When greedy, unscrupulous politicians with ideological agendas and little compassion for their fellow man start to sneak laws into our system to advance that agenda – we’d better beware. Citizens who pay no attention to what politicians do can easily wake up and find themselves under the yoke of a police state and creeping totalitarianism.
In Get on Board Little Children by Victoria Randall, we’re immersed head first in just such a state. The United States has enacted strict population control measures and left it to the states to implement them. Each state has its own views, and some, like the state of Washington, have adopted draconian procedures, up to and including a Bureau of Population Management. In order to legally have children, people must obtain a permit – an expensive and time consuming process – or risk fines and imprisonment, forced abortion, or if the child is born without permit, having it consigned to a labor camp. In order to enforce this, a police state of sorts has been created, complete with officious bureaucrats and scheming politicians drunk on the power they possess.
Sophie Cortez and her husband Joshua find themselves caught up in this byzantine situation when she becomes pregnant with twins. When Sophie and Joshua make the decision to run, they’re taken under the wings of BirthAid, an organization that runs a 21st century version of the Underground Railroad that takes immense risks to get them to safety.
Randall has created a compelling cast of characters – many that readers will recognize and identify with, or hate. The beleaguered citizen fighting to maintain a sense of dignity and self-worth: Sophie and Joshua; the uncaring bureaucrat concerned with exercising power and maintaining position: the Bureau of Population Management officials; and those who, when they see someone in need, are willing to step up and be counted.
It’s hard to decide if this is science fiction or thriller, so I just settled with calling it a damn fine story that is extremely well-told. It starts slow, with rising tension that comes to a gentle landing that is satisfying.
This is a book that, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, addresses an important social issue – in this case, individual freedom in the face of efforts at state control – and could like Stowe’s masterpiece become the symbol of this century’s most important struggle.
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.
I won this book in a give away and when the author contacted me asking for my address, I said that since the postage to Australia would be quite a lot of money, I’d be fine with an ebook version, but she said she wanted to send me a paperback. A week or so later, it arrived. I read the blurb, then put the book down, thinking it sounded interesting. I didn’t think I’d get around to reading it for ages, but being a paperback, it sat on the coffee table shouting, read me, read me, so after dinner I picked it up to have a quick perusal of the first few pages and I and didn’t put it down again until I absolutely had to go to bed. You guessed it—I loved it. It grabbed me from page one and held me until the wonderful end.
The Sundered is fabulously different to anything else I’ve ever read—the mark of a strong new voice—and a totally unique story that had me completely enthralled.
The story takes place on a world flooded with black water that is deadly to humans. People share this world with the Sundered, magical creatures humans have enslaved. The Sundered are dying out, but since there is no arable land and they are the only ones who can go into the water, they are the ones that produce food. Once the Sundered are all gone, the humans will eventually die out.
Harry Iskinder is a salvager who paddles around in a small skiff looking for the Hope of humanity, a possibly mythical object that he hopes will save humans from extinction. No one knows what exactly it is or what it does, but Harry discovers that finding it will give him a choice; either the Sundered survive and humanity ends, or humanity lives for a while but the Sundered are wiped out.
The story is written in a snappy way that immediately drew this reader in. Harry is trying to live up to his family heritage of the ones who search for the Hope. He’s tense and terrified of failing to adequately lead his travellers, the gang that travels with him, and when he manages to claim a first tier Sundered, he is as surprised as anyone. Did the Sundered allow himself to be caught? And if so, why? Or does Harry simply have more power than he thought? Either way, Aakesh, his first tier Sundered is an extraordinary being and the conversations between him and Harry are brilliant.
I loved Gorish, the cute little Sundered. His simple ways were endearing and his love and loyalty for Harry, more than anything else, made me empathise with the Sundered. Aakesh was drawn so well, I could almost feel this incredibly powerful, noble and mysterious character. Other than these two, the only other character we really got to know (or needed to know) was Harry, who quickly became out of his depth. Sometimes I wished he would calm down a bit, and it would have been nice to have seen some kind of maturing in his character over the period of the story, some of Aakesh’s calm intelligence could have rubbed off on him. Also, I didn’t quite get why Bek was blowing up cities or how his weapon worked, so maybe that could have been clearer.
I really enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the perception of the Sundered and the concepts behind it, and the interrelational politics between Harry, his friends, his Sundered and his mentor were very well done. All in all an excellent book that I highly recommend to anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy.
The Children of Darkness, the first volume of David Litwack’s The Seekers series, is a classic quest story. Three young heroes embark upon a journey to uncover a secret that can save the world. Along the way they meet a wise guide and encounter daunting obstacles that test their courage and resolve. And they return very changed.
This YA novel follows the pattern, but it’s anything but run of the mill. The quality of its intelligence, imagination, and prose raises The Children of Darkness to the level of literature.
Orah, Nathaniel, and Thomas live in a theocracy. The Temple of Light came into existence a after a series of wars almost destroyed humankind, and for a millennium it has kept the peace. The Temple controls every aspect of peoples’ lives. The vicars of the Temple prescribe how many children a family may have, how people cook their food, what musical instruments they play, and, of course, what they’re allowed to think. The rules are enforced by bands of deacons and by “teaching” the young in a process that amounts to torture.
A vicar comes to the village of Little Pond and selects Thomas for a teaching. When he returns, he avoids Nathaniel and Orah because the vicars have forced him to betray his childhood friends. Next Orah is taken for teaching. Nathaniel follows her and the vicar to Temple City and offers to take her place. While he awaits the vicars’ decision in a dungeon, the old man in the adjacent cell tells him of the Keepers, a secret group who through the centuries have passed down coded directions to the Keep, a hidden place where the wonders of the ancient world are preserved. Everything forbidden by the Temple is there.
The old man appoints Nathaniel a Seeker, charged with finding the Keep, and gives him the first part of the code along with clues to the location and identity of the next Keeper. After Nathaniel returns to Little Pond, he and his friends set out to find the Keep.
At first their quest appears altogether noble and right. The Temple of Light is oppressive, cruel, and anti-intellectual. As the wise man explains to them, the aim of teaching is to extinguish the fire in human beings — the spirit that drives individuals to dream and achieve and aspire to greatness. Teaching almost destroys Thomas. But a thousand years ago, humankind almost destroyed itself and the world with the magic in the Keep. For all its shortcomings, the Temple makes it possible for human beings to live in harmony among themselves and with nature. The quest might open Pandora’s Box.
Litwack avoids the usual tropes of YA fantasy. There’s no simpleminded battle between good and evil, no sexual jealousy and tension between friends, and no adolescent bickering. The friends argue about things that matter — how they can best survive, whether the quest is worth the cost.
In The Children of Darkness Litwack has created a fully realized and altogether believable world. The characters, including the functionaries of the Temple, are complex and sympathetic. The conclusion is unexpected yet feels altogether right. Everything is set for the next volume of the series, which I very much look forward to reading.
I admit it: I liked this book more than I thought I would for a good while. It’s a dystopian book, but that takes a while to come out, and it begins like a humdrum fantasy, which put me off a bit at the beginning. The story starts with a festival in the town of Little Pond, and one of a handful of annual visits by a vicar from Temple City to bestow a blessing of light, deal out medicines, and–unfortunately–take away one of the main characters, Thomas, for a “teaching.” Thomas leaves behind his friends Orah, who has prophetic dreams, and Nathaniel, who believes he is destined for greatness. In Temple City, Thomas receives his teaching, showing the horrors of the past age called “the darkness,” a time when people used weapons like suns they dropped from the sky against each other. He comes back changed, and shortly after Orah is taken for a teaching of her own–but Nathaniel, determined not to let another of his friends suffer, goes after her, and he, Orah, and Thomas end up on a quest to discover the truth about the darkness and whether the vicars of Temple City have been lying to them their entire lives.
Not-so-spoiler: they have. This is pretty much a given in a dystopian book. What makes this interesting in comparison to most modern dystopians, I feel, is that the government in control of the land is a theocracy. In most dystopians published these days, religion has been eliminated or at least pushed to the fringes. In The Children of Darkness, religion–granted, a conglomeration religion and not one of the ones that’s currently practiced on Earth–is front and center. I liked this, because it shows how government and religion can be so strongly linked that they can become the same thing, even in places where one isn’t actually portrayed as the other. It also makes it harder for the heroes to invoke change, because they’re fighting against a doubly-strong force; trying to turn people away from a political structure of life and a religious one is, in theory, twice as hard as trying to turn people from just one of them.
That said, this book can be a bit slow. The quest of looking for the truth about the darkness doesn’t progress very quickly; there’s not a lot of action. You’re not going to find any girls on fire in this book, no teenagers quite literally fighting the power. There’s a lot of walking from place to place, admiring of the scenery and creations left over from the previous age, and then a lot of sitting around and learning. This was necessary for the characters, because the main thing they’re trying to do is find out the truth; they’re not dead-set on overthrowing the system, they just want to know what’s really going on. When they do decide to act, they do it with words rather than weapons. I’m skeptical of how successful this would have realistically been, since they never actually emerge into the light and kind of end up with a leaderless movement, but eh. Whatever. However, this non-action might mean that this isn’t the book for people looking for something a little more like The Hunger Games. It’s a slower, lower dystopian, and it also kind of ends up feeling more like backstory for whatever comes next.
There are supposedly two more books in this trilogy, one of which is currently out. I think I’ll read the next one, at least–it involves crossing the ocean, which is a much more intriguing proposition to me than finding the keep was–but I’m also interested in reading another Litwack book I already happen to have, Daughter of the Sea and Sky. I think his writing and world-building skills are strong enough to give another look, even if this one wasn’t quite as fast and action-y as I would have thought, and might have liked.
3.5 stars out of 5.
I received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.
Spirits of Glory is a highly imaginative story set on another planet after the population of half the planet has been whisked away by the Southern Gods, never to be seen again. The author placed the novel in the dystopian genre but since it doesn’t have the repressive society of a dystopian world, it is more correctly post-apocalyptic and since it is about another planet it is also science fiction, yet it is mystery that drives the book. Many of the new breed of Indie books are excitingly cross genre and unique in style, this is one of them.
Spirits of Glory is written in a haunting style about a dreamlike world where spirits and gods are a reality and time fractures at unexpected moments. The imagery of abandoned cities set amongst tracts of barren land is stark and beautiful, and the characters and their relationships are fascinating, leaving the reader with a distinctive flavour that is hard to describe, perhaps something like fine wine.
The Neighbours appeared on the planet Jigsaw soon after the people of the South disappeared. Hawkeye thinks there might be some relationship between the two events, but no one knows where the neighbours live or where they came from and they clearly aren’t human because though human in form their skin comes in a multitude of hues and they have their own language.
For some reason, unknown until the clever ending, a group of Neighbours come to take Hawkeye to the far south where they plan to consult with the Southern Gods. Accompanying them is a group of scavengers, evil minded men whose only desire is to steal the mysterious artefacts left behind after the Disappearance. Their nature contrasts starkly with the purity and tenderness of the Neighbours, and Hawkeye, pretty but a cripple, finds herself dependant on the Neighbours for protection. The tension between the two groups pervades the book and comes to a head at the end.
Throw conversations with strange gods and beautifully described fractures in time into this mix and you have something totally original. If you like something different, read this. I give it 5 stars and a place on the Awesome Indies listing.
The Plague is an entertaining and generally well-written science fiction story about a future where humans are a plague on the universe. It has all the elements that sci if fans will love – intelligent alien monsters with squishy tentacles and glistening scales, technological wizardry, deadly space battles, and even a touch of romance and a smidgen of magic.
Earth was destroyed long ago, and now New Earth has gone the same way. Humans are once again shifting planets. I’m unsure of the time frame of this event, because though the author labels this part of the story The Near Future, whether that is near to me, or near to the rest of the story, I’m not sure. I don’t think it really matters that much in this somewhat disjointed form of story telling.
Four characters start in different places during the same time frame but in different, seemingly unrelated, situations, their only link the world they inhabit. But as the story continues, some of these characters come together, and each story informs the other. Added to that are scenes from The Near Future and The Far Future which complete the story by giving us a view over a long period of human future history. Instead of these scenes coming at the end, they are peppered throughout the story. Some may not like this leaping about from character to character and between time periods, but I think it gives the story an interesting dynamic with the glimpses of the future juxtaposed against the events that set the future along that path.
Each character is well-drawn and complex and their individual stories are strong, but the overall plot is not as strong as the individual strands that make it up. Near the end, the threads do start to converge and give of sense of an overall thrust to the story as the characters fall on different sides of a battle between the Defiled and the Assembly. I assume there will be sequels because the individual stories paused rather than ended, and the book clearly set the scene for future developments.
The book is sleek and well-edited, the only difficulty I had with it was the beginning. I simply had a hard time getting into it. The first and second scenes suffered from a lack of description, so I couldn’t get a visual of the setting and very little on the characters. The author didn’t introduce a central character up front either, so I didn’t know who the story was actually about until some way into the scene when I discovered that it was a first person narrative. Even then, I couldn’t figure out who the narrator was and what role he played in the scene. His relationship to one of the other characters only became apparent at the end of the scene. Perhaps I simply missed these things, but I doubt I would be the only one who finds the beginning scenes a little vague.
The second scene also introduced many terms for aspects of the world but without any explanation, so I could only guess what on earth (or not on earth in this case) the narrator was referring to. The author also introduced many characters in a short space of time and before the central character – another recipe for orientation difficulties.
Scene three, however, I found excellent. The main character was introduced up front, the threat was real, the visuals clear, the writing immediate and engaging, and by the end of the scene, I was rooting for Forge and the Flora. Things were looking up. And that standard continued throughout the rest of the book.
The author has used the characters and the world of his cartoon series for this novel, which explains, but doesn’t excuse its early problems. Graphic fiction has pictures, but novels need description to create those pictures in the readers’ minds. Much about a world can be seen and understood in a glance with a picture, whereas it needs to be explained in a novel without associated graphics. The author provided me with the comic as well as the novel, but the novel should stand alone.
All up, if you can hang in at the beginning until things start to come together then the rest of the ride is great.
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Full disclosure: One of my short stories appears in this anthology. This review is about the others.
I did not expect these stories to move me as deeply as they did. Short works often struggle to pack a significant punch in their diminished wordcount, but the pieces contained in this collection rise to the occasion. Some had me on the edge of my seat in suspense. Some brought tears to my eyes with their emotional depth. And some utilized unique writing styles so artfully that they should be studied in literature classes.
Like with any anthology, not everything in this book will appeal to every reader. But the breadth and depth of the writing styles, storylines, and people explored make it deserving of a spot on any avid reader’s shelf.
This is a collection of stories subtitled Last Days and Lost Ways. I received an Advanced Review Copy. It is not the final version. I don’t know if the stories will appear in this order but I found I didn’t really get on with most of those in the first half. The second half of the book picked up for me, but if I hadn’t been reading to review, I might easily have lost interest and abandoned it.
The writing was good. It was the definition of ‘story’ which didn’t click with me in some cases. To me, and I suspect, to many readers, a short story is a complete tale. Some of these read as, or maybe even were, excerpts from some longer work and I didn’t like that. I wanted closure.
The stories I liked best were Pearls, Home late, The Creator, Recipe for a Dinner Party, Standin’ at the Crossroads, Waitin; for the Devil to Show and A Matter of Trust. I enjoyed these stories and the feeling of having savoured a complete experience with them.
As the husband of one of the authors in this anthology, I was given the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. So, here it is!
I’ve read a few short story anthologies, and this one is definitely the most interesting. The collection is richly diverse in terms of subject matter, national origin and setting, narrative tone, length, and literary style. As I read, I found myself jumping from fantasy to vignette to full plots inspired by true events, and the transition somehow is fluid and seamless rather than jarring or distracting. Awesome Indies has managed to build an enjoyable whole out of various and disparate components!
Among my favorites in the lineup were ‘Clearing the Shed’, ‘Quarantine’, ‘I, Zombie’, ‘Chasing Dreams in the Time Left Over’, ‘Traffic’, ‘Standin’ at the Crossroads, Waitin’ for the Devil to Show’, ‘Home Late’, ‘A Matter of Trust’, ‘Pearls’, and what is likely the stylistic jewel of this collection, ‘Recipe for a Dinner Party’.
This anthology asked me interesting questions, presented me with some of my greatest fears in life, introduced me to new ideas not common in conventionally published shorts, and fed an interest in diverse snippets of literature that I didn’t even know I had.
To sum it up best, I’ll paraphrase one of the author’s descriptions regarding the virtues of the short stories collected in this anthology: The short form gives authors the opportunity to write in ways that couldn’t be sustained for an entire novel.
I recommend reading these shorts–open yourself up to unique experiences from authors all around the world who love writing so much that they publish themselves.
This collection of wonderful stories covers a variety of themes. From satire to thriller to contemporary life and much more. Each story gets your attention and keeps it from start to finish. They are thought provoking, with characters, dialogue and themes that are believable, but sometimes out in the twilight zone, which is what I like. I will be looking for more works by the various authors and follow them in the future. I received this free from Simon Townley for an honest review. Outstanding! Recommend to any and all.
Both emerging and established writers from Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand present a peek into the spectacular moments everyday life holds, but with a twist.
The collection opens with a bang with a story by Tahlia Newland. Intriguing to the last paragraph, I was surprised to find it was an excerpt from her newest project. It sits perfectly as a short story and a wonderful teaser into what looks to be an exciting premise.
Each story has an incredible depth and texture to them, that, although is specific to its own style, melds beautifully as a collection. The human condition is explored where the reader is challenged to reassess their perspectives on stereotypes and events. Post apocalyptic tales sit comfortably with personalised stories like fragmented memories; separate, but with a golden thread holding them together. Heart-wrenching, whimsical, tear-jerking and lighthearted there is a story to suit all moods and readers tastes.
It is difficult to chose a favourite story, with a wrestling loving gran meeting her idol, to emotional trials of marriages breaking apart or forming, futuristic zombies and maids from a gentler time.
Authors are recognised in their own right with multiple honours and prizes and although the anthology is an eclectic mixture of genre, reading one after the other only highlights the complexity and intrigue each story brings.
A great book to stash into someones Christmas stocking for some fireside holiday reading, Awesome Allshorts is set to be a winner in your readers life.