Monday, February 23, 2015

Cherry Bomb - Kathleen Tierney (Caitlin R. Kiernan)

Cherry Bomb

A Siobhan Quinn Novel
Kathleen Tierney (Caitlin R. Kiernan)

Urban Fantasy
Like RED DELICIOUS before it, this book comes with a pre-emptive warning from Quinn, who narrates in first-person.  To paraphrase: this is not a paranormal romance with gorgeous vampires who just want to be loved.  There will be blood, death, violence, and lots of bad language.

After the events of the last book, Quinn left Providence and her erstwhile employer Mr. B behind and struck out on her own.  She travelled to different places, took different jobs, and disliked the whole thing.  (I would dearly love to hear the story about the alligator women who worshipped Cthulhu, but, alas.)  Eventually, she landed in Manhattan, moved in with a woman with whom she had zero emotional connection, and let the time slip by.  Until the night a lovely girl called Selwyn approaches Quinn and says, “I know what you are.”
What Quinn is, is both a vampire and a werewolf, through an unlikely sequence of events.  What Quinn should be is more put off than intrigued, but, by her own admission, she was stupid and overlooked a lot of warning signs.  Like when she followed Selwyn, a dealer in “occult antiquities,” on a few deliveries, and got a good look at what those antiquities were.  Dark and dangerous items handed over to questionable and even clearly dangerous individuals.  But Quinn stays, and in very short order finds herself in the middle of an aeons-old conflict between the ghouls and the djinn.

Quinn isn’t kidding about her story.  It’s no romantic fairy tale.  It’s messy and bloody and murky and sometimes there is no clear-cut answer to the ‘why’ of it all.  Pretty realistic, actually.  Quinn is like that friend who simply won’t take good advice; won’t turn off the path that is clearly going to lead to destruction.  Part of that is because it’s simply her nature.  She’s not happy with what she is now, or what she knows now, and is maybe more than a little self-destructive.  Another side to her nature is the side that has a burning desire to see the right thing happen.  She says she’s no hero, but I think she’s wrong about that.

According to the author’s note at the end, this series of three books (I missed the first one) was a kind of experiment for her.  That experiment is now at an end, which makes me a little sad.  The author also claims that this experiment was not entirely a success.  As a reader, I disagree.  I think Quinn was a unique construct, but a strangely realistic one.  A supernatural creature grounded more deeply in reality than she ever was as a human being.  If this is, indeed, the end, then it was one fascinating ride.  Not always fun, sometimes horrifying, but absolutely a ride worth taking.
Rating: 8
February 2015
ISBN# 978-0-451-41655-7 (trade paperback)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Drifters - John L. Campbell

An Omega Days Novel
John L. Campbell

Note:  If you haven’t read the first two novels in this series, OMEGA DAYS and SHIP OF THE DEAD, this review contains many unavoidable spoilers.
At the end of the second book, Angie West was still tormented by thoughts of the fate of her family.  Angie and her husband, Dean, are both gun enthusiasts and survivalists.  Thus, they’re better prepared than most to deal with a zombie apocalypse.  They have a plan for any kind of crisis. The plan is to get to the ranch owned by Angie’s parents.  It’s isolated and defensible; there’s a bunker that’s stocked with food, water, and weapons.  Angie knows it's where Dean would have headed with their toddler daughter.  She has to know if they survived.

A few of her fellow survivors agree to accompany Angie on her search.  Privately, they feel it may be hopeless, but they can't let her go alone.  The freeways are choked with the abandoned and wrecked vehicles of panicked people fleeing cities; communications are down.  The only way to get in and out of the area in any kind of safety is to use the one helicopter (and pilot) available to them.  They land in an open area on a neighboring ranch, where they find Halsey, a ranch hand who has managed to survive alone since the outbreak.  Vladimir, the pilot, and Halsey agree to stay behind to guard the helicopter while the rest set off across the rugged terrain.

There are two timelines at work here: one for Angie and her group, beginning just after the events of the second book; and another for Dean and other characters, beginning just before the original outbreak.  The wise reader will take careful note of the date listed for each chapter.  While Dean is racing to get out of town without traumatizing his small daughter, other survivors are trying to make their own way.  For many, that means banding together with other people and finding someplace safe to hide for a while.  Little Emer, the leader of a motorcycle gang, has bigger plans.  He uses the crisis to set up a sort of fiefdom.  He styles himself as some sort of present-day Roman emperor and sends his people out to take what they need/want, no matter who gets hurt or killed.
In this installment, the scope of the story begins to widen a bit.  The events of the first book are a few months in the past by the time the two timelines converge, and human beings have become just as big a threat as the zombies.  Of course, everyone wants to survive, but different people have radically different ideas about how to accomplish that.  There’s still plenty of action, chases, and running gun battles, but this book contains some quiet moments, too.  Most of these are centered on Vladimir and Halsey, spending their evenings swapping stories while they wait for the search team to return.  These scenes are a nice contrast and allow the two characters and their unlikely friendship to develop naturally.

The author really excels at setting the scene.  We get glimpses into the lives of the survivors and what their lives were like before the world collapses.  We also see bits of the lives of a few zombies – who and what they were before they turned.  It humanizes them and gives the story more emotional punch.  As always, there’s no telling who is going to survive and who will not.  Some deaths seem fated, but others come as a shock.  Along the way, there are some new developments.  A few of the zombies are changing, becoming more aware; presenting a much more dangerous foe to the living.  There are some loose threads left at the end.  I hope that means more in this series, and soon.
Rating: 8 ½
January 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-27265-7 (trade paperback)

Monday, February 09, 2015

Deadeye - William C. Dietz

The Mutant Files, Book 1
William C. Dietz
In post-plague Los Angeles, the face of crime may have changed, but there are still people dedicated to stopping it.  The plague happened in 2038, before Cassandra Lee was born.  She followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the police force.  Now she’s part of the elite Special Investigative Section, charged with tracking down the worst of the worst.  The plague, started by an act of bio-terrorism, has effectively separated humanity.   At the time, millions died.  Those who contracted the plague but survived were mutated in various ways.  Some of them are still carriers.  The norms and the mutants live apart, in newly-defined territories.  Since there’s no way to identity a carrier, when the populations must interact, they use specialized face masks and nose filters.
The new landscape of society has given rise to new hate groups – or old hate groups with new targets.  The Church Of Human Purity is dedicated to making sure than norms and mutants remain forever separated.  Bishop Screed has built an empire on the idea.  His great wealth gives him influence in the city.  When his daughter, Amanda, is kidnapped off the street, he puts pressure on the mayor and the police force.  Lee knows that mutant groups do kidnap norm women for use in creating norm (or norm-appearing) offspring.  That means that Amanda will have been removed from Los Angeles and taken into the red zone.  At best.
A norm in the red zone is an anomaly.  The mutants aren’t going to be likely to cooperate with Lee.  To that end, Lee now has a new partner: Deputy Ras Omo.  As a mutant, Omo will be able to talk to people Lee wouldn’t.  He knows the red zone and how to get around in it.  Lee is less than interested in working with a partner, but recognizes the necessity.  To Lee, finding the girl means time taken away from her obsession: finding a serial killer who specializes in cops.  He’s known as the Bonebreaker, and Lee is determined to find him, even though she’s not technically on the case.  She’s too close to it.  The Bonebreaker killed Lee’s father.

This is the first volume in a great new series.  The world-building is impeccable.  The Los Angeles here is still recognizable, but it’s clearly been altered in fundamental ways.  It’s now part of a state known as Pacifica.  To the east, starting roughly at Arizona, is the Republic of Texas, run by mutants.  The red zone is located in between the two.  Each location is a function of the individuals who live there.  It all fits together and it all makes sense.

The story unfolds in layers.  There are some great subplots that give the story and the world depth.  Lee is known as a loner who isn’t much liked, but is very well-respected for her ability to get results.  She closes cases.  Not always by arrests, but she closes them.  Most of the story is told from her point of view, but every once in a while, we get a bit of someone else’s.  It’s a great technique that gives the reader a glimpse into the inner minds and motivations of others.  It provides a richer and more complex view of this world. 

This novel is a great intro for someone unsure about “scifi” in general.  This story is driven by the characters.  Lee and Omo are both carefully drawn individuals.  They each have a history, a career, a family, a past.  The setting may be futuristic, but anyone who loves a good story, a good mystery, a good chase, will enjoy this novel.  The mystery plot is solid, there’s enough action to satisfy readers coming from the author’s military scifi novels, and the characters are realistic.  The author ties up the main story here, but leaves some very interesting loose ends for future novels.  I’m very much looking forward to them.

Rating: 8
February 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-27333-3 (paperback)