Tag Archives: fantasy

Dark High Fantasy from a Great Indie Author: “Elf” by G.R. Sabian

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After a multi-year absence from blogging, this is an overt but well-deserved review for my best friend’s first(ish) novel. (I say firstish because this friend published a novel before, but took it down after a while for editing purposes. It’s a great book, too, but as of today isn’t back for sale yet.)

 

G.R. and I have been close for most of my adult life. We bonded over our love of writing (and reading) dark fiction with a fantastic slant. This includes everything from straight-up horror to all kinds of fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, and so on. In addition to being a great writer, G.R. is a fantastic editor and I would be a weaker writer without our friendship.

 

Anyway.

 

“Elf” is one of the stranger novels I’ve read. The book takes familiar fantasy tropes – beautiful elves, dire world-wasting threats, quests, dragons, magical creatures, and gorgeous nymphs – and uses them to create a story that is very singular and dark. It’s a combination of high fantasy, dark fantasy, and science fiction.

 

I think the blurb on the page puts it better than I can, but I’m a reviewer so I’ll do my best to summarize. The narrative follows the journey of Euthain Kurowin, a member of a society of elves who are deeply, intrinsically connected emotionally and psychically. One elf’s joy is every elf’s joy; one elf’s pain is every elf’s pain.

 

Euthain is a very privileged member of this society. He’s the son of two renowned leaders and has everything an elf could want. The problem is, Euthain doesn’t want what other elves want. His society is extraordinarily peaceful. They’re so in tune with nature that they can’t stand even to eat meat. Euthain, however, is essentially violent, jealous, and emotionally miserable. As such, he doesn’t have a place in a society that basically reads his mind, a society that recoils from everything he feels and thinks – dark, horrible things they can’t even comprehend. This results in him being effectively shunned, even within his own family.

 

Right about the time he finally gives up and decides to exile himself for the good of his community and himself, an old, forgotten evil emerges. Even as his people panic, Euthain is euphoric: here is his chance! A war is coming, a violence his people can’t even begin to imagine. He sees the chance to channel his violent impulses and callous nature in such a way that he can be a warrior, a defender. But when he comes face to face with this threat, he unexpectedly finds himself beguiled. He has to make a choice: fight for his people, the community that reviles and fears him…or fight alongside the only person who understands him.

 

So, a couple of things. First, “Elf” is not for everyone. It’s violent, dark, and Euthain – while presented in a way that allows the reader to empathize and even root for him – is objectively a terrible man. He tries not to be. He struggles to be a force for good. He wants to be so much more than he is, and he really does work hard in pursuit of that goal. But he doesn’t work hard enough. Thus, he’s not a good person, and does many, many, many things a bad person would do. Some of these are highly objectionable. But it’s part of what makes him a well-rounded, believable character. You may not love him, but you want him to succeed at his ultimate goal.

Second, there’s the portrayal of women. Does Euthain have issues with women? Absolutely. Is his culture and society dismissive and unkind to a subset of women? Yes. Is the story disrespectful of women? No. A lot of what we see, as readers, is through Euthain’s perspective and a lot of his issues are explored, but not in any way condoned. Besides Euthain, the other main perspective is that of a young woman, and I think she’s portrayed not only realistically, but as the story’s only real, true-hearted hero.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me emphasize that “Elf” is extremely well-written. It’s concise yet poetic, clearly composed, and proceeds at a great clip. The world-building is also exceptional. It’s immersive; from the first page I could see, hear, and feel this world that is by turns utopian and hellish. It wasn’t something I expected, but it was a wonderful treat.

I loved it. If you like a good, dark fantasy, I think you’ll like this too.

Hopefully I’ve piqued your curiosity, and if so, here is the link:

 

Note: I love reading indie books (not just ones my friends write.) I’m getting back into reviewing after a long absence. If you need reviews, then (time permitting) I’d love to help out. No charge, of course, although a free copy of the book would be greatly appreciated because I’m kind of poor. I’m honest but kind, and will let you read the review before I post it if you like.

Second Note: I also do editorials, copyediting, and line-editing. Not for free, but not expensive either. Please understand that my fly-by-night blog posting really is not indicative of my writing and editing prowess; I’m an experienced freelancer and I swear I know what I’m doing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Beautiful, Heartbreaking, and Hopeful: Sarah Porter’s “Waking Storms” (#2 in the “Lost Voices” Trilogy)

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I do not typically find myself captivated by mermaid fiction. I love folklore, mythology, science fiction, urban fantasy, and horror, and have given most of the mermaid reboots a shot. Each novel left me disappointed, however, either in characterization, depth, writing prowess, or story itself.

Sarah Porter’s “Lost Voices” trilogy has none of these flaws, and is, in my opinion, the best new Young Adult series to be published in the last five years. The only contender I can immediately think of is Lauren Destefano’s “Chemical Garden” trilogy, and even then I think “Lost Voices” has the scale tilted slightly in its favor.

“Waking Storms” opens with Dorian, the boy Luce could not bring herself to kill at the end of “Lost Voices.” Dorian lost his family in the shipwreck Luce’s tribe brought about. He is depressed; he is terrified that he is insane (he did see mermaids sinking their cruise ship, after all); he is furious at the creature he believes killed his parents and sister, and on top of all of this, he is horribly sickened with himself for being attracted to the mermaid despite this. He now lives on the Alaskan coast with two distant family members who do not particularly care for him. He is very alone.

Unable to tolerate this any longer, he runs to the beach on a bitter night, yelling for the creature–the mermaid–to face him.

Luce, for her part, has had Dorian on her mind, as well. Not that he’s the only thing on her mind. At the end of “Lost Voices”, (book 1) she and her friend Catarina left their mermaid tribe. Catarina, once queen, was violently ousted by the sociopathic new mermaid, Anais. By the time “Waking Storms” opens, Catarina has abandoned Luce, swimming off early one morning with no explanation or farewell.

Despite her crushing loneliness, Luce can’t bring herself to beg mercy from Anais and return to her tribe. She hates Anais; she is appalled and sickened that the other mermaids follow Anais so willingly; and Luce herself is wracked with guilt over the mermaids’ proclivity to destroy humans. Every mermaid has a beautiful, unearthly voice that literally drives mankind to destroy itself when they hear it. All mermaids were once human themselves, but turned to the sea as a result of horrendous abuse. Thus, most mermaids not only kill humans when they can, but love to do it. (Don’t the abusive monsters deserve it, after all they’ve done to these girls and countless others through the centuries?)

Luce, who herself became a mermaid as a result of attempted rape and a vicious beating, still can’t bring herself to continue killing people. She and her friend Catarina deserted their old tribe for many reasons, not least because Anais wanted to kill both Luce and Catarina. But Luce also dreams of beginning a new tribe, a tribe that will use their incredible song to build rather than kill.

Luce, swimming alone one night, is stunned to hear Dorian’s voice: he is singing, in his poor human imitation, her own mermaid song. It is the song she used to destroy his ship months ago.  Stunned, she swims to the shore to see what is happening–and meets Dorian.

Much to Dorian’s surprise, they bond quickly, their attachment eventually blossoming into a relationship. As their relationship develops, however, it becomes is just as well that Luce abandoned the tribe; as both she and Dorian learn, Anais has been killing people and sinking ships in such a frenzy that the government is aware that something is wrong. Worse, the FBI itself is aware that the continuous loss of life is likely not of natural origin.

“Waking Storms” is gorgeously written, with amazingly deep characters that tug at the heartstrings. It is unusually dark for a young adult release, but not overwhelmingly so. The take on the mermaid myth is different, refreshing, and painful. The quandaries and moral dilemmas faced by Dorian, Luce, and other characters are genuinely distressing. While there are clear answers to most of these dilemmas (though not all), the solutions are never simple, never easy, and bear worse consequences for the people who make those right decisions than the selfish choices would. The relationship between Luce and Dorian is wonderful, yet stressful and ultimately heartbreaking while carrying on a bright beam of hope–just like everything else in the novel.

This is not an easy book, it is a gorgeous one, and highly recommended. I’m already counting down to the release of the third novel.

 

**Because a) so many people are asking; b) it isn’t like a huge spoiler or anything and c) I love spoilers, here you are: CATARINA DID NOT KILL LUCE’S FATHER. Seriously, think about it. Can you imagine a writer as talented as Sarah Porter taking such an easy and maudlin out? I didn’t think so.

Yes, Fullmetal Alchemist IS Better Than Just About Anything

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Displaying my knack for being painfully behind the times, I started watching Fullmetal Alchemist about a year ago. I was immediately enthralled. I’m a sucker for a good story and an even better sucker for awesome characters. In fact, when it comes to characters and story, FMA exceeds just about every standard. It  is a spectacular TV show, a good movie, and a wonderful series of graphic novels. If you wanted to try, it’d be a great novel, mini-series, micro-series, film trilogy, comic strip, radio show, live-action show, or anything else. “Fullmetal Alchemist” would succeed in any forum, because it is a spectacular story. And if you’ve got that, you have everything else in the bag.

The show follows the adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric. They live, not in this world, but a close parallel called Amestris, where science has diverged from ours–though far more sophisticated in its way, the science of alchemy has superseded all our sciences in importance. It’s easy to see why: if you understand the composition of matter, alchemy can produce anything out of anything–as long as you abide by the law of equivalent exchange: to obtain, something of equal value must be lost.

The one exception to this rule is life.

But when their mother dies, the distraught brothers ignore this rule and do everything they can to bring her back, with disastrous consequences. The resurrected monster is nothing like their mother; Alphonse loses his human body; and Edward is literally ripped apart, left with an arm and a leg.

Torn by guilt over his brother’s condition, Edward sets off–with his brother, in a strong but inhuman form–to correct the travesty he has committed. He is determined to bring his brother’s body back, but the only way to possibly do that is to find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone–the only object on earth that can surpass and ignore the law of equivalent exchange.

In order to obtain the Stone, however, the Elric brothers have one option: they must become State Alchemists, working for the military, doing everything they are bid, whether war or destruction or murder, as the military is the only organization with information on the Stone. It’s equivalent exchange all over again.

Their quest for the Philosopher’s Stone run a close parallel with Edward’s career as a State alchemist, with hilarious, uplifting, awe-inspiring, and often tragic consequences.

In the second season, the consequences grow more dire, the storylines deeper, more emotional, more moving, and more tragic. Pursued by evil, inhuman creatures known as the Homunculi who are also after the Stone, Edward ends up separated from Alphonse, and the two brothers embark on individual, parallel courses in order to do what they must, courses that could end the life of one or both before their goal is reached–or before they ever see each other again.

“Fullmetal Alchemist” has a brilliant story populated with brilliant characters. Both the plot and the people are among the best I have ever encountered in a fictional work of any kind. I’m not even an anime fan; I stumbled on this because I thought the story sounded cool. It’s beyond cool; I don’t often use this word, but I will repeat: it is brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough.  It contains a powerful story, thought-provoking,artfully-rendered themes, amazing storylines, and the richest characters I have ever encountered in film or television. Character depth actually rivals many good novels. 

 If you have a soft spot for brilliance (and don’t we all?) “Fullmetal Alchemist” is a must.