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Book Review – The Wrekening by Jayel Gibson

(Review of Part one of the Ancient Mirrors Series The Dragon Queen)

In the second Ancient Mirrors tale, author Jayel Gibson continues the tale of Ædracmoræ two decades past the reunion of Ædracmoræ by the Dragon Queen, Yávië. (Refer The Dragon Queen – An Ancient Mirrors Tale). The Wrekening tells the story of Cwen, niece of the Dragon Queen, Yávië, daughter of the guardians Näeré and Nall, accompanied by her friend Talin, a Feie Brengven and a thief Caen who likes Cwen.

The book is set a couple of decades after the quest by Yávië for the rebirth of Ædracmoræ. Nall and Näeré’s daughter, Cwen is grown up, in her early twenties but in opposition to Nall, has refused to take the oaths of Guardianship and instead roams freely along with her friend Talin. When a chamber filled with an evil army of petrified soldiers known as the G’lm is found by the feie, the Dragon Queen’s council convinces Cwen, Talin, Brengven and the thief Caen to try and locate crystal heart shards of the wyrms. The wyrms were dragon like creatures that hosted the Wreken, a race of powerful beings. These shards are the source of power to reawaken the G’lm and use them to cause massive destruction to the world.

Most of the book deals with the group’s quest to recover the shards as they race against time and others who intend to acquire the shards and use it for evil. The individual quests are handled quite well. The author keeps a good flow between the quests so their recovering thirteen shards do not get tedious though some of them seem just too easy. This is likely a result of the author’s style to keep chapters fairly short, usually 3-5 pages in length. In a similar vein, while the recovery of the shards is enjoyable, the battles between the guardians and the G’lm are not described to its potential. What should have been an epic battle was won overnight with ease.

There are quite a few characters in this book that come and go through the story. Of these, Cwen is the most developed character followed by the character of Caen. Both are shown to change progressively and the fears and thoughts of Cwen are depicted quite well. Why she chooses not to be a guardian, why she kills poachers etc. While the Talin’s character is not given too much depth and seems quite weakly built. Two characters are introduced deus ex machina, Klaed and Lohgaen. One frustrating issue with the story is that even though Laoghaire turns out to be an important character, his background, past nothing is explained. Nor is the reason for Cwen’s fear of a man from her past, Aidan, treated with depth. The fear Cwen has for Aidan is strong. But why that is so, is not explained satisfactorily.

Another point that I found indigestible was the how the characters “break character” abruptly. For example, in one scene, Yávië puts the point of her dagger at Sorel’s (her husband) neck, drawing blood. It just does not seem realistic and definitely not make scene believable. Who shows anger in such a manner? Especially towards their spouse and the one they love? Sorry Jayel, it’s a no go.

Despite the above flaws, the book has a very good story and an open ending with a potential for a sequel. Overall, the book has a very good storyline, a lot of potential but needs tighter editing.

Book Review: The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, Edited by Otto Penzler

During the Great Depression, many authors wrote stories at a penny a word to make ends meet. Some of these authors wrote up to a million words a year, usually in the form of detective stories, mysteries and thrillers. A lot of these stories, featuring smart, cynical but brave detectives, were first printed in the wildly popular fiction magazines of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s such as Black Mask, Dime Detective, Gangster Stories, and Gun Molls, printed on incredibly cheap pulp paper and were the medium for popular stories during the period between the world wars, through the great depression. This was the start of the fiction genre known as Pulp fiction

With the popularity of comics, cheap paperback novels, radio and television, the popularity of pulp magazines declined, eventually shutting many of them down for good, and thus depriving many of our generation of the guilty pleasure of this writing style. Yes guilty pleasure since the rate at which the authors churned out these stories did not allow them to write elegant prose or proofread and rewrite these stories. In a way, this actually established the form and style of writing, making them more gritty and identifiable with the populace in a period when earning a livelihood was tough and money was short.

The decline of the pulp magazines however, has not entirely deprived us of this genre of fiction. The Black Lizard has released a huge compendium of pulp stories collected in a single anthology called The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. Edited by Otto Penzler, one of the most authoritative sources on pulp fiction, owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, the book is telephone directory sized tome at over 1,000 pages contains 52 crime stories from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s with their original artwork and also features two full novels. The book is printed in the two-column format as the old magazines were printed. Penzler provides the foreword to the book and has written notes before each of the stories, usually about the author and his other works.

Featured in this book are some of the best stories and every major writer who ever appeared in the popular pulp magazines of the time. The book contains three stories by Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Dashiell Hammett, the masters of the pulp genre and many other lesser-known authors of the time. The featured novels are by Carroll John Daly, the man who invented the hard-boiled detective, and Fredrick Nebel. These are the classic tales that created the pulp fiction genre and started the trend of the hard-boiled detectives.

However, the stories are not collected by authors but are instead divided into three sections – Crime Fighters, Villains, and Dames with the stories in each section following that theme. The Crime Fighters are the quintessential cynical, honest hard-boiled detectives who are either saving a damsel in distress or setting right wrongs perpetrated on the innocent. These detectives were so popular that they became iconic thanks to this genre. Some of the characters include Sam Spade, Captain Jerry Frost of the Texas Air Rangers, Phillipe Marlowe and others. The Villains section is interesting because many of the stories featured Robin Hood’esque characters who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. There were exceptions of course, like the unrepentant sociopath teenager in “You’ll always remember me” or the precious stone smugglers from The Monkey Murder.

In the age when these stories were written, there were not many women (outside of the movies) who accomplished a lot in the public eye. And this is reflected in these stories. The women in pulp fiction were usually secretaries, damsels in distress or in many cases, femme fatale on the arms of a crime boss. But a good many stories featured them in the role of the protagonist who used their beauty and brains to solve crime and save the day.

For pulp fiction fans, this book is a collector’s edition. While not all stories are great (or equally good to the others) the vast collection will ensure that almost all fans will find a lot to enjoy the book. Each of the stories are prefaced by Penzler’s editorial notes; especially helpful in putting the author, the stories and the heroes in perspective as well as serving as a background for readers who have not read pulp stories before. A highly recommended book for entertainment for many a days, this collectors edition is a must have.

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Book Review: The Dragon Queen

The Dragon Queen is the first part of the “Ancient Mirrors Tale” series by Jayel Gibson. This tale, based in the fantasy world of Ædracmoræ (pronounced Dracmor), is the story of the guardians Yávië and her companions Nall and Rydén resurrected and sworn to protect Ædracmoræ along with the help of other guardians who also become part of the central group of characters.

Dragon Queen on

The book starts off with an interesting background describing the destruction of this world and its subsequent shattering by the Sojourner Alandon. However, Alandon, who is also Yávië’s father establishes prophecies for its rebuilding. Along with the shattering, the souls of the guardians are sent into the stars in a death slumber, awaiting their reawakening. Once resurrected by a group of ancient beings called the Ancients, the first part of the book then deals with the training of the three guardians and certain quests they must perform and gain command of the Dragon Clans (referred to as Flytes) inhabiting their world.

In a similar vein, they go through a variety of tribulations and challenges to reach their eventual goal, the rebirth and reuniting of the shattered pieces of Ædracmoræ. There is another quest which is revealed in the middle parts of the book, the quest for Yávië to regain her birthright, that of the Dragon Queen of Ædracmoræ and finally to resurrect Ædracmoræ by reuniting the seven worlds

The book is fairly long as most fantasy books go but is divided into small comfortable and easy to read chapters. They are not overtly long and usually centered around individual tasks/mini-quests, which are closed within that chapter. However that is the story’s undoing to an extent as well. But more on that la

Jayel Gibson has described the world of Ædracmoræ beautifully, spending lush words in describing its beauty. Even the physical description and skills of the guardians are described in detail, which give a good idea about the guardian being described. The tale itself is very good and holds a lot of promise and creates anticipation within the reader and covers a lot of ground in encompassing three major quests and wrapping it up nicely with the ending suitably closed but open ended enough for a sequel.

The writer however does not satiate the anticipation created in a quest entirely. To ensure the short chapters, a lot of the plot points and tasks feel too rushed. Many of the tasks defined to be “extremely” difficult are achieved with ease and very quickly. It is like Gibson takes us on a crescendo and then let’s go abruptly.
And while the character development is quite good and tight, sometimes they behave inconsistently with their defined characteristics and make the reader feel if they are reading about the same person or someone else entirely.

It would be unfair to compare this book to some of the classic fantasy books but nevertheless; this book stands on its own. It is a good book to read on a long weekend and will provide ample fantasy elements to satiate the reader. However, do not expect the plot development like done by say, Tolkien.

Book Review: Crecent Garden

Crescent Garden is written by Christopher Love and is the first book published by Evermore Books. As the tag line says, “A novel of New Orleans, the book is set entirely in New Orleans. Love creates a very tightly written book with the story taking place over 3 days just before Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

The story has is focussed on supernatural “powers” gained by the main characters of the book, Malcolm Stance and Ridley Trumball as a result of an accident during their childhood. Malcolm finds out that Ridley is about to be murdered and sets out on a mission to save Ridley from a gruesome death. In trying this, he must first locate Ridley who he thinks resides or at least works in the French Quarter of New Orleans. During Malcolm’s search, he comes across a variety of characters, experiences New Orleans as the city prepares for the big Mardi Gras weekend.

And during all this, Malcolm must try and forget his ex-girlfriend who cheated on him but now wants to get back with him, bringing back a lot of pain and angst within him.

The story is very well written and the city is described beautifully. But what I liked most was the development of the characters, the pain Malcolm feels whenever he talks to his ex-girlfriend, when he longs for her but knows he does not want her back in her life. The dislike for Ridley when he spurns Malcolm’s help because he fears the power they both share.

The best part is in the end, the climax of the book. It pretty much blew me away. Now I’ve read a good number of thrillers, mystery novels and am fairly good in predicting either the “perpetrator”, the next move of the lead character or the ending of the story but in this, I was taken by a surprise. And really nice twist in the end.

On the whole, the book is a pretty good read and Evermore Books have chosen a very good launch for both the writer and their publishing house.

Heroes and Villains

Every hero must have a villain to destroy, in order to prove himself a villain hero. But not every villain needs a hero in order to prove himself a villain
– Ravan, from The Ramayan