Nightlife by Rob Thurman

This week, I finished reading Rob Thurman’s Nightlife, book one of the Cal Leandros series. It is one of many in the avalanche of urban fantasy novels in the last couple years. Being a big fan of Jim Butcher, I have been branching out to similar authors. What I found in Nightlife was interesting, but far from spectacular.

The book is mainly written from the point of view of Caliban (Cal) Leandros, who is a pretty un-endearing, forgettable individual. I think the author really enjoyed being able to write cuss words because “that’s what those teenagers say these days.” He is supposed to come across as a clever, witty, wiseass. Instead, he became a character in a book I set aside for over a month. Horribly, terribly, unoriginal. His brother, Niko, is a more appealing character, although he plays second fiddle throughout the book. Despite the Cal character being a flop, Thurman’s re-imagining of the faerie tale world is quite interesting. The Thurman “elf” (a mispronunciation of “Auphe”) is a wicked, nasty creature of pure evil. They make passable boogeymen, although their nastiness is never really demonstrated, just hinted around at. The Thurman “troll” is really intriguing, with the ability to absorb others into its massive tentacled form. Satyrs make an appearance, as do boggles. The vampires are barely explored, but the werewolves felt a bit “off”. Overall, the fantasy world itself is different and intriguing. I much prefer Kim Harrison’s fantasy world from the Hollows, but this is passable.

The plot is not bad, if not cliched. The big bad guys want to destroy humanity, and the good guys don’t want that. Typical, but pulled off in an acceptable manner. The biggest problem is the Cal character is lousy. There is no empathy for him, he’s not amusing, he acts like a twelve-year-old with a pistol, and he is uninspired. Everytime he goes into another one of his long tirades about life, I find myself going on a long sleep.

Overall, I think the book showed a lot of promise. I would be curious to see how the later books (this was Thurman’s first) develop the character. For a first novel, it is a good attempt and shows some creativity. I would like to see characters that hook me into the story. Honestly, by the end of the book, I didn’t care if Cal made it or not. In fact, at times I rooted for the bad guys, because it would finally end.

In the end, I put this particular work on the B-list of urban fantasy. It is an okay story with some very neat twists on myth and legend, but character development needs a lot of work. I’m willing to read one more and see if Thurman was able to fully come into his potential.


Dead Witch Walking

Last night, I finished reading Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking, book 1 of the Rachel Morgan series (also called the Hollows series). I picked the book up at the store because it sounded vaguely interesting, and I was wanting something with a similar feel to the Dresden Files series. For some reason, I did not expect to enjoy this book. Sometimes, I’m happy when I’m wrong!

I found Dead Witch Walking to be a well-written work of fiction with some very creative ideas. It did not take long for me to become hooked on this intriguing version of Earth, where supernatural and the mundane walk side-by-side. The write-ups about the book had not done it justice and even came across as a bit cheesy. I found the ideas remarkably original and exciting, every bit as fresh and new as what the Dresden Files series was delivering.

In a quick summary to not reveal major details, Dead Witch Walking explores the first few days of Vampiric Charms, a “detective” agency run by witch, Rachel Morgan, and living vampire, Ivy Tamwood. They have a rocky start with assassins in the shadows and a corrupt councilman causing trouble. The book sets the stage for an entire series of books by developing the personalities of the main characters, establishing a business and relationships for them, and revealing how Harrison’s version of Earth works. While certainly a solid standalone novel, Dead Witch Walking makes a perfect introduction into this exciting new world.

I particularly like contrasting the writing styles of Kim Harrison and Jim Butcher (author of the Dresden Files). Harry Dresden is a snarky hero from an obviously male author. Harrison’s Rachel Morgan is just as intriguing and just as obviously written by a female author. I really believe a fan of either series would greatly enjoy the other; therefore, there are numerous books to keep the most avid reader occupied for a time between them.

Dead Witch Walking is an easy read that goes quickly due to all the action. I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s a good story on its own, and if you like it, it opens the door to a whole series about these exciting characters.


Dresden Files – Blood Rites

I very recently finished reading Blood Rites, book six of the Dresden Files novels by Jim Butcher. I got interested in the books after watching the SciFi Channel’s TV show The Dresden Files. Although the series was canceled, I discovered it was based upon a series of novels about the same character. I started reading them sometime in January, and I’ve been hard pressed to put them down since.

Blood Rites, like the others in the series, picks up and continues the ongoing saga of excitement and tribulation that is the life of Chicago’s only professional wizard, Harry Dresden. From the opening line, I was hooked; Butcher starts the story with action, and it does not relent throughout the book. Of course, this book details a new case for the wizard/detective that leads into more supernatural turmoil. Harry’s previous troubles with the Red Court vampires are well-documented in earlier novels, but Blood Rites reveals much more on the Black Court and mysterious White Court.

Along the way, threads from previous books are woven together, including more information on Harry’s family and his relationship with his mentor. Old enemies raise their stinking, rotting heads once again, and unexpected allies appear. All of this happens to the narration of the witty, sometimes over reactionary, Wizard Dresden. Jim Butcher continues to improve with each novel, and Dresden’s unique personality and humor have completely come into their own. Sometimes you think, “Harry, don’t behave that way”, but you already know that he won’t be able to help himself.

The novel ends, like the other Dresden books, with lots of loose ends and looming threats. Butcher has mastered the subtle cliffhanger—you know your questions will be answered, but Butcher does not simply plod along revealing secret after secret. Each is woven into the background, and you discover your answers throughout the novels, not just from one to to the next.

I highly recommend this series for anyone interested in a modern supernatural thriller. Dresden has a sense of style and humor unlike other “heroes” you will find. It reminds me of a combination of Spider-Man’s sarcasm and biting wit meshed with the stoic determination and drive to do the right thing, no matter the cost, of Batman. The books are not for a very young audience, including lots of violence and some sexual content. It seems Wizard Dresden cannot help but attract the murderous attentions of flying purple-furred flaming-poo-flinging monkey demons. All in a day’s work.



Bas-Lag and Perdido Street Station

I recently finished reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station after reading several reviews about it and seeing the Dungeons & Dragons conversion rules in Dragon Magazine issue 352. I think the book is a bit over-hyped in reviews I have read; however, I think it is still a very good book.

The novel takes place in the fantasy world of Bas-Lag where humans are the main protagonist race. Technology levels are similar to Victorian era Britain with the addition of magic. A wealth of exotic races populate Bas-Lag, and they vary greatly from the fantasy staple elves, dwarves, and gnomes. Instead, Bas-Lag treats you to beetle-headed khepri, frog-like vodyanoi, bird-like garuda, animated cactus-men, and impish flying wyrmen. Even more exotic creatures stalk the land, such as the hideous Remade, creatures who have been punished for crimes by being flesh-sculpted into new forms and crossed with animal or mechanical body parts.

The titular Perdido Street Station is the main railway hub and seat of government for the sprawling, industrial, sleazy city of New Crobuzon. This is where Mieville particularly shines, in his ability to paint a vivid picture of the filth, corruption, and horror that is daily life in the great city. Before long, you are immersed in a world of corrupt government, an oppressive police force, bizarre science based on steam power and chymical-thaumaturgy, rebellion, poverty, perversion, and violence. The author draws out the experience, dragging you down into the pit of New Crobuzon long before you are introduced to the real plot of the novel. At some point, you realize the book is sprawling, languid, and grimy—the perfect portrayal of New Crobuzon itself. I think within this lies the true genius of China Mieville.

The story eventually unfolds as a “man” against terrible organic threat. Although the creatures involved are unique, the story is tried and true. Underlying is a tale of love, a tale of tragedy, and a tale of struggle against oppression. Many plot elements find a conclusion, but just as many are left unfinished and waiting. For readers who need closure in novels, this one will certainly disappoint.

In the end, I found Bas-Lag a fascinating new realm of fantasy. I think the potential here is tremendous and recommend the book to anyone seeking something going off the standard fantasy path. Be warned that book is intended for a mature audience, being filled with language, sexual content, and concepts that would offend many. If your fortitude will stand up to such, venture on into Bas-Lag, but don’t say you were not warned. When I set the book down after the last page, I felt intrigued and yet grimy. I believe this is the author’s intent.

China Mieville is a former player of role-playing games, and he includes several characters and lines in the book for the gaming crowd. It should not be surprising that such a richly detailed world is eagerly used by some as a new location for role-playing game sessions. As mentioned earlier, Dragon Magazine issue 352 presented a wealth of information for playing Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition in Bas-Lag. It includes race write-ups, monsters, weapons and equipment, and a very good summary of the wards and districts of New Crobuzon. It has plenty of material within to begin playing in Bas-Lag with very little effort. Also, in February 2008, Adamant Entertainment announced an upcoming Tales of New Crobuzon role-playing game.

Additional Information

Bas-Lag Novels

Wikipedia Entries