Chapelwood, by Cherie Priest

Chapelwood Book Cover Chapelwood
The Borden Dispatches #2
Cherie Priest
Horror, fantasy
Sep 1 2015

Birmingham, Alabama is infested with malevolence. Prejudice and hatred have consumed the minds and hearts of its populace. A murderer, unimaginatively named “Harry the Hacker” by the press, has been carving up citizens with a hatchet. And from the church known as Chapelwood, an unholy gospel is being spread by a sect that worships dark gods from beyond the heavens.

This darkness calls to Lizzie Borden. It is reminiscent of an evil she had dared hoped was extinguished. The parishioners of Chapelwood plan to sacrifice a young woman to summon beings never meant to share reality with humanity. An apocalypse will follow in their wake which will scorch the earth of all life.

Unless she stops it…

Oh, yes! Maplecroft has a sequel, and it is Chapelwood.

As a sequel, it may disappoint some readers, because of the distance in time from the first book.  In this one, Lizzie Borden - I mean, Lizbeth Andrew - is an old lady on the verge of becoming an old cat lady. The cats are the only company she keeps at Maplecroft now.

(Side note: I really, really want more genre fiction featuring older female protagonists.)

Now, given the decades that have passed,  there won't be much of a reunion with the cast of the previous books - some are there, some have a vague and implied presence, but mostly we are dealing with Chapelwood, and Chapelwood is in a small town in Alabama.  Far from Fall River in Massachusetts.

There is a lot of anger and fear and hate in this small town in Alabama, just at the start of the 20th century. The Ku Klux Klan has a firm foothold, and the local media refers to them openly.   Ruth's father is quite likely a klansman; he's certainly angry and hateful.   Her mother, well,  Ruth's mother had given up long before Ruth came into the world.   She's not going to object when her husband decides to take the family to a new church.  A different, very different, church.   Ruth can't stand it - she runs away.

The little town has drawn attention from other parts of the country, though. Odd things are going on there; an ongoing spree of axe murders,  somehow different from the other cases of racist hate crime.  Inspector Simon Wolf is paying attention from Boston, even before he becomes personally involved.

So - Lizzie Borden, creepy church, axe murders.  I've been thoroughly entertained, and I have very high hopes for the next book - because the ending very much makes me expect, and hope for, a next book. (It manages to do this while also delivering satisfaction and closure on its own, by the way,  which I make explicit note of because of the terrible amount of series-starter novels I've read lately that have miserably failed at being individually complete books. )

Good stuff for fantasy/steampunk readers who appreciate a sprinkle of Lovecraftian horror.  (And very well suited for the season - it is nearly October, after all...!)

Descender vol. 1: Tin stars, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

Descender vol.1: Tin stars Book Cover Descender vol.1: Tin stars
Jeff Lemire (art by Dustin Nguyen)
Science fiction, graphic novel
Image comics
Sep 22 2015
e-book / paperback (I had both available)

My cohabitant/CompanionBot and I share a lot of preferences.  Last weekend we chose and bought exactly the same no-nonsense winter shoes, albeit in different sizes.  We have committed some kind of faux pas, I'm sure, by wearing our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirts at the same time, in public.   When we moved in together, we had about 75% overlapping book shelf content. (I didn't match his Star Wars novel collections, he didn't have my Discworld - that was the bulk of the differences, anyway.)

We've lived together for five years, and while we're mostly in tune with one another, sometimes we just forget to keep each other informed of exactly how much in tune we are.  So we'll end up with a new double of something, because we both purchased the thing, like, oh, say,  a graphic novel with gorgeous cover art, blurbed as science fiction with robots in space. Like  Descender volume 1: Tin stars.

That was a meandering introduction to a review,  I know, but what I meant to say is that both of us had a weird and creepy love at first sight-thing going on with this graphic novel.  It would be a little awkward if it had turned out to be a disappointment, of course, but it didn't.  This is the polar opposite of disappointment.

I have no idea how long I'll have to wait for the next volume, but any amount of time is too long. I want more!  Now! Immediately!

Some reviewers of this graphic novel have complained about similarities to movies like AI and Prometheus.  Which is kind of funny,  because the first thing I yelled at someone (poor someone) about Descender was:  "It's cool in all the ways AI wasn't!".

...So no, I did not find this derivative.  Some stories will share some elements, is all.  The way cheese shares some qualities with chocolate, but one is not a derivative of the other, and chocolate cheesecake is something else altogether.

Descender takes us right into action, and it takes a few pages to sort out the timeframe and scope.  When we meet Tim-21,  a robot of the Tim-series, built as companions for human children,  we know enough to instantly worry - generously aided by the depiction of his terribly human child's face.

He's been asleep - turned off - for many years.  There appears to be no one else alive on the remote mining planet.  Except the constantly barking robot dog, Bandit.

But he won't be alone for long.  While he slept, companion robots went decidedly out of fashion. Out of fashion and into the melting pits, in fact.  Someone's very, very eager to find him.

The good robot story is always a debate on what it means to be a person. This is no exception, and it goes about it in a tiny PKD-tribute sort of way:  Tim-21 thought robots could not dream.

I thoroughtly recommend Descender.   For me, this was enough to make me put in library requests for every other Jeff Lemire title available.  Explosive fangirl reaction, in other words.   You should read it too, unless you're of the opinion that no one other than Asimov could ever get robots right  (in which case I shall be happy to supply you with a reading list spanning recent decades).

Read it! I'm... I'm going to re-read it. At least once.

Deep dark fears, by Fran Krause

Deep dark fears Book Cover Deep dark fears
Fran Krause
Ten speed press
Sep 29 2015

I've been following Fran Krause and her Deep dark fears comics on Tumblr (go look!) for a long time now, so I wasn't surprised to find myself utterly charmed by the same fears - and some previously unseen ones! - in published book form.

The beautiful, beautiful thing about these illustrated pieces is that it helps to make you - or, well, me - more comfortable with all those little insanities we're stuck with after our child minds have wrongly interpreted some kind of input, a well-meaning relative used a monster threat to keep you away from a dangerous thing or place,  or, as an adult, you just had the wrong association or idea at the wrong time and it stuck.

Me, for instance, I'm afraid of crocodiles in the forest, because my grandfather thought I wouldn't be worried enough about the venomous vipers who occasionally nested there. (Or the woodticks!)   I'm scared to death of mirrors, because of more or less every horror movie in the world.  I'm scared that I'll fall one day and my glasses will break and the glass shards will damage my eyes.   And every time I cross the street, I wonder if I was just killed by a car and just haven't noticed yet.


I think this is normal, though these freak ideas take different shapes for different people.  This collection proves it.

While the sparse text descriptions of fears are poignant enough, they're perfectly matched - and made into something more - by the art.  It's not hyper-detailed or fancy, just enough to put faces on things, to show clearly where the arm is exposed to the invisible guillotine at the edge of the bed - it's a little bit like how I, at least, visually recall dreams I've had. Not a lot of rich texture, just clear focus points to make what's out-of-focus that much more ominous.

This will make a good gift for the neurotics in your life. Or for yourself.  Really, what's more enjoyable than a cozy visual representation of how everyone, everyone, is a seething mess of nonsensical fears?

(I was initially afraid I might adopt some new fears after seeing all of these, but no. They need those special cosmic forces of terror in order to infect you.)

If then, by Matthew De Abaitua

If then Book Cover If then
Matthew De Abaitua
Science fiction
Angry robot
Sep 1 2015

In the near future, after the collapse of society as we know it, one English town survives under the protection of the computer algorithms of the Process, which governs every aspect of their lives. The Process gives and it takes. It allocates jobs and resources, giving each person exactly what it has calculated they will need. But it also decides who stays under its protection, and who must be banished to the wilderness beyond. Human life has become totally algorithm-driven, and James, the town bailiff, is charged with making sure the Process’s suggestions are implemented.

But now the Process is making soldiers. It is readying for war — the First World War. Mysteriously, the Process is slowly recreating events that took place over a hundred years ago, and is recruiting the town’s men to fight in an artificial reconstruction of the Dardanelles campaign. James, too, must go fight. And he will discover that the Process has become vastly more sophisticated and terrifying than anyone had believed possible.

Whatever I expected when I began to read If then - it certainly wasn't what I found there.  Now, after the fact, I can't really say what I did expect, of course, but suffice it to say - this is not your ordinary steampunky or post-apocalyptic adventure.

I wasn't prepared for penetrating melancholy.  Sentences that could only be described as poetic.

So - the prose, at least, was a pleasant surprise. So was the first part of the book.  As I followed the lives of the married couple James and Ruth, and the mysterious Hector,  I kept getting more and more intrigued.  Life in an English town after what was known as "The seizure" appears simple and old-timey on the surface, but then we come into the institute to engage in conversation with a scientist who appears to voluntarily engage in leisurely brain surgery.    Somehow everyone is acting in accordance with the Process, but what is the Process?

There's a lot of good stuff,  here. I would chow down on all of it with joyous abandon!

Except... except that the vast middle part of the novel loses its charm in lengthy, meandering events.  To me, it appeared aimless, and I struggled to find any thread to follow through the fog.   I simply lost the will to even keep reading, which is a clear sign of a poor book/reader match.

So, well, no.  I did not really enjoy this read.  It happens.  Maybe if I had special knowledge of the relevant Great War event, I wouldn't have fallen off and out of rhythm so badly.  I don't know!  By the end, as the book wraps up,  I know this book should be pushing all of my buttons in theory.

It just didn't.

So.  Do you want to read it?  It is undeniably a different take on post-something-or-other,  and doesn't resemble anything else I've read in a while.   There's also some very pretty prose involved.  These could easily be sufficient reasons to give the book a go - it's just not going to be me handing it to you.




Review-copy-of-book:  Hello, you! You need to read me now!

Me:  Yes! I want to read you now!

Eyes: Meh, no.

Migraine: Hello!

Review-copy-of-book: [CRYING]


So I’m a bit behind schedule on basically everything.  Daily migraines for weeks et cetera.  Sorry!

Updraft, by Fran Wilde

Updraft Book Cover Updraft
Fran Wilde
Fantasy, YA
Tor books
Sep 1 2015

In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Kirit Densira cannot wait to pass her wingtest and begin flying as a trader by her mother's side, being in service to her beloved home tower and exploring the skies beyond. When Kirit inadvertently breaks Tower Law, the city's secretive governing body, the Singers, demand that she become one of them instead. In an attempt to save her family from greater censure, Kirit must give up her dreams to throw herself into the dangerous training at the Spire, the tallest, most forbidding tower, deep at the heart of the City.

As she grows in knowledge and power, she starts to uncover the depths of Spire secrets. Kirit begins to doubt her world and its unassailable Laws, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to a haunting choice, and may well change the city forever—if it isn't destroyed outright.

Oh, my!  I have been swept away (sorry, no, not sorry) by Updraft.

I think there's been a bit of buzz around this book - at least, I've seen a fair share of it - and it's completely justified, because this is some of the best world building, and characterization, and action, and charm, that I've seen in ages.  Really.    Fran Wilde has created something amazing here, and I hope she's not about to stop.

We have a strong and resourceful - yet flawed - main character,  suddenly taken out of her familiar surroundings - and all of her familiar hopes and dreams - then placed into a new, not altogether friendly environment.  Kirit is, fortunately, a quick learner - and a good flier.

Oh, yeah, she has to fly. Nearly everyone has to know how to wield a pair of wings - because this is a city of towers, far above the clouds.  The worst possible characteristic, in this place, is clumsy.

Closely followed by unlucky.

While there is plenty of drama and terrifying turns of events,  this was a blast to read. Updraft appears to be made out of positive energy, resulting in a uniquely upbeat, fun read.   If I had to compare this novel to anything, I think I'd have to reach for something like: "Well, what if Roald Dahl decided to do the YA dystopia thing?".   There aren't giant peaches or telekinetic little girls or big friendly giants, but the world presented in Updraft has that level of invention and wonder.

(And, you know, coming from someone who read her Matilda to pieces in childhood, this is considered significant praise!)

Yes, yes, yes! You want to read this. Especially if you share my fondness for city fiction - books about cities that are at least as interesting as main characters. Read! Unless you want grimdark, but if you wanted grimdark that was grim and dark, you wouldn't even be looking at this bright cover and the accompanying blurbs. Obviously.

(I see a bunch of people on goodreads have shelved this as steampunk. Really, now? Because there's a pair of goggles in there? )