Category Archives: review

typicalbook – Apollo’s Raven by Linnea Tanner – Review

Catrin is a princess, soul traveler and mystic. A sorceress cum shapeshifter and the daughter of King Amren of the Cantiaci. The historical fiction of Linnea Tanner, “Apollo’s Raven”, begins with Catrin along with her sisters Vala and Mor, who are trapped in the clash of kingdoms between the tattooed Cantuvellauni people of her Celtic homeland, and the advancing Roman armies. While their combat instructor, Belinus, is distracted by the middle daughter, Mor, and eldest sister Val is betrothed to a Roman for political reasons, Catrin is overwrought with painful memories of her exiled and disfigured brother Marrock. Marrock has returned to her in a vision that can only mean bloodshed and death to all she holds dear.

Catrin’s visions are much more than waking dreams. Her faithful familiar is a black raven that allows her to travel through the skies and into the past or future by taking her vision and allowing her to see what it can see, for better or worse. There is a curse upon the land and her family. Just like the future, this curse can be rewritten so it is up to Catrin and her Roman ally Marcellus alongside her mother, Queen Rhiannon, to outwit Marrock and the advancing Roman army he has maliciously manipulated for his own revenge.

The introduction to Catrin and her powers is quite breathtaking. All at once the reader is taken into the fold of how magic and sorcery is viewed in this world crafted by Tanner, and all at once mystified and humbled. The young princess is new to this power she keeps a secret from others, and we are witness to its bold and reckless enchantment as we see the weakness that transferring your waking mind to another body can hold. With the threats that surround this young warrior maiden, the author weaves a tantalizing push and pull between the free life Catrin could have and the path she treads–for destiny and magic clear the way. Unlike many epic fantasies, the style is quite casual and could be disarming for those seeking a more literary approach to the sword and sorcery of Europe in the dawn of the common era. A smattering of historical figures blend into the background of this landscape which is rich with trappings of the time and while there could be some exclamations or jargon out of place it would take research to verify one way or another. It all blends in, however, as so much of the world inhabited by our hero and her sisters is true to our own. With only a few twists of imagination, a world where we can see through the eyes of another creature comes to life.

Thankfully there are few scenes of romance. The story could surely be billed as a romance story entirely, but I found it much more like a dark fantasy that only edges on a love story. With very few scenes of eroticism, the focus is certainly on peril, bloodshed, mystery, magic and deception. For those who come to ‘Apollo’s Raven” looking for love, they will find maggots, skulls, torture and entrails in all the right places. Much to my delight, this book contains quite a few gory scenes throughout. While each character is entirely their own and distinctly drawn, it seems all characters are quick to temper and are all quite sadistic. Even the most gentle seeming creatures here are proven exceedingly cruel at least once if not chapter by chapter. The raven is a character of its own too, and not without its shining moments of barbarism. Owners of large birds, specifically corvids, will know the author not only researched the time and place in which the story has taken place but the nature of these strange little creatures. Whether playing the jester, faithful guardian or spirit animal, the raven–which has no name–shares the quirks a pet crow would truly display. Something that only one at home with these cold coal creatures would really bring to life.

More time exploring the character of Agrona, the King’s witch who plays a large part in the story and has the bloodiest and most interesting introduction would have done well. The story does well as it is, though she offered something entirely different later in the story in contrast to who she is when first met, the direction she starts off in is fascinating and embodies more of the magic qualities of this world that everyone fears and is warned off but rarely gets to see. Of five stars, this is closer to a four than three-and-a-half. While lyrical and paced well, some of the slang and colloquialisms cause a snag when they don’t ring true. Some dialogue injects mirth where not ought to be had and when the scenario is not meant to be funny. Some of the gravity is sucked out by the misstep of a word or two but the story does recover every time, and instantly. For lovers of animal familiars mixed in with dark magic, this could fly quite high and is worth looking into the next book in the series.

 

I have taken a position reviewing books from independent authors. While not all are horror, there is a thread of darkness through them regardless of genre. As with honest paid reviews, there will be personal reaction as well as comparative and critical analysis. If you are an author that would like me to review your work, contact me for rates and a summary of your novel, short story, or collection. 

typicalbook – The Law of Moses by Kwen Griffeth

Here is a tale of a calculating sheriff chiselled from a reluctant soldier. After joining up to fight alongside his brother in the civil war, Sam Moses lost all that was dear to him. His life was one thing not dear to him at all, and while wishing for the sweet release of death he becomes the most feared gunman in the west. His only wish is that someone else would draw fast enough, aim true enough, and end his life since suicide just does not fit into his law.

Flowing like an episode of cherished westerns or serial paperbacks favoured by the genre, “The Law of Moses” lays it down proper. Small amounts of humour, and ample bloodshed keep the wheels greased for this horror fan. If there is something to be found in the western drama for readers, it is a tale of honour played out on the dusty dry landscape that author Kwen Griffeth paints for us with all the sand, wood, and horseflesh we imagine.

Set in the small town of Puebla Fresa – named after the strawberries that grew alongside the nearby La Ria de Fresa – Moses is the new sheriff of an idyllic pre-1900 western village. Meeting barman Ed West, who becomes the closest thing to a friend Moses will allow, comes in the first chapter and a vicious fight in his saloon. A great way to start out as we see Moses lay down the law, and learn a little about our iron-fisted hero. Little bits of his past are woven into the story as we go along. Artfully, this never feels like straight exposition. Although we do hear most of his past in whispers among townsfolk, it fits with a character that is not forthcoming. The dark and cold sheriff we meet has a past that shaped him into the fearsome man he has become. Therein lies the basis of the law, aside from a gnawing death-wish: Moses needs to be all the man he can be, not the man he became. This is what he expects of others too, and if they misstep, they are destined to pay the price he sees fit.

When not told by way of gossip about “Suicide Sam” or “Crazy Moses”, we learn much about him in flashbacks to his past. Handled well and never jarring from the main story, we learn of his brother Luke Moses and just why their mother wished them to war. Patsy Brown is a love interest, which clashes nicely with the abstinent and cold sheriff we know. These characters long forgotten are mirrored slightly in WIlliam and Laura Stoddard. As much as West and the local blacksmith Lincoln Lincoln – yes, first name and last – are the closest thing to Moses’ friends, the Stoddard’s start out as more of a thorn in his side. By then though, we are pretty sure most of Moses’ life has been made of thorns so that fits his unwelcoming and weather-beaten demeanour.

Shakespeare and the work of Jane Austen make appearances in the book, adding to the literary flavour that is hinted at here and there. The mechanics of the book are steeped in genre, from Civil War slang and cowboy etiquette, to how to train a horse and the high cost of fresh milk. Underneath is the craft of drama, and plot tactics at home with those familiar with those literary greats.

The only thing I can never buy into, and not just in “The Law of Moses” but many stories, is when so many people go along with the lead character with only passing protest or question. Be it a hair-brained scheme or playing the part in a plan to which they have no privy, why the word of the main character is akin to the word of a god I have no idea. Having watched “Gone With the Wind’ not too long ago, that image of the war and the charm of the Old South is fresh in my mind. Otherwise, I‘m no expert on the era but am happy to say this story didn’t expect much of me. On the other hand, it is peppered with much historical Americana so the buffs will be served a fine dish of lore.

More than the lone star pinned to one man’s chest in “The Law of Moses” I would easily rate this story by Kwen Griffeth with four of five stars. As the story starts with such a bang, or a bang bang bang, there were less bangs to be had as we rode into the sunset with our dark hero. Some very brutal and imaginative moments await as Samuel lays down his version of the law, and I don’t know if it was the near promise of his demise or simply the rage and fearfulness he instilled had been put to pasture. Regardless, the four stars that light this lonely sky come with a good pace, well written theatrical scenery, and just enough levity during a very bleak tale, making this a western worth the whistle-stop.

 

I have taken a position reviewing books from independent authors. While not all are horror, there is a thread of darkness through them regardless of genre. As with honest paid reviews, there will be personal reaction as well as comparative and critical analysis. If you are an author that would like me to review your work, contact me for rates and a summary of your novel, short story, or collection.