Sunday, November 30, 2014

Walking In The Midst Of Fire - Thomas E. Sniegoski

Walking In The Midst Of Fire
A Remy Chandler Novel
Thomas E. Sniegoski
Urban Fantasy
Remy Chandler, PI, was once Remiel, a warrior angel.  A Seraphim.  After the battle with the Morningstar, Remiel felt tarnished and disillusioned.  He removed himself to earth, and spent millennia living as a man.  Recent events forced him to re-examine his purpose and reconcile his ‘mortal’ life – with friends, a business, and a dog – with his essential angelic nature.  Those same events nearly cost Remy’s friend, detective Steve Mulvehill his sanity.  It is Steve who tells Remy that, around that time, someone from the Vatican had come looking for him.

To Remy, this means nothing but potential trouble.  In his many years on earth, he’s had dealings with individuals from the Vatican.  The envoy, Constantin Malastesta, is a member of a group called the Keepers.  They safeguard various relics and supernatural objects, in order to ensure the safety of humanity.  They’d like Remy to use his investigative skills (and his angelic powers) to do work for them.  They don’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer.
After promising to think about it, Remy is startled to find an old friend in one of his favorite churches.  The friend, Montagin, has news for Remy.  Not the least of which is that his old commanding officer, General Aszrus, is living a fairly mortal life on earth.  Days later, Montagin reappears in a panic.  The General is dead; his heart torn out of his body.  Angels can survive a lot, but there is a limit.  Inspecting the scene, Remy immediately determines that the General was killed somewhere else; then his body was deposited in his own study for maximum shock value.  The shock is great.  Who or what could have killed this angel?  And why would anyone/anything risk it?  Those answers put all of creation in peril.
As usual, there’s so much more to this story.  The author fills in another bit of Remy’s history, this time from the time of the plague in Europe.  And there’s someone else who has been around for almost as long as Remy.  A man called Simeon, forcibly raised from the dead by a young and inexperienced Nazarene, as a test of sorts.  Both of them were shocked at the outcome.  Simeon wants to return to his peace, but failing that, he’ll settle for making the rest of humanity suffer.  By all rights, he should be a one-note character, but that is not the case.  The author’s skill is such that the reader can feel the unending pain and frustration that gradually warps Simeon into the person he becomes. 
The investigation into the General’s death eventually leads Remy to confront how other angels choose to live on earth.  It’s a personal and complicated process, and it’s clear that each angel is an individual, making choices, leading to sometimes devastating consequences.  The mythology continues to expand and deepen, and the world-building is so solid that it all just seems to flow.  Longtime readers will enjoy seeing some returning characters, and there are some interesting additions here.  For those who are just discovering this series, this installment is a fine place to start.  Some new arcs are beginning here, so knowledge of all that has gone before isn’t absolutely necessary.  See the list below for previous titles.  The closing pages make it quite clear that there’s much more to the story.  That’s great news for fans.

Rating: 9
August 2014
ISBN# 978-0-451-46546-7 (paperback)

Previous Remy Chandler Novels:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ship Of The Dead - John L. Campbell

Ship Of The Dead
An Omega Days Novel
John L. Campbell
Note:  If you haven’t read the first novel in this series, OMEGA DAYS, this review contains many unavoidable spoilers.  And you’ve also missed a really great read, introducing the characters and situation.

This book picks up roughly a month after the events in the first book.  The zombies (or drifters, or skinnies) are still everywhere.  The few humans left alive and well are under constant threat of attack.  Now that the survivors have come together to form one large group, the first order of business seems to be finding a place that’s safe and defensible over the long term. 
Looking around the island of Alameda, there’s one obvious choice: the USS Nimitz, run aground not too far off shore.  The ship, although stationary, is still surrounded by water.  The zombies are not going to drown trying to get to the ship, but they’re not going to be able to climb up and over the superstructure to get into the ship.  The ship contains a good supply of food and medicine, and there will be plenty of space for everyone.  The huge downside: it’s currently still occupied by its crew.  Who are now all zombies.  The plan, such as it is, is to board the ship, split into hunting parties, and clear out the place. 
If you’ve read the previous book, you’re familiar with the majority of the characters.  Each one continues to be a well-drawn individual, with history and hopes and personal foibles.  There’s realism, in that everyone is at risk at every moment.  There’s no telling who will make it and who won’t.  I was surprised at how quickly I came to care about (or not) each character.  The addition of Navy reservist and EMT Rosa is inspired.  New readers follow her path through the outbreak and into the present.  As a reservist, she knows a bit about the ship, but not nearly enough to make things easy.
The story is almost nonstop action, mixed with some great character development and group dynamics.  The plan that seemed pretty straightforward on dry land largely falls to pieces once they’re on the ship.  The place is far larger – and far more populated – than they realized.  Even walking down a hallway, trying to clear the rooms on either side is an exercise in terror.  When one slip means death, there’s just no room for error.  The story continues in January, and I’m truly looking forward to it.  Just make sure to block out some time when you start these books; you won’t want to stop reading.

Rating: 9
October 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-27264-0 (trade paperback)

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Omega Days - John L. Campbell

Omega Days
John L. Campbell


 It’s the zombie apocalypse.  One minute, various people around the San Francisco area are going about their daily business; the next minute, they’re surrounded by the dead, the dying, and the newly risen.  Live people are now food – or at least, prey – for the relentless dead.  After infection and death, it takes only moments for a corpse to rise and turn on any living person in proximity. 

The characters we follow through the wasteland are a pretty good cross-section of humanity.  There’s Skye, who was moving into the dorms at UC Berkeley when the zombies came through and violently took her family.  There’s Xavier, a priest who is in the throes of questioning his dedication to (and fitness for) his calling.  Bud and Angie Franks, who star in a reality show about firearms and their use.  Evan Tucker, who fancies himself this generation’s Kerouac. All are trapped in a nightmare that no one saw coming and no one can stop.  The contagion is everywhere, and no one is immune.

The narrative shifts back and forth among the survivors, following each person/group as they try to navigate their way to some kind of safety.  Each character is written as a complex individual with a personal history.  They all act with varying and realistic degrees of bravery and integrity.  The infrastructure of society breaks down fairly quickly, leaving everyone to fend for themselves.  Some rise to the occasion, some look for any personal advantage. 

The action is nonstop and brutal.  If you’re squeamish, look elsewhere.  If you’re not, get ready to stay up late turning pages.  The sense of terror and isolation are very real.  We all unconsciously rely on the authorities – and the power grid – to a huge extent.  Part of the horror of this situation is the feeling of being set adrift in the world, to rely only on yourself and whatever survival skills you might have.  That feeling is absolutely palpable here.  I admit to turning on the news at one point, just to remind myself that this is not happening outside my door.  But I was so hooked, I never considered closing the book.  Several threads are left dangling at the end, so it’s good to know that there’s a second book out.  I’ve already started it.

Rating: 9
May 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-27263-3 (trade paperback)