Book Review: Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter — Demon’s Night by Guido Henkel

Hi all!

Have you ever heard of a “dime novel“? How about a “penny dreadful”? These were short books of pulp fiction popular in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States and Britain. Each small booklet had a story or part of a series that was inexpensive, costing much less (5 or 10 cents) than a full sized book did during the same time period. Many of these during the 19th century focused on the “wild west” and the exploits of sensational characters such as Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley.

Well, evidently they’re making a comeback! Starting in January 2010, a new series written by Guido Henkel merges the feel of Sherlock Holmes tales with the monster-hunting mentality of TV’s Supernatural. Set on the streets of Victorian England, it seems London is in need of a hero and “Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter” is there to fill the bill.

Demon’s Night is the first in the series, introducing our brave hero. Dark comes from a long line of ghost hunters and he is the “Geisterjäger” of his generation. Armed with a magical sword, Dark hunts for the things in the dark preying on his fellow man. And in this adventure, we find him following the trail of a number of bizarre deaths along the waterfront… each victim somehow drained of bodily fluids and left looking like a mummified corpse.

Along the way, he saves the life of Siu Lin, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who are tragically killed by a demonic entity. Dark and Lin stalk the streets and graveyards of London seeking clues as to the creature’s origins and looking for a way to stop it’s reign of terror…

The book itself is 62 pages and a saddle-stitch binding, basically a stack of 31 8.5″ x 11″ pages folded in half length-wise. It feels much like a small magazine, making it easy to slip in a briefcase or purse to take along for light reading.

It honestly took me a little while to get into the groove as I was reading Demon’s Night. The style aims to be like that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a deep feel for the streets, attitudes, and locations of Victorian England. And occasional grammar or spelling gaffes may have been intentional to keep with the writing of that era. But each time I found one (there are a few), it yanked me out of the story and I had to fight to get back into it again. (Update: Heard from Henkel that the spelling issues have been resolved in later copies of the book.)

That said, I felt it really hit a stride about halfway through after Dark and Siu Lin start working together. The camaraderie helped the story, setting, and characters gel more the further I went. It definitely hit me as a fun pulp fiction style adventure that has many avenues to explore in the “monster hunter” realm.

If you’re looking for a quick story in the vein of a lighter Sherlock Holmes-style adventure, I’d recommend you pick up Henkel’s Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter — Demon’s Night. It’s available in hardcopy for a small fee, and on Amazon for the Kindle, but you can find it online at JasonDark.com for free. I have the next story – Theater of Vampires – waiting here to read and will be interested to see where Jason Dark goes next!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out JasonDark.com for more details or get the hardcopy version from Barnes & Noble below!

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Book Review: Changes by Jim Butcher

Hi all!

Harry Dresden is one of my heroes. I’ve been reading about Jim Butcher‘s modern wizard since I found the first book Storm Front in the early 2000s. It’s a perfect mix of urban fantasy, adventure, and sarcasm. Yes, I said sarcasm. He’s willing to provide a wisecrack to the most powerful beings on the planet or the guy next door. I value that devil-may-care attitude.

This isn’t your traditional wizard. For one, he lives in modern day Chicago and works as a private investigator. Well, he used to when he had more time. Lately he’s been helping out in a war between the White Council of wizards and the Red Court of vampires that he might have started…

Ok, maybe I should start at the beginning. Harry Dresden is a wizard in every sense of the word. He casts spells, speaks with spirits and other supernatural beings, crosses into the realm of faerie, and hunts for monsters who seek to hurt innocent (and sometimes not-so innocent) people. He lives and works as a special private eye in the bustling metropolis of Chicago, Illinois. I say special, because it’s not often you see ads for a “Wizard for Hire” in the yellow pages.

Author Jim Butcher published the first novel of the “Dresden Files” – Storm Front – back in 2000. Since then he’s published eleven more novels set in the Dresden universe, all focused on his wizard/detective. Each has put Dresden and his friends in harms way more times than I can count and not everyone has come out unscathed or alive. Sometimes the things making noise in the darkness are out to get you and won’t stop until they succeed…

Harry Dresden has changed over time. He’s not quite the same hot-headed young wizard he was when he started. By the time Changes starts, he’s taken on an apprentice – Molly Carpenter, the daughter of his good friend Michael Carpenter who is a retired Knight of the Cross – and becoming a teacher has mellowed him out greatly.

Beyond that… Harry has a dog – Mouse, a Tibetan Mastiff who protects Harry as much as anyone can – and a cat – Mister, a large gray tomcat who (like most cats) has a serious attitude. Harry has a magical skull that contains the spirit of a former powerful wizard – “Bob” – who has a soft spot for romance novels. And Harry has a lot of good friends, among them Karrin Murphy, a police detective in the Chicago Police’s “Special Investigations” unit. SI handles the weird cases nobody wants to deal with but everyone wants dealt with quickly and quietly. Inevitably Harry gets involved somehow.

When Changes starts, Harry gets a phone call that literally changes his life. He’s told by his former girlfriend, Susan Rodriguez (one-time lover and reporter, now half-vampire), that he has a child and the child is in danger. In true Dresden form, Harry kind of goes off the deep end to save his daughter from the Red Court of vampires who would really like to see him dead.

I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone. It, like all Dresden novels, was one heck of a page turner. I devoured this book in about 8 hours spread out across two days and that’s fast even for me.

However… I will mention two things in case you’re a Dresden fan and haven’t picked this up yet. First of all, you get to meet Odin from Norse mythology. Suffice it to say that the scene in which that happens is one of my favorite of the entire book and made me think back to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I will now have to re-read. Second, you get to hear Mouse talk. Yes, it makes sense in the context of the story and made me laugh out loud.

If you like urban fantasy (fantasy fiction set in the modern world) and haven’t read any of the Dresden books, I would encourage you to start at Storm Front and work your way up to Changes. If you are already a Dresden fan, I would encourage you to read Changes if you haven’t already done so. This book was a blast and somehow Butcher continues to turn out amazing, entertaining stories in Dresden’s world. Next up will be Butcher’s Side Jobs short story and novella collection combining numerous Dresden short stories in one place, including a follow-up to Changes. Look for that to arrive in late October 2010!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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[Book Review] Warriors edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Hi there…

Short story collections are tricky to sum up sometimes. In the case of fantasy, science fiction, or horror collections, often I find that an anthology feels more like it was rounded up like cattle to slaughter than a carefully selected group of stories about a particular theme. Warriors from Tor was thankfully in the latter category.

Warriors was put together and edited by George R. R. Martin (author of the bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series that began in 1996 with A Game of Thrones), and Gardner Dozois (acclaimed editor and novelist who has won fifteen Hugo Awards for his editorial work in science fiction and fantasy). I’ve read many of GRRM’s works, including some of his Wild Cards anthologies and have been waiting to see who lives and dies in the next book of his Song of Ice and Fire series for 5 years along with everyone else. And I really enjoyed Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy a few years ago, which was edited by Dozois. So I suspected that Warriors would be just as good.

Man was I wrong. Warriors was an amazing collection of stories from all eras and genres, from ancient Rome and Carthage to a future where soldiers jack into giant robots on a battlefield far away and everything between. These stories impressed me with their depth, their eloquence, and the ability to surprise me from time to time. I loved Wizards, but Warriors beats it hands down. It helps that the 735 page book could be used as a weapon to bludgeon a poor, unsuspecting wizard while they were trying to remember or cast a spell…

When I first saw this behemoth, I wondered if they’d sent me a dictionary by mistake. Its size alone presented a daunting challenge of carrying it around. That said, I think I added a bit of muscle as I lugged it around.

It would be impossible to cover all of the great stories in this collection in a single review. Instead, I’ll focus on a few that really captured my attention.

Robin Hobb is an author who I had often heard about, but never read until recently. I read Dragon Keeper and just finished Dragon Haven a few days ago, both of which were excellent. So when I read her short story “The Triumph” I already knew she was an excellent writer. But it’s one thing to write about a fictional world of your own making and quite another to write accurately enough about a historical period that you can enjoy the story without getting mired in historical details or inaccuracies.

“The Triumph” is about an Roman soldier named Regulus imprisoned by the Carthaginians and his childhood friend and soldiering companion Flavius, recently escaped from Carthaginian slavers. In the story, Hobb describes the love, respect, and admiration soldiers often have for one another that leads them again and again into and out of impossible situations. Regulus was a natural leader and Flavius a follower intent on keeping his friend alive through battle after battle. But in the end, there was only one kindness Flavius could give his friend. Beautifully written and told with just enough detail to be believable, but not so much as to become lost.

Joe R. Lansdale, I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of prior to reading his story “Soldierin’.” However, from the blurb before his story I now know he was involved with novelizing the awesome and quirky movie Bubba Ho-Tep. Now I may have to look for some of his other works!

“Solderin'” has nothing to do with Elvis, a mummy, and nursing homes, but instead deals with a story from the wild west of 1870 about two Black men looking for a better life. The pair get involved with the Ninth Cavalry from Fort McKavett “between the Colorady and the Pecos rivers” as Nat Wiliferd and Cullen find themselves in Indian country.

Did they find their better life? Perhaps. But what captured my interest was the way in which the story was told, from Nat’s point of view. I laughed my way through the story enjoying his view of the world and the way everyone spoke in a particularly direct, yet drawly English. It reminded me a bit of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. with Bruce Campbell. The language, storytelling, and the touches of history kept me amused from beginning to end.

The story that surprised me the most was “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle, the author of The Last Unicorn, one of the great novels of an earlier era of fantasy and science fiction. Beagle has written much since then, including other novels, short fiction, and scripts for such great series as Star Trek: The Next Generation at the height of its run. “Dirae” starts with two pages of dream-like text and leads you on an adventure that transcends the frailty of the human spirit to help those in need. As you read and learn more about the character at the center of the action, you and she piece things together to the very end. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was beautifully paced and emotionally charged.

Another story that surprised me, and the last one I’ll talk about here, is “The Pit” from James Rollins. This one moved me to tears in the end and is not about a human warrior at all, but a canine one. Brutus is a dog trained to fight in the pit, stolen from his happy puppy days by a thief intent on perpetuating the “sport” of dog fighting. As anyone familiar with the Michael Vick dog fighting saga knows, it’s not a sport. It’s illegal and immoral. And this story should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants a glimpse into that world.

There are many other stories in the anthology from authors I knew and a few I didn’t – Joe Haldeman, Tad Williams, Diana Gabaldon, Naomi Novik, David Weber, S.M. Stirling, David Morrell, and the editors Dozois and Martin were among the ones I knew. And all the stories – whether I knew the authors or not – were well written, diverse, and told amazingly well.

If you need some summer reading material, Warriors works well on vacation as you can enjoy the collection a story at a time. The editors and Tor outdid themselves this time. Great work!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this collection and others at Barnes & Noble!

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