Passenger Action

Out today!  A new episode of my podcast, featuring my reading of chapter 2 of my novel, Writ in Blood and Silver.

In this instalment, we learn more about the people Matt has been calling Prof Arnie and City Man. And here I’m going to talk a little about one of my favourite characters in Writ, Arthur Wessex, aka City Man.

Some ***spoilers ahead***, so if you want to hear about Wessex in context, go listen to chapter 2 before reading on!

Meet Arthur Wessex, occultist and prophet.  He realised the danger growing beneath London, and knew he couldn’t hope to defeat it alone.  To discover what, or who, could defeat this ancient evil, he performed a Cassandra Ritual.  He wrote his prophecies for a full day and night, gripped with the gift of foreknowledge.  But such magic has a price, and now Wessex is cursed.  He cannot speak, or write, unless it is to repeat fragments of his prophecy.  He has become quite adept at working around this restriction, but it still means he can never have a normal conversation again.

While not physically strong, Wessex is a wizard of some ability so when facing off against the demonic forces in London, he is not helpless.

Arthur was one of the first characters I came up with for Writ, because I wanted a character who was both in the know, but also had a legitimate reason for withholding information.  Plenty of mentors in genre fiction say things like “the time isn’t right”, “I’ll tell you later” or “you have to see it for yourself”, and it drives me batty.  If only they’d told our hero earlier!  Why would you not say that!  Are you actually trying to help?

But Wessex isn’t like that.  He is a man who knows a lot, not just about the what’s happening in and under London in 1999, but he also has a fair idea of some of what is coming.  He would be happy to tell Matt everything, he simply cannot.  Still, if you listen closely to the things Wessex says, there are secrets to be learned…

Review: The Devil’s Playbook

Before I start, I should say that Anthony is a friend of mine.  So when reading this review, you should keep in mind that on one shoulder I have an angel telling me to encourage people to support my friend’s book, and on the other, I have a demon, stabbing me with jealousy that he has his book out there, and mine is still languishing on my PC.  As I wrestle with my angels and demons, let’s talk about The Devil’s Playbook by Anthony Le Sueur.

This is an urban fantasy set in modern day London.  It is by turns funny and dark, revolving around the ancient conflict between angels and demons. Of late, the demons are winning, and the Devil is worried.  He suspects something is wrong, but needs to provoke a reaction to prove it, so sets out to break the covenant that exists between the factions. He recruits Andy, a blogger, to write stories that technically break the rules in increasingly blatant ways.  Can the Devil get a response from God, and will it be in time to combat the threat which is targeting both sides?

Says the demon on my shoulder… The Devil’s Playbook is very much a debut novel, and it has its flaws.  The opening reads like someone sat down to do NaNoWriMo, had no idea how to start, and just wrote what they could see in front of them. Certain major plot points are discarded on characters that have only just been introduced and we have no attachment to. At times, the effort ground the novel in real London, wanders into the realms of a London guidebook and “places I know”.

But, the angel is quick to point out, there is a lot to recommend in this book.  There are two main protagonists, the blogger, Andy, and the Devil.  Both are likable and well written.  The world that Andy is drawn into is interesting, and the demons he meets are a memorable bunch.  The mythology Le Sueur builds is interesting, and in fact I would like to see it developed further.

Best of all, the true villain of the piece is terrifying and creepy. Throughout the book, we see short interludes of him working in the background against both the angels and the demons. These scenes are tense, well written, and on more than one occasion, more than a bit upsetting.

The Devil’s Playbook then, is not perfect by any means, and I found the early section before it found its feet a bit of a slog.  But once you can get past that, it is well worth the effort, and if you like urban fantasy with interesting mythology and memorable characters, I recommend The Devil’s Playbook to you.

As for a star rating… four stars feels perhaps a little high… but three stars is definitely too low.  Can I give 3.8?  What the heck, this is my blog, 3.8 stars.

I’ve just made a mockery of my own star rating.

Review: Conquest: Rise of the Fifth Horseman

Let’s talk about Conquest: Rise of the Fifth Horseman by Richard M Mulder.

First, let me admit, I picked this book up because I’d seen some work Mulder had been doing in social media to raise the profile of Science Fantasy as a genre.  I was disappointed to find that Conquest isn’t really Science Fantasy, as I would measure it.  There are a few throw away lines that suggest we are in the near-future, a couple of small tech advances hinted at, but if I hadn’t been looking for them, I wouldn’t have noticed.  But it’s not fair to judge a book by what it’s not, especially as I was the one to assume, so let’s put that aside and have a look at the book for what it is.

So… Conquest.

Conquest is a modern day dark fantasy, set across two worlds: our own and the world of Zion.  The last Seraph, guardian of Zion, has been corrupted by the power of Leviathan, and is trying to usher in… the end of days, I think.  In a scheme which involves the NSA, a secret cult, ancient machines and portals between the two worlds.  Into all of this comes Allan Young, a successful corporate lawyer, tangled up with both the corrupted Seraph, and the NSA, though he doesn’t know it.

There are a ton of great ideas in this book, in fact, there may be too much going on.  Imagination and creativity are not the book’s problem; the problem is with the execution.

The book needs a serious edit. There are several writing tics that Mulder has e.g. he can’t mention a gun without someone cocking it, far too many lines of dialogue are stammered.  POVs are confused and often contradictory (I’m not sure how a character can see his own eyes are glowing).  The villain vacillates wildly between cartoonish incompetence and a misogynistic creepiness, and never really manages threatening.  The history of Zion is told through a series of unengaging visions which slow down the last third of the book to a crawl.

There are some highlights in there.  And despite my general dislike of the writing style, the cliff-hanger at the end, is extremely effective, and was almost enough to get me excited for book two.

On balance, some great ideas, let down by poor execution.  2 stars.

Cast in Blood and Silver

And so begins a new podcasting project.  New, and actually quite old.  I have been working on a novel called Writ in Blood and Silver since around about 1998, and I’ve decided it’s time to stop faffing, and get it out there.

So I will be reading a chapter a month of the book for the next year, as part of my podcast.  That will cover about two thirds of the story.  The rest, I plan to edit, tidy up, and get into a Kindle format no later than this time next year.  You will be able to find out how the story ends there.

Alongside the podcasts, I plan to keep up a series of supporting blog posts, looking at characters, ideas and early concepts and origins of the story.  But we’ll start that next month, to coincide with chapter 2.  For now, have a listen to the first chapter of Writ in Blood and Silver, on my podcast here:  Chapter One:  Sorry I’m Late