world of dragons, dwarves, and magic. If you like urban fantasy and are looking for a female answer to Harry Dresden, be sure to check it out at your favorite bookstore!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Black Blade Blues from Barnes & Noble today!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Book Review: Skinners, Book 2: Howling Legion by Marcus Pelegrimas

Hi all…

It’s been a long time since I’ve been enthusiastic about the state of urban fantasy or horror. Back in the 1990s, I discovered Anne Rice‘s gothic world of vampires, witches, and other creatures who go bump in the night. Rice had a gift for immersing you in her world with rich settings and characters you could sink your teeth into. Add to that classic urban fantasy books like War of the Oaks by Emma Bull, Neverwhere and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and you see the fantasy side of “urban fantasy”. Though there have been occasional releases here and there, new urban fantasy fiction seemed to be on a downturn.

Now in the last couple of years, I’ve been reading books from Max Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z), Jonathan Maberry (Patient Zero) and Thomas Emson (Skarlet and Maneater). It’s been quite a resurgence in darker urban fantasy, almost horror, genre. I’m excited to say that the unmentionable things in the dark are on the rise in popular fiction.

Enter author Marcus Pelegrimas and his Skinners series, with the first book – Blood Blade – published in February 2009 and the second book – Howling Legion – released in November 2009. These books focus on a group of brave men and women known as Skinners and the battle they fight daily against the forces of darkness. Pelegrimas’ world is populated by monsters waiting to prey on us weak, unbelieving humans – vampires, werewolves, and other beings stalk the night and claim their rights to our world.

In Blood Blade, we’re introduced to game programmer Cole Warnecki. Cole decides to go on an adventurous hunting vacation and finds himself hunted by a werewolf instead. Our hero survives, but only barely… and is drawn into the world of Skinners seeking to fight back the forces of darkness. He must choose whether to cut and run or join the fight. And once he decidees, there is no turning back.

Now in Howling Legion, Cole and his trainer/partner Paige discover that the werewolves have discovered the secret… The vampires don’t really control the cities like they claimed. Full Blood werewolves begin a campaign to retake the world from the human vermin who have infested the plains and forests of the world they once controlled. Instead of fighting all the battles themselves, they infect poor human victims who become Half Breeds – misshapen mutts driven mad by pain and killer instincts.

With a huge situation building, the Cole and Paige seek the help of the Mongrels, a race of half-animal, half-human creatures who have fought the Full Bloods longer than the Skinners. The Mongrels don’t like Skinners either, but perhaps they can unite to fight the werewolf threat?

Pelegrimas has a tightly written story and a setting with history that goes back at least centuries, probably millennia. I found myself quickly engrossed in the world Cole finds himself in. Pelegrimas interweaves humor and action, passion and thrills, for a ride that grabbed me from page one. These books are fast, fun reads that have me eagerly waiting for the next book – Teeth of Beasts – due out sometime in April 2010.

Looking for some fun reading for the cold winter months? Check out Marcus Pelegrimas’ Blood Blade and Howling Legion!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Pelegrimas’ books and others from Amazon below!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Book Review: Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman

It’s rare to find a book that has one of your favorite authors talking about another of your favorite authors. So to find a book written by Neil Gaiman about the long, strange road of author Douglas Adams, it was as though I found an amazing, hidden two-for-one sale at the bookstore.

Written with admiration and humor, I found Gaiman’s prose entertaining and enlightening as I learned more about the author who has written so many of my favorite books – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Dirk Gently‘s Holistic Detective Agency, and The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul. And Gaiman has written two more of my favorite books – Neverwhere and American Gods.

In 1971, Adams was hitchhiking across Europe with a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe when, at the end of a harrowing day, he ended up flat on his back in a field in Innsbruck, staring up at the stars. It was then he had the thought “Sombebody really ought to write a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” He then promptly forgot about it.

Then, in 1977, he remembered it when he was trying to come up with ideas for radio scripts. And that started a long journey of writing and missing deadlines that continued for the next 24 years. In 2001, Adams passed away when he suffered a fatal heart attack while exercising in his gym in Santa Barbara.

I have read all of Douglas Adams’ novels, including Last Chance to See, which documented his journeys around the world to see how certain endangered species were doing. I’m a huge fan of his unique way of seeing the world.

But I never really knew the bumpy road of the Hitchhiker’s radio program or Adams’ involvement with the Dr. Who franchise. And I didn’t realize that he was involved with the Monty Python troupe. All these little facts are eloquently detailed in Gaiman’s prose.

This version of Don’t Panic is the fifth edition. The first was written in 1988 by Gaiman and it’s seen updates as Adams’ journey and his legacy continued over the years.

To continue that legacy, a new book in the ill-labeled “Hitchhiker’s Trilogy” will be released to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the first publication of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Written by author Eoin Colfer, author of the successful children’s series Artemis Fowl, the new book is called And Another Thing…. I’m excited about the upcoming book, as I never really felt that Arthur Dent‘s journey was complete. We’ll see how Colfer does.

Adams will be forever missed, but his legacy will last forever.

If you’re a Douglas Adams fan or a fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Don’t Panic is a must have for your collection. Be sure to look for it in your local library or favorite bookstore and keep an eye out for Eoin Colfer’s book – And Another Thing…!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up any of these amazing books below!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]