Saturday, 23 July 2016

Book Review

A Single Light

by Patricia Leslie

(Pub:Odyssey Books, 2016)

I must confess at that I know the author Patricia Leslie, however I can assure you that this has not influenced my review. If I read a book by someone I know and I don’t like it, then I simply will not rate or review it. Gladly, though this is not the case with this book – I loved it.

Patricia Leslie’s first book The Ouroboros Key was a good read, but with A Single Light, she has surpassed herself. (To see my earlier interview with Patricia on A Single Light, click here.

A Single Light is urban fantasy, but I believe it could easily be classed as a paranormal fantasy too. It has been suggested that it could also be classed as a horror story, but I think that's inaccurate. I didn't find it horrific in the least - engrossing yes, horrific no.

Within the story there are three groups of beings. 1. The Afflür; 2. The Bledray; 3. Humans. The Afflür and Bledray can exist in different planes of reality and take different forms. Amongst the Afflür there are “hunters”, who serve to protect humans from the Bledray. The Bledray are soul sucking vampires; they feed off the life force of humans, consuming them totally.

Set in the southern suburbs of Sydney, Cronulla – the Sutherland Shire, this story centres around a series of mysterious disappearances and the ensemble cast who gather to investigate them.

One of the first characters we meet is Lael, a hunter who is drawn to the area by the “disappearances.” Next we meet veteran journalist Rick Hendry who is covertly contacted by a federal agent, Anthony, to assist with the investigation into the missing people. As the story is unveiled they are joined by three others – journalist Gabriela, Jaime - a doctor from the coroner’s office and her boyfriend Ben.

By now you would have inferred from my earlier paragraph that these missing people are the work of the Bledray; you’d be correct. In fact the Beldray are gathering in huge numbers…and the threat to humanity feels very real.

The book opens with a passage from “The Journal of Malaik”, a former hunter. It was this passage that had me hooked on this story. Leslie’s writing immediately immersed me in this scene, the imagery was such that I was able to clearly visualise the blasted, blackened world depicted here. Each chapter is preceded by a short excerpt from this journal and the writing in these passages has an interesting rhythmic structure and a kind of poetry that makes it genuinely read like the mystical musings of another race. It adds to the story by providing cryptic clues, and enhances the storytelling atmosphere beautifully.

No matter the writing, stories are always diminished if the characters are not realistic, fortunately I enjoyed the characterisations within A Single Light. Hendry comes across as the jaded, experienced journalist in every way from his permanently dishevelled state, his style of life and his bitterness. Gabriela was his young protégé, now friend, and tries to get him to “hold” his life together. The relationship dynamic between the two, younger protégé turned watchful guardian against his further decay is realistic. The curious, yet frightened, Jaime and her boyfriend Ben, curious without caution, are portrayed very well. The dialogue is excellent and struck me as being just what I’d expect to hear Australian’s in this situation say - I believed it and them.

Overall this book comes across as more polished, tighter and more confident than Leslie’s last book, The Ouroboros Key. I found myself reading sentences and pausing, thinking, “Gee, I like that phrase,” or “What a good way to express that.” I get all sorts of writing to review and I rarely stop and think this.

The pacing was excellent and rarely, maybe the odd half page here and there, did I get impatient and want things to speed up. Seriously, I think this was just because I was totally hooked. The action sequences will suck you in and the climactic scene met all my expectations – thank goodness.

If you like paranormal fantasy / urban fantasy I urge you to read A Single Light. It ticks all the expected boxes, but Leslie puts her own twist on the genre. I can’t wait to read her next book.

Five Stars!

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Sunday, 3 July 2016

Book Review

Into Hell's Fire

by Douglas Cavanaugh

(Pub: Kirostar Publishing, 2007)

** I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. **

The Balkan conflicts of the early 1990’s would seem ideal fodder for an action / spy novel, yet with Into Hell's Fire, Cavanaugh has delivered a novel that I can best describe as having a hybrid style - it is a mix of an action novel and a history book.

This stylistic choice is an interesting one and has resulted in me pondering this review more than usual and being far more analytical in it than others I’ve written.

Lucas Martin is a former Vietnam veteran and retired covert operative for the US. Lucas’ extensive experience has seen him involved in numerous conflicts and having done in depth work previously within the Balkans and having predicted, in his final report, the future potential problems in the area.

The State Department recalls Lucas to active duty in order to gather information for them. This then is the catalyst for the ensuing adventure. Lucas has emotional ties with the region, having been born in Croatia, and he reconnects with old contacts in the pursuit of his mission. What follows is an intricate tale entangling his objectives, the necessity of helping a friend and a horrendous web of political lies and corruption.

The political situation within the Balkans has always been complicated and the author does an admirable job of explaining the myriad complexities of the region by integrating some solid history sections within the narrative. Most of this occurs within the first third of the novel. 
However, it is these sections that I didn’t enjoy within the story, primarily because several of them are long and resemble “info” dumps. There was also a tendency within Cavanaugh’s writing to detail every action of the characters, even where this was not necessary. These two traits had the effect of “telling” me the story and taking me “out” of the narrative and any connection I was making with the characters deteriorated. I do believe these sections could have been “tightened” up and this effect lessened.

I debated the author’s choice of putting these history sections in, but, given that he has lived in the Balkans for 20 years, I suspect his own connection to this area may have meant that he wanted to remain “true” to the area and history. It is very easy to sensationalise events and storytelling (here I'm thinking pure "Bond" style spy stories) for pace and in doing so sometimes diminish other story elements that deserve recognition. 

Perhaps putting these sections in served not only to explain the complicated history to those unaware of it, but to ensure that a ring of truth remained within the narrative, which is a praiseworthy aim. So, though they detracted from the experience for me, they may prove hugely helpful to other readers.

Fortunately, in this early section there is a simply brilliantly scripted scene between Lucas and a State Department official, Morton Riggs. This scene convinced me of the quality of Cavanaugh’s writing and made me persist with reading Into Hell’s Fire.

In the latter half, the novel really hits its stride.  The problems I encountered with the story largely evaporated in this section. Cavanaugh provides us with an excellent array of characters, with detailed backstories, whose tales really highlight the tragedy of this conflict. 

I loved the intricacies of the politics - both within the Balkans and with the US and NATO. The various plot arcs are interwoven very well and there are some fine action sequences and scene setting with the author’s detailed knowledge of the area adding to the realism of the story. I could clearly visualise the bombed out cities and beautiful coastlines – the irony of the changing conditions so close to each other was not lost on me.

All in all I did enjoy Into Hell’s Fire, I wasn’t as engrossed in the story as I hoped to be, but it was definitely worth the read I can see many readers loving it.

I’ve debated about how to rate this book 3.5 or 4 stars, I’m leaning toward 3.5. If you love spy / action / thriller novels and history, then take a look at Into Hell’s Fire.

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