Everything you’d expect from an epic fantasy can be found in Dark Shala by Cathy Benedetto, the second book of the Shala Trilogy. The Shala are a tall race of powerful dark skinned warriors who possess a telepathic bond with large cats they call fels. As a vast army invades their lands, just as had been prophesied, the Shala come to the aid of the native humans.
In this second installment, their leader, Tahjeen, and his Shala escort human refugees through an ancient network of underground tunnels. But they soon find themselves being hunted by Shala exiles that practice dark magic, or “Dark Shala,” who have sided with the invaders for a chance at revenge.
Benedetto has created an interesting mix of lovable characters as well as a world and story worthy of the genre. She knows how to keep a reader turning those pages long after they should be going to bed.
I found the prologue to be unnecessary since it was merely a recap of the previous book, and the information it provided was nothing that didn’t later pop up in the story itself, whether through dialogue or exposition. Those types of prologues are neither required and can be quite irksome. But aside from that, the story was an enjoyable read.
Best to read while listening to: the soundtrack to Avatar.
The Man in the Box by Andrew Toy is reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe only darker. The protagonist, Robbie Lake, finds himself dealing with family problems combined with getting fired from his job as an editor for Cipher Mill Publishing House, when he discovers a magical box after breaking into his old workplace. The box transports him to another world, one he had visited before when he was a child. And, of course, an adventure ensues, but one that threatens to ruin his life in the real world as the box proves to be a two-way portal. Unfortunately, the residents of the magical world don’t want him to leave, and are willing to do anything to make him stay.
For reasons that I won’t go into, so as to avoid spoilers, I had trouble liking Robbie. He makes the right choices in the end, but only after he’s faced with losing everything. The whole entire time, I couldn’t help but think, “Well, you got yourself into this mess, dummy.” His almost childish irresponsibility made it difficult to sympathize with him.
Once in a while I ran into some clunky sentence structures, but fortunately those were rare occasions. While the casual reader probably won’t notice half of them, people like me, editor-brained, will flinch once or twice.
On the plus side, Toy shows a remarkable skill with dialogue and character interaction, and maintains the story’s narrative flow, providing all the information the reader needs without having to sacrifice pacing.
In the end, it’s a good book to have around when you’ve already read your first picks and need to pass some time. But I expect, over time, Andrew Toy will become a recognizable name among the small press community.
Best to read while listening to: nothing specific comes to mind; maybe something Narnia-ish but darker. Or “Man in the Box” by Alice In Chains?
The Damn Disclaimer is over to the right –>
With Burning the Middle Ground, the debut novel by L. Andrew Cooper, you will see (okay, read) the author’s strengths and weaknesses all in one. Set in a small town called Kenning, Georgia (and I believe, the word, Kenning, is purposeful, considering what the novel is about), it opens up with a small girl murdering her parents and then committing suicide just as her brother, Brian McCullough, finds her. Flash forward five years later, a journalist named Ronald Glassner arrives in town to write a biography about the tragedy that made the town, and Brian, so famous. Little does Ronald know what he’s getting into….
Cooper nails characterization and dialogue in a way few authors can manage. Ronald is by far the most interesting and roguishly lovable character I’ve read about in a while, and every other character in the story is memorable, even minor characters. You can also tell that Cooper did his research on alchemy and Hermetic magic as well as some Christian mysticism (and, where needed, just made it up).
The story falls short when it comes to overall plot, however. The middle section, which focuses on the chief antagonists, going as far back as before the start of the novel even, dragged the story out. While there were interesting bits and pieces, the interesting (and relevant) parts could’ve easily been handled through the regular plot narrative via segments of dialogue (which does appear later in the last third of the book, ironically, making the middle section almost obsolete) or even a few brief flashbacks by characters being interacted with (which, again ironically, pops up here or there in the final third—especially the scenes involving Jeanne). It was like the tension and suspense was building up and up, and then, instead of the necessary small drop, it instead suddenly dropped all the way through the floor, never rebuilding for the next hundred or so pages. That in itself would’ve been a story-killer if his characters weren’t so gosh-darn fun to read about (especially Ronald, who pretty much stole the entire show).
As Horror goes, I didn’t find Burning the Middle Ground as scary as I had hoped, and even as Dark Fantasy it didn’t seem to come to fruition for me (probably because I’m an old-school Dark Fantasy fan and thus expect the antagonist(s) to be more supernatural and antihero-ish). But there were elements that made the novel worth reading, and the ending appears to segue into either a trilogy or series. If so, then one can certainly view this novel as the “setting up” portion of a larger, more epic, tale. If so, I look forward to seeing Cooper come closer to his full potential with each new addition.
Best to read while listening to: Old fashioned church music—no, seriously. With perhaps a bit of Christian Rock tossed in with some King Diamond and Slayer. And a touch of AC/DC (“Highway to Hell” comes to mind).
*Ahem!* Dislaimer over thar —>
Yeah, to the side of your screem.
Yes, this is a rant! A big, fat rant!
Some editors are too polite to rant about this particular topic, but I’m not known to be a polite fellow, so I’ll go ahead and say what we all feel.
There’s this problem, see: a big damn mistake that keeps getting made, and not just by aspiring noobs, but also by published writers who should know better. To be honest, this particular mistake makes me sometimes wonder how the hell they even got published in the first damn place!
The problem? Improper formatting!
No. Not just improper. PISS POOR formatting!
Not only do they SUCK at following guidelines (y’know, 12 point font, New Courier or Times New Roman, as a .doc or .rtf only), the dummies can’t even do basic formatting right! It’s like none of them have ever read Vonda N. McIntyre’s Manuscript Preparation; before. The only time that article shouldn’t be followed with religious zeal is when the editor specifically says something different in his guidelines, like “single spaced, no indents, space between paragraphs.” If he asks for that, then that’s what you give him. If he doesn’t specify, than standard format is what you do. Seriously, how damn hard is that to understand?
But I decided I’d be a nice editor and not get all tricky with you. I kept it simple. Standard formatting, 12 point font, Courier or Roman. And I was perfectly fine with people getting “creative” with the formatting so long as they kept it readable. But some, it appears, can’t even do that!
Okay, not all seem to fail at it, but a lot do. So much so, that I give up wasting time to ask folk to “Please follow correct formatting. After all, you wouldn’t go to a job interview without looking your best, so why would you do the equivalent to your manuscript?”
Instead, from henceforth, I shall reply with the following term: F.I.R.I.! Which stands for: Format It Right, Idiot!
So repeat after me: “Vonda N. McIntyre is God, and her ‘Manuscript Preparation’ article is Law.” Now repeat that over and over until you finally get that in your head.
Now repeat: “The Editor is God, and his/her guidelines are Law.”
And for the love of all that is holy! If you submit a story to a faery-themed anthology, the least you can do is have a damn faery or two in the damn story! Sheesh!