Thursday, February 25, 2010

"The Vast White" by Jason Walters

Sometimes the cover says it all. Desert setting. Mythological creatures. Warriors battling to the death. An overemphasis on the female anatomy. The Vast White is one for the guys.

The author, Jason Walters, is an interesting character. His biography describes him as "surrounded by firearms and semi-feral dogs." He lives in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, "a billowing sea of sand not unlike the one featured in the book."

Walters has Highdome, the main character (picture a cross between the bald Billy Zane from Titanic and Vin Diesel), narrate the book as if he is recording the actions of his Red Regiment for the imperial archives. Highdome is loathe to accept this assignment and insults the reader at every turn for lounging in civilized luxury while he is toiling away in a vast wasteland.

His rag-tag army of misfits has sworn an oath of loyalty to the regiment, even if they are mercenary soldiers. Walters refers to them as a group of murderers. They are made up of an odorous pedophile, a defiant young girl, canine-like beasts, insane wizards and lizard-men - just to name a few. The goal of this motley crew is to seize the prosperous city of Salt. There are just two problems. The city has never fallen to an invading force, and the regiment must first defeat another army also bent on conquering the lucrative city.

Walters is at his best when he delves into fantasy. He brings the vengeance of a wicked sandstorm to life. He creates terror with a marsh creature arising from a tepid bog. However, he stumbles a bit by having the reader rely on a nine-page glossary in order to translate his prolific terminology. The characters themselves border on unlikeable. Crude. Perverted. Drunk. Think The Lord of the Flies meets Animal House. They bicker more with each other, than fight against the enemy.

This first installment in Walters' saga ends with the regiment joining forces with the opposing army in order to survive a debilitating sandstorm. In the final scene, what is left of the two armies gain access to the illusive city of Salt in exchange for relinquishing their weapons.

Overall, this is a book that a teenage boy would love.

The Vast White by Jason Walters is available for $11.95 at Amazon.com and BlackWyrm.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by BlackWyrm Publishing.


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Leave a comment below along with your email address. 

A winner will be chosen on March 10, 2010.

Congratulations to our winner: Simply Stacie!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"The Rainbow Connection" by Ian Harac

Can a world created in a work of fiction actually exist? That's the premise of Ian Harac's The Rainbow Connection. The storybook realm of Oz is breached through portals called bridges. Think Star Trek and "Beam me up, Scotty." The problem begins when the tech-savvy residents of Prime start to take advantage of the more vulnerable Munchkins of Oz.

Matt Anders is an inter-world copyright agent trying to keep sci-fi nerds in Prime from peddling pirated goods of movies and TV shows with a cult following. While investigating a case, a Munchkin stowaway ends up dead. Matt is determined to find out how this citizen of Oz was able to cross over into the real world.

Computer geek Bobbi Sinderman provides Matt with a way into Oz. By opening up an illegal bridge portal, the two arrive in a land of talking squirrels and tourist-hating trees. They uncover a Munchkin prison run by Nazi-like flying monkeys. Behind the operation is a group of corrupt higher-ups from Prime harvesting the Munchkins' labor for illicit drug trafficking. The source of the narcotics is the cash crop of Oz - poppies.

Matt and Bobbi are determined to expose the crimes of these rogue agents. But first, they have to find a way back to Prime. In a land devoid of sophisticated technology, they make use of a hot air balloon, a truck with manual transmission and a rudimentary computer composed of lights and vacuum tubes. In order to put an end to the exploitation of others, they must learn to depend on each other.

Sarcasm is at the heart of the dialogue. Matt and Bobbi spar in verbal combat. Each wants to have the last word. While the imagery created in Harac's metaphors is vivid. For example, "... the sun battered them with the enthusiasm of a cop who was sure no one had a video camera in the vicinity." His writing is matched only by his imagination. His alternate version of modern day Kansas is utterly complete in its description. It is a drab, isolated place that has turned in on itself. Clothing is prude. Curfews are enforced. Menus have one page. Technology is a subversive ideal. The setting is the antithesis of a sci-fi fantasy.

Harac's vision is so complete that it takes the reader awhile to catch up to the lingo and practices that the author takes for granted. It is not until Matt and Bobbi are transported to Oz that the book begins to take off and the action is easier to decipher. Bringing to life such a complex world is quite an achievement. Harac just needs to give the reader a clearer picture of what he is seeing in his head in the opening pages.

Overall, this is a sci-fi conspiracy of Munchkin proportions. Just don't look for Dorothy in this version of Oz.


The Rainbow Connection by Ian Harac is available for $11.95 at Amazon.com and BlackWyrm.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by BlackWyrm Publishing.


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A winner will be chosen on February 28, 2010.


Congratulations to our winner: Freda Mans!


Friday, February 5, 2010

"Albrim's Curse" by Trevis Powell

Twilight's Jacob Black isn't the only teenage werewolf with issues. Meet Albrim - a young archer from Cobble, a rustic settlement on the edge of the wilderness. As a member of the peasant militia, he is enlisted to hunt a pack of large wolves wreaking havoc in a neighboring territory. With the overlord's son, Sir Garen in command, the village is left virtually undefended.

When the men are away, the wolves come out to play. Thankfully the remaining residents have Gran. With her curt answers and feisty resourcefulness, she directs the counterattack. Yet Gran soon realizes the one behind the offensive is not an ordinary wolf. It is a were.

Upon receiving word of the attack, the militia returns home. But the were quickly disposes of them. Moving in for the kill, the beast dismembers Albrim's arm. Just in time, Gran's silver-coated frying pan and Sir Garen's sword put an end to the vicious canine. Only Gran knows the were's bite has infected Albrim with the curse.

To prevent an execution by a fearful mob, Gran fakes Albrim's death. In the midst of a fever brought on by his transformation, Albrim is transported to the secluded dwelling of a mysterious hermit.

This solitary man nurses Albrim back to health and chains him to a rock during the full moon. During these periods, Albrim's humanity is overtaken by the blood lust of the beast. With the help of an expert dwarf, a magic band is fastened to Albrim's arm to prevent his were characteristics from surfacing. The dwarf also fits Albrim with a rudimentary mechanical hand. With practice, Albrim regains his archery prowess in time to help the hermit against an imminent attack.

Due to a battle injury on his neck, the hermit is unable to speak. Albrim names him Mute. The two develop their own language as they work together to hunt down the remaining weres. When their plans go awry, the unlikely partners end up caught in their own trap.

The author, Trevis Powell is a former member of the U.S. Army Reserves. He masterfully creates a fantasy world reminiscent of the 1980s cult movie, Willow. The relationship between the changed boy and the disfigured man provides a human touch to this creature-filled romp.

At times, scenes run long. For example, several chapters are devoted to Albrim running from a pack of wolves. Descriptions, such as the construction of Mute's trap, are overly technical in nature. The text size is small and the line spacing is tight. It is hard on the eyes when reading for an extended period of time.

Overall, this is a must-have for lovers of werewolf mythology.


Albrim's Curse by Trevis Powell is available for $11.95 at Amazon.com and BlackWyrm.com.

A complimentary review copy was provided by BlackWyrm Publishing.


Enter to win a FREE copy of Albrim's Curse by leaving a comment below along with your email address. A winner will be chosen on February 15, 2010.

Congratulations to our winner: MarthaE!