Friday 27 January 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Calling The Reaper, by Jason Pere; Find Me, by EJ Bennett; Poor Man's Travel, by Patty Jansen; and Ghostmaker, by Eric Michael Craig

Guest reviewer Brent A Harris joins in the Altered Instinct round up with his views on Jason Pere's book Calling The Reaper - while Stephen Hunt gives his views on three shorter titles.

Book Review: Calling the Reaper, Jason Pere

Calling the Reaper is not for those seeking story-book endings. As the title suggests, bad things happen and sometimes, bad things happen to good people. It all comes down to choice, and even good people are subject to make bad ones. The story follows vignettes, or snapshots, of eight different characters as they navigate the treacherous waters of sin and dark choices. A Praetorian soldier survives torture and desperate battle, where his fellow soldiers did not, only to find solace in his survival from an empty bottle or three. A lady in love finds herself much more powerful than she’d ever imagine when a love of a different sort comes between her and her heart’s desire. As these are stand-alone-stories, it is less of a novel as it is an anthology with the Reaper and words of prophecy to tie it all nicely together.

Jason Pere has written a high-concept book. It’s a story which does not fit the typical publishing rules. (As an aside: it was published once, only for the publisher to close, leaving their clients in the cold, thus serving as another example how tough the publishing world is.) The narration is third person omniscient, which may be off-putting to some, for that style has fallen out of favor since the 19th century - particularly as it tells rather than shows. But, for a writer who has also written in second person, I sense that Pere favors the unconventional, and due to his engaging storylines and knowledge of the rules, he successfully breaks them to string us along with each character’s journey toward their end in life and their beginning in Purgatory.

The book works because the focus is on the characters and because of the themes of choice and destiny each character must face. We find ourselves rooting for each one and then… well, the rest is for the reader to decide. Are we just pawns in a war between evil and good, or are our choices are own, our fate decided by rules we may not quite understand? Pere puts these questions to us and delivers a narrative that is difficult to put down.

Normally, high-concept books fall flat. But Pere’s focus on the characters, flawed as they are and determined to accomplish their goals at all cost, present an anthology-like experience which pairs nicely with his unconventional approach. So long as you do not mind getting your heart broken repeatedly, you’ll languish and sympathize with each character Pere presents.

AI Rating: 5/5

Find Me, by EJ Bennett

Come in. Close the door. Sit down over here, by the fire. Don't worry about the rest of the room being dark, the fire is enough to see by. See the flames flicker, see how they dance, how they make the shadows in the room leap? Now, let's talk about ghost stories.

To this day, my favourite horror movie is the old Robert Wise classic The Haunting. Not the remake, I hasten to add, but the old black and white film from 1963. It's a haunted house story that boxes you in with its characters, not just in the house itself, but in their imagination. And the imagination can be a terrifying thing. 

Find Me does the same thing. Mia is returning to her grandmother's old house, a house that has secrets, of her own past and... perhaps something more, something more sinister. Alongside old childhood friend Adrian, they uncover the secrets within, even as they are afraid to go further.

EJ Bennett does a good job of building the suspense in this short story - and it has that feel of classic old school horror. Fans of such horror classics - or modern-day returns to such tales as The Woman In Black - are heartily encouraged to dabble. 

AI Rating: 4/5

Poor Man's Travel, by Patty Jansen

I've seen a lot of Patty Jansen's work being promoted around the web - and heard a lot of good things, so was keen to try this book out when it came up as an Instafreebie in a promotion. 

The premise is solid - mind-swapping is a pastime in the future, an indulgence for the bored, but one mind-swap is about to go wrong for mining pilot Jas Grimshaw. 

It's a neat concept, and a fun way to get around the limitations of physical space travel. Those elements all play out well - but alas, Jas himself is a frustrating character to travel along with, no matter whose mind he's in. It's his asides that distracted me, from swearing in train of thought to saying the likes of "Way awesome, Jas Grimshaw". It didn't help that he's dropped into the body of someone who is supposedly a genius. By the time we get to his internal exclamation of "Oh. What. The. Fuck." I'd lost any real interest in how things turned out for Jas. 

I'll come back to Patty Jansen's work again, I'm sure, as all I've heard is good, but this short was a poor way to start my reading off. 

AI Rating: 2/5

Ghostmaker, by Eric Michael Craig

I've reviewed Eric Michael Craig's work before with the excellent Stormhaven Rising. That book is a fine example of how to weld scientific knowledge together with exciting storytelling to create a rollicking tale. 

Here, Craig gently takes his foot off the accelerator when it comes to scientific fact, and delves into the realm of science fantasy. 

A scientific genius is on a downward spiral. Frustrated by bad dealings with investors and his own bouts of depression, Adam Steele lucks out when an angel investor backs his research - which brings about the creation of teleporters that allow people to zap instantly from place to place. 

But Adam isn't sure everything is as it should be - even as the company soars to success. He obsesses over minute details in the lab results, he spirals ever further downward into depression, amping up his medication and seeing hallucinations. Or are they... ghosts?

This really is a creepy tale, the likes of which would not sit out of place in a Twilight Zone episode or or on The Outer Limits. A particular hat off in the author's direction, though, for tackling the issue of depression seriously in the middle of a fantastic story - and that, for me, elevates this story beyond a good read to a great one. 

AI Rating: 5/5

Catch reviewers Stephen Hunt and Brent A Harris on Twitter.

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