STRANGE DAYS is the reboot of the TOME OF BILL series that remains one of my favorite literary guilty pleasures. The second series, called BILL OF THE DEAD, is the start of a new storyline that reverses a lot of the final changes in the finale as well as sets up an entirely new chronicle of what I hope to be an equally lengthy series of books. It's an entertaining book, one of the author's best, and fans of the series should definitely pick it up.
NEVER DIE is a stand-alone novel by popular grimdark novelist Rob J. Hayes (The Ties That Bind, Best Laid Plans, Drones). I've always been a fan of Rob J. Hayes and will recommend all of his books to those who want an awesome dark fantasy story. I think he stands up there with Ben Galley and Mark Lawrence for stories that are just plan good. Never Die isn't quite up there with the Best Laid Plans series but is certainly as entertaining as Drones. I also applaud the book for having a non-Western setting with this having a Chinese/Japanese fantasy kingdom as its premise.
A big fan of the Valducan books by Seth Skorkowsky, I was interested in other books by him and the release of a new fantasy series intrigued me. MOUNTAIN OF DAGGERS is the first collection of short stories by him about the Black Raven. Who is the Black Raven? The Black Raven is the alias of Ahren, a thief and assassin who haunts a Medieval Fantasy world. Well, Medieval bordering on Renaissance fantasy world.
PATRICIA LEE MACOMBER is a author I was interested in checking out the works of since I had her writing recommended to me by a friend. I decided to check out STAR QUEST: THE JOURNEY BEGINS in large part because of the cover due to the fact I'm a big fan of STAR TREK and the author clearly communicated they were going to go for that sort of feel. I wasn't disappointed and found this to be a delightful afternoon read.
KNIGHTS OF THE DEAD GOD is the sequel to JACK BLOODFIST: FIXER but its own separate series. This is interesting because they're two separate genres. Jack Bloodfist: Fixer is a urban fantasy while Knights of the Dead God is a more traditional fantasy. The two can be together because travel between worlds is a real thing in this setting and plays a major role in the story. Like if a story took place in both Narnia as well as New York. This is the Narnia section where Arthur Shield, an antagonist of the first book, must undergo a fascinating as well as gut-wrenching bit of soul searching after his god dies.
Note: I've worked with the author and his publishing house but these are my honest thoughts as best I could make them. Consider yourself forewarned.
THE CALL OF DISTANT SHORES is a homage to the works of H.P. Lovecraft with a twist. David Niall Wilson is a author I have very much enjoyed the writings of ranging from his work for licensed properties like STAR TREK, VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE, and STARGATE SG-1 to his original stories like GIDEON'S CURSE as well as the DECHANCE CHRONICLES.
As a huge H.P. Lovecraft and Cthulhu Mythos fan, however, I was skeptical of him bringing anything new to the table. Many people have chosen to write in HPL's style and few people manage to become anything more than a pale imitation. The people who actually succeed in adding something new to the Mythos are those people who take the Man from Providence's work as an inspiration then do their own thing with it.
I'm pleased to say that David Niall Wilson is one of the latter rather than the former. The big thing he brings to the Cthulhu Mythos is humor. You can tell that DNW is a man who doesn't entirely take the creeping, looming, and gnawing horror of the universe all that seriously. It's not so much that man isn't irrelevant in this universe but that such things don't actually scare your average citizen. They know they're cogs in a wheel and the existence of ancient gods beyond the horizon doesn't do much to change the price of your gas bill.
The majority of protagonists in this book are various shades of idiot, working class hero, or average joe versus the nebbish scholars which serve as the prototypical Lovecraftian hero. "Are you looking for Herb?" has an obnoxious set of travelers venture off the roads into the backwoods and miss all the signs they've found themselves among people who are best left undisturbed.
"Cockroach Suckers" is my favorite of the stories here as it's a tale of people who find a horrifying eldritch entity and decide to build a freakshow around it. The superintendent of a building discovers a mad artist building unnatural grotesques that may be summoning SOMETHING horrifying but he's too distracted by the man's daughter's boobs to make much sense of it.
The book isn't entirely limited to humor, though, and contains a variety of takes on the Mythos that other authors don't necessarily touch on. For example, aside from Stuart Gordon, not many people ever explore the sexier side of the Mythos. There's just not much appealing in matings between human women and fishmen or Yog-Sogoth. Here, however, there's two stories that are a bit on the steamier side.
I also appreciated the "Call of Distant Shores" itself, which is more akin to a ghost story than a traditional Lovecraftian tale. Indeed, it's actually a tribute to Clark Ashton Smith (another member of the Lovecraft Circle). It does, however, have many themes of inherited guilt and the unfathomable otherworldly power embodied by the sea. Horror fans should enjoy the story simply because it's great fiction rather than its similarity to the work of Howard Phillips, however. I could easily see this expanded to a Stephen King BAG OF BONES-esque novel as David really manages to nail small-town life.
Another great treat in the story is a Sherlock Holmes encounter with an unnatural horror that was co-written with another author. THE SHADOW OVER BAKER STREET is one of the best anthologies ever written, in my humble opinion, and something everyone should pick up. This was the story included there and reflects the fact he's written for (in his own words) a lot of Lovecraft anthologies. At heart, David Niall Wilson gets the heart of HPL isn't tentacles or specific monsters but ideas that rattle the soul.
There's some serious and even haunting stories in this work but the sense of humor the author brings to his collection is what I give him the most props for. I also love how he tweaked the formula of so many pastiches by adding elements which the original author never touched on (romance for one). If you're looking for a short story collection that doesn't blandly copy the work of the artist formerly immortalized as the World Fantasy Awards then this is definitely a place to do your shopping.
DEEP ROOTS is the sequel to Ruthanna Emrys' WINTER TIDE and THE LITANY OF EARTH. It is a story set in a "perspective flip" Cthulhu Mythos. The basic idea behind the Innsmouth Legacy is the Cthulhu Mythos is not actively hostile but simply different. The Deep Ones are just another race of human beings, the Mi-Go are busy-bodies who want to make humans better, the Yithians (actually the Yithians are much worse). It moves the setting from the realm of horror into that of science fiction.
The Spider in the Laurel has some pretty hefty hurdles to overcome in its premise: it is a religiously-themed series about a militant anti-religious government having taken over the United States and yet has its hero be an atheist. The idea of such a government coming to pass in the not-so-distant-future is, itself, only slightly more plausible than North Korea taking over the USA in the Red Dawn remake.
WINTER TIDE by Ruthanna Emrys is a book which came out last year, I read and I loved, but for whatever reason I didn't get to review. This is strange and an oversight on my part because it ticks most of the boxes for what I love in fiction: not only is it an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired story but it is also something that reinterprets the Mythos for a modern audience. Like Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff or my own Cthulhu Armageddon, it's a work which tackles HPL's controversial elements head on and does something interesting with them.
The Harry Stubbs Adventures are one of the best series to come out of the recent independent Cthulhu Mythos scene along with Matthew Davenport's Andrew Doran and my own Cthulhu Armagedon (just kidding--or am I?). They're the adventures of a WW1 veteran pugilist who continually comes into contact with the edges of the Cthulhu Mythos. Harry Stubbs isn't a guy who guns down Dagon or Deep Ones but usually ends up only encountering the barest whiffs of the eldritch and mostly deals with cultists--this keeps things mysterious as well as explains why he's kept most of his sanity intact.