dark fantasy

Eden at the Edge of Midnight

Eden at the Edge of Midnight
The Vara of Yima, the original Garden of Eden, sealed from the rest of the world and populated with the fittest of men and women. A secret paradise that 150 years ago became ravaged by smog that choked out the skies.   All good stories have a hero. “The One” who arrives to save the realm from darkness and evil. But what if the wrong person takes their place by accident? Now the Vara exists in a permanent state of darkness and its people need a champion, a chosen one to save them from the smog that threatens to fill the realm and poison its inhabitants. That’s what they needed. They got Sammy Ellis instead. She isn’t important enough for her dad to stick around for, never mind saving a realm or junk like that. Her only responsibility was to help the chosen one open the gateway into the Vara, but not only has she entered the realm in their place, she’s also locked them out in the process. Stuck in a twilight land of giant mushrooms, pursued by dark forces and still in her pyjamas, being unimportant back in the real world is starting to seem way more attractive.  

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

June 19, 2014

If one were to take the Chronicles of Narnia (take your pick which one), Alice in Wonderland, and then add in a dash of Stephen King, and put the whole thing in a blender, you’d come close to having Eden At the Edge of Midnight, the first book in John Kerry’s Vara Chronicles. Giant mushrooms, pink stegosaurus-like mammals, a roiling purple sky, carnivorous rhinos, and even more bizarre things await Sammy Ellis, the luckless and unpopular English protagonist who only wants her often-drunk, harsh father to recognize her for the soccer (foothball) genius she is. Instead, a bracelet catapults Sammy into Vara, where people have no idea what grass is, make furniture out of fungus, and where magic exists.

This book is a real page-turner. Past the first few rather interesting chapters, once Sammy lands in Vara it’s almost like the book reads itself. It’s chock full of an interesting backstory, the shattering history of the various secret societies, cities, and the order of the magi are all keeping secrets and trying to stay alive.

Of the three main characters, perhaps Hami is my favorite. You’re obviously supposed to root for Mehrak, and he’s the harmless, hapless and well-meaning comedy in the book, but Hami is the lone wolf with possibly dark secrets. All three are written well, and the dialogue serves to separate out characters fairly well.

Eden’s also got action sequences (handled well), full on army battles (mostly these go on offstage, but that’s okay) some creepy, thrilling portions with some kind of mysterious monster we should probably see more of in the second book, and all of these are written with great skill.

What’s most admirable about the book is the author’s ability to fully envision a three hundred sixty view of a completely alien world. Vara not only has cool creatures (lava pterodactyls, nice) and interesting locations (Honton Keep is great), but under the author’s watch they come to vivid life.

At about the eighty five percent mark, you begin to wonder ‘Okay, great, so far the book is really good, but it’s not going to end off at a cliffhanger, is it? The author wouldn’t do that to me… well, some authors would do that to me. Crud.’ Rest assured, the book does finally resolve itself, though the epilogue (and unanswered questions from the remainder of the book) leave a door standing open to the future of the series.

There are a couple of places where the book falters, however. The first is the propensity of the author to repeat sentences similar to ‘He turned away and said nothing.’ or ‘He just looked at her and didn’t speak.’ These mostly started to get to me in the middle of the book, where loyalties and motives begin to get questioned.

Second, there are a number of places and terms in the world of Vara that aren’t explained. My two hangups were The Fifth Azaran and Ahriman, which appear to have a lot of meaning to the author, but for which we receive no backstory. Are there four other Azarans? The reader has no idea. No lore is provided, not even a casual mention of the function of these things, which actually become very, very important later in the book.

Third, this book is categorized under children’s fiction, and parents need to take note here: this is, at best, a high level young adult book. There is swearing, there is alcohol use, and while generally these are not part of the YA canon, sometimes they slip in there. Both, in this case, serve the purpose of characterizing an important person in the novel, but neither are handled with the sort of delicacy one would expect of YA (the function would be to teach a lesson about why these things aren’t acceptable, or why people do them when they shouldn’t). While the instances of swearing and drinking are minimal, they are not in the slightest bit subtle.

Overall, AIA lists four stars as material you would find in a bookstore as published by a mainstream publisher. I believe this book stands on the very edge of that rating and the three star rating: books we at AIA recommend readers to buy, but which wouldn’t make the editorial cut at a publishing house. I’m awarding four stars because the writing was done very well, and the flaws were fairly minor, but parents are warned that this is much more an adult than a YA book.

 

Hand of Chaos

Hand of Chaos
A necromancer is out for revenge, leaving a trail of bodies around DC. Can Anna and her dysfunctional team of occult-powered government agents stop him before it's too late? Exhausted, cynical, and confused, Anna is always there to report for duty. She’s part of a clandestine government team that defends the nation against supernatural terrorism — a job that understandably leaves her life in shambles and drives her to drink a little more than she should. Toss in a fear of intimacy with a desire to have friends and lovers like a normal person and, well, Anna is a troubled soul wrapped in a special agent with arcane, magical powers. Waking up hungover at five-thirty in the morning with a zombie-infested apartment building in the heart of DC to deal with, she knows she’s got the makings of the worst morning possible. Her team is its own challenge. A battle-scarred Nigerian shaman, a bookish shape-shifter, an inept summoner, and a brilliant but cantankerous wizard round it all out. Her partner, an immortal and cursed Paladin, is the only person she knows more jaded than herself. Their target, Ethan Morgan, is one pissed off necromancer. His brother was KIA by his own government, the victim of an experimental magical weapon they decided to test on the battlefield. Now bent on revenge and sponsored by one of hell’s most powerful demons, Ethan has a plan of his own to make us all pay.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

February 28, 2014

4 Stars

Yes.

This book is chock full of yes. The main character, Anna Wei, is a brilliant combination of punk, sorcerer, and exhausted bureaucrat trying to have a second life outside of her job, one that clashes completely with the secret government agency she works for. She is likable enough instantly to root for out of the gate, when her squad is commanded to mop up a zombie infestation in a DC apartment building.

The world in Hand of Chaos is richly textured, a layer of invisible magic and political intrigue interwoven with government organizations of the US. Though their aims are basically the protection of American citizens, the Greys of the NSA, the Churchies of the DoD and the Flamers of the CIA go about things in very different ways. Their departments are envisioned, full of bored cubicle-working summoners, strict and thorough requisitions secretaries, and even the security guard at the magical practice arena gets an interesting little mini-bio. All these serve to add more depth to the multilayered and many-faceted magical system the author has obviously taken some serious time to come up with. There are magical workshops. Awesome.

The plot is a double helix, in which Anna and squad desperately try to play catch up to bad boy Ethan, necromancer in service to some serious demonic entities. Not only does Ethan have powerful backup, but he is combining necromantic magic in ways the world has never seen. Anna’s people, by contrast, have budget and personnel crunches, paperwork and briefings, aforementioned workshops, and higher ups to please. Plus, as they’re reminded constantly, they have bureaucratic garbage and political rivals to deal with.

All these factors bring Hand of Chaos to life, like the book is a zombie reanimated through Death Magic and sent on a rampage to eventually transform into a revenant and tear the reader apart.

So why the four stars? Right…

There are three main problems with the book, and all are pretty miniscule. The first is that the world of Hand of Chaos is so thick with magic and organizations and faces and history that plenty of it is spent on exposition. Actually this isn’t really the problem, as the author handles most of it very well. What aren’t effective are the multi-paragraph blocks of expository dialogue by various characters. It feels as if the author pulled these chunks of text out of the narrative and slapped quotes on either side. The result feels wooden and out of character for Anna, Roy, and others.

Second, there are far more minor spelling, punctuation and grammar issues than there should be. They trip up an otherwise stellar read.

Third, plenty of fantasy and urban fantasy books work on a sort of ascending scale (especially series works) where the main character has to find reserves of power within him/herself in order to battle the super badguy. This ultimately leads to something like going Super Saiyan level two. In the following book, the author is then forced to make an even more powerful badguy, and then has no recourse but to make the main character suddenly (to keep up the thrill of the book) develop even MORE badass powers. It’s a hideous cycle that has utterly ruined series after series for me. While this book focuses on the many, varied intricacies and difficulties in learning different spheres of magic, and while Anna ultimately uses what’s in her cranium (yay for brainpower!), the finale of the Hand of Chaos left me feeling proud and frustrated at the same time. Since I’m almost certain this is an issue only I have, it’s a super tiny one.

Overall, this book is well worth the read, given my three tiny issues with it. Fans of Jim Butcher will love the supernatural romp up and down the Washington DC area. Maybe if we’re lucky, we can see more of Anna Wei in the future.

Pro Luce Habere

Pro Luce Habere
What if the legend isn’t simply a cautionary tale of good and evil, a warning about trading one’s soul for eternal life? What if, instead, it’s a misinterpretation of the unimaginable – something true that has only always overlooked the fundamental truth? In 1212 Provence, a boy filled with hope sets out on a pilgrimage to discover the mysteries of his faith, only to find himself become part of a dark and even more mysterious myth, born millennia ago. Forced to kill so he might live, but cherishing the lives he knows intimately in death, he is both shaped and haunted by the battle between light and darkness, within his victims and within himself. Amidst the inquisitions of the Middle Ages, two history-changing revolutions, world war and the paradoxes of modernity, an immortal being struggles to determine who really is the monster, as he journeys through time toward solving the mystery behind a legend as old as mankind. Look beyond fiction and folklore and believe again. Volumes I & II combined in one book. As a prequel, Book II: Pro Luce Habere may be read before Book I: On the Soul of a Vampire.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

June 7, 2012

5 Stars

Wow, another instalment in the On the Soul Series about the beautiful French vampire Valery.  If you don’t like vampire stories, then read on, because this is nothing like the usual vampire fare. This series reminds me more of Dostoevsky than Stephanie Meyers or any other contemporary vampire author.  It’s a long time since I’ve read the Russian masters, but the intensity, passion and depth of philosophy in Krisi Keley’s books give me the same kind of feeling. These are powerful and thought provoking books and a must-read for anyone interested in philosophy or the wide sweep of European and American history, especially as it relates to the pervading ideas of the various time periods.

It’s the exquisite character of Valery that drives these books, eloquent, intelligent, deeply contemplative, witty and beautiful both inside and outside. He was a young man with tremendous faith in God when he was turned into a vampire against his will in thirteenth century France, just after the Children’s Crusade in 1212. Volume one of Pro Luce Habere chronicles his outer journey from that time through centuries of life in Europe, and the inner journey of his struggle to reconcile his belief in God and the morals inherent in that belief with the fact that he must kill in order to live.

Volume two continues from there and takes Valery to the New World of America in its early days of colonisation. During the civil war, he uses his abilities to take away the suffering of soldiers who are dying in such pain that they beg for death. To them, he is an angel. We follow him back to Europe for a time and through the two terrible world wars of the twentieth century. Valery continues to suffer over the nature of his existence, feeling that he is an evil monster, while it is clear to those who love him that his soul is full of the light of love and compassion.  His unquenchable search for truth and the depth of his love are extremely moving.

The purity of Valery’s love will make you question your assumptions about the role of sex in a love relationship. Keley’s vampires have no desire for sex, just for the knowing of a soul that they feel at the moment they take a life. It is this, more than the blood, which sustains them and drives their blood lust. The purist of souls ignite Valery’s love, and his relationships with those who, even though he fights against it, inevitably become his ‘children’ are extraordinary.

His pain is that he can’t overcome his overwhelming desire to completely know the mortals he loves, as he only can at the moment of their death at his hands, or to loose them to a mortal death. So, even though he knows he is condemning them to the everlasting suffering of a pure soul fighting the evil of his existence, he turns them, then suffers with remorse as they fight the same inner battle he does.

The first book was set in the present day, and books two and three are Valery’s memories as he lies dying in the arms of his beloved at the end of book one. At the end of this book, we return to that point.

These books are deeply moving, and if you like an intense, passionate character, extraordinary writing and have a fascination for history, then you may become a fan. I give it 5 stars and look forward to the next instalment.

 

Reviewed by Tahlia Newland

5 Stars

This is an extraordinary work of fiction. The central character is a vampire, but this is not your usual vampire story; it is an amazing way of looking at history through the eyes of a man who has lived through it – all of it. The depth of characterisation, the historical detail, the questions raised and the quality of the prose are all exemplary. When I think of the books that have moved me the most, this is top of the list.

On the Soul of a Vampire

On the Soul of a Vampire
The answer’s neither in blood nor life; the key to the mystery is in the human soul. Keley handles words with authority and skill… but more than that, she writes with a genuine spiritual and psychological depth I've rarely encountered in modern fiction. –Werner Lind, Lifeblood   For some it takes a lifetime to discover their raison d’être. Imagine searching for eight centuries. In 1997 Philadelphia, 800 year old vampire Valéry Castellane comes face to face with is reason to be, in the person of Angelina Lacroix, a young mortal woman whose understanding of immortality is about to change all he’s known as truth and which will take him, and his readers, on a journey into the human soul. Discovering a mortal who not only senses his presence, but also somehow knows his name, Valéry becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of how this might be. Confronting the girl, after learning she has knowledge of his entire existence, he is stunned and frustrated when Angelina seems more intent on convincing him he’s not the soulless monster of myth than she is with providing an explanation. Unable to take her life or give her immortality, Valéry embarks on a journey with Angelina that not only take them from Philadelphia to his childhood home in the Provençal Alps, but on a journey into his greatest hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments, and into the past that has shaped him. A novel about faltering faith and never-ending hope, On the Soul of a Vampire will not only alter everything you think you know about vampires, it will change the way you see your very soul.