Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review of PRETTY WHEN SHE KILLS and interview with Rhiannon Frater

A few weeks back, I took part in the cover reveal for Rhiannon Frater's The Tale of the Vampire Bride series. Now, with the release of her novel Pretty When She Kills (the second in the Pretty When She... series,) she leaps forward several centuries from the old Regency era and into the present -- most specifically, Austin, TX and its surrounding areas. After her climactic battle in Pretty When She Dies, Amaliya, our heroine, seems to be living a casual and normal life, albeit with some minor disturbances. But when a new individual comes into play that has not only been captured by Amaliya's enemy, but is also reaching out to her, the tables are turned and a whole new battle begins to unfold.

As part of the Pretty When She Kills blog tour, I decided to interview Rhiannon about her book and about varying aspects of vampires in general -- from their evolution, to the destruction of certain elements and the addition of others, and about how they interact with other creatures within her universe.  You can find the interview below the review of the novel.



Pretty When She Kills
(Pretty When She... #2)
by Rhiannon Frater

In Pretty When She Dies, average alternative college student Amaliya Verozak was viciously murdered. The only problem was, she came back to life—buried in a shallow grave beneath the ground. After rampaging across east Texas and making her way to Austin, she becomes a dominant force within the central Texas vampire hierarchy and establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with when she destroys a malevolent force that has been feared for centuries.

In Pretty When She Kills, a new threat arises, one whose powers the most devoted and sincere of its creator's servants is willing to harness and use to their full advantage.

The world has become a much more dangerous place—not only for the humans, but for Amaliya Verozak, who has since stopped believing in happy endings.

We came to learn in the first book in the Pretty When She… trilogy that this series was not going to be like what we’ve come to learn from the vampire universe. Set in Texas, including some of the more rural parts, and featuring a character who identifies with the alternative Goth/Rock lifestyle, the series takes place in and around Austin, the capital of the state. The arrival of a new creation by one of the most feared vampires in history is not at first apparent and immediately sets things on edge. When Amaliya’s grandmother is visited by a girl named Bianca who claims she is being tortured, and when Samantha, the ex-fiancĂ© of the vampire master of Austin, begins to develop sensitivity to the undead, lives are shifted and turned upside down, especially when someone from Amaliya’s past plots to ‘free’ Amaliya from damnation and a rival cabal attacks the city.

Like its older sibling, Pretty When She Kills is filled with the sort of dark atmosphere that many fans of the horror community have learned to love but have lost in recent years due to the recent romanticism of the creature. Though still beautiful, these vampires are more than willing to rip your throat out if they get hungry, maybe even if they get bored. This makes it especially fun to read, and returns the reader to a time where vampires were dangerous – and, shall I say, still are.

Along with the increased ferocity within the vampire mythos, one of my favorite things about this novel was how Texas-specific it was. Rich in atmosphere from not only the widespread culture but the intimate little details that Frater adds, it’s easy to lose yourself in a world that most people aren’t particularly familiar with and often have preconceived notions of. Anyone who’s lived in or is at least familiar with Austin will find themselves traveling through a city they know and love, and quite possibly even seeing a local legend or two. The love and care that was put into the thought behind these places truly make this book shine. It’s not like many books where you’re just walking through a city that has no real description. Instead, Frater captures everything – from the streets, to the lakes, and even the individual shops themselves.

One thing people may experience difficulty with in this novel is its pacing. Though it is not necessarily a problem for me, as I have known that Frater has always been known for her fast-paced writing, some might be discomforted by the fact at how quickly the novel moves along. Do not go into Pretty When She Kills expecting there to be a buildup of backstory that takes several pages or even chapters of development to unfold. The past is revealed in bits – fragments that have been broken off and allowed to fall into play when necessary. The romanticism within the vampire genre is also present here, but only slightly. Be warned – this novel is violent: very violent. It’s definitely not  for the faint-of-heart.

While I have no real criticism of the novel, and though I will not be rating it due to the fact that I personally took part in the production of the book as its copyeditor, I am happy and more than eager to say that Pretty When She Kills is a return to the old, vicious vampire. It rings of The Lost Boys in suspense, of True Blood in its urban southern appeal and of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles in its use of its tragic pasts, its wicked betrayals and its sinister evils. Pretty When She Dies is a true vampire novel. These monsters aren’t just people – they’re predators.

(No Rating)

INTERVIEW WITH RHIANNON FRATER


Pretty When She Kills (Pretty When She... #2)
The Pretty When She… series begins in a way that not many contemporary vampire novels do – by having the main character wake up, dead, after she’s just been brutally murdered and turned into a vampire. In the sequel, Pretty When She Kills, another woman is shown waking up in the exact same manner. These openings are unusual, especially considering we normally see the hunt and then the kill that leads to the individual becoming a vampire. What made you want to return to the more horrific roots of the vampire legend when the more romanticized bloodsuckers have become so popular?

First off, the story was born out of a very vivid nightmare that opened exactly like the book. It was so powerful, I knew I wanted the book to start the same way.  Also, I realized that the story should just be about Amaliya as a vampire and her struggle to survive.  It felt more powerful to start with her rebirth than to roll back a few months and begin with her as a human. Besides, I think Amaliya becomes a much more interesting person once she becomes a vampire. She was terribly unhappy as a mortal. 

Throughout the series (but most particularly the second book,) you make mention of the fact that vampires seem to be more widespread when they are usually more localized in certain parts of the world. In Pretty When She Kills, you make mention of vampires from Mexico and Central America. What did you take into consideration when you decide to create the ‘origins’ of your vampires, if you even created them at that?

I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of unknown humanoid species living in our world.  Would they want to reveal themselves to the powerful majority?  The vampires are still a very small population compared to humanity and they are predators. It’s better for them to remain hidden than expose themselves and risk extinction.  At the same time, in the world I created, the vampires aren’t very organized. There are pockets all over the world that are all doing their own thing, which causes conflict sometimes. There is a vast difference between Cian and Santos of the San Antonio cabal. Cian has been killing or driving off any vampire coming into his city to retain full control of it. Meanwhile, Santos has built a very large cabal to maintain dominance of his.

Pretty When She Dies (Pretty When She... #1)
There is a strong bond between several different types of peoples within the novels – not only between vampire clans, but also between human factions, werewolves and even witches. Is this common, or something that is just shown between certain groups of people?

In the PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES trilogy there are plenty of supernatural creatures in the world, but they don’t always get along or agree on how things should be handled.  Witches are considered a great asset to vampire cabals, and shifters serve their purpose as bodyguards.  Yet, those allegiances are not easily made or embraced. Cian has a very antagonistic relationship with Eduardo, the coyote shifter, that is part of Jeff’s vampire hunter group, yet they have an alliance. But Santos has absolutely no shifters serving him and he is not always very smart about what he does with his witches. Each vampire deals with their domain very differently.

It’s become increasingly apparent that vampires are rapidly evolving. No longer are they creatures bound to the darkness by damnation and the eternal need to feed. Now we see them in the modern world. They date fellow humans, go to high school, hold regular night-time jobs. Some can even walk during the daylight. While similar traditional monsters have managed to maintain a strong resemblance of their former selves (werewolves turn on the full moon, are killed or weakened by silver bullets; zombies are made by disease or curses and are most often portrayed as mindless,) the vampire has undergone a near-constant metamorphosis over the past several years. Do you think this is to keep them interesting, or are they, like the rest of the world, just evolving to make them more acceptable to non-horror audiences?

The intriguing thing about modern vampires (the ones after Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla novel in the 1800’s) was that they were beautiful, but deadly. They were seducers of the innocent and difficult to resist. The idea of being lured to your death by beauty and sexual seduction is pretty terrifying, yet enthralling.

Somewhere along the way, we lost the deadly and dangerous aspect of the vampire and just concentrated on the beauty and sexuality of the creatures. In essence, we defanged them and made them pretty immortals. Maybe it’s because we have difficulty accepting that sexual desire could result in death.

I like returning the beautiful and deadly monsters. It creates a whole different atmosphere in the book when you realize even the “good” vampire does ghastly things.

The idea of a higher power, or even faith in general repelling vampires seems to have slipped away from the more contemporary ideal of the monster. Why do you think this is?

For a while several authors tried to create “realistic” or “scientific” reasons for vampires. This happened a lot in the late eighties and nineties. I think we have a tendency to want to rationalize the “scary.” We want our “big bads” to be something we can dissect and understand. If we strip a vampire of its supernatural nature it becomes a lot less scary in many regards.  If the vampire is a supernatural creature, it pulls in a lot of difficult to address questions about faith, spirituality and religion.  Why does the cross work? Why does the garlic work?  Yet, I feel every time these things are taken away from the vampire, they lose their mystic all that much more.

Which is scarier?  The handsome man with a virus that causes immortality that occasionally takes a sip of blood, or the handsome man outside your window who wants to crawl into your room and drain you of your blood but is only held at bay by the garlic and crosses nailed to the frame?

Do you have any other favorite types of vampires in mythology (i.e, China’s ‘leaping’ vampire, etc.)?

I have read many, many vampire legends, but my favorite remains the gruesome seducers of 19th century gothic literature. The idea of a beautiful, yet cruel and deadly vampire is much more appealing to me as a writer. It allows me to delve into questions about sexuality, lust, desire, religion, social ethics and the such.

Is there a particular ‘vampire’ story from history you are fond of?

There are tons of really creepy ghost stories with vampire overtones that really enthralled me when researching vampires. I can’t say one in particular stood out though.

Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Do you have a favorite vampire slayer or vampire?

My favorite slayer will always be Buffy. I adore her.  As for my favorite vampire, that would have to be Lady Glynis Wright from my gothic horror series, The Vampire Bride.

Do you have any other vampire novels you plan to write after the Pretty When She and the Tale of the Vampire Bride series?

I found a really old book on my hard drive this summer. It’s a fun story with really scary elements, but I think I need to retool it. It’s a bit dated. I may put it out at some point.  But I have no plans for anymore vampire stories at this time. I am writing a side novella set in the PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES world centering around Aimee and Cassandra, the witch and dhamphire in PRETTY WHEN SHE KILLS. If it has a good reception, maybe I’ll spin them off on their own series.

And finally: What happens next in the Pretty When She universe?

Amaliya either saves the world or destroys it. I’m not saying which.

A huge thanks to Rhiannon for participating in this interview! My review of Pretty When She Kills will follow within the next few days.

If you would like to learn more about Rhiannon, visit her at any of the links online.

Rhiannon Frater

If you would like to purchase Pretty When She Kills, you may do so by visiting Rhiannon's website at RhiannonFrater.com.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

THE CRIMSON BATTLE AXE by Curtis Oddo

The Crimson Battle Axe
THE CRIMSON BATTLE AXE
by Curtis Oddo

A great evil is rising. From the heights of his throne in the Desolate Lands, the Dark Lord Nobis, long-exiled and contained by the use of powerful magics, plots to take control of the human kingdom by first weakening its defenses with a creature summoned from an alternate dimension, then by overwhelming its armies once their defenses are down. In this all a plan has been hatched to defeat the entity known as the Great Beast that the Dark Lord has summoned—whom, in less than a day, destroyed a major fortification that protected the human lands. Four grand individuals from the world’s peoples have come together—one a creature with metal for blood, who can bend it to his will; another a cat creature from the far islands with a penchant for potions and poisons; and two of human descent, one a famed wind wizard with a sad past and the other a noble night with a troubling lineage. Together, they seek out the one person who can bring to them the one person they believe can defeat the Dark Lord Nobbis—Gnarl, the legendary, hundred-year warrior and the wielder of the Crimson Battle Axe.

The Crimson Battle Axe, the debut novel by fantasy author Curtis Oddo, is, as I could describe, a throwback to the sword and sorcery tales of old. Within its pages are a plot that has often been seen but not done in an as imaginative of light. There comes a group of individuals in search of a grand warrior, who seek to destroy a dark lord to save not only the humans, but their world, and through it all there begins a quest which sprawls a grand world in which much danger has come as a result of misunderstanding, betrayal, war and the conceived lust for revenge. Such turmoil that has existed before the bulk of the novel makes for true tension not only within the broad scope of the story, but the inner dynamics of the characters, and where Oddo succeeds in creating within the early parts of the story is the dynamic that exists between the main party itself.

I started reading this novel without much knowledge of its plot or what the majority of the story was about. This, while somewhat-daunting to some readers, gave me ample opportunity to go into this world blindly—which, I believe, made the experience so much more enjoyable.

There are a few key points I would like to make in regard to specific aspects about the novel that stood out to me—some good, some bad.

THE WORLD

The majority of the novel takes place on a continent that is simply described on the map as ‘Gnarl’s World.’ A first impression of looking at the world would indicate that this locale is sprawling—massive, it seems, by just how many peoples seem to inhabit it. In the world there are a number of races—including, but not limited to: the metal people of the frigid lands, the cat people of the distant islands, the ferocious and often-misunderstood Biroc, as well as the human peoples and other lesser races. There are also a number of fantastical creatures that exist both within the world and in the alternate dimensions that exist around it. The geography and the layout of the land, as well as the diversity within the flora and fauna, creates a true impression that this place is unlike anything you have ever seen, and Oddo describes it just enough to where you can allow your mind to fill in the blanks. This adds to the magic of the novel, as well as its often=overwhelming nature in terms of histories and cultures. However—as sprawling as this place seems to appear on the map, it becomes apparently within the course of this novel that the world has to be relatively small. When placed on a timeframe in which to kill not only the fearsome creature that threatens the human lands, but also to stop the Dark Lord’s armies from amassing, travel between point A to B comes in days when it would seem as though it would take much longer to travel across these lands if only based on the size of the map. While this in itself is not a criticism, per se, it is a bit misleading, especially to readers who expect a broader world over a seemingly sized-down one.

THE WRITING

The writing is, for the most part, very well-done. It was obvious this book was edited and was done so with care, as there are very few mistakes that can be found within the actual text itself (and even then they are little.) However – from a technical standpoint, there are problems with repetition that come in the form of either repeated usages of a character’s name or even their action. While this would not be such a problem if there were other characters of things present, there are often many cases where the author repeatedly used the character’s name. We would see ‘Gnarl did this,’ ‘Gnarl did that,’ ‘Gnarl’s sword,’ etc. several times within the space of one paragraph, if not one sentence. The final notion is especially prevalent when mentioning specific weapons, which are quite obviously character-related and do not necessarily need description of their ownership to know just who they belong to. Said repetition also appears in parts of the novel not related to the novel – when, in fighting the ferocious alternate-dimension creature, the monster is referred to as the ‘Great Beast’ and nothing else, and later, when a falcon appears, it is called ‘the bird’ far more times than ‘the falcon’ or other things (i.e, the avian creature, the creature, the winged being, etc.) This in itself is more of a writing quirk than anything and, I understand, could be the result of over-editing. There are also minor issues with dialogue continued over paragraphs improperly laid out and sometimes placement of terms that are far too modern for this world (mainly the point of the element of lightning being called ‘electricity.’) The most daunting fault in the writing comes with the final act of the book, which I will continue to expand upon in the final point.

THE ENDING

The most important thing I want to specify about what ultimately led me to rate the book as I did was the ending. Three-fourths of the way through, I was more than willing to add a star because up until that point things had been going very smoothly. The last fourth of the book, however, resulted in problems for me, most specifically due to a deus ex machina-styled series of events that made little sense and seemed to have been pulled out in an attempt to save characters and to keep things from happening that would have otherwise happened in a realistic scenario.

Without giving too much away, the following occurs:

- An anti-magical element that was brought into the story beforehand but was discarded by the main cast due to not wanting to abuse and/or harm it was brought into play by a messenger who was told to find the main character by looking for him based on his appearance. While that in itself seems somewhat-plausible considering said character’s visage, it does not explain how a bird that seemingly has no sentient intelligence found said character, as it was implied that the bird was told to look for said character based on that. I seriously considered the idea that it could have used magic to find said character, but even if it was using magic, it would have been nullified due to the anti-magical element it was delivering, thus making it impossible. Through this method, a ‘safeguard’ was delivered in order to secure the main character’s safety.


- Gnarl, our main character, is described as a super-warrior. Over one-hundred years old, trained in the art of battle, a veteran war hero famed for his violence, strength, intelligence and ability and wielding a fabled weapon, he is a force to be reckoned with. Little seems to stop him throughout the course of the novel until the very end, when a poison brings him to his knees. This would have been appropriate had it kept him in place, but over the course of the next several pages Gnarl recovers, fights, falls, fights again, is knocked back and nearly killed (to the point where he nearly dies,) then is miraculously able to fight again. This, again, would have made sense had the superhuman quotient been more prevalent. As it was not in the end, it jarred me from the story and made things make little sense.


- The major female character of the story, Thelady, saves Gnarl in the end through her use of ‘goodness,’ which drives off the evil entities from fighting him. This threw me off immensely. There had not been up until that point any mention of the virtue of good being able to overpower the darkness of evil (i.e, in a magical way, or in a physical manner.) Thelady was also not described as any sort of Paladin, Priestess or anything of that sort, so that idea I quickly tossed out. This, again, leads into my point that I previously mentioned above – that elements were thrown into place to ensure the characters’ survival.


- And finally, there comes a final showdown in a place that ‘bridges the worlds.’ I can’t explain it in detail without giving it away, but I’ll say this: the creatures that lie within this place are known to kill any who enter it and spare no mercy. When an object they deem inappropriate is there when Gnarl enters this place, they let him be because they want him to ‘take said object’ from the world. This made little sense, as it had been implied that this was a world between and little the ‘normal’ world could offer would have any effect on it, and also because on several occasions Gnarl had almost been killed by these creatures.

IN CONCLUSION

To summarize my thoughts, I have to say that The Crimson Battle Axe is not a bad book. It is anything but. Having not read a major fantasy work in a while, it was refreshing to see the lack of constraints within the mythology as well as the idea of a fictional world explored in ways that most people might have been afraid to try. It’s fantastical, has great and exciting action, a common but classic and well-loved plot and a troop of heroes that you can sympathize with in one way or another. While it is, in some ways, the classic ‘sword and sorcery’ novel, it is done so with a sense of adventure and dread that make it enjoyable every step of the way. The Crimson Battle axe is an epic, small-scale fantasy story that leaves you wanting more. With a haunted past, a character in turmoil, a land besieged by the evils of war and sentient nature, The Crimson Battle Axe is a masterwork in world-building and imagination.

* * *
3 stars!

Get The Crimson Battle Axe in paperback below!
(Note: The link below brings you to the hardcover edition, but a paperback is available)



Reviewer's Notation: I received The Crimson Battle Axe  for review by the author.