Friday Fictioneers: Rose-Tinted Sunshine

It’s gratifying to know that my time in grad school has not only made my writing stronger and come easier, but it also made me incredibly punctual. This is what teaching 40-some students every semester will do to you, I suppose.

It did NOT make me any better at titles, unfortunately.

 

Enjoy~


 

 

alice-springs-australia

 

Title: Rose-Tinted Sunshine

Word Count: 150

 

Mr. John Saunders was a modern gentleman. His tailored suit and hat were marks of his natural magnetism. When he walked these sunny boulevards, heads turned his way.

But Mr. John Saunders was unhappy today. His sister had foisted her opossum of a daughter on him for the afternoon. This blonde-haired beast, however, ricocheted freely off the market stalls and park trees.

And all eyes turned to follow her. She would pet passing dogs and ask for free fruit and sweets. Every time, Mr. John Saunders apologized and shooed her away.

But everybody she plagued only smiled and did as she asked, genuine in their good cheer.

They had never sounded so pleased whenever he’d graced them with his presence.

To his horror, Mr. John Saunders realized that she was truly loved on these streets and that he was merely an eccentricity, a relic not yet confined to a museum.

 

 

Click here to see the rest of the week’s brilliant entries.

 


 

For real though, I’ll need to hire somebody to write my titles for me one day. Mine are, seriously, either all pretentious one-word titles or something like: “The NOUN of the NOUN.”

I blame “The Sound and the Fury” being my favorite title for poisoning my mind.

 

I bet “rose-tinted sunshine” would taste like strawberry lemonade.

 

Until next time!

 

 

Friday Fictioneers: Dizzying

 

Okay, let’s just ignore that I totally forgot to hit “publish” on my last post until about three months had gone by, making me look like a right fool, and focus instead on getting back into doing a little something I’ve been missing ever since coming to grad school: Friday Fictioneers.

I missed the boat for posting my page this week on Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s page, but I wanted to try my hand at more of the flash fiction genre anyhow. After all, Professor Kenny Cook at Iowa State University, one of my professors and inspirations, has started to inoculate me against short/flash fiction again. I suppose after focusing almost entirely on novels for the last six years, I could use a change of pace.

Anyhow, in case you’re new here- Friday Fictioneers is a once-weekly writing challenge wherein you must write a story of less than 100 words using a provided picture as inspiration.

 

Enjoy~

 


 

 

 

dales-ferris-wheel
Photo prompt from Dale Robertson

 

Title: Dizzying

Word Count: 100

 

Abel was an absolute wreck. He sweated that his shoelaces would come undone and that he would tumble, her hand still in his, to the ground in a bruised heap.

But the dauntless Emma, one year his junior in the 8th grade, had a lead foot on the gas. She pointed to the Ferris wheel, her eyes reflecting its pastel constellations. Abel said he felt sick and that she should go without him.

When she returned, Abel was still in the bathroom. Emma ate a corndog, then left the fair, trying to remember the name of her odd, sweaty date.

 

 

Click here to view the week’s other entries.

 


 

See, you can tell this is a 2019 writing sample, and not 2015, because I use words like “dauntless” and “pastel” and I actually try to end my stories with proper conclusions. Thanks grad school!

 

 

Until next time!

 

 

Treating Yourself Intelligently- from a Graduate Student

It has been a long while, WordPress.

Ominously, when last I was here, I had remarked that graduate school would, almost certainly, be taking up a large chunk of my free time.

Heavens, how right I was.

Well, one graduate degree later (Literature) and one more degree in the pipeline (Creative Writing), I have returned with some insights. Just a few, no need to oversell it. I may be in graduate school, but that doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly become any less of a goofball or any more of a proper academic.

On that note, I have some things to say about treating oneself intelligently amidst trials.

 

Enjoy~


 

Dear, Graduate Students (particularly of the English/Liberal Arts persuasion),

 

It’s the 20th of December, and it’s raining. It doesn’t feel quite like Christmas yet. On my gaming desktop, I’ve got over ten different tabs open, not including my WordPress tabs. These tabs are about finding literary agents and journals for my written work. Meanwhile, I have a Nintendo Switch, bought on Black Friday (shockingly, they were still in stock), on my lap. I am playing Breath of the Wild, and I’m stuck on the first proper dungeon, because I have a tiny baby brain.

This is how I treat myself intelligently.

My creative writing program is extremely intensive. We are one of the most rigorous programs in the country, and the talent there is serious. So, then, why am I there?

I don’t ask myself that question because I doubt my writing ability. I know I can write. If modesty is a virtue, then false modesty is a sin. I wrote that line for one of my characters in a book I’m working on- too bad the man’s a religious fanatic, but I’ll take what I can get. No, what I’ve been thinking about, since the semester’s end, is how, after a day of teaching, or when preparing for a night of writing, I find myself gaming at desktop, or with my Switch, or losing myself in what, by academic standards, should be the domain of the everyday or mundane, not the world of a creative artist, especially one at such a rigorous institution.

In other words, I think I stand apart from most of my other peers in graduate school, because I am too much of a goofball. Many of my peers in my incoming class have gone on record saying that they feel blessed/lucky/thankful/honored to be in such a program. I won’t knock their sentiments at all. After all, I have wanted to be a creative writing professor for nearly ten years. So, since I was 15. And yet, as I’ve told a friend of mine, it’s hard to take everything so seriously when I’ve got carnival music playing in my head.

There is a drive to be published when in graduate school, of course. Last year, I got a paper of mine published, and I presented it at a literary conference, like a good grad student. And yet, even though I acknowledge the professional importance of such a work, and I was proud to present it, I found that it never compared to the simple act of writing by myself at night, or playing a video game on my own, or merrymaking with my friends- my friends whom, overwhelmingly, either did not go to college, or have no interest in English whatsoever.

In an academic culture that does not demand greatness, but expects it nonetheless, I, foolishly, committed myself to live monkishly for my entire first year of my Literature degree. I was to read, study, and write only. Because, I was blessed, honored, and lucky to be in such a program (even if I had actually wanted to get into Creative Writing, and not Literature, from the get-go).

And I was miserable. I was not treating myself intelligently. For all my cleverness and conceits, for all my education, I hadn’t the foresight to consider that, rather than bend myself to meet grad school, that I should bend grad school to fit me. Perhaps I didn’t think I had earned that right yet.

But, I had. I had because I was here for 23 years before I entered grad school. And it had no right to muscle into my life and redefine how I lived. So, I let myself by silly again- not that silliness is, necessarily, a panacea in and of itself, but it is a vital pillar of my being. It seems trite to say, but we do all have those central pillars that hold us up. I’m a goofball with a rampant imagination, boundless energy to work and improve, but I can only truly thrive with in the company of others. Like any professional, you have to know your toolbox before you can being working. Foolishly, I had forgotten how to take stock of mine.

The smog of professionalism (get published, attend extracurricular, network, find internships, write, research, network, network, network) that swirls around graduate school, briefly, had made me into a man I disliked being around. An intelligent person would say to stay away from a man like that, that his constant brooding and shallow self-worth isn’t worth it. And intelligent person, a clever, educated person, wouldn’t want to end up like a man like that.

So, don’t. Consider, perhaps, that you go into your program because of not just your professionalism and academic skill, but because you, as a person, are improving your program as an individual. You are not just the name on academic paper submission headers.

I told a collection of then-new graduate students, last year,  that, if it helped to inflame them, they should consider graduate school an enemy, a monster to triumph over. You can always do more in graduate school. You can always do more, evermore, to prove just how smart you are, academically. And, it will always ask for more. But, you have been walking the Earth long before you entered your program. And you will be walking for much longer after.

Be intelligent, then. Make no compromises. Say to the trials of your new stage of life, “These are my pillars. You will not crack them.” This program of yours, of mine too, is just a rock, or a nail, or a patch of soft grass, on your life’s road. Don’t let one or two steps redefine how you walk.

Perhaps that sounds overly-dramatic. But, I’m a writer. I can do what I want. You may not be a writer, but you can do what you want, too. And that’s the whole point. Again, that may seem trite to state, but I had somehow forgotten it amidst it all. For all of my intelligence, I was dreadfully stupid.

Don’t be stupid, stupid. Be the you that you are, not the you that you want to be. Because, they will never meet halfway.

 

Regards,

Michael

 


 

Breath of the Wild is calling back to me. It’s for the best that I return back to it. I’m not the kind of person to lose himself in navel-gazing reflection, however useful it may (or may not) be. Also, my Switch’s battery life is notoriously short. I should tend to it before it becomes lonely.

 

Perhaps I should tend to this internet garden of mine, too. It looks lonesome, out here.

 

 

 

Until next time~

Extended Thoughts: Prison of Souls

 

BEGIN TRANSMISSION.

 

Boy, if it takes this much to get ready for Grad School, I can only imagine how much time of mine it’ll devour once I’m actually in it… Yeah, that’s where I’ve been for the last month or so. Graduate school. It already haunts me like a phantom.

Speaking of haunting, which is vaguely related to spirits, I’m here to copy+paste my thoughts about Xander Grey’s excellent Prison of Souls!

 

Have fun~

 


 

Title: Prison of Souls

Author: Xander Grey

Genre: Science-Fiction Mystery

Release Date: September 8th, 2015

Amazon Link: HERE

 


Spoiler territory ahead, naturally.

So, I have to give Prison of Souls props right out of the gate; it’s a rare enough thing for a book to keep my interested from cover to cover. It’s rarer still that I feel like I genuinely cannot put the book down until I see some resolution. I’m an, admittedly, impatient person when it comes to reading; if I don’t find that a book is holding my attention in the first few chapters, I’ll set it aside and see if something else catches my eye/seems more worth my time. I managed to read about a third (hovering somewhere around 120 pages) of Prison of Souls, however, in one sitting.

I’m a huge sucker for these, what I call, ‘oddity plots.’ Prison of Souls’, for instance, hints at a woman without a brain being shot by a man in a trance who has mysterious seizures and no memory of the shooting who also ends up in jail with his childhood bully as a result. So, Souls sets out to already capitalize on the strangeness of its science fiction mythos to engross the audience. And, for me, it really worked. I may start to show this book as an example of restrained, self-aware science fiction. That is to say, science fiction done tastefully right. Nothing that would be categorized as ‘science fiction’ goes too beyond the understanding of basic physics and biology, save for the plot points centered around ‘quantum tunneling’ (which is cool stuff, look it up). However, points like that are mostly explained (in context of the story— we’re never just given a lesson in theoretical physics, thankfully) in the story, meaning there’s not too much background knowledge needed to fully appreciate it, and there’s never too much exposition to grind Soul’s quick pace to a halt.

There is one minor caveat to that, though. And, as it turns out, it makes up one of the most significant (and one of the only) issues with Souls. Its climax centers around Josh’s powers, something never explained throughout the novel (though, I never felt it needed to be explicitly explained [again, I love the element of sci-fi mystery], that was, until this particular part), and how it can be used to draw the Ouroboros into Slaven’s ‘Hell’ dimension.

However, at the (predictably) last moment, Josh’s powers manifest themselves in such a way that could only be called deus ex machina. His powers manifest in the exact way required to rectify his current predicament right at the correct time to save the day. For a power that Josh hardly knew he had his powers until very recently (story-wise), he demonstrates such a level of control as to make it unrealistic. Again, part of what really drew me into the sci-fi elements of Souls is that the primary subject of said elements, Josh, is an overwhelmed everyman who has had power forced upon him merely by chance. That dycodimoy really helps the audience get into the shoes of Josh; we understand his plight (to just get his life back in order and maybe learn some answers about his past, provided it’s not too inconvenient/dangerous) better because it’s undiluted by the machinations and rule sof science fiction superpowers. So, the sudden shift in the novel’s climax, in which Josh’s powers progress further from timely and a mite predictable to downright confusing. Josh becomes nearly godly in his ability to tap into the science fiction space-time stream (I think? I’ve read the section over a few times and, while I get the impression that it’s meant to be ambiguous, the precedent set earlier in the novel got me used to powers that are explained in simple terms rather than in no terms whatsoever) to completely undo the much-more intelligent and numerous Ouroboros in one fatal blow.

Nevermind the suddenness of Josh’s control of a barely-explained barely-showcased power, but that final scene by itself felt rushed to the point of breakneck. Everything up until Slaven and Josh’s fisticuffs was evenly-paced. It was quick but never skimped on key character development and plot progression. And after playing up the mysterious and uncontrollable factor of Josh’s past and his powers for so much of the book, to tie up all of the antagonists into a neat little box with a bow seemed anticlimactic. To that end, the moral choice that Josh looked to have to make inevitably (the one based on if he really should destroy Ouroboros due to their pure-sounding intentions of saving humanity from  a rogue planet) getting reduced down to a much less complex (and, by effect, morally mature) situation that painted Ouroboros as purely evil was a wasted opportunity. This is especially jarring because of the focus on the tangled psyches and pasts of the key characters.

Oh, and I’m no astronomer (though I did study it in college for a semester), but wouldn’t a rogue planet a mere four-hundred years away from Earth be relatively easy to spot much earlier than Ouroboros claims to have seen it? If the scientific community, something that Josh seemed apt to know something of, had discovered such a thing (or even had hints of it), it would no doubt have some kind of presence in the community due to the potential danger. That’s a comparatively minor gripe in an altogether less-than-deal-breaking criticism of Souls, but as I was reading, I was thinking that Ouroboros may have had some pretty shaky reasoning to go back in time and do their whole song and dance.

Still, despite all that, I found myself really enjoying Prison of Souls. It was a deft work that skillfully introduced, followed, and developed all the characters it needed to. There was no excess or fluff to mar the real meat and mystery of the story, which is something I all-too often see in both science fiction and mystery works. Souls chose to focus on what its title suggests, however. That is, on the people (and the souls thereof). It gave a very human context which captured our hearts to the strange elements that captured the imagination. I don’t even care how cheesy that sounded, it’s what I think! And, if anything, I just wish there was a little bit more to the novel. I wanted to see just what a capgras could do, the paranoia Joshua might have once he realized he was being hunted by an organization staffed by face-changing flesh robots, and came to the realization that his enemies could be planted all over the world into places of power one day.

And that’s never a bad thing— if I ever want more from a work, that only means I was unhappy to set it down, unhappy to see it all come to an end.

 


 

Well, I just happened to look at my last review and saw I wanted to do this as a monthly thing. If it wasn’t for blasted grad school (and a brief anime convention in early July), I would have probably possibly met that goal!

Oh well, for next time. And I hope the next book I get to review is as good as this one~

 

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

Extended Thought: The Girl with Red Hair

 

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Well, I’m back yet again! The internet just can’t seem to get rid of me, can it? This time I’m back with another indie fantasy book to levy my critical powers at! Which is to say, I’m going to make a bunch of words about another bunch of words.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Title: The Girl with Red Hair

Series: The Last War Saga

Author: Michael J Sanford

Genre: Fantasy (action-adventure, sword-and-sorcery)

Release Date: May 7, 2016

Amazon Link: HERE

 


 

 

Spoiler territory ahead, naturally.

 

Unfortunately, I think The Girl with Red Hair suffers from the ‘average’ syndrome. It felt straightforward, uncomplicated, and average. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being simple or average, but in the fantasy adventure genre, being less than exciting can be just as damaging as a mystery novel with an extremely simple mystery. This adventure is virtually entirely character-based, which makes the world that the people live and adventure in ultimately feel dead.

There was also a bit too much ambiguity throughout most of the novel. Virtually every character had at least one or two major secrets that are kept from the audience through the use of unreliable narration. I’m all for unreliable narrators- they keep a story deeply rooted in the characters and gives questions for the reader to answer. However, when thy become so compounded (and coupled with a world and situations that the characters are largely unfamiliar with) that they begin to confuse the reader, they are no longer doing a service to the story. Instead, it makes it feel more like the story is just deliberately withholding information for a later date.

Some of the solutions to difficult fights felt a bit contrived. For instance, there were rarely ever instances of the characters doing something clever or concocting a plan to outsmart and outmaneuver their numerically-superior enemies. Instead, they would fight as they always did until they were exhausted and some new arrival, usual in the form of Adelaide’s hidden power, would save the day. In short, the heroes never really need to think outside the box or feel truly defeated- everything (Even their imprisonment in the third act) is merely a minor inconvenience, as they’re still physically and mentally fit enough to continue running/adventuring/fighting soon afterwards. It made the whole story feel rather “floaty,” in that misfortune and difficulties only serve to show how powerful and capable the heroes are with their fighting skills, not to actually pose potentially-lethal challenges.

Because this fits into the action-adventure fantasy genre, I suppose this comes with the territory, but it’s still not an excuse: character depth. Because the majority of this story (and most stories like it) is spent adventuring from place to place and fighting various adversaries, there isn’t much time given to the characters to show who they truly are as people. The author claims that The Girl with Red Hair is inspired by a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that he runs, which somewhat explains the way the characters act. That is, they fit into neat archetypes based on recognizable in-game classes: the aloof rogue, the boisterous bard, the withdrawn and experimenting mage, the tough and morally strong fighter. Their personalities feel very safe, emphasizing only familiar aspects. I will note both Alexander and Tannyl as points of particular interest, though.

By the end of the novel, I felt well and sick of Alexander, unfortunately. I’ve surmised that there’s some kind of deeper plot-based reason as to why he’s so obsessed with protecting Adelaide, but unfortunately, this does no favours to his personality and likability. More specifically, he becomes more obnoxious as the story continues as he becomes singe-mindedly obsessed with protecting Adelaide; his entire personality is subsumed by that one desire, making him quite flat and uninteresting to see from his perspective and oftentimes grating to see from an outsider’s (meaning, from the view of another character) perspective.

Tannyl, however, was what I felt to be the best and most developed character in the novel. Even though he was the most plagued with what I outlined earlier regarding excessive ambiguity, his internal struggle felt much more real than the other characters’. That point’s particularly odd when one considers that Tannyl’s original companions, Sachihiro and Jaydan, were much more attached to their homes and families, which were destroyed in the first part of the novel. Whereas the latter characters seemed to get over the traumatic loss of the home and family they’ve known for their entire lives fairly quickly, Tannyl maintained a level of emotional complexity rarely seen in the other characters.

I feel as though I should mention Adelaide too, and I think she just happened to be a victim of circumstance with me; the last two indie fantasy novels I read both heavily featured a small, mysterious girl with godly powers and an innocent mindset. So, I was unfortunately turned off to her quite quickly. Looking beyond that immediate reaction though, which is actually a reason why I waited until now to release this review to try to remove that bias as much as possible, Adelaide unfortunately mirrored both Alexander’s single-minded pursuit of one goal and Sachihiro and Jaydan’s fantasy-stereotypical mindset while still being the crux for most of the plot-convenient action solutions in the story; she behaved like a little girl, saying little girl things and thinking in little girl ways, until danger threatened and then her godly powers would activate and pull her friends out of danger.

So, in much the same way that Adelaide is the crux for the story’s plot, she’s also the seed of most of its problems. Her transformation into an older (though not necessarily more mature) woman at the end of the novel may help remedy these issues. It may also give Alexander a few less inhibitions. If you get my meaning. Because I was definitely getting some meanings from him.

 

I think that most of this novel’s flaws could be remedied by just slowing the whole pace down. Let us, the readers, come to know Alexander, Adelaide, Tannyl, and the rest, as people and not just characters. Given that this is a series, I can only guess that the danger will become steadily more mortal as things progress. Fittingly, as the danger becomes more real, the characters need to feel more real, elsewise there will be little emotional investment in the journey and danger. There’s still so much we don’t know about the characters and their world; to a fantasy adventure, a genre that so heavily relies on both of those aspects, that can be fatal if left unattended.

Similarly, I know that this criticism must be tempered against the reality that this is only the first in a series, meaning there is still time to develop these characters and their world. There is ground to be made up, though, as the characters in The Girl with Red Hair ended up hardly progressing (that is, becoming deeper, more complex, and more human) from where they originally started.

But there’s always still hope! It just needs to be willed and worked into reality.

 

 


 

I’m really trying to keep these a more relevant and consistent thing. One review a month (or, at least, one month’s-worth [so, every 30 days]) seems practical. But every time I set a goal like that for myself (cough cough, Lorequest), I end up shunting it by total accident.

So maybe I’ll just keep things ambiguous and infuriating! Like a summer storm, I come, I go, I make you freak out about accidentally leaving your car windows open!

Not even I know what that last one’s supposed to mean. Which makes it all the scarier.

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

 

Rabble Review: Ghost in the Blood

 

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I need to stop putting these off. I write these reviews but can’t be bothered to come onto WordPress anymore. I’m so out of practice. Lorequest needs tending, too… Eventually.

Time for more of Johnathon Moeller’s Ghost series!

 

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Title: Ghost in the Blood

Series: (Book 3) The Ghosts

Author: Johnathon Moeller

Genre: Fantasy (Sword-and-Sorcery)

Release Date: December 2, 2013

Amazon Score: 3 Stars (would like to give it 2.5)

 


 

 

 

I had decided to give Johnathon Moeller’s Ghost series one more chance before I threw in the towel. And, blow me down, Ghosts in the Blood is a marked improvement of the two previous entries. It’s the first novel in the series that I could give a recommendation to. It still suffers in some areas, most of which aren’t new or shocking for those who read the first two books, but we’ll get to that.

 

Pros: The cast is expanded much beyond the last two Ghosts entries. Newcomers such as Radast and Ducas are a little one-note and gimmicky, but they’re decent enough characters.

-Heroes and villains are both recurring (as in, they return from earlier books), which gives the narrative a more cohesive feel.

-The villain, while similar to the last two, has an actual presence, inspiring a fair amount of both intimidation and mystery.

-Again, the action’s smooth, easy-to-follow, and entertaining. Unlike the last entry, it’s used much more sparingly, so it doesn’t get old.

-The mood is much more atmospheric and dark than the last two entries, showing a growing maturity in the writer’s skills and construction of a cohesive narrative emotion.

 

Con: This book, like the last two, took itself too quickly. However, unlike the last one, it had enough content set up to make it last and remain interesting throughout.

-The world was much more interesting this time, including folklore and cultural flavor; however, neither of these were fully expanded upon.

-The villain, despite her presence and power, met her end to a deus ex machina plot contrivance, which was disappointing.

-Almost none of the other heroes contribute anything meaningful to the plot— that is, most of their actions in the narrative are waiting for Caina to find everything out for them and then following whatever plan she cooks up. At least they have personalities, though. Mostly, anyway.

 

Overall: I’ll probably come back to this series after a break, but at least there’s that; I’ll be coming back to this series I had serious doubts about before. And Ghosts in the Blood, with its refinements and improvements, is the book that singlehandedly did it.

 

 

Ghost in the Blood’s Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Blood-Ghosts-Book-3-ebook/dp/B005R9IHV8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1460050426&sr=8-1&keywords=ghosts+in+the+blood

 


 

 

I decided to do a shorter style of review this time- I actually wasn’t as emotionally-invested as I was in the last review. And this is actually a good thing, considering how utterly nonplussed I was with that last entry. I could have been more invested in this story, but we’ll see what happens in the Extended Thoughts. Except that one to be shorter, too!

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.

 

 

Extended Thoughts on Ghost in the Flame

 

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I’m back with another Extended Thoughts, this time with Johnathon Moeller’s Ghosts in the Flame. The shorter version is already up, for your reading pleasure.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Title: Ghost in the Flames

Series: (Book 2) The Ghosts

Author: Johnathon Moeller

Genre: Fantasy (Sword-and-Sorcery)

Release Date: December 2, 2013

 


 

As per usual, these Extended Thoughts are more rambling than my regular reviews, but that way it’s got more of my true emotion in it- that extra bit of visceral-ness can really help to express just how challenging this book was for me.

 

Oh, and massive spoiler territory. Naturally.

 

I’d like to start off with the main point of my shorter review. And that’s that the one thing you really can’t do to either sword-and-sorcery/adventure works or works in an episodic series— you cannot make them boring boring. It’s the ultimate sin that kills interest much more than bad writing ever could. Around the 60-70% mark in the novel, I was actually becoming angry at how little the narrative was doing, how nonexistent its pacing was, how frustratingly little the characters seemed to develop, and how flat and one-note the world was. It felt like I was reading the clip-notes version of a larger narrative with everything more complicated than throwing knives and bickering about which obvious villain was the actual villain (which was, incidentally, also obvious).

Alright, here we go then, into detail.

So, Kalastus is clearly the main villain and always has been. Pyromancers, relatively early on, were described as being powerful in sorcery and mentally unhinged to the point of madness. There is only one character in the entire novel who fits that description. Kalastus even has instances where he is clearly behaving like a man who has lost most of his mind. While also using very powerful sorcery. But Ark, paragon of intelligence he is, however, only kept suggesting that the Sons of Corazain, the religious cult based around the Saddai fire god that would be such an obvious villain that no self-respecting narrative would have chosen to be primary villain, must be responsible because they like fire or something. His reasoning was flimsy, at best. So, in the end, Caina was right all along and the villain was in the Magesterium, even though the real kingpin was in her face the whole time.

She really isn’t particularly bright, is she? And Ark’s no 9-watt either.

To wrap up what I wanted to say about the book being an awful bore, I remember my own writing, back when I was still getting a handle on the long-hand form of novel writing, being something like this. As in, the plot didn’t so much advance as it went in ever-widening circles, so advancement of the narrative was almost totally accidental or unintentional. I started to get internally enraged every time Caina had yet another dinner to go to or was attacked yet again in the street by the Sons or snuck out at night yet again (and we mustn’t forget to detail exactly what cloths [always the same] she puts on before doing so) to spook people and sneak around.  Naturally, I was almost livid by the time I finished the book. Livid and bored. It was a surreal combination of emotions, none of them good.

To elaborate just a bit further, though, I will say that this book at least had the potential to be an intriguing and interesting entry into the series, mostly in regards to the plot. Caina really only ever did what I outlined above. Her disguise as Countess Nereide was never fully utilized, in that we were never able to see the rest of the city or the culture dominating people’s lives. Caina could have gone to a funeral, library, workshop, dry dock, or out into the countryside instead of just going to dinner every other chapter. Even the religious service Caina attends in the latter half of the book is only used to further the plot, albeit very minimally. Now, for a countess to do some of the aforementioned things would be strange and would likely blow Caina’s cover. Which is why the disguise of Countess NAME needs to go. Immediately. It was already used once in the Child of the Ghosts, it doesn’t need to make a reappearance from here on out. It restricts Caina to doing the same things I just outlined. Or, the Countess shouldn’t be Caina’s only disguise. It’s already long overstayed its welcome. As has her personality and character as a whole. Unfortunately, since I think she’s on the cover of the rest of the 12+ books in the series, I think her removal is a bit of a pipe dream.

But I have a right to dream, darnit!

There are only heroes and villains in Ghosts in the Flame. A character is either good and fights for good or evil and does the opposite. A notable exception to this rule are the handmaidens that follow Caina (disguised as Countess Nereide). But, given their extremely tertiary role, perhaps this is expected. Otherwise, eventually everybody takes a side to either be fully on the side of the good or fully on the side of evil. Naturally, their swift justice (or rewards) is dealt out by the end of the book. I suppose this should leave a fulfilled feeling inside come the book’s conclusion, but since I can be reasonably sure now that each book in the series will essentially be starting anew, I’m grimly expecting what happened in Child of the Ghosts and now Ghost in the Flame to happen all over again.

Ephaeron was one such character who I felt could have offered an interesting personality to the novel. Being a member of the Magisterium, a supposedly entirely-evil and corrupt government composed of magic-users and their ilk, Ephaeron could have very well been an interesting exception to this almost cartoonishly antagonist organization. Ephaeron, from his first appearance in the book, seems level-headed, rational, and not a terrible person. This was probably his first failing. In the Ghosts series, it seems if you aren’t a hero (or tertiary character) and if you aren’t prepared to help the side of good (Read: The Ghosts), you are automatically a villain. There are no neutral characters who are simply flawed individuals who sometimes to do the right thing and sometimes do the wrong thing.

Speaking of the characters, Caina is one of the prime examples I have nowadays for a ‘convenient conscience’ character. That is, one who only seems to have a conscience or regrets about what he/she’s done when it’s convenient to the plot. Caina, in Ghosts in the Flame, has a few moments of emotional pain because of all of the people she’s killed. And, to be fair, she is very adept at killing the regular folk employed as guards or destitute and disenfranchised people who are clinging to their beliefs, now perverted by hatred and rage. And yet, she seems to be much less efficient at actually killing the real villains in charge.

This is exemplified by this exact quote from the book. Brace yourselves:

“’Those men we killed tonight,’ said Ark, his head on the pillow, his eyes staring at nothing. ‘Do you regret it? Does it weigh upon your conscience?’

‘Do I feel guilty about it, you mean?’ said Caina… ‘No. Not at all. We were only defending ourselves. If we had not fought back, they would have killed us both. But do I regret that we had to kill them?’ Caina sighed. ‘Yes, I regret it. Keenly…’”

I had to read that over about three times before I was convinced I didn’t just hallucinate those two paragraphs. Let’s attempt to nevermind the fact that Caina here essentially is saying that she regrets killing people but doesn’t regret it at all, and examine the greater context and consequence of a character like this. I see this kind of ‘convenient conscience’ characters more and more often nowadays since darker fantasy seems  to be in vogue recently. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, a ‘convenient conscience’ character is only that claims to be burdened by all the mass murder he/she commits, but only when the plot demands it. That is, we as readers are only ever assured that the character isn’t an amoral killer because we’re informed otherwise periodically. However, real psychological trauma doesn’t wait for a quiet bit of downtime to reveal itself. Cognitive dissonance, traumatic flashbacks, and crippling feelings of regret can come on at any time and render an individual a shaking, useless mess.

Not like I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Besides that, though, if Caina hates what she has to do, then why doesn’t she find some kind of way to improve her life? I have little sympathy for characters who hate what they do yet make no attempts to change things for the better. And you may (rightly) say, “But the Ghosts are the Emperor’s assassins. How can she not kill people?”

How indeed? Wouldn’t it just be stunning to see what the author could come up with that would astound and bedazzle us with all of his creative cunning? It is possible. And such a thing would bring Caina’s character out of the doghouse of mediocrity it’s in right now.

Also, Caina’s lack of concern for the Saddai beyond a professional level, is a little worrying. I found myself getting frustrated with her for not realizing that the Sons of Corazain were so numerous and rowdy because of their mistreatment at the hands of the Lord Governor. However, no sympathy ever extends to them— fittingly then, Caina has no inner thoughts about the world at large or her own interpretation of it. Oftentimes, it feels like the world of Caina extends about five feet around her in any given direction. While this kind of construction could be used to show a character being out of touch with the world at large, Caina shows no real interest in anything extending beyond her current mission and nothing is given to us, as readers, to make us believe that the author intended her state of mind to be a larger statement on anything. As far as I can tell, the world is just viewed through a pinhole by Caina and, by effect, us readers. This gives everything she does a very sociopathic kind of feeling, as she doesn’t understand anything beyond her mission and immediate danger. And whatever apocalyptic power is now being set against her. A mindset of extremes, I suppose. Though, it doesn’t much help her character any. Or the world around her.

 

Even the basis of the entire plot, the return of a Saddai Ashbringer, an extremely powerful pyromancer, is flimsy. Even re-reading that sentence after writing it, I was shocked at how flavorless it all is on the surface. Pyromancy, the magical art of creating and using fire, is some of the most straightforward and common magic used throughout the collective high fantasy mythos. Casting fire is, to most readers, neither impressive nor intimidating. Now, that preconception can be subverted. In fact, doing so can be a good shock to the readers’ systems, putting them on edge and opening their minds to new ideas. Traditional Western-style dragons, now mostly seen as an intermediate-level challenge for a hero to slay, are sometimes treated in such a way. When separated from the high-fantasy roots, an armoured, fire-breathing winged monster with an insatiable appetite is very threatening. Pyromancy could have been played in much the same way; even magical fire catches, burns, spreads, and devastates just like it does in the real world. So, rather than random acts of lighting people on fire, the pyromancy in Ghost in the Flame could have shattered expectations of something so common in fantasy literature and drawn more real-world parallels to make the plot more compelling.

As a sidenote, I was apparently correct in my last review of Child of the Ghosts; Every primary antagonist from here on out is going to have some kind of world-ending power, which is likely just the pinnacle of the new magical flavour of the day. In Child, it was necromancy and in Flames, it was pyromancy. Ghosts in the Blood will prominently feature blood magic, I bet my best nickel on it.

And I know this is nitpicking, but Rasadda, the city focused on throughout the story, is apparently created almost entirely out of black stone and decorated with obsidian. This is ridiculous, considering its arid, sun-soaked climate. All of that black would absorb the heat from the sun like blacktop and would make the city unbearably hot. It’s nitpicking, sure, but when you’re constructing a totally fictional world, some measure of logic needs to be used to make said world believable.

 

Okay. So that’s about all I have to say about this one. It was a rough ride, make no mistake. However, I’m still holding out hope that the third book will be the saving grace that keeps me reading at least one book later, just to see how Mr. Moeller’s writing style and good writing sense improves over time. Or doesn’t improve, though I’d really rather see him succeed than not.

This is all a little surreal though, considering there’s so many books for the series out, but still. I’ll be there, cheering for the positive change if it comes, even if nobody else is listening.

Because that’s just the kind of person I am!

 

 


 

 

Ghost in the Blood is up next. And I don’t mind saying, seeing as how I’ve heard over half of it now, that it is already a big improvement.

But how big? And it will it be enough? I dunno! I’ll tell you when I’m done!

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

END TRANSMISSION.