Book review: The Stars are Legion – Kameron Hurley

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This is my first novel by Kameron Hurley and it’s a bit of a ripper. ‘The Stars are Legion’ is a mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy and even horror that worked on every level for The Grim Reader. Told through two main characters in Zan and Jayd, the story follows both as they travel different paths, both searching for answers to save their dying world.

If you have paid any attention to the hype surrounding this release then you will be aware that the novel is a man-free zone. Women rule the worlds and the stars and it proves to be an original and enthralling journey. ‘The Stars are Legion’ starts off with its feet firmly planted in science fiction, but as the story progresses and further worlds are explored, we move into epic fantasy territory with exceptional and spectacular world-building. The worlds Hurley has created are organic in matter-living, breathing, feeling things which host a wide variety of horrors and wonders that live on and in them. The world-building is superb in that it doesn’t info-dump, instead choosing to unravel and reveal as the story progresses giving it an epic and often unusual feel. There are some truly wonderful and original ideas at play; from spray-on space suits to living transport vehicles and characters that are capable of birthing whatever their planet needs, including new worlds and parts! It all might sound a bit bonkers but it really does work and each chapter opens your mind and imagination to something new and unusual.

‘The Stars are Legion’ definitely isn’t hard sci-fi. It has the drama of a space opera and the epic world-building of the fantasy genre. The politics between the warring worlds doesn’t side-track from the adventure, instead it plays as more of a background role, much to my delight. I often find a bit too much political manoeuvring in many fantasy reads so it is good to read something that is this entertaining whilst also being thoughtful and still has just enough political intrigue. The characters are excellent, unique, strong, fierce, caring, all well fleshed out and individual. The pacing is also good. There are a lot of questions early on in the book, but things quickly fall into place and the adventure hits full speed very quickly. There seems to be an overarching theme of looking after our own planet that is strong throughout making it an environmentally conscious space opera if you like!

A book featuring an all female cast has the possibility of alienating some readers, sadly. Not this reader. ‘The Stars are Legion’ is a refreshing, engaging and original reading experience. One I really, really enjoyed and fans of any of the above genres mentioned would be wise in checking out. Be warned, this book has some real gross out moments (which I love!) but entirely necessary in keeping with the harshness of some of the planets environments. Great cover art, great book. Go get some.

5/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

The Metal detector!

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I’ve come across a few really good new metal bands recently and I thought I’d share them with you. I discovered them through various avenues such as Twitter (Deadtide & Bostok) and Australian magazine ‘Heavy’, who send me a ‘daily heads up’ via email which features the latest news put together by staff writers and outside contributors.

Deadtide are a New York/New Jersey based metal outfit that have a melodic death metal sound not too dissimilar from Swedish titans In Flames. The band is full of groove, melody and power! In vocalist Mike Metal they have a versatile and talented singer. They currently have two EPs out in ‘Ephemeral’ (which I just picked up from iTunes) and ‘The Great Unknown’, both of these are available through iTunes and various other avenues like Bandcamp. Check them out on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, these guys are everywhere and they get The Grim Reader’s stamp of metal approval. Currently Deadtide are raising money to fund a music video over at Gofundme , so donate if you can and/or share around via your social media accounts. \m/

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Deadtide Bandcamp

Bostok are an alternative metal band from Alicante in Spain. I really dig these guys too. Groove-filled guitars, a strong vocalist and some great moments of light and shade in their music. Check out their YouTube videos for the two excellent songs ‘Stop This’ and ‘The Feeling’. These guys are also all over social media and their album ‘Dichotomy’ is available from April 7th. I’m definitely giving my Spanish metal brothers The Grim Reader’s stamp of metal approval. Check them out!

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Bostok Bandcamp

A couple of other bands I just found out about through ‘Heavy’ magazine are ‘Mirrors’ and ‘Trojans’. Both acts are based here in Australia with ‘Trojans’ hailing from ‘Sydney’ and Mirrors from Melbourne.

I just purchased the ‘Trojans’ new EP called ‘The Blissful Hollow’. It is killer stuff. They have a kind of Meshuggah vibe going on but with a bit more melody and a more linear structure to their songs. Check out ‘Trojans’ on Bandcamp via the link below and definitely give ‘The Blissful Hollow’ a listen.

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Trojans Bandcamp

‘Mirrors’ are a four-piece metalcore outfit from Melbourne that also recently appeared on my radar thanks to ‘Heavy’ magazine. Great buzzing guitars, sharp vocals and great songs. Really enjoyed what I heard from these guys too and so I picked up their EP via iTunes. Check them out at the link below. The EP is called ‘Fools Paradise’.

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Mirrors on iTunes

If you like the sound of these bands then throw your support behind them. Share their music, their videos, social media feeds and whatever else. If there are any other metal bands you think I should feature here or you think I’d enjoy listening to then drop me a line. Until next time, keep it Metal \m/

Check out Heavy Magazine here too – Heavy Mag

Book review: The Heart of Stone – Ben Galley

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The Grim Reader has taken a break from horror to check out ‘The Heart of Stone’, the new novel soon be released by Ben Galley.

Firstly, the artwork for ‘The Heart of Stone’ is quite superb. If I saw this book on the shelf then I’d be straight over there to pick it up and check out the synopsis. The story tells of a golem called Task. A war-machine made from stone and built out of old magic. Task is the last wind-cut golem, one that is passed around from master-to-master, doing their deed until said master is deceased, another opportunity presents itself, or he is sold as some sort of weapon. Task is a fantastic character. Although made from stone, the golem experiences many human feelings that develop as the story progresses. Friendships are forged, people are betrayed and heads are crushed between the fingers of this engaging stone giant.

It is good to see a Grimdark/fantasy book that is a stand-alone novel. there are too many other great books out there for me read for me to wait at least 12 months for the next instalment, by which time I have read so much in-between that I have forgotten much of what happened during the first book of the trilogy, so kudos to Galley.

‘The Heart of Stone’ is set during a fierce war. The Hartlund is tearing itself apart and Galley leaves it up to the reader to decide which side they are on. ‘The Heart of Stone’ gets off to a slightly sluggish start, and this is my only criticism. I really felt as though it wasn’t until 25% into the book that I was fully emerged in Galley’s world and his characters. Whilst Task is quite obviously the star of the show, the books supporting cast are sometimes as impressive. Dragon-slayer *rolls eyes* ,Alabast, provides some welcome humour to things and the young girl, Lesky proves to be both endearing and strong. Perhaps the most interesting character is Ellia Frayne. Frayne plays both sides in a war she is determined to win all by herself and is one of the more unlikable yet intriguing people we follow.

Perhaps one would assume that ‘Heart of Stone’ is to be full of over-the-top battles, dripping with blood and severed limbs. Whilst there are a few of those, these scenes play the supporting role to what is essentially a character-driven, coming-of-age story. Galley’s writing is easy to read, a little simile heavy early on, but generally very good. There is very little d****n talk (thankfully!) and the pace, once over the initial first quarter of the book is much, much better with the end providing a satisfying and emotional conclusion. Overall, ‘Heart of Stone’ is a good length book, one that doesn’t outstay its welcome and the characters are excellent, this is where the book truly shines. Fantasy fans will more than enjoy this emotionally driven tale of the stone giant with a human heart.

4/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

Guest post: Tarn Richardson talks Werewolves and the Catholic Inquisition!!

 

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Today I have a guest post from author, Tarn Richardson. The second book in his ‘Darkest Hand Trilogy’ is released on the 14th March. Tarn talks about the Catholic Inquisition and Werewolves! Were these savage beasts a product of ex-communication from the Catholic faith? Read on and draw your own conclusions. I always appreciate guest posts, so thanks to Tarn for this great essay! Make sure you pick up this book. It sounds like a doozy!!

 

Monsters we are, lest monsters we become.

 

You don’t need to search too far into our past to discover real life horror. Indescribable violence, it’s woven into the fabric of our psyche like the DNA in our genes. It seems that, as a race, we are pre-programmed with this inordinate desire to hurt, hate and discriminate against those we suspect or despise. Our history, both short and long, is littered with the terrible persecution of enemies, miscreants, the discredited and mistrusted.

Among the worst of these offenders was the Catholic Inquisition. By the year 1834 (yes, really that recently!), when the Catholic faith finally drew a line under nearly 700 years of inquisitional persecution and barbaric behaviour by this most cruel of movements, it had targeted and corrected, as a rough guide (the real number is probably much larger), three quarters of a million individuals, all deemed to have fallen from the faith; the heretics, the unclean and the damned.

This persecution ran to, but was not limited to, murder, dismemberment, dislocation, flogging, breaking of limbs, burning by brand and at the stake, beating, suffocation, rape, gouging of eyes, disembowelment, drowning in boiling water, tearing of flesh, butchery of bodies and jellification of limbs by beating.

Correction was rarely limited to the individual under interrogation. To ensure that the impurity of heresy was removed entirely, retribution was often applied to the wider family members of the suspect as well. ‘Root and branch’, the inquisition called it. You didn’t just pluck off the bad seed, you removed the entire plant from producing any more heretics.

We look back on their savagery and barbarity now with revulsion and disbelief, but the Inquisition never saw anything wrong in the way they behaved or the processes they applied. Indeed, it seemed as if most within the Inquisition delighted in the power their rank and position afforded them over their enemies, honoured to act as they did, safe under the assurances they received from their god that these most brutal of actions were demanded by him against those who attempted to lessen his name and corrupt the flock. In essence, monsters they were, lest monsters they became.

This real life savagery is what both terrifies and intrigues and why I love to investigate this mindless (or perhaps it is mindful?) violence in my writing, to look at how quickly we can turn from rational caring human beings to monsters drunk on power and ignorance. This is a horror that doesn’t require an imagination or belief in the unreal or the supernatural. These aren’t wicked spirits summoned from the underworld we are expected to believe in, or rabid beasts from hell, loaded with teeth and claws and a thirst for blood. These are human beings, empowered with a sense of authority, tainted with the bitter taste of injustice and commanded by superiority to commit the most heinous and callous of crimes against their fellow man.

And to then rejoice in the dominance it provides. This misplacement of power, this celebration in ruthless might, this, to me, is true horror.

700 years of Inquisitional rigour sought and burned out heresy and malpractice wherever it was found within Europe and beyond. My idea for the Darkest Hand trilogy was to suggest that the inquisition never in fact ended, but simply went underground, to carry on their work in secret, unmolested or challenged. And during my investigations into the Inquisition, I came upon a startling fact, one that linked the monsters within the Inquisition with monsters within those terrible dark places of the world and our imagination.

Folklore suggests that the Catholic faith had a hand in creating exactly these fantastical horrifying beasts that haunt our nightmares. The theory is that werewolves are the product of Catholic excommunication of high ranking Catholic officials and non-believers, cast down forever into a life of ravenous rage, terror and madness, always snagged by the movements of the moon, trapped within the insatiable blood lust it commands, driven to insanity in penance for the failings of their excommunicated lives when they lived within them.

700 years, 900 if you accept the suggestions that the Inquisition never did end in 1834, is a long time for these monsters to have been created, never dying, ever hungry, clans of werewolves, cast out by civilisation, lurking on the very edges of society, waiting for the moon to rise, shadows to close in and the feeding to begin. For those Inquisitors tasked with cleaning up their masters’ handiwork, their hands are now forever busy. Too busy to be of use for the devil? Maybe, or maybe not?

 

Author Bio:

Tarn Richardson was brought up in a remote house, rumoured to be haunted, in Somerset. He has worked as a copywriter, written mystery murder dinner party games and worked in digital media for nearly twenty years. He lives near Salisbury in England. The Fallen is his follow-up to his debut novel, The Damned, and the second in a series of three featuring tortured Inquisitor Poldek Tacit. It will be published March 14, 2017.

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THE FALLEN: The Darkest Hand, Book II by Tarn Richardson

March 14, 2017

Hardcover, $26.95, 320 pages

ISBN: 978-1468314373

 

 

 

 

Book review: Dead Over Heels – Theresa Braun

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I am trying to broaden my reading in 2017. A bit more science-fiction, a lot more Grimdark and Fantasy, some non-fiction stuff and who knows what else?

When I offered to review ‘Dead Over Heels’ for Theresa Braun I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Certainly, the cover art suggests a sort of horror, romance read and this is quite close to what I eventually found. Now, romantically tinged horror stories aren’t normally my thing, I’ll be honest, but there is a lot to like about this novelette from Theresa. Now, if this was to be the sort of sugar-coated paranormal romance story I was originally expecting then it would’ve probably ended up on the did-not-finish pile. However, thanks to Braun’s great characterisation, wicked twists and originality, I found myself thoroughly invested in this short tale.

When Veronica meets Sebastian at a peculiar restaurant the couple begin to notice things aren’t quite as they seem. In fact, the guests are disappearing into thin air! is this a result of the spell Veronica has cast in order to find Mr Right? Or is something else at play?

I like Theresa’s writing style a lot. It’s very easy to digest and the story races along at a fine pace. The two characters are fleshed-out well enough for you to invest some of your time into them and the chemistry between the two is excellent and realistic. The dialogue is believable, witty and sharp. Braun isn’t afraid to spill a little blood and the ending of this short tale is really good, very cleverly crafted.

Could I take many more pages of this? probably not, but as a novelette it works incredibly well. It felt good to read something a little out of my comfort zone. If you have always steered clear of this sort of story then perhaps it is time for you to give it a whirl. At less than an hours reading it isn’t a huge commitment to make. And, you never know, you might just end up enjoying it as much as I did!

4/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

Check out Theresa Braun at TheresaBraun.com

 

 

Book review: Mongrels – Stephen Graham Jones

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I’ve actually had this book on my Kindle for a long time. Reviews and other commitments have somehow managed to get in the way of me reading it. Finally, earlier this year I took time out from the review list and read something for me! This is something I will be doing a lot more of in the coming months.

Much has been written and said about this particular book, about just how good it is and I went in wondering if I would be as impressed as others. Well, it is safe to say that Mr Jones has delivered a refreshing coming-of-age tale that puts him right at the very top of the dark literary fiction tree. From start to finish, ‘Mongrels’ is a tale that will awaken all sorts of emotion as we experience life through an unnamed narrator living with his aunt and uncle as their nomadic lifestyle takes them across the states of southern America.

Coming-of-age stories deal with numerous issues; the issue of not only growing up, but growing up with a secret is portrayed vividly and wonderfully through Jones’ stunning prose. ‘Mongrels’ is an accessible novel and I have no doubt in my mind that you will find at least one or two things that resonate with you as a human being. Jones is a natural storyteller, one where his characters are vividly brought to life and come the novels end you will be left devastated to see them go. ‘Mongrels’ has that rare universal appeal to it. Younger readers will be instantly drawn to the narrator, as will older ones, and Libby and Darren are equally as engaging. the way in which Jones takes the Werewolf mythology and turns it on its head with this story is exceptional, refreshing and it results in the book being a true joy to read.

Just because the book is about Werewolves, it would be foolish of you to believe this is simply a horror book. It is a book that is so much more. Over my years as a reader, I have enjoyed many a coming-of-age tale. Writers like Stephen King and Robert McCammon have blown me away with their stories of growing up, going against the grain, overcoming the many challenges that life throws at you. With ‘Mongrels’, Jones may have just written the best of them all.

Flawless in its execution, sublimely written and alive with gorgeous characters. This book is a must-read.

5/5 stars

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy from here.

Words & Music with Calvin Demmer

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Calvin Demmer joins me today to talk about words and music. Calvin is a writer with over 30 stories to his name and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. A fellow metal fan, Calvin talks about how music helps him with his writing, by providing a wall of sound that acts as a kind of canvas from which he is able to construct his stories. Calvin has a number of short stories available on Amazon. He works primarily within the dark fiction genre and is definitely one to watch!

Thanks to Mr Demmer for taking part in this series. You can find out more about him from the links at the bottom of the page. And huge thanks to all for once again tuning in. If you’d like to be a part of this series then have a look at previous entries to get a feel as to what it’s all about and then get in touch with me. It doesn’t need to be heavy metal, it can be anything YOU like to listen to. I am all around social media and my email address is on the contact page. Peace.

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The Wall of Sound

By 

Calvin Demmer

I’ve enjoyed music just as long as I’ve enjoyed writing. When I was about twelve or thirteen, I can recall writing tales of zombies and a possessed guitar. At the time, I was learning guitar as well and getting into bands like The Offspring (particularly the albums Smash and Ixnay on the Hombre) Nirvana (In Utero), Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Pearl Jam, Green Day, NOFX (The EP The Decline was different and cool), Pennywise etc. It didn’t take long for me to start uncovering the harder groups, mainly the thrash groups that were born in the eighties: Metallica (Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All were constants on my play-lists), Megadeth (Countdown to Extinction and Youthanasia were big favorites), Testament, Anthrax etc.  From then on I discovered bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Stone Sour, Five Finger Death Punch, Trivium, Shadows Fall, Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot, System of a Down, Gojira, and many, many more.

When I began focusing on writing, I quickly discovered that you can’t always find the perfect circumstances to write. Fortunately, I’d heard about the “Wall of Sound” idea. It’s basically just blasting music while you write to avoid any outside distractions. The music then creates this wall between you and reality. I used this technique a lot in the beginning—sometimes I couldn’t even write unless the music was going. It didn’t matter if it was during a first draft or editing, and I’d say at least seventy-five percent of the time I had my headphones on. How much the music influenced or inspired me is hard to say, but I wrote thousands of words this way.

Since then, I’ve used music to help inspire my writing in other ways. Whether it’s just a great song getting you in the zone to write or creating a play-list to listen to while writing a particular scene, I’ve found many ways to blend my enjoyment of writing and music. I’ve even stepped out the hard rock and metal genres, for example: when I was writing a scene in a diner set during the fifties, I created a play-list of a bunch of songs from that time period and listened to them while I wrote. Nothing, however, beats cranking up some metal as I delve into my tales.

It’s fair to say that music has aided me greatly me as a writer. And it’s nice to know the “Wall of Sound” is always nearby.

— Calvin Demmer

These book covers were designed by George Cotronis. Make sure you check out Cotronis.com for more great covers and artwork.

Visit Calvin Demmer at Amazon here.

Visit CalvinDemmer.com here.