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!

 

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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!

 

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Friday Fictioneers: “Lady Macbeth”

 

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So, here’s a thing. I’m kind of losing my interest in this here blog. Given the huge disparity between “number of blog viewers” and “number of books bought,” I hardly think this is a useful self-promotion tool. I think this is just becoming more of a place for me to practice with various short stories that I may or may not do anything with. Like those Miniature Narrative Projects. And Lorequest is fun. Maybe I should just focus on doing that/those.

We’ll see, it’s almost a brand-new year, after all.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Image Copyright: Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Image Copyright: Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

Title: Lady Macbeth

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Word Count: 100

 

 

Beauty within, beauty without. That’s the old saying, right? The voices in her head were no longer holding their dread council. And so, like a room cleared of all its furniture, Violet’s mind was her own again.

But she thanked heaven and smiled into the mirror. The voices had told her beautiful, terrible things. Those “late work nights,” the “business trips.” How could she have been so blind to her husband’s clichés?

The red beneath Violet’s nails didn’t mar her new glow. She just applied more soap and gave a toothy once-loving smile for the mangled man in the tub.

 

 

 


 

 

It’s also possible my newfound disillusionment with writing comes from the fact that it’s Christmastime and I really should be spending my time doing something else.

 

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

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Friday Fictioneers: “Growing Pains”

 

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Wow, I actually have inspiration to write something coherent this time? AND I have a new idea for Lorequest? Amazing.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Image Copyright: Luther Siler

Image Copyright: Luther Siler

 

Title: Growing Pains

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Word Count: 100

 

 

If mom says I’m having growing pains (or did she say I was the ‘growing pain’?), this duck is going to redefine the term. My little brother shouldn’t be playing with stuffed animals anymore anyway. An old remote-control robot of mine will wear this duck’s skin just as good.

I send my Frankenstein (which squeaks like a dog in pain) into Ronnie’s room, to scare the prissy girliness right out of him.

He squeals. I run to see, to laugh in his blubbering, snotty face.

But Ronnie’s hugging the stupid thing like it just gave him a kitten for Christmas.

 

 

 


 

 

Beeble dee bee, it’s off to bed with me!

Because I stayed up too late. Again. Too much to do on these stupid stupid Fridays.

 

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

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Miniature Narrative Project 2015: Part 1

 

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Because it was such a good idea last time, I’ve decided that I’ll be doing another Miniature Narrative Project for December. This time, though, I’m going to be using The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt. I’ll do an entry at least once every three days but probably not a whole lot more than that. And each entry will be related to the last AND be related to the Daily Prompt entry.

As for word count, I’ll keep it flexible but I’ll try to keep it under 800 or something. That way I don’t just lurch into a full narrative at the last second like I did last time.

So, I guess we’ll just see where this goes.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Prompt: “What is your favorite sweet thing to eat? Bread pudding? Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies? A smooth and creamy piece of cheesecake? Tell us all about the anticipation and delight of eating your favorite dessert. Not into sweets? Tell us all about your weakness for that certain salty snack.”

Title: Bright Like a New Day

Word Count: 743

 

If I shined my buttons any more, I’d steal the sun’s thunder right from under it. My silly mother and father just don’t understand. There’s only three people’s approval that I need. Mine, that devilishly handsome man in the mirror looking back at me, and the Duke of the Great Chamber. Or just the Duke. He and I are on a first-name basis, of course.

Perhaps today I’ll finally make him aware of that. After I come back from my royal mission. For the Duke is hungry and his sweet tooth must be satiated.

“We can’t just move a whole town,” the foreman whines. “And there are people who live here. What about them?”

“There’s plenty of room in the capital,” I say. “They can all live closer to their beloved Duke.”

A moment of silence creeps by us. The foreman pulls his collar (which is very official— brass buttons and the noble crest and everything) away from his throat, never minding the winter chill. He must think it a noose. With a heavy sigh, he hefts his axe.

Deep below, still in the quite of the early morning snow, the town lies unaware that is destiny is about to be realized. The Duke will have his nation and he will eat so he may build that land for another day. I kick the flanks of my horse; I shall be the first to tell those in the sleepy valley of the change to their lives. Perhaps my buttons will be like a beacon to them and turn them from townsfolk to pilgrims on a quest for a better, purer home.

The town was emptied, its people, whether they were crying or smiling, were sent south to the capital, and each building was turned to splinters and gravel. Yet still I saw doubt in the foreman’s eyes. Even as we brought the caravan carrying those remnants of schools, churches, and homes back to the capital, his eyes were downcast. Perhaps he did not so fervently believe yet? Or maybe it was the thought of bandits that troubled him. I could not say but troubled with it no more. If all went well, I would never work with the disagreeable man and his unshaven face ever again.

For all the next day, the Great Chamber churched and belched black smoke into the snowy sky. Sugar was mixed with wood and stone and brick. Honey, water, flour, and whatever else the Duke had a hunger for were poured in and reshaped into a great red-brown tar-like lake. It almost looked like pudding from where I stood (at one of the many balconies scattered about the room. I was summoned, you see, to observe the conception of this newest batch). Our Duke has a sweet tooth indeed.

A tremendous glass room, rimmed with iron and casting light like a lantern suspended from heaven, hangs high above the pool and machinery of the Great Chamber. Up there, shadows and form are ideas, ideals, always shifting as if part of some spectacular fire. Only the Duke lives up there and only he determines what does or does not shape.

“My hunger,” the Duke thunders (though I think this is still but a whisper from him) in his thousand voices, “is the cement of our nation. The town of Huntsman’s Valley has brought one-hundred and thirty six new residents to our growing capital. And with this newest batch, the largest of its kind to ever be wrought, our nation shall grow evermore.”

There’s a pause without silence. The Duke’s words echo and bounce around all the shined steel walls.

“Purdon,” he says to me. Me. “I would like you to watch as I take the first bite. Note that with all of these balconies, none of my ministers nor officials are here. You alone have been summoned to watch this new age be ushered in.”

For just a moment, the swirling light in the heavenly glass room seem to all focus on me. I wish I could smile. But I’m far too overwhelmed, the strength of my body leaving my skin but empowering me soul. I can’t turn my eyes away as the globe comes down from the ceiling on chains and pulleys and the glass opens up like a blossom in spring. If only those simple folk of Huntsman’s Valley could see what their sacrifice has created.

They would probably weep as I did then. And still do.

 

 

THE OTHER DAILY PROMPT ENTRIES

 


 

 

PINGBACK:

<a href="https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/pour-some-sugar-on-me/">Pour Some Sugar on Me</a>

 

So that was weird. Similar to the last one (link way at the top of the entry), this story might end up being somewhere in-between an over-detailed children’s tale and one of those childish-seeming tales that actually has bizarre, dark undertones. Like Adventure Time or something. Except for the whole nuclear war things…

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

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Friday Fictioneers: Access Denied

 

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It would help if I knew what day it was so I could get these done on time.

As it stands, here’s another more formless “soundless fury” that I spun to try to explain my state of mind, rather than craft a new narrative.

 

Have fun~

 


 

 

Image Copyright: Roger Bultot

Image Copyright: Roger Bultot

 

Title: Access Denied

Word Count: 100

 

Draw sword, wake the horde, batter down this door.

My hatred of slant rhymes stalls my fury. Futility picks up whatever slack left behind. This door is wood, brick, or steel, whatever I can’t break down. Eden is more of a man, a door attendant, than a garden (though he’s standing in one, smiling sagely). I cannot bribe him for he has all that he wants and I can’t ask for time before he’s locked it all away in glass.

Eden IS timeless, like all great art, existing before the first clock clicked.

The crack in the door glows golden.

 

 

 


 

 

I don’t even know how to interpret these. They’re just my head piecing together its own distaste for time slipping away from me yet again. Maybe one day, sooner than later, I can remember how to be proud of my mind just being itself again.

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

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Flash! Friday: “In the Dragon’s Shadow”

 

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Looks like this is going to be one of the last Flash! Friday’s. Like, period I guess. So this’ll be one of the last times I scramble incoherently to scribble out something that looks good as of right now that I’m sure I’ll cringe at later.

But hey, it’s still fun!

 

Speaking of which, have fun~

 


 

 

Guidelines: Must include a dragon and use photo prompt (on page)

 

Title: In the Dragon’s Shadow

Word Count: 160

 

The Dragon’s still there, lying atop my city’s skyscrapers like it’s His mound of gold. And also like we’re his food, part of a scurrying platter. History would make it hard to disagree with that.

But I took it upon myself, to continue the fight. Yet I’m no dragon-slayer. I fight against the march of nature blessing the strong and forgetting the weak. My sword is chalk, my armour is darkness, my foe-slaying arrows are memories. My battlefields are the front doors of homes made empty by His hunger, where I inscribe lonely epitaphs.

Tonight, I fight the hardest battle and inscribe the most painful epitaph of my life, through a labyrinth of smoke and ash and back to the house where I sat on the porch all night with someone I had wanted to live my life with since the day I saw her eyes that blazed with heaven’s fire throughout history.

“A beautiful girl lived here,” I write.

 

 

THE OTHERS

 


 

 

I was thinking the story would almost be like Reign of Fire with the dragons in the modern world. Except, you know, not as cripplingly stupid. Really, the first 20 minutes of that movie was fine. It was everything else that was wrong!

 

 

Good luck, you brave writer folk!

 

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