Saturday, March 29, 2014


A little while ago, I came across the Kickstarter for Kelly Thompson's Storykiller.  I loved the premise and decided to kick in some money, scoring myself an ebook copy.  There was a really quick turnaround time on Thompson's part, and so I had my copy a week or two after the Kickstarter ended.  So after finishing Hounded, I decided to give Storykiller a try.

Storykiller is the story of Tessa Battle, the last Scion.  Tessa has moved back to the town of Lore, which is where the boundaries between the Mortal world and Story world are thin.  Story is made up of every character from every story mortal people have ever told.  Well, with the exception of those stories that have been killed by the only person who can kill them: the Scion, who is descended from both Mortal and Story.  And Tessa is the last.

Storykiller is very heavily inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Tessa is the chosen one who has super powers.  She's still in high school (her superpowers manifested on her 17th birthday), dealing with normal teenage drama while having to save the world (and fighting things off practically every night).  She has two best friends, a guy and a girl (in this case Micah and Brand) who have known each other forever.  Oh yeah, and Tessa had an Advocate, who seemed to have a similar role to Buffy's Watcher, Giles.

But there are differences, too.  In Storykiller, every character from a story exists (until killed by a Scion, at which point their story disappears, too).  So that meant Storykiller had a whole host of interesting characters to play with.  These ranged from Snow, the Snow Queen who gets stuck staying in the Mortal world against her will, to Fenris, Frankenstein's Monster, Morgana, and Robin Hood.  All of these characters were interesting as they were both bound by their fictional stories, yet trying to fight them, too.  They set the story very firmly in the world of Lore as opposed to Buffy's Sunnydale.

While I enjoyed the story, I had a big issue with the writing of Storykiller.  During the first half of the book in particular, I felt like the book was written very amateurishly, especially thanks to the repetition and phrasing of things.  More than once I kept wishing the book had been delayed in favour of further editing, especially since the Kickstarter was so successful (Thompson raised $57,000, wildly exceeding her $20,000 goal).  I had less problems with the writing in the later half of the book because the story was getting super good.  But there were many points in the beginning where the writing knocked me out of the narrative.  I actually almost stopped reading a few times; while I am glad I kept going, I felt this really hurt both the book and my feelings towards self-published stories.

Writing-style aside, as I said, I enjoyed the story.  If you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or just want a fun romp with fairy tale characters, Storykiller is for you.

Monday, March 17, 2014


A friend from work recently recommended Kevin Hearne's Hounded to me. She told me it was a fast and fun read. And then a couple of other people started recommending it to me as well so I had to read it. I wasn't originally planning on it, but I started the book yesterday and finished it earlier today - definitely a fast read!

Hounded is the story of Atticus O'Sullivan, the last of the Druids. He may look to be 21, but in reality he's 21 centuries old. Atticus has possession of a magical sword called Fragarch, the Answerer, which can cleave through any armor. Of course, a magic sword like that is bound to attract trouble. And in Atticus's case, that trouble is the Celtic God Aenghus Og, who has been hunting for Fragarch (and therefore Atticus) for centuries.  Currently, Atticus is living in Arizona with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon (who has a penchant for movies and French Poodles). When Atticus isn't shape shifting and hunting with his dog friend, he's running an occult bookstore and tea shop. Of course this idyllic lifestyle is shattered with Aenghus Og tracks the Druid down and starts sending all manner of creatures after him in an attempt to get the sword.

And then there's the matter of the other Tuatha De Danaan, who keep visiting and making Atticus's life interesting. Unfortunately it's never really clear whose side they're on (except maybe the Morrigan, who has been helping Atticus stay alive all these years mainly to piss off Aenghus Og!)

Luckily Atticus isn't alone in dealing with all of these complications. Along with the sword and Oberon, he's got both a vampire and a werewolf lawyer helping him out, plus the cute barmaid who just happens to have an ancient witch living inside of her head.

All in all, I have to agree with my friends: Hounded was both a fast and excellent read.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Orenda

I don't know if you're familiar with Joseph Boyden's The Orenda, but the book has been getting a lot of press lately.  It was longlisted for the Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Governor General's Award, and won this year's Canada Reads competition.  I went to see Joseph Boyden speak at my local university (prior to the book wining Canada Reads this month).  The talk was entitled "'The Past and the Future are Present': Race Relations in Canada."  So I thought the talk was going to be focussing on race relations.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize it was going to focus so heavily on his newest book, The Orenda, which I hadn't yet read.  So after hearing him speak, (and asking him to sign one of his older books, Three Day Road, which I purchased there), I borrowed The Orenda from my brother and started reading.

This post is going to have spoilers.  There's a lot I want to talk about it in, so if you don't want to know what happens, you may want to stop reading now.

The Orenda is a historical novel that looks at the conflict between the Iroquois and the Huron Nations.  The Europeans have come to the New World, and have begun trading with the Native People.  The French have allied themselves with the Huron, but part of that alliance means the Huron must let a Jesuit Missionary live among them.

The novel follows three people: Bird, a Huron warrior who lost his family to the Iroquois, Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl adopted by Bird after he kills her family, and Christophe, the French Jesuit Missionary who is brought by Bird to live among the Huron. 

Of the three main characters, Bird was my favourite.  He was haunted by the loss of his wife and children, and so he adopts Snow Falls in the hopes of alleviating some of that pain.  He is the one who brings Christophe into his people, recognizing that bad may come of it.  And despite nearly killing the missionary several times, he doesn't (even saving the man's life when he knows it might be best to let him die).  Bird is complicated, growing and changing as he struggles to ensure his people's survival against the Iroquois. 

Snow Falls was a very interesting character, especially in the beginning of the book.  She saw her parents and family killed before her eyes, and then was supposed to become part of the family of the man who killed them.  That is an extremely difficult situation, and so she behaves like a wild animal, trying to keep her new people (who are supposed to be her enemies) away.  But slowly she becomes one of them, even finding to her shock that she has learned to love her new father.  Unfortunately, around this time she became a lot less interesting in a way, being relegated to a woman who does women's work (like have babies).  While it's stated that she has her own magical/special abilities, beyond being told she'll learn to use them, we never actually see her learning them.  This is a real shame. 

Snow Falls also helps the man who becomes her husband kill an Iroquois band, which I thought was an interesting point within the book.  But nothing much comes of that either, which was another shame.  When that happened, I thought that maybe Snow Falls would actually take up arms to help defend her new people against her old people.  I think that incident brought to mind this essay by Kameron Hurley, in which a history professor tells her that women have always fought in battles throughout all of human history.  If ever there was a point when women should be fighting alongside the men, it was most definitely the climax of the book, when the Iroquois attack the Jesuit Missionary, which is where the remaining Huron have fled to.  And sure, maybe Snow Falls and Sleeps Long wouldn't be fighting because they recently gave birth.  But why were ALL of the other women hiding along with the children and the elderly?  Shouldn't some of them have been fighting for their survival, too?

Anyway, that was Snow Falls.  The final main character was Christophe, the Jesuit Missionary who came from France to convert the Native People to Christianity. While reading Christophe's chapters, I was struck again and again by the arrogance of the Europeans.  It reminded me a lot of reading Sir Richard Burton's First Footsteps in East Africa back in 2009.  I didn't really say much about that book back when I read it, but Sir Richard Burton is very down on the people in East Africa.  He goes into the continent thinking the people are stupid because they are amazed by the most simple European things.  Christophe is very much like Sir Richard in that regard.  He thinks the Native Americans are simple savages, people who have the possibility of one day becoming great (ie European), but who are hopelessly misguided by Satan.  Christophe believes he must bring them into the fold of Christianity.  It was at times very hard to read his way of thinking and his arrogance, even knowing that it is historically accurate (again, look to Sir Richard Burton's book for proof). 

Christophe is joined by two other missionaries, Gabriel and Isaac, part way through the book.  Gabriel is rather stern, and becomes Christophe's right hand man, especially after the sunnier Isaac is tortured by the Iroquois.  While Isaac is returned to his people, he is a broken man (both literally, as they destroy his hands, and mentally).   The interplay between the missionaries was at times interesting, especially since Isaac seemed to understand the Huron better than the other two men ever could.

The other two characters I'd like to mention are Gosling and Fox.  For her part, Gosling was a very mysterious Ojibway woman who lived with the Huron.  She helps Snow Falls find her way with her new people, while at the same time annoying Christophe to no end.  Fox is Bird's best friend and brother in arms.  The two are always out hunting together, and they know what the other needs without having to speak.  Fox had an amazing end in the book, single-handedly harassing the Iroquois army and returning when it seemed like he had surely perished!  As the book went on, Fox easily became my favourite character over even Bird.

The Orenda is told in three parts.  The first part was easily the best, telling of how Snow Falls came to be part of the Huron people.  This was also how Christophe came to learn their language, and how Bird strengthened his people's ties to the French.  The second part was mainly about the hardships that befell the Huron, particularly the diseases that killed many of them after the Europeans arrived.  This is also the story of Snow Falls growing up into womanhood.  The final part is the fight for survival against the Iroquois.

While reading The Orenda, I was struck by how much the Native People reminded me of Vikings, in their way.  They were stuck in a circle of violence, where they were constantly trying to avenge themselves of wrongs the other inflicted (which were likewise the other's revenge).  Sure, the methods and beliefs of both people are very different (I've never come across torture in viking literature the way it was present within The Orenda), and I'm not trying to paint them in a similar light.  But to me, that circle of violence was one and the same.

The torture was something I'd like to comment on as well.  Along with Isaac, several characters are brutally tortured within the book.  Bird brings three captive Iroquois back to the village; two are tortured to death (while the third Bird adopts at the request of Snow Falls).  During the third part of the book, the characters (especially the men) worry about surrendering or being captured, knowing that they will be tortured to death if they do.  And Christophe meets his end being graphically tortured for three days by the Iroquois.  These were all very hard sections to read, no matter who was on the receiving end of the torture.

One last think I'd like to comment on is the interesting tie-in within The Orenda to another book I read for school, Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers.  Okay, it's not necessarily a tie-in per se.  It's just that if I had never read Beautiful Losers, I would never have picked up on the references to Catherine Tekakwitha (who is apparently Snow Falls' child within The Orenda).  Right when Gosling first told Snow Falls about her vision of Snow Falls' daughter and how she would be a Holy woman for the Crows (the missionaries), I knew who Snow Falls' daughter was supposed to be.  And this was later confirmed when the Iroquois chief, Tekakwitha, adopts the child at the end of the book.

So now that I've read The Orenda, I'm not really sure what I think about it.  Certainly it was an interesting historical epic, especially in the first part.  And sure, there were many characters I liked, and others I didn't (which is to be expected).  The beginning was quite good, but the middle really dragged.  And then the end happened.  I already mentioned the torture of Christophe, which I wasn't fond of.  But the end in general was  rather strange.  None of the main characters died through most of the book (even when facing raiding parties and disease).  But then the end happens and a bunch die quite suddenly, from war (understandable), to poison (which while you can say was somewhat foreshadowed, it still seemed weird, especially when shown from Snow Falls' perspective - she ate a poisoned wafer, but didn't want to be rude and spit it out).  Overall though, I was intrigued by the story, and I am glad I read it. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


After reading Chuck Wendig's The Blue Blazes, I originally wasn't going to jump in and read another one of his books so soon.  But I've heard a lot of good about his Miriam Black series, and I needed something to recommend for work.  So I took a chance and read the first book in the series, Blackbirds.

Blackbirds is the story of Miriam Black (duh), a girl who sees how you're going to die when she touches you.  But death is also fate, and Miriam cannot change anything.  And so she drifts through life, taking money off of the dead to survive.  But when she touches Louis, she gets quite a shock: he dies a violent death in about a month, and he dies saying her name.

While I had a hard time getting into The Blue Blazes, Blackbirds gave me no such trouble.  Right from the start, I loved Miriam with her strange power and wanted to know how this story would turn out.  It took some rather crazy turns, in much the way that fate does.  All in all, I thought this was a great, if somewhat gritty, urban fantasy.  I'll definitely be looking for the next one (Mockingbird).