Review: The Mummy of Monte Cristo

Publisher Description:

Revenge takes time; fortunately Edmond Dantes doesn’t sleep. Or breathe.

In a world of monsters and magic, Edmond Dantes has a pretty good life. He’s just been made captain of a ship, and he’s about to marry his sweetheart.

But when jealousy, spite, and ambition conspire to frame him for treason, he loses everything. To make things right, he’ll need to give up the only thing he has left: his humanity.

They thought their troubles died with Edmond. They were wrong on both counts.

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Review: The Mummy of Monte Cristo by J Trevor Robionson

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Mummy of Monte Cristo. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains spoilers.

The Mummy of Monte Cristo is a hair-raising adaptation of Alexandre Duma’s classic revenge story in the style of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, packed with loads of undead and horror delicacies to relish!

The Count of Monte Cristo

The original adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas is ripe for this kind of adaptation. The original story was actually released in parts from 1844 to 1846, which lends the novel an episodic nature of consistent action and tension scaling.

The elements of historic context, particularly the unrest and uncertainty for the average citizen around the Bourbon Restoration and the Hundred Days period when Napoleon returned to power, seep the tale in a beclouded world in which horrible tragedy and gripping vengeance can take place.

Finally, the characters, complex with secrets and inter-relational conflict, make monstrous additions more tenable than, say a public figure such as Abraham Lincoln (Vampire Hunter).

Undead Adaptation

So, then, with such a great starting point, does Robinson pull it off? Yes!

The Mummy of Monte Cristo is packed with tons of undead flavor, from the tweaking of historical events to include a near zombie apocalypse to Edmond Dantès’ mummy transformation. I loved the classic mummy monster mechanics such as the use of his wrappings as weapons!

But Robinson didn’t stop there. Nearly every character brings more horror to the table: vampires, cannibals, a life-sucking amulet, dark rituals, death-curses, and so much more. The result is a setting that feels more like an alternate history, a place where everything is a little bit different, rather than a dark corner of our own world where monsters could exist.

And it is all seamlessly integrated into the original tale! A common critique of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is that the tone is inconsistent; the romance and the zombie action don’t mesh very well. But Robinson pulls it off beautifully in The Mummy of Monte Cristo.

The melodramatic nature of the original lends itself to the adaptation, of course, but the alterations to exposition, dialogue, and action are all so smooth that I could not at first blush identify the point of integration. The presence of monsters or other supernatural elements are a give-away for changes, but Robinson tailored his voice to Dumas’ so that there are no jarring juxtapositions, and I was often in the middle of a scene before I thought, “Well, this wasn’t in the original!”

Humanity

This adaptation is also appropriate for The Count of Monte Cristo thematically. Dantès alienates himself from his humanity while he enacts his revenge, cutting himself off from both society (external) and emotions (internal) and devoting himself to a self-assigned role as an agent of Providence. Thus, “humanity” is an important theme in the original, incorporating ideas of justice, forgiveness, mercy, and hope.

In The Mummy of Monte Cristo, Dantès abandons his humanity literally in order to purse his revenge. However, the thematic thread takes a vastly different path in this adaptation than the original. Whereas the original Dantès regains his humanity through forgiveness, Robinson’s Dantès cannot become human again. He does not forgive Danglars; in fact, Danglars earns the most graphic death in the adaptation.

Neither is the idea of a limit to human vengeance present – an important idea in the original. The quote, “Tell the angel who will watch over your life to pray now and then for a man who, like Satan, believed himself for an instant to be equal to God, but who realized in all humility that supreme power and wisdom are in the hands of God alone,” is not present in any form.

Rather, Dantès is given a new vocation to continue to pursue and defeat “petty and harmful men” and to “make sure there is no possible way for the world to be troubled by the undead again.”

Responsibility

This difference is an important one, but it should not be taken as a commentary on or contradiction of the original theme of vengeance and forgiveness, but rather a completely separate message to a very different audience.

In The Mummy of Monte Cristo, vengeance is part of Dantès’ origin story. Like many superheroes, he awakens to the evil present in the world by first becoming a victim to it and rising to enact vengeance against it. Once that is accomplished, his abilities and awareness make him responsible for pursuing justice beyond revenge.

He himself still needs forgiveness and love, but he does not extend it to evil, nor attempt to rejoin humanity in general. This is a typical motif in modern storytelling (The Myth of the American Superhero) wherein the hero remains apart from society rather that rejoining it (The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

Personally, I found Danglars’ new end thick with Schadenfreude and the idea of additional adventures to come enticing, although it did come at the cost of a moral ideal and stronger theological argument.

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The Mummy of Monte Cristo is a seamless adaptation of a great adventure story into a darker, undead version sure to satisfy your thirst for all things classic horror and bad guys getting what they deserve. If you enjoy Dumas’ original story or the undead genre, this is a must read!

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Review: A Greater Duty

Publisher Description:

The Galactic Alliance was not ready for war. When it is suddenly invaded by the cold and relentless Tyrannodon Armada, under the command of emotionless, amoral Executor Darkclaw, it is immediately sent reeling.

The invasion was a godsend for some, however, such as Grand Admiral Nayasar Khariah, who had wanted nothing more than revenge on the Alliance following an attack on her homeworld. The arrival of the Tyrannodons presents her with an opportunity, one that she seizes gleefully.

However, Executor Darkclaw, who has been prosecuting the invasion on orders of his master, the all-powerful energy being known only as the High Lord, has started having second thoughts once he unexpectedly starts feeling emotions he does not understand. Suddenly, he finds himself heretically questioning the only purpose he has ever known—irrevocably altering his view of the ongoing war.

Meanwhile, within the Galactic Alliance, Second Scion Dalcon Oresh, member of an order dedicated to preserving the it, struggles to stop the Alliance’s bleeding, the source of which may not be entirely external.

Darkclaw’s newfound friendship with Nayasar will be pushed to its breaking point, Nayasar’s relationships with her closest friends and loved ones will be strained as her quest for vengeance becomes more and more a personal obsession, and Dalcon must determine who he can truly trust.

All the while, the imminent existential threat of the High Lord looms over everything, and the key to stopping him, and saving not just the Alliance, but the entire galaxy, may only be found in the remains of a ancient, powerful race, and the creations they left behind…

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Review: A Greater Duty by Yakov Merkin

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed A Greater Duty. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

A Greater Duty is a detailed military space fleet novel featuring diverse alien species and exciting battles both in space and on the ground. This self-contained story makes a compelling start to the Galaxy Ascendant series.

Heavy Action, Light Mechanics

A Greater Duty features both detailed tactical battles in space and heart-pounding clashes on the ground. This varied military action keeps the engagements fresh as the war progresses throughout the story.

I particularly enjoyed the ground battles, where the characters’ choices felt more crucial and personal than those made from the command center of a flagship. It also felt more fantastical: Nayasar rides on a battle mount decked out with enough weapons and technology to make it pack the punch of a light tank. These fights also stuck out to me as having greater individuality than the space battles, since the settings and situations differed between them, while the space battles were fairly consistent, conveyed largely through dialogue and shifting shapes on a display.

The science fiction elements of the story are less detailed, preventing the story from becoming bogged down with too much realism. There are a few innovative technologies, but they are only described enough to serve the story, rather than existing for their own sake.

For example, the space ships are mainly military vehicles, and thus described less in terms of the science behind space travel and more along the lines of practicality. This does result in some less meticulous elements, such as their tendency to arrive places whenever it is most convenient for the story, rather than some consistent sense of distance traveled.

However, I can’t help but feel that this is a net gain, as the emphasis resultingly landed on the conflict and the characters, which is consistent for the military science fiction genre.

Suspense

A Greater Duty’s true strength, however, lies in the main character Darkclaw’s emotional journey and the tension that develops as he becomes more sympathetic towards his allies and begins to question his High Lord.

The question of how he can stand up to an all-powerful, mind-reading energy being builds through the entire story. It makes Darkclaw particularly sympathetic, and the climax manages to deliver a satisfying pay-off to this building suspense.

Foils and Emotion

Darkclaw begins the story entirely emotionless: a completely rational character. He believes the Tyrannodons to be superior due to this trait, although others of his species do have limited emotions. His struggle to maintain his composure and hide his emotions as they develop is extremely relatable, and his resolution to then change his behavior once he understands others better as a result of his emotional experiences is admirable.

Nayasar was a more frustrating character for me, though she makes an excellent foil for Darkclaw. She not only feels things very vividly, but she throws herself into her emotions. She dwells on the deaths of civilians that she feels responsible for, and actively resists the advice of others that would help her to find healing. Her quest for revenge ends with a realization that allowing her emotions to control her caused her to hurt others.

Dalcon is likewise an interesting foil for Darkclaw, although perhaps a more subtle one. He begins the story as a character who values rational behavior. Like Darkclaw, he works to maintain his composure. Where Nayasar represents a character willingly ruled by her emotions – and the dangers that involves – Dalcon is a character who intentionally sets aside his emotions in order to keep from alienating people who recognize his species as dangerous. He has intentionally distanced himself from his home world and his inherent fire abilities as a result. In the end, he does not have as urgent a repentance as Nayasar, but he does become aware that he has likewise been isolated, and seeks reconciliation with his people.

Darkclaw manages to walk a middle road between these extremes, and is able to achieve peace and unity with both his own people and the peoples of the Galactic Alliance.

Loyalty, Sacrifice, and Religion

A Greater Duty emphasizes the values typical for the military genre, including loyalty, sacrifice, bravery, and, of course, of duty. However, these values interplay with the thematic thread of emotion in a unique way. When Darkclaw lacks emotions, he retains loyalty and a sense of duty, but they are to the High Lord, governed only by a sterile logic based on the High Lord’s rhetoric. However, as Darkclaw begins to experience emotions, his loyalties and sense of duty change to align with his allies. He is even able to appreciate the religion of Nayasar’s people.

So, then, is the thematic argument of this story that feelings determine morality? Not at all. Nayasar’s emotions steer her to commit condemnable acts. Rather, the note seems to be that emotions breathe life into these values. Camaraderie strengthens the loyalty between characters. Enacting responsibilities leads to fulfillment. Courage is not even possible without fear. Grief deepens the sacrifice of subordinates; love, self-sacrifice.

Merkin delivers a message of emotional balance, neither blindly employing them as a moral compass nor condemning them as solely problematic. Rather, A Greater Duty embraces the reality that, while feelings should not be responsible for structural integrity, their presence alongside virtues turns a plain building into a cathedral.

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A Greater Duty delivers detailed action and a thought-provoking spin on the usual themes of the military sci-fi genre. It is an exciting first foray into the Galaxy Ascendant series!

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The Swordbringer Book II Call for Beta Readers

The Sword Bringer Book II Call for Beta Readers

Alexander Hellene invites Twitter DMs from anyone interested in providing an honest review of The Second Sojourn

Today, Sept. 29th, 2020, Alexander Hellene announced on Twitter that The Second Sojourn, book two in The Swordbringer series, was complete barring the glossary. He welcomes anyone interested in beta reading in exchange for an honest review to contact him via direct message.

On his website, Hellene has a copy for this story:

“Pursued by assassins, Garrett must make the hard choices and be a hero like his late father. Escaping the High Lord was just the beginning.”

We reviewed the first book in this series The Last Ancestor here on Periapsis Press. We are looking forward to this next installment in this sword and planet series!

 

Check out our positive, long-form review of the first The Swordbringer novel!

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Author Interview: J Trevor Robinson

Bio

When J Trevor was young, he received a well-worn stack of mystery and horror novels from his older brother, and it instilled in him a lifelong desire to be an author. Heavily influenced by Stephen King’s scares, Jim Butcher’s action scenes, and the larger-than-life characters in Ayn Rand’s books, he blended those influences with classic literature and pulp horror to write his upcoming novel THE MUMMY OF MONTE CRISTO.

He has also self-published a young-adult horror novel THE GOOD FIGHT, and was published in the Amazon #1 bestselling horror anthology SECRET STAIRS as the sole romance story in the collection.

He lives in Toronto keeping the redhead gene alive with his wife through their newborn daughter, born Friday the 13th.

(From website bio)

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“The funny thing is, I’m terrified of zombies!  . . . I think that fear is part of why I included them in Mummy of Monte Cristo to begin with. After all, if they scare me so badly, surely I can convey at least some of that terror on to the reader!”

“Instead of a world that was exactly the same as ours except for the addition of a single vengeful mummy, I decided to go whole-hog with the supernatural and add zombies, werewolves, sea monsters, local folklore creatures, and magic.”

“There’s also a theme in the book about how much power any government ought to have, and how that power gets used, which I hope will resonate with a lot of readers no matter their politics.”

Author Interview with J Trevor Robinson

We talk with the author of The Mummy of Monte Cristo, the exciting new undead adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic revenge tale!

Pre-order Available Now on Amazon!

Publisher’s Description:

In a world where mankind shares the world with monsters and magic, and where the undead roamed Europe until Napoleon conquered the Dead Plague, Edmond Dantes is wrongfully imprisoned against the backdrop of the French Revolution and Hundred Days.

Desperate and with nothing left to lose, Edmond turns to a dark power beyond his understanding to reach from beyond the grave and torment his accusers. He will return to Paris with new riches, a new face, and a new weapon – THE MUMMY’S CURSE.

I am really excited to share my thoughts on The Mummy of Monte Cristo with you all! I have already read it thanks to an advance copy and can attest that it is a fantastic accomplishment: Dumas’ classic revenge tale packed with all the undead and horror goodies you could wish for!

So keep an eye out for our positive, long-form review when The Mummy of Monte Cristo is officially released on October 20th, 2020!

For today, I have a real treat. 

I sent author J Trevor Robinson some questions to pick his brain about what went into adapting this classic, and he was good enough to take the time to make some thoughtful responses. I hope you enjoy!

 How has the original The Count of Monte Cristo impacted you as a reader and as a writer?

I remember I first read The Count of Monte Cristo back in 2009, on a trip to Vancouver for my cousin’s wedding. Aside from Lord of the Rings, it was certainly the largest and longest book I’d ever read up to that point, and the scheming in the plot is still some of the most intricate I’ve ever seen.

One of the biggest impressions it’s left on me though, both from when I first read it and now after adapting it, is the amount of historical context and research it can take to really dive into a book like this. In the original, the edition I first read (and still have) was filled with footnotes explaining fascinating things about 19th-century French culture that Dumas’ original readers would have just known. In my adaptation, I took a lot of care to weave that background into the narrative so that the exposition doesn’t take away from the story.

Another reason that’s important is that when you’re adapting a story that’s so dependent on historical events of the period (in this case, the downfall and return of the monarchy and Napoleon’s time in power) you’d better be sure you understand it enough not to make a total mess of it. Of course, I got to exploit the convenient loophole of inventing things like zombie attacks to simplify some of the subtleties of history!

What do you enjoy about the undead adaptation genre?

The funny thing is, I’m terrified of zombies! Like, to the point that I don’t watch The Walking Dead (or even Shaun of the Dead!) For some reason, zombies just hit some nerve in my head where I become very aware of how badly equipped I’d be to survive in a world where they were real. Give me a vampire or a wolfman to deal with before putting me into a zombie apocalypse; I’m probably still getting eaten, but somehow it just seems less horrible when it’s not walking corpses doing it one puny human bite at a time.

I think that fear is part of why I included them in Mummy of Monte Cristo to begin with. After all, if they scare me so badly, surely I can convey at least some of that terror on to the reader! “Write what you know,” you know? There’s a scene where Edmond reminisces about growing up in a world where zombies roamed the Earth where I drill into that fear a little further. Maybe one day I’ll put out a short story set during the Dead Plague, that could be fun.

What about The Count of Monte Cristo lends itself to this kind of adaptation?

When I started this project, I knew I wanted to challenge myself to write a “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” kind of mash-up story that injects monsters and horrors into a classic novel. Of course, to do this sort of thing it needs to be old enough that the original book is in public domain, and the most fun and exciting book that I’d ever read which fit that description was Count of Monte Cristo.

Once I’d picked that, it was pretty easy to decide on a monster to use. I briefly toyed with using The Blob, and have it be a running joke that nobody realized the count was just a wad of pink carnivorous jelly wearing a suit, but having him become a mummy instead was the clear winner. After all, mummies in horror stories are often driven to take revenge on the treasure-hunters who disturbed their rest, so it was a natural fit.

On top of that, there’s a theme in the original story that I don’t think Dumas really dove into as much as he could have, which is how all the suffering Edmond goes through is ultimately due to a complete abuse of government power; one could even say, due to a government with far too much power. I feel like that becomes a more important theme to explore with every passing day, and I’ll get into that again a little bit later too.

Where did you draw inspiration from for the horror / undead genre elements?

Since I try to avoid watching any zombie movies or TV, I’m not really as familiar with the zombie tropes as I could be. In lieu of that, I focused on what makes them so scary to me, like how they can multiply so quickly, or how you never know if one could be lying hidden in tall grass or under someone’s porch waiting to bite any convenient ankles that come along.

As for the mummy’s powers, I had a lot of room to play with there too. Mummy movies tend to give the monster whatever magic serves the plot, so I did the same, focusing on what kind of abilities would help Edmond to pursue his goals. And of course, every monster needs weaknesses; I think I did a good job coming up with some to maintain a level of uncertainty and danger in his quest!

Was it difficult to integrate those elements?

Once I’d settled on the mummy as the main monster, I hit a small problem: Edmond’s story was so well-suited to it that I needed more supernatural elements to really make the book stand out from the original. There’s a line in “Hannibal” by Thomas Harris, when Lecter is decorating a room, that goes something like “too much would be too much, but far too much was just right.” So instead of a world that was exactly the same as ours except for the addition of a single vengeful mummy, I decided to go whole-hog with the supernatural and add zombies, werewolves, sea monsters, local folklore creatures, and magic.

What were the challenges and/or highlights of writing this adaptation?

One of the big challenges was knowing what from the original to cut to make room for the new elements I was adding in. Some characters from the original and their related subplots are entirely gone.

Another challenge was giving other characters things to do which served the new story. Let’s face it: in the original Max and Valentine are kind of dull, and Eugenie doesn’t do a whole lot either. But some of the changes I made let them get involved in the Mummy’s plans a lot more actively than they used to be, and I think it really helps the flow of the book.

What did you think was important to preserve about the original?

I felt that the root motivations of the main characters really needed to stay the same, partly because they work so well and partly because they’re so relevant to the state of the world today. Fernand is jealous that Mercedes loves Edmond instead of him, and feels entitled to her. Villefort is a fanatic who thinks that the government he serves is the highest moral purpose and can do no wrong. Danglars is just a bitter and twisted man who likes to see people taken down a peg when he thinks they have “too much” success. If fewer people behaved like the three of them in the real world, we’d be in a much better place.

What do you believe makes this classic story timely for today’s audience?

For starters, a story about life in the aftermath of a major plague is definitely fitting for 2020! The final edits were already with my publisher, Immortal Works, when coronavirus happened; it wasn’t even until early summer that I realized how coincidental the timing was.

There’s also a theme in the book about how much power any government ought to have, and how that power gets used, which I hope will resonate with a lot of readers no matter their politics. The main plot kicks off because the villains exploit the Royalist/Bonapartist political schism to frame Edmond and have him locked away despite his innocence, a clear abuse of state force.

One thing I was very careful to do was not to represent either the Royalist or Bonapartist faction as fundamentally better than the other. The only glimpse I even give of their policies is in a brief conversation between two characters who try to defend their own sides, but end up just showcasing the ways that they both were in the wrong. The point isn’t for people to look at the factions and say “Oh, this one is Conservative and that one is Liberal, or this one is Republican and that one is Democrat.” The point is to look at the system those factions are part of and say “This is a mess, both teams are doing things they have no right to do, and a lot of innocent people are getting hurt for nothing.”

(and just like the plague angle, I had no idea just how much more fitting that would be by the time the book released!)

Pre-Order The Mummy of Monte Cristo today!

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Review: Collateral Damage

Publisher Description:

Destructive Battles Rage Between Hellish Kaiju and Giant Mech Protectors

A desperate father must rescue his son when a deadly kaiju rampages across his city.

When opportunists lurk and buildings crumble around him, the battle might be the least of his worries. Each minute means more destruction, and the clock is ticking.

The first in a new kaiju series where the ordinary collides with the oversized, Collateral Damage is based on a short story of the same title originally published in Broadswords & Blasters Magazine. Experience the first taste of this series with a punch to the gut. Mind the shadows — you could be crushed.

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Review: Collateral Damage by Adam Furman

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Collateral Damage. I encourage you to check it out!

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions (You can request a review here.)

This review contains minor spoilers.

Collateral Damage is a high-speed science fiction thriller about a father’s battle to save his son, underfoot of a kaiju/mech battle for humanity’s survival. This first installment of the series is a wild ride of paternal determination and an intense mashup of the ordinary and the fantastic!

Aggressive Pacing

While Collateral Damage begins with a simple premise: a father of a broken family doing whatever he has to in order to be with his young son. Initially, the goal is to pass an apartment inspection in order to get visitation rights. The common situation provides a moderate amount of tension, stemming from the relatability of the father-son relationship.

The initial obstacles are likewise of the everyday sort, but the situation quickly goes off the rails. When a kaiju attacks the city and his son is unaccounted for, DeShawn hurdles into an epic quest to find him and keep him safe. He meets with one problem after another, but never gives up.

Furman does an exemplary job of utilizing the “yes, but / no, and” storytelling technique. The consistent complications deny the release of tension, pushing the drive of the story even harder with every event. Furthermore, DeShawn is impacted physically at every turn – a tactic reminiscent of Jim Butcher – which continues to amplify the suspense.

Present Tense

Reading a story told in present tense can take some mental adjusting if you aren’t used to it (generally, it is more common in short stories than genre fiction), but in Collateral Damage, the style is used to further emphasize the immediacy and build the suspense.

The effect is one of careening into the unknown. It is not unlike a Crash Bandicoot game in which the character runs full-tilt towards the screen; the player is perched on the edge of his seat, reacting to problems seconds after they appear and trusting that there is a way through to the finish line and to victory.

Biting Visuals

The fast pace and intense emotional investment do not prevent the setting from making an undeniable impression. Images, such as driving a blue convertible through a mech’s legs as it battles a giant monster overhead, stick with you.

Some of the descriptions are quite graphic, emphasizing the “collateral damage” occurring while the battle rages above. The destruction, violence, and even gore further contribute to the rising tension by reducing the control the reader perceives the main character as having.

But it also casts some thematic threads.

Timely Theme

The story works off a simple premise, and the central theme reflects that. The importance of a father figure and the desire for a whole and loving family are threads that lead to the payoff, the feel-good ending the reader craves like water after a gut-wrenching race.

However, there is another theme, more timely than timeless.

There are political events occurring in the world that are intriguingly similar to our own current events. Zenith, a communist group of zealots works to overthrow the mechs, the force established by the government to defend the people.

Zenith has occupied part of the city, obstruct roadways, accost ordinary people on their way home from work, steal and kill, and take advantage of a bad situation to further their own goals. However, they have some valid concerns, including the blasé acceptance of the damage caused and lives lost as a result of the mechs’ battles, and the impunity of the mech pilots for their behavior. Most people seem to love them, though, and watch their battles as a kind of entertainment.

In this situation, DeShawn is once again painfully relatable. He does not mindlessly embrace the mechs, forgiving the carnage and rejecting all criticism of them, and so he is himself rejected by others as “anti-government.” One character even goes as far to call him a monster for his mere opinion. However, he also cannot accept Zenith who stole his wallet, appropriated his apartment, and killed the people he approached for help. As a result, he is labeled a “patriot” by them.

Collateral Damage

He, like so many people in the Western world today, finds himself in a no-man’s land, disavowed by opposite ends of the spectrum as the enemy, and denied the opportunity to find common ground with either of them due to the labels they are so quick to brand him with. He represents the “collateral damage” in this political and cultural war.

The thematic arc resolves with DeShawn’s conclusion that he is happy that the mechs exist. This is not a surrender of his inhibitions regarding them, nor an inconsistent, emotional response to his rescue. It is a nuanced discernment of the good and the bad, one that has been denied to him throughout the story.

I am reluctant to pin any particular, deeper message onto this thread, any call to action regarding our own world’s politics. But the story clearly cautions against the adoption of an “us vs them” mentality, and the satisfying ending is really only possible because DeShawn lets go of some of his own judgement towards his ex and his father, enabling them to become a whole family instead of one divided against itself.

Check It Out!

Collateral Damage is an exciting kaiju thriller with a breakneck pace that will keep you up late reading it and thought-provoking themes to mull over for days afterwards! I am looking forward to seeing where Furman takes this series.

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The Amazing Labor Day $0.99 Book Sale

The Amazing Labor Day $0.99 Book Sale 2020

Many of the books for sale this labor day weekend (2020) have been reviewed here on Periapsis Press!

The Amazing Labor Day $0.99 Book Sale, hosted by Hans G. Schantz, contains lots of great books for sale for $0.99 (and some for free)!

Below are a few that we have reviewed here on Periapsis Press.

A delightful magic school tale of fast friendships, secrets, and parallel worlds!

A fun, heavy metal romp following a band of warriors through epic battles to defend against an invasion of Underworld monsters!

A story of youthful ingenuity set in a flavorful science fiction, alternate history world!

A dynamic sword and planet romp of faith and daring!

A gritty action novel that blends mecha anime and military science fiction to deliver high-energy combat alongside thrilling intrigue!

A streamlined tale of steampunk-flavored adventure told from the perspective of a young farm girl who inherits an airship. Air battles, heroic rescues, explosions, and dramatic outfits ensue!

Uriel's Revenge has an excerpt available on our website, also participating in this sale!

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Review: The Last Ancestor

Publisher Description:

They killed his father, oppress his people, and threaten them with extinction . . . and one of them is his best friend.

The Growlers rule their corner of the planet Yxakh with an iron fist, intent on driving the human refugees from their land. They almost did eight years ago, killing Garrett’s father in the process. Only their guns, and lots of them, keep the Growlers at bay. Now a young man, Garrett burns for revenge, but finds it hard to reconcile this hatred given that his best friend is a Growler youth named Ghryxa.

Desperate to cleanse his land of the invaders, the Growlers’ High Lord dispatches his trusted heir on a mission to acquire the humans’ superior weaponry. The Earthlings barely won the last war . . . but this time the High Lord will leave nothing up to chance.

Garrett and Ghryxa run headlong into the High Lord’s conspiracy and find themselves the only thing standing between their two peoples and all-out war. Now Garrett must participate in an ancient rite with the fate of humanity on his shoulders. It’s a chance to be a hero like his father . . . but only if he makes it out of the Growlers’ forbidden city alive.

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Review: The Last Ancestor by Alexander Hellene

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Last Ancestor. I encourage you to check it out!

The Last Ancestor is a dynamic sword and planet romp of faith and daring. Alien-dog people, the ruins of a crashed spaceship, and a secret church populate this exciting first installment in The Swordbringer series.

Raising the Stakes

Hellene does a great job of ratcheting up the tension throughout this story. The beginning is a bit slow, taking time to introduce the main character Garret’s family and do a bit of exposition, but the events of the story consistently build upon one another from standing up to bullies on a playground, to foiling a kidnapping, to fighting to prevent a war.

Even during the final conflict, a duel to the death with humanity’s survival on the line, the stakes were raised!

The only element that slows down the action is the multiple point of view characters, particularly the politicians. I didn’t find that they contributed much; in fact, they tended to deflate the suspense at certain points.

Strong Theme

The Last Ancestor is built consistently around “doing the right thing,” despite the consequences. This begins with the opening scene in which Garret saves a potential enemy, who becomes his best friend Ghryxa, and ends with the choice of martyrdom over renouncing his faith. In fact, almost each event of the story involves Garret choosing to put his well-being on the line in order to do what he believes is right, usually help someone else.

This theme would be wholesome enough on its own, but it is underscored by two parallel themes.

The first is perhaps less glamorous, or at least less lauded, than being willing to die for a cause, but it is no easier: embracing weakness and any accompanying humiliation in order to do the right thing. While Garret faces death and injury, his friend Ghryxa confronts his desire for his people’s acceptance and chooses to do the right thing at the expense of his reputation.

The other theme that contributes to both of these is the importance of a father’s role in teaching morality to his children and to others through them. Garret’s father died in the war, sacrificing his life to save others. Garret remembers him throughout the story, usually when he is considering what action to take. It is clear that his father continues to have a great impact on his conception of right and wrong and his role in society. Furthermore, Ghryxa’s understanding of these things is largely based on his relationship with Garret.

Honestly, I would love to see a story about this man, who left Earth with his family in a shoddy spaceship, fought to make a home for them, and died to protect others!

Kind Character

Garret is a unique character, and one that I enjoyed following on this adventure. He behaves consistently with kindness and honesty, and while he is not necessarily slow to anger, he is slow to act out of anger. His affection for his younger sister is endearing and refreshing for a youthful lead character, especially a teenage boy.

I appreciated how Hellene built his themes out of Garret’s consistency as a character, rather than a repentance. Cringe in the beginning of a story may set up a character for development over its course, and portray an important moral lesson, but I rarely enjoy it. The Last Ancestor presents another important lesson, one that is not overrepresented in fiction: Garret’s journey is all about persistent diligence, rather than changing behavior.

Planet

I cannot go without mentioning the setting in this review! Hellene has done an excellent job crafting a tangible world with geography, monsters, and alien culture.

The alure of exploring caves for a crashed spaceship filled with treasures of a bygone world, the exhilaration of sneaking into a forbidden city, the resolve of holding firm in your beliefs against fearful pressure – all of these can be attributed to the deliberate worldbuilding and intriguing setting, and they contribute to the plot’s emotional payoff.

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The Last Ancestor is an entertaining adventure on a distant alien planet that does not relegate the Christian faith to a footnote of history, but incorporates its young character’s convictions into the plot in a satisfying way. I look forward to reading the rest of The Swordbringer series!

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Review: The Heights of Perdition

Publisher Description:

Falling in love was out of the question … until it was the answer. 

There is nothing Aeris St. Cloud wants more than to win her father’s love and the acceptance of her family unit by joining the Military Academy at New Hope. But after she is captured by the fearsome space pirate, Captain Chainsword, Aerie is certain falling in love with her nation’s arch enemy is the last possible way to earn their coveted esteem.

Driven by vengeance, Exton Shepherd never set out to save anyone. As he circles the war-torn world in his pirated starship, the Perdition, he only sees his father’s ghost lurking around every corner and the looming darkness on the horizon. When Aerie unexpectedly tumbles into his life, he finds he cannot trust her, anymore than he can ignore her. But just like the raging war down on Earth, it’s tempting to think he can … 

When the war ascends to the heights of the Perdition, Aerie’s loyalty, and Exton’s heart, are put to the test. But will love be enough to save them — and others — from certain destruction?

The Heights of Perdition is the first book in the Divine Space Pirates trilogy, a futuristic romance series where family, faith, and freedom take center stage. 

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Review: The Heights of Perdition by C. S. Johnson

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Heights of Perdition. I encourage you to check it out!

The Heights of Perdition is an engaging science fiction romance that is as much about exploring thematic ideas of freedom and the role of government as it is about blossoming love. Filled with space pirates, futuristic tech, a world reeling from nuclear fallout, and—of course—romance, this first installment of The Devine Space Pirates trilogy rises to the challenge of realizing the expectations of both the science fiction and romance genres!

Romance

It should first be said that The Heights of Perdition is a classic romance novel, and the science fiction elements are definitive of the setting and external conflict, not the romance. That is to say, there isn’t any weird alien sex. In fact, the story could more narrowly be described as deriving from the Christian romance genre, so, while sexual tension is present, actual sex is held in reserve. This is important to acknowledge because I believe audience expectations when it comes to romance novels is diverse and easy to disappoint.  

The romantic tropes in this story—kidnapped, enemies to lovers, forbidden love, revenge, etc.—are pulled off admirably without treading into too cliché. Some might argue that the romance proceeds a bit quickly from enemies to acknowledged attraction, but I prefer that to a drawn-out interpersonal conflict founded only on the characters’ mutual resistance to their relationship. It works in Pride and Prejudice because pride and prejudice are the characteristics that define the hero and heroine, but not all lovers are those two characters.

Aerie and Exton are genuine people who quickly establish that truth and honesty are important to them as individuals, and it is realistic that they apply that to the expression of their feelings. This shifts the focus of the Problem that Threatens to Keep Them Apart away from the two of them and onto the external conflict. As their relationship progresses, the stakes are raised and the tension builds in the action.

Cliff Hanger

The one expectation of the romance novel that The Heights of Perdition declines to meet is the “happily ever after” ending. Aerie is kidnapped accidentally by Exton and his crew when they steal a tree she had climbed. The plot turns around the question of what to do with her, correlating with the subplot of Aerie’s desire for acceptance and belonging.

The external conflict that threatens their relationship is big, too big for a single novel to resolve satisfactorily. It becomes clear that the oppressive government of the URS will need to be brought down. This means that, although all the story beats of a romance novel are present, including realization that each is “the one” for the other and a stated commitment that they will always love one another, their romance does not conclude with the emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

However, it does end with the plot’s central question answered. Aerie belongs with Exton, but the conflict succeeds in tearing them apart right at the end. This results in a cliff hanger ending that is unusual for romance, and may rub the unexpectant reader the wrong way.

I liked it. I felt that the story had me invested enough in the characters and the conflict to carry me through the rest of the trilogy, and leaving the romance unresolved meant that there would be room for romantic tension in books two and three without betraying the happily-ever-after down the line (one of my pet-peeves).

Science Fiction

The setting is nicely realized. Descriptions of the pirated spaceship create a vision that captures the wonder of the night sky and man’s ingenuity without the bland professionalism of USS Enterprise or the dirty penny smell of the Death Star. It is easy to believe that Aerie feels at home there.

Likewise, the URS capital city New Hope feels down trodden and oppressive merely by its situation underground, out of sight of the sky.

All the world-building, the history of how the URS came to be, the laws and regulations that citizens must adhere to, the prevalence of punishments, the existence of resistance, make possible some intriguing thematic discussions worthy of the sci-fi genre.

I felt particularly drawn to the character’s frustrations resulting from the government’s actions in the name of “survival,” as COVID19 has brought similar discussions to the forefront of everyone’s minds. This story plays with the ideals of freedom and safety, the morality of acting for someone’s “own good,” and the regulation of ethics. It also really brought home to me the impact of the Christian heritage (religion, family, and love) on how we view the government’s role in our lives.

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The Heights of Perdition is an engaging romance story set in a thought-provoking science fiction setting. I am keen to see how the love story and the setting develop in the rest of the Divine Space Pirates trilogy!

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Excerpt: Vatican Championship Wrestling

Publisher's Description:

Dropkicks, Demons, and DDTs!

A Vatican exorcist fighting for survival in the world of Pro-Wrestling.

After a potentially demonic incident at the largest wrestling event of the year, the Vatican sends exorcist Gabriel Blackwell to infiltrate the company. Blackwell has a complicated history with the wrestling business and must adapt or die while fighting for his very soul on pay-per-view.

The first 100% Kayfabe novel. VCW is bringing professional wrestling and pulp fiction together, a fantastic and entertaining read for both wrestling fans and readers.

 

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Excerpt: Vatican Championship Wrestling by William Hastings

This excerpt is shared with the permission of the author.

If you enjoy, please consider supporting the publication of this work through the indiegogo campaign (ends Aug 31, 2020): https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/vatican-championship-wrestling-fantasy-pulp-novel/#/

Unibrawl

It was the opening sting of his music that always set his heart aflame. Standing back in gorilla position waiting to hit the ramp and hear the roar of the crowd. There was no feeling on this earth like it. Jack Blines burst out from behind that curtain with all the energy he had in his body.

The screams met his ears, bringing that same energy back inside of him. That noise that made him feel as though he could do anything. Whether they loved him or they hated him, and Jack had plenty of both over his career. He’d wrestled so many matches it was impossible for him to even ballpark it anymore. Over the course of his twenty year career, that ring, the squared circle, had been his home.

He had changed a lot over those years, but it never had. Three ropes, twelve turnbuckles, twenty feet by twenty feet of canvas and pine. He was always happy to see it.

Rings like that hadn’t changed since the sport began, at least not in Voltare Championship Wrestling. VCW was the oldest and largest company in the business. Only they could put on a show like this.

A sold out capacity crowd for the biggest show of the year, Unibrawl XXXI. Even if someone didn’t know what wrestling was all about, they would’ve heard of Unibrawl. In his career, Jack had the privilege of main eventing the legendary pay-per-view five times. Not counting tonight.

As he strode down the ramp to the ring, a sign caught his eye. Jack stopped halfway through his entrance, cutting a path over to the barricade and shaking the sign holders hand. The man had his son with him. It was the little guy’s first show. Jack could always tell, you could always see the wonder in their eyes. Jack removed his wristband and tossed it to the kid, giving him a toothy smile and a fist bump to the delight of the crowd, before returning to the ring at a sprint and sliding under the bottom rope.

The canvas was already worn and tired from the twelve matches that had gone before them, but Jack kissed it all the same. He always did, before springing to his feet to another burst of noise from the crowd. He met the thousands of eyes on him. He was invincible.

As his music at last began to die down, Jack retreated into his corner. And the lights dimmed all throughout the arena. Jack didn’t know much about his opponent. He’d seen the guy in the locker room dozens of times but they’d never really spoken. He was one of the newer talents, from the independant circuit. He’d arrived at VCW a little over a year ago and just tore through everything in his way.

A low piece of classical music began to play throughout the darkened arena, it fluttered up and down on the keys of the piano until suddenly transforming into a deafening guitar riff. As it changed, so did the lights. Bright red filled every corner of the stadium. As if it has been smeared with blood.

Fire erupted on stange as his opponent emerged from gorilla position. He was a smaller man, in the ring he did’t stand out, but his entrances were a thing to behold. He wore a black cloak with spiked pauldrons over his gear, striding down past the fire as the crowd recoiled in excited fear.

He didn’t slide under the bottom rope like Jack. He took the stairs, one at a time as if he was relishing every moment the crowd spent under his spell. When he stepped between the ropes, the lights returned to normal and George Ruthaford the ring announcer hurried into the spotlight, microphone in hand.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your main event for this evening.” An overweight man in his sixties with a low booming voice, George had been with the company almost as long as the owners.

“The following contest is scheduled for one fall” Ruthaford continued.

“One fall!” The crowd screamed back.

Jack smiled. That was his favorite part about this sport. The fans were a part of the show, it wasn’t like football or hockey, the fans controlled the pace and flow of the matches. Their cheers spurring on the competitors, their apathy bringing out frustration. They had more power than even they realized.

“And it is for the Kingmaker Glove!”

More cheers. It was the first time a match for the Kingmaker Glove would be main eventing Unibrawl. Ordinarily the VCW World Championship held this spot. But, in another indication of the audience’s power, the championship matches, more specifically the champion, had been getting less and less of a reaction over the past few months. They were losing interest in him, and so the decision had been made to slide him down the card to prevent fans from leaving early.

“The competitor in possession of the Kingmaker Glove, is entitled to a world championship match at the time of his choosing, anytime over the next year.”

Cheers again. True to it’s name, if you won the glove, it didn’t matter how low you were on the card, next day you could be world champion. Jack had won it twice before. Once it had sent him to a six-month long reign as champion. The other . . . Well he didn’t like to remember the other.

“In this corner, weighing two hundred and ninety-five pounds, from East Rutherford, New Jersey. Jack Blines!” Jack posed for the crowd again, bathing the cheers.

“And his opponent. Weighing one hundred and ninety eight pounds, from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Victor Hernandez!”

Boos from the crowd came spilling into the ring but Victor paid them no mind. He tossed his cloak over the top rope and began to stretch. He has the simplest gear, just black trunks, kneepads and boots, nothing fancy. And Jack could respect that. He’d wrestled in something similar back at the start of his career.

The referee was muttering something to both of them Jack had stopped listening to them on his second or third week in the business. He knew the rules and so did Victor. Pin the man or make him submit. Ropes break pinfalls and submissions. No grabbing hair if they had it. If you’re out of the ring for a count of ten you lose. And they weren’t technically supposed to be on or in the ropes while they were fighting but that rule wasn’t really enforced anymore. It was a relic from a previous age, when closed fists were illegal.

Better days, thought Jack with a smile as the referee called for the bell.

It had barely started ringing before Victor launched himself at Jack, nearly knocking the referee over. Those old closed fist rules would’ve helped against someone like Victor. He was a striker, trained in Brazilian Jujitsu before traveling to Japan and learning the hard hitting and legendary Japanese Strong-Style. This was not a man who was going to use wrist-locks or hip-tosses. Victor Hernadez would beat you until he got bored, and then pin what was left.

Jack sidestepped the charge and Victor went crashing into the turn buckle. Stumbling back, dazed from the impact. Those buckles were steel, pad or not you were gonna get a little dizzy.

Jack didn’t waste the opportunity, he darted forward and locked his arms around Victor’s waist. Heaving the smaller man up over his head, Jack delivered a perfect german suplex.

As he hit the move and felt Victor crumble, Jack extended his toes, bridging into a cover. He didn’t expect to win here, but Victor would have to expel more energy to kick out of the pin attempt. And the more energy Victor expelled the closer Jack came to winning. Jack wasn’t the greatest technician in the sport, nor the greatest striker. But his stamina was unrivaled. His longest singles match clocking in a record fifty-five minutes and fifty-three seconds. That was admittedly ten years ago, but Jack still had gas in the tank.

The ref slid in to count the fall. And Jack listened to the roaring fans count along with him.

“One!”

“Two!”

Victor kicked out, throwing Jack off his feet. Victor was hurting, and was slow to get to his base, Jack was up and locking his arms around Victor’s waist for another suplex when he spun around, sweeping Jack’s legs out from under him.

Jack crashed to the canvas, feeling the shock run through his entire body, it never got any softer. Victor leapt onto the second rope and attempted a springboard moonsault. Jack rolled away, and Victor smashed into the ring.

Taking advantage of his opponents momentary dazed state, Jack locked in his famous hold. A variation on the crossface, he wrapped his hands around Victor’s face and pulled, putting as much weight on the smaller man’s back as he could. He’d won more matches with this move than he could count, it had been the signature of his trainer Buddy Blackwell, who had passed it on to him as well as given it it’s new name. The Blineside. 

In any other position this might have been the end of the match. The pressure on Victor’s neck and lower back were almost unbearable and if Jack kept it up it could do serious damage.

But it seemed he’d barely even gotten the hold synched in before the referee was beside him ordering him to break it. Victor has grabbed the bottom rope.

Jack swore under his breath and broke the hold, backing up to the opposite corner. The commentators would call it a rookie mistake, even question his ring IQ, but Jack had been taught that even if you couldn’t win him the match now, every move drained more and more energy from his opponent.

He glanced up at the lights.

Hope you’re watching this old man.

Victor Hernandez was on his feet again, his breathing more labored than it had been. Even these indie guys had their breaking point. Jack flashed another toothy smile at the crowd, prompting a barrage of new cheers.

This seemed to insense Victor and he met Jack in the middle of the ring, locking up once more. He tried to use his power to bring Victor to the ground but the smaller man broke the hold and darted back, hitting the ropes. Jack grabbed him on the rebound and irish whipped him to the opposite side of the ring. Going in for a clothesline, Jack swung but Victor slipped under his legs. An explosion of pain erupted in Jack’s ankle, the chop-block bringing him to his knees.

Victor kicked him in the side of the head so loudly that it drew gasps and screams from the crowd. All the lights in the stadium seemed to go out for Jack in that moment, replaced by a barrage of incomprehensible color and sound. Somewhere through this haze, he felt the weight on his chest, the familiar vibration of the ring resounding with every count of the referee.

“One!”

“Two!”

Jack kicked out, rolling through the pinfall and locking his arms around Victor. Hoisting him over his head Jack spun into a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, bringing Victor spine first onto his knee.

Jack floated over into a cover. The referee was in the perfect position to count the fall.

“One!”

“Two!”

Victor kicked out with such incredible force that Jack was thrown back into the ropes. Momentarily stunned at the display of strength, Jack was in prime position for the clothesline.

Victor hit him with such force that he felt his head snap back. He flipped over the ropes and off the ring apron to the floor. Gasping for breath, Jack fought his way back to his feet, looking from the ring to the crowd in astonishment. If the ropes hadn’t been there, he might’ve wound up in the third row. Where was Victor getting this new strength from?

Not finding his opponent in the ring, Jack looked up to see Victor soaring through the air in a perfect moonsault. No time to dodge this one. Jack gritted his teeth, planting himself as Victor came crashing down upon him.

The force of the fall was immense, but somehow he was able to stay on his feet, locking his arms around Victors waist, Jack slammed him with all his might into the apron, the hardest part of the ring.

Victor bounced off with a thud, crashing to the ground in a heap. Letting himself fall back against the barricade, Jack took a moment to catch his breath. The fans weren’t used to that kind of brutality from him, and some of them seemed shocked, even angry that he would use a move like that. But that hardly mattered now, Victor wasn’t going to afford him the same luxury.

Jack seized his unmoving opponent and rolled him back into the ring. He made sure that Victor was in the absolute center of the ring before locking in the Blineside once again.

The referee was beside them now, Jack could hear him asking Victor if he wanted to quit. If a person didn’t have the energy to tap, they could verbally submit. Or, if it came to it, the referee could stop the match if they were unresponsive.

This was precisely what Victor was. He didn’t answer the referee’s questions, didn’t say a word. So the referee needed to determine if he could continue.

Taking Victor’s hand, the referee lifted it up. If it fell back to the canvas, that was it. Jack had won the match. The referee let the hand go. But it didn’t fall, instead Victor’s head turned around  one hundred and eighty degrees to look Jack in the eyes.

There were screams and gasps from the crowd and Jack broke the hold, stumbling back in horror. For a moment he thought something had gone wrong, that he’d somehow broken Victor’s neck. But nobody’s neck could be broken like that.

Victor got to his feet as well. He spun around, his head sliding back into place as he leered at the frightened crowd.

 Jack looked at the ref but the ref had scuttled back out of the ring in a panic. Jack had only turned away for a second but when his eyes flashed back to the ring, Victor was nose to nose with him.

“Hoc autem regnum meum.” He snarled in a voice that was not his own. He seized Jack by the throat and lifted him up with one hand.

Then the ring burst into flame.

Fire erupted from the turnbuckles, from the apron the ropes, everything, sealing Victor and Jack within a cage of white hot flame. Jack struggled for air, Victor’s grip was like a vise. What was happening? Had something gone wrong with the pyro?

Bathed in the firelight strange markings began to appear all over Victor’s body, runes and symbols Jack had never seen before. Save for the one on his chest, a gigantic pentagram.

 He smiled, revealing pointed teeth. “Et hic est tuum.”

Victor slammed Jack down with such force that Jack felt the canvas and the boards give way, but it didn’t stop there, he was falling, falling into a pit of endless darkness. The sliver of light he’d crashed through growing smaller and smaller. The last thing Jack Blinds heard before he lost consciousness was Rothaford’s voice.

“Your winner! And new holder of the Kingmaker Glove! Victor Hernandez!”

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Review: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

Publisher Description:

Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts – A magic school like no other!

Nestled amidst the beauty of New York’s Hudson Highlands and hidden from the eyes of the Unwary, Roanoke Academy is a place of magic and wonder. It offers everything a young sorceress could desire—enchantments, flying brooms, and the promise of new friendships.

On her first day of school, Rachel Griffin discovers her perfect memory gives her an unexpected advantage. With it, she can see through the spell sorcerers use to hide their secrets. Very soon, she discovers that there is a far-vaster secret world hiding from the Wise, precisely the same way that the magical folk hide from the mundane folk.

When someone tries to kill a fellow student, she investigates. Rushing forward where others fear to tread, Rachel bravely faces wraiths, embarrassing magical pranks, mysterious older boys, a Raven that brings the doom of worlds, and at least one fire-breathing teacher.

Described by fans as: “Supernatural meets Narnia at Hogwarts”, The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a tale of wonder and danger, romance and heartbreak, and, most of all, of magic and of a girl who refuses to be daunted.

Curiosity may kill a cat, but nothing stops Rachel Griffin!

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Review: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. I encourage you to check it out!

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a delightful magic school tale of fast friendships, secrets, and parallel worlds. Rachel sets out on a quest for knowledge and ends up getting more than she bargained for in this first installment of the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment series.

This review contains minor spoilers.

The Wizarding World of Rachel Griffin

Any book in the magic school genre will inevitably be compared to Harry Potter, and in this case I feel that it is appropriate. Rachel Griffin is a young, enthusiastic protagonist who must apply her limited practical skills against older opponents intent on destroying her world.

Rachel must face bullies, true baddies, and, of course, school work with courage and determination. The magical academy is divided into groups defined ostensively by scholarly interests, but practically they have many of the usual prejudices, conventions, and legacies. This includes Drake Hall, the “bad” group full of uppity rich kids and conniving schemers.

However, Lamplighter’s execution of the genre’s expectations is faithful without becoming tiresome or predictable. The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin delivers all of the wonder of the early Harry Potter books, while presenting something enticingly unique.

Deeper Characters

The young characters in this story are well-developed and possess a pleasant level of depth that goes beyond the simple “smart,” “looney,” “forgetful,” “funny,” or “bully” descriptors. Instead, they become differentiated by their motivations and aspirations. Rachel wants to know and share secrets. Nastasia desires to meet others’ expectations of her, particularly by following the rules. Siggy wants to perform great (and awesome!) deeds of heroism. Valerie Hunt, girl reporter, wants her friends to be able to rely on her as she uncovers the truth. Vladimir Von Dread wants to be able to protect others through his own power.

This emphasis on motivations gives particular complexity to the students in the “bad” group that was never quite fully realized in Harry Potter. Power is a means to an end, and those who seek power are not by necessity evil.

And this point in not merely flavor, but impacts the plot by inserting uncertainty into Rachel’s relationships. This results in greater tension surrounding the mysteries she is trying to solve, since it is unclear who can be trusted, even when there are underlying assumptions about their loyalties, friend or foe. This is much more satisfying than a bully (student or teacher) who merely wants to embarrass the main character due to a personal grudge and who is otherwise relatively flat. Of course, the latter is always good for schadenfreude and is also employed to good effect.

The main character Rachel is particularly well-crafted. I really appreciated her clear thinking and believable emotions. She was by no means a robot, but she exerted more self-control than your typical lead, male or female, reigning in emotional urges to lash out, gloat, and fall in love in a way that made her both sympathetic and worthy of my respect as a reader. I can trust this kind of character to behave in consistent ways, making plot twists so much more satisfying when they flip my predictions and exceed my expectations.

Well-delivered Plot

The storyline of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a bit typical. Rachel must use her knowledge and skills to identify the source of a threat—one that easily outstrips any student-level conflict—and face it with courage and a determination to protect her friends.

As in most magic school stories, adults are necessarily too busy, stupid, prejudiced, or evil to be relied upon. It is unfortunate that Rachel’s inner conflict pivoted around the issue of obeying adults, closing in a thematic climax of suboptimal conclusions. Still, that has always been a weakness of the genre.

More positive is the shift away from an epic fate that casts Rachel in a dichotomy of good vs. evil. I’ve always been a fan of stories that depict people holding the line against evil through diligent choices to do the right thing. Rachel consistently chooses to help and protect her friends.

She accomplishes this by making thoughtful contributions within her means. The climax of the story does not have her facing off alone against a villain, but rather applying what she has learned to provide timely and vital assistance to more skilled allies, including older students and adults. The resulting conclusion was satisfying and meaningful without imposing on my suspension of disbelief.

Setting and Sci-fi

The setting of this story also has a crafted feel, with enough details about the world of the Wise to provide context, but not so many that the plot becomes bogged down with worldbuilding. The location of the school is beautifully described and gives it a more concrete sense of place.

There are some really intriguing sci-fi elements, too, including strange, parallel worlds or dimensions and a little alternate history. I am interested to know more about how and why Christianity has been removed from the public’s conscious, leaving only traces in the lexicon such as the word “steeple.”

Check It Out!

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is a fun magic school adventure that delivers on the expectations of the genre in unique ways. I am eager to read more about the exploits of Rachel Griffin and her friends in the rest of the Books of Unexpected Enlightenment!

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